Saturday, October 1, 2016

Two-Way Challenge for October

I spent some time at the end of September this year in Massachusetts—in Boston, Quincy, Plymouth, and New Bedford. When I arrived, few of the leaves had turned red or gold. But while I was walking the Freedom Trail, boarding the Mayflower II, and wandering down The Street in Plimouth Plantation (where they invite you to enter the 17th century), the weather chilled. Wind beat the Atlantic, waves beat the shoreline. Summer was over and fall was on the way.

If you ask people in the U.S. what their favorite season is, I suspect most would answer either spring or autumn. Or they might declare a tie between those two seasons. Christine Swanberg wrote a beautiful poem about a particular part of the fall known as Indian summer. Some people use that term to refer to especially warm days in late fall, probably coinciding with what Shakespeare referred to as “All Halloween Summer.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that a warm spell is not Indian summer unless it falls between St. Martin’s Day (November 11) and November 20. However that may be, these warm days that follow a heavy frost are usually hazy, and that fall haze is generally considered part of the definition.

Swanberg says, “My understanding of Indian Summer is warm weather after the first frost. It's a time a warmth blended with trees and foliage reaching their deepest colors, kind of the best of both worlds of summer and fall.”

There are also different explanations of the name. Some say it when the weather was cool, the native Americans put aside their bows and arrows and didn’t fight the settlers. When a warm spell came in late fall, they started attacking again. Others say that the name relates to farming practices of the native Americans. There is another hypothesis that originally the name had nothing to do with native Americans; rather it relates to shipping in the Indian Ocean. If the name comes from warring between Native Americans and settlers, it certainly qualifies as politically incorrect, and I would not want to use it. Nevertheless, I am very fond of Swanberg’s poem.                                                                                                     

Indian Summer, Come
Indian Summer, blaze through brown grass blades.
Ripple around all that is gold:
field corn drying on stalks,
all the russet maiden grass on plains,
the amber seed heads of goldenrod and aster.
Indian Summer, come.

Come burning the sun’s last hot rays.
to the red pony’s black, muddy hooves,
to the pink snouts of possums asleep behind logs,
to fuzzy fountain grasses swaying in prairies.
Slant down on blue spruce and white pine.
Indian Summer, come.

Come whispering on tabby cat whiskers,
tippling moss-coated trunks of maples,
shimmering on small, red crab apples in meadows,
landing on looping groups of cedar waxwings
as they huddle on trees near the river’s edge.
Indian Summer, come.

Arc over river bluffs and castle rocks,
over every circling bird of prey.
Glint from the eagle’s chartreuse eye
Glimmer from the red hawk’s splayed tail.
Soar wide as the vulture’s black wingspan.
Indian Summer, come.

Come in full head-dress, thundering.
Drum full color on leaves,
rattling and shaking fall’s last tassels.
Let it shout. Let it whoop and whirl.
All creatures deserve one final dance in the sun.
O, Indian Summer, come.

Christine Swanberg
Rockford, IL

First published in Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity (see

When I first read Swanberg’s poem, I immediately thought of Jane Kenyon’s beautiful poem, “Let Evening Come,” which you can read at Both poems use repetition, both move toward strong endings. And they use the word “come” in similar ways. Each of the poems may be interested literally or metaphorically.

The October Challenge:
There are two options for this challenge. You may write your own poem inviting something to come: a season, a time of day, a day of the week, a holiday or something else (but not a person or pet). Or you may write a poem about the autumn.

Title your poem unless it is haiku or another form that does not use titles. It may be free or formal verse. If you use a form, please identify the form when you submit your poem. Please single-space, and don’t use lines that are overly long (because the blog format doesn’t accommodate long lines).

You may submit a published poem if you retain copyright, but please include publication data. This applies to poems published in books, journals, newspapers, or on the Internet. Note that this is a recent change in the rules.

The deadline is October 15. Poems submitted after the deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards; however winners are published on this blog. Please don’t stray too far from “family-friendly” language. No simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published on this blog. Decision of the judge or judges is final.

Copyright on each poem is retained by the poet. If a winning poem is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”) . Include a brief bio which can be printed with your poem, if you are a winner this month.

Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name (exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win) at the end of the poem. Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment (no pdf files, please). Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog (Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all in capital letters); your name at the bottom of the poem). Also, please do not use spaces instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that technique (I sometimes do it myself). However I have difficulty getting the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.

Poems shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred but longer poems will be considered.

Christine Swanberg has published several books of poetry, including Tonight on This Late Road, Invisible String, Bread Upon the Waters and Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity. Her work appears in numerous anthologies. She has published hundreds of poems in journals such as The Beloit Poetry Journal, Spoon River Quaarterly, Amelia, Chiron, Kansas Quarterly, Creative Woman, Earth's Daughters, Mid-America Review, Powatan Review, Midnight Mind, Sow's Ear, Wind, and others.

Swanberg's awards include a featured reading at Seattle’s Frye Museum through Poetswest, first and second place in Peninsula Pulse, first place in Midwest Poetry Review and the Womanspirit Award from Womanspace. She received a merit scholarship to attend the post-graduate seminar at Vermont College, where she worked with the late Lynda Hull.  In addition, several of her poems were selected by the Poetry Center of Chicago for a juried readings.  She has edited Korone; Confluence: A Legacy of Rock River Valley; Land Connections: Writers of North Central Illinois. She founded the  Rock River Poetry Contest and has judged many contests including  Pen Women and Illinois Emerging Writers. She has been a teacher for over thirty years.


© Wilda Morris