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October's End

October's End
By Oliver Smith

We approach October’s end, as if October
were a road laid through dusky meadows,
where the ancient stag-headed oaks
have faded; tawny-red beneath the dying sun.
We walk on through the stubble of gold-reaped
wheat, decaying in fields by the winding highway.
Walk on through days that hold ever closer
now the night.

We approach October as a path to be trod,
a way to be beaten, and an end to meet.
Behind us, the yellow valley-lights all glow;
the air smoky; charcoal scented from fires
of summer-seasoned wood. Safe in the coomb,
below kind blue hills, lovers sleep
in the sweetness of new-bottled wine.
No more bright days on October’s road.

Do not ask the way we are led; as its path
guides us alone among the grassy tombs
of ancients kings, fat with memories
of summer-no-more. Here the lush autumn’s
fruit tends more to seed, yet still intoxicates
the drowsy wasps; whose song is muted
with love-sickness; enchanted and lost
in the hidden heart of their undying queen.

Who is this darker shadow that walks
beside us through the twilight of October lanes?
We may meet them under the cockerel tree.
We may meet them at the bridge’s broken stream.
We may meet them by the midnight crossroads
at October’s End, on the moonlit green,
where pumpkin lanterns grin beneath
the empty eye of a frost-white skull.

All the way to October’s end we have come.
The lantern that lit our path grows dim.
Its flame gutters and we button our coats
at the hooting of the barn owl, hunting near.
A little winter chill kissed our bones
as colder mists rose enchanted in the starlight.
By the abandoned pond, a frog grows torpid
and dreams, now, some half-remembered prince.

* * *

Oliver Smith (website) is inspired by the landscapes of Max Ernst, by frenzied rocks towering in the air above the silent swamp, by the strange poetry of machines, by something hidden in the nothing. Oliver was awarded first place in the BSFS 2019 competition for his poem ‘Better Living through Witchcraft’ and his poem’Lost Palace, Lighted Tracks’ was nominated for the 2020 Pushcart Prize. In 2020 he was awarded a PhD in literary and critical studies for his thesis ‘Empty your Eyes and Bite the Star: Fragments, Entropy, Confabulation, and Structure in Cut- Up Methods’.

Where do you get the ideas for your poems?
October’s End" lays out a landscape of time and memory. When I was eighteen, and an art student, I walked everywhere. Life had a rhythm of spending the days painting and the evenings in country pubs and that life persisted for perhaps four years or five years. I see now it was the end of a culture where drinking every night was normal and every village had at least one pub, almost every street corner in the town had a pub; pubs were what we did, who we were. The days and the people and the places seemed timeless and only the changing seasons tracked the wheel of the years spinning away from us. In the autumn the smoky sun would be setting as a gang of boys and girls set out along unlit country roads, up one hill or another in search of a pub.

Sometimes we followed a strange old snake of a road that fizzled out at the Witcombe Roman Villa. Unlike most lanes it was unhedged and wriggled across the open fields and up the gentle rise towards Cooper’s Hill. If we took that road we’d head up through the beech trees of Buckholt and Brockworth woods to ‘The Black Horse’. Hips and haws and crab-apples glowed like jewels even as the green faded from the trees and the leaves turned gold. On the edge of the escarpment an iron cockerel sat on the top of a maypole; it had been there as long as anyone could remember, watching over the Vale of Gloucester. I sat at its foot as the stars came out, and below the lights of a hundred villages ignited like fireworks in the purple dusk.