The Altar of the Dead by Henry James

Tonight on Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Henry James’s exquisite short story, The Altar of the Dead. This beautiful and haunting tale is not only a meditation on death, betrayal, forgiveness and unconditional love, it is also a reflection of what haunted James himself at the time he wrote it. The Altar of the Dead demands careful reading, not because it is unnecessarily complex but because James was so generous in his crafting of the tale that you do not want to miss all he offers.

*Please note that James’s 1904 masterpiece was The Golden Bowl, not The Glass Bowl. Unfortunately by the time “glass” stumbled out of my mouth, it was too late to turn back.

Would It All Be Mine?

sky space telescope universe

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If the ocean turned pink,

then it would be mine.

If the earth changed rotation,

it would be mine.

If the sparrows barked,

they would be mine.

And if the mice spoke,

they would be mine too.

If up became down and down up,

they would be mine.

And if sound became silence

and sight the blackness of night,

they would be mine.

 

If only I stayed silent.

If I had stayed silent

and the ocean turned pink

and the earth changed rotation

the sparrows barked

the mice spoke

and the universe turned itself inside out

and sound and sight disappeared

into the black void of an ancient catacomb

…if I stayed silent,

would it all be mine?

Surely, it would never be yours.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Old Nurse’s Story

Are you tired of saccharin-sweet made-for-TV Christmas movies? If so, do as the Victorians did and invite a few ghosts to your next holiday gathering, or at least fix yourself a cocktail or cup of tea and read a classic ghost tale where winter is bleak and death is serious business. This week on Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Elizabeth Gaskell’s THE OLD NURSE’S STORY, a gothic tale of jealousy, betrayal and terror.

Forty-Six

How long does it take

for a heart to no longer feel?

For the blood to coagulate

and harden?

How long does it take

for the heart to beat against itself-

its soft tissue slapping a relic

of an unfortunate past,

a pulse with no flow,

alive yet dead,

pounding on the door of an empty house?

There is no one home.

After forty-six years

its tenant has left.

 

 

The Victorian Tradition of Telling Ghost Stories at Christmas

Let’s resurrect the Victorian tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas. On this episode of STRANGE & SCARY STORY TALK, I discuss the long history of this tradition and explain why the Victorians took a particular interest in the dead and their relationship with the living. I also talk about why Christmas is the perfect time to welcome ghosts to our holiday celebrations.

Spindle-Fingered Trees

Winter SkyTrees lurch from an icy wasteland,

their spindle fingers clawing at the sky,

hoping for something to grab hold of,

but there is nothing they can do-I told them so.

Their roots reach too deep into the ground.

There is no way to loosen earth’s grip

unless, of course, I chop them down.

But it strikes me that death is not what they desire.

The poor things are too stupid-they think they can fly.

I can fly-away

-in a plane.

Or, perhaps, not.

Perhaps only in my mind.

But they can’t.

And so I think they are afraid.

I understand.

Sometimes I am afraid too-to be left here.

Sometimes I fear a horrible beast will set fire to this ice-and it will melt

and we will all drown.

flailing and choking on the last of our breaths

until we quiet and sleep

and the ground once again freezes and sprouts trees born of loss

so that they too can reach their spindle fingers into the sky and hope that in the gray nothingness lies

salvation.

 

 

Heels

AutumnDeath&Dreams

I hear the sharp clack of heels upon the floor

and I think of my mother on Sunday morning.

It is not a pleasant sound.

It is the sound of church

and an endless four o’clock when the sun glares low and unrelenting,

insisting that we learn to understand the length of a day,

a day that begins with the clacking of heels and ends in silence

if not for the ringing in the ears and the hum of electric appliances.

 

I hear the sharp clack of heels upon the floor.

I think of my mother.

I am startled the sound is mine.

My heels banging-

banging out the dirge of an eternal Sunday

like an inmate, banging a tin cup upon bars of his prison cell.

There is no sunlight.

He does not know when the day ends and begins

It is one day.

 

It has all been but a day.

It will all be but a day.

One day.

One eternity.