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For the month of hauntings and spine-tingling encounters, a list of creepy fantasy and scifi poems: free verse to make your skin crawl and your blood run cold, rhymes to set you cackling like the wickedest witch in all the land.
Here you'll find both time-honored classics of spooky speculative poetry and very recent offerings from writers currently active in the field; material drawn from folklore, myth, and previously unexplored dimensions; horror tropes subverted and horror tropes played straight; humane monsters, monstrous humans, and everything in between. There should be something for every lover of the paranormal dark.
Enjoy these poetic offerings of the uncanny and the gruesome... if you dare!
Spooky Specpo for October
🚪 The house is not as empty as it first appears in John Grey’s superficially serene “Sides of the Glass”:
Meanwhile, the floorboards creak.
There’s someone on the stairs.
🌌 The spacefarers in David Barber’s ghostly “Generation Ship” might have reason not to thank their ancestors for their choice to boldly go:
More terrible is the dark that waits outside
and our parents promised could not get in.
We no longer even pretend. . . .
🦊 Unforeseen perils lurk around every bend of "The White Road," Neil Gaiman’s treacherously hypnotic take on a grisly old tale:
Her love arrived at dusk, skulking by owl-light,
carrying a bag . . .
🧊 Mikal Trimm’s chilling “The Circumstances of His Disappearance” leaves us with more questions than answers—but do we really want to know the details?
He runs beneath the river’s crust
And struggles for the frozen sky . . .
🦀 With Lawrence Raab’s classic “Attack of the Crab Monsters” now showing, it’s time to hear the villain’s side of the story. Even if you’d really, really rather not:
I'd like to tell you
not to be afraid, but I've lost
my voice. . . .
🦴 In Jane Yolen’s “Feisty Girls,” some workplace standards may be too exacting even for the most incentivized:
She likes the ones who stick out their tongues,
laugh at death threats, use foul language, never beg.
🌑 It’s disquietingly difficult to tell friend from foe in Ellen Huang’s nebulous “Bought and Sold // Trader”:
. . . There remains beautiful
music, there are candy houses, there are
pretty ponds with castles reflected.
⚰️ The otherworldly curios in F.J. Bergmann's “Oneiroliths” are as beguiling in their strangeness as they are ominous:
. . . She put
that pale hand in a valuable box,
kept the box out in plain sight,
always left the house unlocked.
⛈️ Once Janet Parkinson tells you “What Happened,” you may wish you’d never asked:
Doctors could not explain this. . . .
🍎 An old story takes on newly spine-tingling resonance in Mari Ness’ frightfully beautiful “Snowmelt”:
Drop, drop. Fly to the woods,
oh wicked crow
a delicate heart beats
upon the snow.
🕯️ J.R.R. Tolkien’s reading of “The Mewlips” demonstrates that Hobbit folklore isn’t all cheery and bright. (Full poem text in the video description.)
You sink into the slime, who dare
To knock upon their door . . .
💀 Some awfully familiar-sounding invaders find compelling reason to regret their incursion in Lauren McBride’s viciously exultant “Beneath This Blood-Red Sun They Come”:
Arriving miners cannot fight us all
swarming up from the ground
wherever they land . . .
🌃 Insomnia leads to dark encounters in Marge Simon’s eerie “Music Smooth as Fog”:
I can smell the ocean
underneath the oily fumes . . .
🏡 It isn’t witches you need beware in Jessica P. Wick's nerve-wracking, scathingly incisive “Good Neighbors”:
. . . I do not want
to be alone, but I do not want to be with them.
🌩️ The skies are heavy with portent in Toby MacNutt's restless “Chatterbones, Chatterbones”:
See the skin stretched taut at knuckles and noon
blurred by the buzz . . .
🪓 Kirsten Kaschock’s electrifyingly macabre “In the Belly of the Wolf” doesn’t shy away from folklore’s grisliest elements:
Should I explain how the blade thundered
through the wall of my new home? . . .
🐚 The speaker issuing David Kopaska-Merkel’s “Invitation” insists their intentions are benign. The recipient of their proposal may not see it in quite the same way:
You thought you were drowning,
That was why you panicked,
Thrashed about, would not listen.
🏢 Find out why you shouldn’t ignore your gut feelings in May Chong’s quietly sinister “Esprit d’escalier”:
. . . There have been no deaths
building . . .
🥼 A familiar figure from old-school horror waxes madly, scientifically poetic in Gwynne Garfinkle’s “The Last Word":
Darling, we were supposed to die
with everyone else at the end of the film . . .
🌾 Cassandra Rose Clarke offers an elegantly bone-chilling sequel to a gruesome Victorian yarn in the picturesque vignette “Porphyria’s Other Lover”:
. . .Her touch
left me shivering, a respite in the heat
of the afternoon. . . .
🥀 The roles are reversed to bleak effect in Rebekah Curry’s darkly poignant “La Mort et son puceau”:
. . . No one came to threaten
or to plead. He grew accustomed to the darkness . . .
🍭 The oldest trick in the book gets a few timely updates in Constance Cooper’s deceptively quaint “Gingerbread”:
Here, little fawn, come steal a bite. Your parents needn’t see.
🩸 The desolate wastes have a terrible tale to tell in Sandi Leibowitz’ hauntingly evocative “After”:
There were dawns when the stones
grew mouths, their complaints unceasing,
and we feared to leave our houses . . .
🐈 Not all cats are cuddly and cute, as demonstrated by Okwudili Nebeolisa’s harrowing “An Escape Encounter with Death”:
I rushed to the door and worked the handle
but it had been locked from outside.
🏜️ Life (or something like it) finds a way in Ann K. Schwader’s succinctly foreboding “Desert Protocol”:
🕸️ Rapunzel obtains an unusual ally in Beth Cato’s strangely sweet “A Spider’s Love”:
I wish I could be up there now to tell you
you needn't contain your scream . . .
🌳 The disturbingly matter-of-fact first-person account of apocalyptic horrors served up by Jessica Minyard’s viscerally gruesome “We All Fall Down” will have you scratching at phantom itches:
First, a couple of fingers, a couple of toes,
maybe a hand, and then the whole arm.
🍂 Sonya Taafe’s troublingly mesmerizing “Larva” blurs the lines between the living and the dead:
Never let me see your death mask smiling . . .
🏹 Matthew Porto’s enigmatic “The Elder” transports the reader to a dark landscape where violent actions and their consequences weave a bewildering tapestry:
. . . when
the bow-shot went off, there
was a high wind . . .
🚉 You’re signing up for a delightfully macabre tour of the surreal when you read Tristan Beiter’s “Returning to Dead Places.” But be advised before you proceed: this is a one-way trip.
. . . the reek
when wind tears at
strings of hair . . .
🪣🪣🔦🔦🔦🔦🔦.🔦🪣 🪣 Generational guilt and trauma take peculiar form in the lugubrious depths of Rita Chen’s skillfully narrated “The Garden Well”:
Down there in the dark, out of sight, and light,
that thing's growing. We all know it.
🎶 Mari Ness' “Bone Song” reads like an especially dark lullaby. Might not help you sleep at night, though:
the knife long rusted down to dust,
yet still the bone sings on and on.
💥 In the perturbing scene painted by Naru Sundar's “The Rambutan Man,” if things appear settled in the aftermath of devastating violence, it’s only because past holds present in a painful, unshakable grip:
Nothing more than one leg,
An arm, and an ear,
Tied together by stubbornness.
⚖️ The rules of the game are distressingly ambiguous to the unwilling players in Gerri Leen’s quietly suspenseful “Tributes.” Only one thing is clear: the stakes are very high.
They have no weapons
They don't need them
🔪 A predator of Earthly infamy skulks his way through a bit of wickedly entertaining interstellar scifi in John Grey’s “The Ripper’s Vacation on Magellan VII”:
. . . I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Nor in fog-bound Victorian London.
💍 In Victorian poet Henry Thomas Liddell’s “Vampire Bride,” the bit about “death do us part” appears to have been left out of one young man’s wedding vows. This is, to put it lightly, unfortunate:
Soft and warm is this couch of thine,
Thou'lt to-morrow be laid on a colder bed . . .
🧵 If the speaker of Maggie Damken’s darkly contemplative “Before I Opened My Eyes” seems mired in existential angst, it’s not an unwarranted response to his unasked-for situation:
I happened in secret,
I happened in pieces.
🌱 A mundane job holds preternatural perils for the unwary, the unwise, or the merely unlucky in Robin Wyatt Dunn’s bloodcurdling “Digging”: 🪨
One midnight I saw him by the well,
circling like a wounded crow.
🏚️ The dead remember and will not tolerate oaths unfulfilled in Betsy Aoki's implacably ominous “Hitobashira”:
The woman inside the pillar
is the bones inside the promise.
🌕 Common sense undercuts mounting fears in Kaily Dorfman’s “The Wolf.” But under the circumstances, listening to the voice of common sense might actually be a very bad idea:
To laugh at me the moon leans in close
and trails its fingers down my spine.
🌲 In Jennifer Crow’s darkly picturesque “Night Beasts,” resilient characters bent on survival reckon with a sense of doom that has permeated their lovely but perilous world since time immemorial:
. . . Their breath
Sounds like a river gathering force
Or a murmuration of lovers
Sequestered in silk. . . .
🔥 Official explanations of teleportation technology gloss over the gruesome truth in Katherine Inskip’s “Transcription Errors”:
The sounds, the lights, the circles on the plinth,
my hollow-hearted witness through the cams . . .
🥫 Not all ghosts are vengeful and not all hauntings are terrifying, though even the most benign of the visitations in Mark Dimaisip’s meditative “Housekeeping Duties” evoke an eeriness that’s hard to deny:
I was bantering with cold, humid air, they said.
📔 Looming disaster pervades every line of Mari Ness' “Beneath the Palace Dictionary the Last Evil Mars Moth Sleeps,” offering an unnerving reminder that dangers hidden in plain sight can be the deadliest of all:
The moth hears their steps,
twitches uneasily, dreams . . .
🌆 The offhandedly sinister speaker of Jack Kin Lim’s sardonic “Kuala Lumpur Urban Legends” provides an unconventional perspective on the seismic changes to culture and technology impacting modern societies at every level:
Dear Property Developer, from one monster to another:
I’m scared. . . .
That's all for now! Thanks for reading. I hope 2021 proves to have no more nasty tricks up its sleeve, and instead brings you all well-earned treats in abundance.