Poems That Scare You


Charles E. Williams II

For Halloween, here are a few poems that might scare you. They scared me. In subtle ways. Click on each poet’s name to go to that poet’s solo feature here at Escape Into Life. The watery art is by Charles E. Williams II.

Jeannine Hall Gailey

Death by Drowning

It is my first memory. I am three.
My parents are elsewhere, watching the new
baby, the computer screen. The world is blue
and I cannot get air into my lungs. All around me
is cold chlorine and alien aqua. It has been one minute.
One minute I was walking with warm grass beneath my bare feet,
the next my feet touched the surface of what looked like glass,
and I was under. I cannot float, merely thrash six feet underwater.
If only I were born a smooth sleek seal, a dolphin, a mermaid,
if only vestigial gills might open. It has been two minutes.

I have forgotten my own name, my parents.
When an arm finally reaches down to me, it is my brother’s.
He is shouting at me, won’t stop shouting.
Her lips are blue, she’s not breathing, do something.

I try to do something. The chlorine scratches at my eyes and alveoli.
I have not yet started to breathe. I am three and have not yet started
coughing, trying to expunge the memory of chemical water
from my lungs, have not yet learned the fear of water.

Susan Slaviero

Banshee Territory

You marvel at mosslight & owl-screech,
question if keening is important—the dirge
of bees swarming at the windowsills, the roosters
that only crow at night. And a boy said I can’t hear

anything. All the clocks have stopped chiming
at expected hours. He can see feminine shades
with tangled auburn hair seated on wedge-shaped
rocks, or perched at the tops of chimneys, hooded

crows. He sees a stoat, a weasel, a dark nostril
spotting this raddled mist. If you see a comb,
don’t pick it up. A silver lure, tightly strung
across black rivers & blood-basins. They are warm,

wanting. Their tongues unrooted, more pointed
than you’d believe. They are winding sheets,
women who’ve died from drowning, childbed
fevers. Later, you forget the sounds of mourning

waters, the dark stains on your shirt. You always
misplace yourself on the second Friday of the month,
when you’ve cashed your check, had too much bourbon,
left so many indelible kissmarks on dusty throats.

Richard Fox

The Dam: Pennsylvania, 1965

An event of quiet
in the eastern wood-
lands, I have a fear
of dying of water.

White houses
of the reservation
are quietly gone
in thickening water.

A frayed electrical
cord, hanging from
a ceiling, quickens
its sway & darkens
in rising water.

In a boat
under the boomy
river of night, on
the placid face
of the big water
at the concrete heel
of the dam, looking up
at the biggest things
there are,

who can sleep
for knowing toward
darkness, like water
returning to pipes
after a long absence?

I miss you.
I have a fear of
dying of water.

Robert McDonald

The Dark-Eyed Junco

I want to think about snowfalls,
dark-eyed juncos
and the like. I want to dream about campfires,

and dead sisters, and dusk,
I want to read encyclopedic entries on foxes
and turtles and old movies. I want to work at being kind, because my friends

lately seem so battered and tired—how I wish
I had a teacher who knew how
to become a bird.

How I wish I loved a boy comprised of ten-thousand bees, or a girl
who attended the old-fashioned school where we learned
how to set our hands on fire.