Too Many Tricks, and The Wrong Kind of Treats


With goblins, ghoulies, and ghosties galore skulking along the edge of consciousness, and with every horror movie classic — Psycho, Vertigo, Rebecca — being pulled from its grave, it must be Halloween.

In parts of the country where offense isn’t so easily taken, children delight in dressing up as princesses, cowboys, or Cruella de Vil.  Meanwhile, for the faux vampires, zombies, and other unspeakable night-creatures who seek to displace chainsaw-wielding psychopaths as the epitome of evil, corn syrup blood is dripping, and the body parts are piling up

There’s no question that Halloween has gone commercial. From our neighborhood haunted house to Universal Studios’ famous Halloween Horror Nights, everyone hopes to take a bite out of the consumer. Since we love to be entertained, and we love to be scared when we know it doesn’t count, the witches’ brew of Dia De Los Muertos skeletons, decorated graves, black cats, and whacked-out pumpkins makes for a perfect holiday.

In this season dedicated to thinning the veil between life and death, one of the most unlikely purveyors of horror is the American poet, Carl Sandburg.

Sandburg isn’t much in favor these days. He’s too common, and too plain-spoken. In his own time, he wasn’t considered particularly literary; today, he might well be censored, cancelled, or de-platformed.  But his vision was sharp, and he understood people. Like Whitman before him, he acknowledged the value of the workers and builders, families, and business people who knit this country together, and he honored them with his work.

After decades of allowing his poetry to fade from memory, I began thinking of Sandburg after the devastation of Hurricane Ike. Standing in the midst of tossed boats and shredded houses, the introduction to his Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind seemed relevant. ‘Yesterday’ was gone indeed, along with much of Bolivar Penninsula, a goodly portion of Galveston, and the security of people up and down the coast. “What of it?” asked the woman Sandburg named Tomorrow. “Let the dead be dead.” Today, different storms wrack our society, and different forces are attempting to dismember the body politic, but Tomorrow’s question still echoes: “What of it?”

When I compare Sandburg and Faulkner on the nature of humanity, Faulkner often wins. Despite the nature of some of his novels’ characters, his eloquent Nobel Prize acceptance speech inspires and elevates; Sandburg too often seems bleak; resigned; dismissive of the possibilities inherent in life. When Faulkner’s Gavin Stevens says, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past,” the tone somehow seems more realistic — optimistic, even — than Sandburg’s. But both men are communicating truth, and it’s Sandburg’s truth that seems particularly relevant today.

In recent months, as economic devastation, social upheaval, and political crosscurrents have surged through our national life, I’ve wondered if Sandburg ever imagined his beloved country would transform itself in this way. And yet his words are chilling and prescient: as sharp and timely as though he meant to speak them precisely to us, the countrymen and women he never would know.

A Lincoln scholar, a lover of history, a straightforward man of integrity who could touch the hearts of his contemporaries, Sandburg should speak to us today. Let the thrill seekers crowd into their theatres, and the living dead prowl their haunted houses. Let the role players mask their intent and the would-be vampires try for a second bite. This Halloween, I’m tired of the fear-mongers’ tricks, and I don’t need the treats they pretend to offer. I’d rather see my country clear-eyed, hear the poet speak, and share his unmasked words with those who dare to face and battle our own unnerving horrors.

Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind
Carl Sandburg ~ 1922
The woman named Tomorrow
sits with a hairpin in her teeth
and takes her time
and does her hair the way she wants it
and fastens at last the last braid and coil
and puts the hairpin where it belongs
and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?
My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.
What of it? Let the dead be dead.
The doors were cedar
and the panels strips of gold
and the girls were golden girls
and the panels read and the girls chanted:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation:
nothing like us ever was.
The doors are twisted on broken hinges.
Sheets of rain swish through on the wind
where the golden girls ran and the panels read:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation,
nothing like us ever was.
It has happened before.
Strong men put up a city and got
a nation together,
and paid singers to sing and women
to warble: We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation,
nothing like us ever was.
And while the singers sang
and the strong men listened
and paid the singers well
and felt good about it all,
there were rats and lizards who listened
…and the only listeners left now
are…the rats…and the lizards.
And there are black crows
crying, “Caw, caw,”
bringing mud and sticks
building a nest
over the words carved
on the doors where the panels were cedar
and the strips on the panels were gold
and the golden girls came singing:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation,
nothing like us ever was.
The only singers now are crows crying, “Caw, caw,”
And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways.
And the only listeners now are…the rats…and the lizards.

The feet of the rats
scribble on the doorsills;
the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints
chatter the pedigrees of the rats
and babble of the blood
and gabble of the breed
of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers
of the rats.
And the wind shifts
and the dust on a doorsill shifts
and even the writing of the rat footprints
tells us nothing, nothing at all
about the greatest city, the greatest nation
where the strong men listened
and the women warbled: Nothing like us ever was.


Comments always are welcome.

97 thoughts on “Too Many Tricks, and The Wrong Kind of Treats

  1. Sandburg seems pessimistic here indeed. Perhaps “the Great War,” which ended only four years earlier, had something or even a lot to do with his mood. I find a resonance in a poem Sandburg would have known, Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” written about a century earlier:

    I met a traveller from an antique land,
    Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
    And on the pedestal, these words appear:
    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

    1. And to that we might add this selection from Omar Khayyam:

      “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
      Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
      Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
      Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

      There is no single truth, of course, and no single way to communicate the glimpses that come. Emily Dickinson wrote, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant; success in circuit lies.” It’s easy to equate slanted truth with lies, but I think Dickinson had something else in mind, and Sandburg was a master at it: truth-telling that sidles up and whispers so quietly we’re forced to pay attention to it. Well, except for Ozymandias, perhaps.

  2. Dear Linda,
    Halloween is not such a big thing here. At our coast with few young folks and children living here one hardly sees any sign of Halloween.
    We have never heard of Sandburg before but of course of Faulkner. We suppose you have to be American to like this poem.
    Thanks for sharing and have a happy weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley
    :-) :-) :-) :-)

    1. One of Sandburg’s most famous poems still is taught today as an example of metaphor. It’s one of the first I remember memorizing; it’s called “Fog.”

      The fog comes
      on little cat feet.

      It sits looking
      over harbor and city
      on silent haunches
      and then moves on.

      He wrote a wonderful, poetic paean to Chicago, and some delightful children’s stories. He also wrote the introduction to the published collection of Edward Steichen curated photographs titled The Family of Man, initially a 1955 Museum of Modern Art exhibit. Steichen and Sandburg were brothers-in-law.

  3. Thanks for the Sandburg this morning, Linda. There’s always truth of some sort to be found in his words. Keep my copy of “The People, Yes” next to me here at the desk in my studio, always within reach.

    1. I’ve shared passages from that poem from time to time. It’s a beautiful example of hopeful Sandburg, and a nice balance to this selection. Still, as here, he doesn’t romanticize. That’s part of what makes his work so appealing to me.

  4. “Unmasked words” is an excellent, apt phrase. I’ve always liked Sandburg’s Yankee flintiness, plain talk served up, hold the fancy. It’s a good time for plain talk.
    I was just typing a comment that the poem you’ve quoted is like an expansion of Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” for a whole society’s hubris, rather than one despot’s, when Steve’s comment popped up. I wouldn’t dispute Sandburg’s sometimes bleakness, but I’d say unsparing rather than resigned, a person who’s taken a long, unromantic look at human history.
    I wonder how many of the folks who put up the Giza pyramids, Babylon, the Parthenon, Xanadu, Chicen Itza, etc. ever envisioned them as crumbling ruins.

    1. I didn’t realize until recently that Sandburg was a newspaper reporter in Milwaukee for a time, and served as Secretary to Milwaukee’s mayor from 1910 to 1912. I found this entry that might be of interest if you haven’t already unearthed the information.

      I agree with you that ‘unsparing’ suits his view of things. And of course he was capable of celebrating human society; his Chicago poems, and certainly “The People, Yes” are a testament to that. I wouldn’t be surprised if his immersion in Civil War history and his biography of Lincoln didn’t shape his vision, as well. His birth came only a decade after the Civil War’s end, so he would have been well acquainted with people who had experienced the sundering of societal and familial bonds.

      I’ve always enjoyed these ending lines from his poem “Testament”:

      “I have had my chance to live with the people who have
      too much and the people who have too little and I chose
      one of the two and I have told no man why.”

  5. Always a pleasure to read you, Linda. You make us feel and think and those are some of the best qualities a writer gives us.

    1. When you get right down to it, thinking and feeling do a fine job of summing up human experience. I’m pleased beyond any words by your comment — thank you.

    1. It doesn’t surprise me that you enjoy his “Fog” poem After all, you have a personal acquaintance with those very special California fogs. And, yes: this poem, written soon after WWI and no doubt grounded in his knowledge of the Civil War as well as the larger sweep of history, is as applicable now as it was then. I suspect it will resonate in the future, as well.

  6. I do not recall the last time I read anything Sandburg, and a lot of poetry appears on my plate of late. While I enjoy some of the new, the old feels like a lovely snuggle–all familiar and welcoming. Even sobering, and thoughtful, and prophetic and early summaries of what will be. Thanks for reminding me to revel in more Sandburg.

    1. I just browsed some of his earlier, shorter poems, and found some real gems. It is easy to forget (or neglect) the poets who have fallen off the critics’ ‘approved’ list. And if you haven’t read his Rootabaga Stories, I think you’d really enjoy them. It’s a collection of stories for children, with titles like “Three Boys With Jugs of Molasses and Secret Ambitions.” You can find the entire book online, at Project Gutenberg.

  7. What a masterful, thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I didn’t expect such artistry of comment or of photography on this near-eve of halloween. Your voice here is superb.

    1. There’s more to Halloween than candy corn and plastic skeletons — although I am rather fond of the skeleton bride. I enjoyed the day as much as any child, but All Souls’ Day, and Día de los Muertos have become more interesting to me now. Hence, a different sort of Halloween reflection. Thank you so much for your comments; I appreciate them. Sandburg was a master of plain speaking, and I tried to follow his lead here.

  8. Sandberg’s poem is a chilling prophecy of today’s cultural mess that needs cleaning up. Sandberg was not in the curriculum when I took an English literature course in the late 60s. Your post is a thought-provoking wake-up call on the eve of Halloween.

    1. I really do wonder when Sandburg began to disappear from the curriculum. I suspect it might have been about the same time that Robert Frost, the Greek playwrights, Goethe, and the English Lake poets disappeared. The scourge of ‘presentism’ — that odd belief that only what’s happened since about last Tuesday is worthy of regard, has impoverished a good many of our schoolchildren, not to mention more than a few college graduates.

      1. Sandburg began to disappear when the American literature anthology disappeared from high school classrooms and individual novels, primarily multi-cultural literature, moved in. By 1998, senior English, which used to be British literature, was replaced by multi-cultural literature. We read Sandburg poetry from the early 70’s in my classes until the mid-90’s. Then, here in Silicon Valley, immigration patterns reworked demographics and the rest, is history (or lack thereof.) I am all for multi-cultural literature but not at the expense of British and then American literature. It’s been a sad downward spiral. Sandburg’s famous poem about Chicago is perhaps his best work although I enjoyed your posting. Thank you, once again.

        1. I knew you would know. Now that you mention ‘anthologies,’ I realized that’s the sudden absence I remember. The Ciardi book I still enjoy is in its own way an anthology, and terrifically enjoyable. Like you, I appreciate multi-cultural literature: often more deeply than that categorized as ‘post-modern.’ I often think of this sad irony. When I was constructing sermons for older rural Texans, often with immigrant German/Czech backgrounds, I could use references from Shakespeare, Goethe, and a whole variety of poets with confidence. Today, I hear radio hosts trying to figure out who Wordsworth might have been. A sad downward spiral, indeed.

          One of my readers appended this to his comment about this post. Charles Osgood saw it coming, thirty-five years ago.

  9. I have his Rootabaga Stories in two volumes, but haven’t opened them in years. Also I forgot that he wrote the “little cat feet” poem, which I especially appreciate this morning when a large “cat” is sitting all over my house.

    But I hadn’t read this poem, and it is evocative and pertinent in the most chilling way. Thank you, Linda.

    1. I was glad to be reminded of the Rootabaga Stories, and to find them on Project Gutenberg. I amused myself for a while late this afternoon browsing through them. As for that large cat that’s visiting you, I hope it’s friendly, and departs on its own!

      As for Sandburg’s “Four Preludes,” I always am reminded of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” when I read it. Out of curiosity, I did some date-checking. Sandburg published his “Four Preludes” in 1922. At the time, Eliot still was living in St. Louis; he didn’t move to England until 1927. Since Eliot was educated in this country, I can’t imagine he didn’t know Sandburg’s work. It’s fun to imagine that Sandburg influenced in some small way the structure of Eliot’s masterpiece.

  10. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read ‘Four Preludes.’

    I did run across ‘Fog’ recently. Because our local libraries had been closed, due to Covid and some renovation work, I was re-reading my home library. I have two of my high school literature books; my junior and senior years. There’s some good stuff in those books. Sandberg, e e cummings, Don Marquis, etc.

    1. Those literature books were great. I don’t have any from my high school days, but I do have John Ciardi’s How a Poem Means, which is a great introduction to good poems — and bad — and fun to read.

      Your mention of Don Marquis reminded me of another volume I grew up with, lost, and finally replaced: A Treasury of Laughter, edited by Louis Untermeyer. You can pick up a used hardcover copy for $5 on Amazon. It’s 700 pages filled with the likes of Hilaire Belloc, Robert Benchley, Lewis Carroll, Finley Peter Dunne, A.E. Housman, S.J. Perelman and James Thurber. There are “Little Willie” jokes, limericks, Jewish, Irish, and Yankee humor — all sorts of things that never, ever would be allowed on a stage or a network today. I started browsing through it again a half-hour ago — I’d better quit before it’s midnight.

  11. I’ve loved Carl Sandburg since I met him first through “Fog.” Thanks for printing the poem above. I don’t remember reading it, but if I had see it before, I wasn’t reading through the lens I now have. Now it makes a big impression because I remember the “nation that once was” with cedar doors and golden girls. I love the opening description of Tomorrow. You bring up such timely literature. I’m sure I must have been exposed to it in my youth, but it means so much more after decades of life lived. Youth – what wasted years. I sound like Yesterday, don’t I?

    1. Like you, I often find my response to any of the arts — novels, music, paintings — changes over time. Sometimes, I simply lose interest, and sometimes my appreciation grows over the years. I suspect all of us have had the experience of being bored to tears by a book, and then, somewhere down the road, pulling it off the shelf and being completely enthralled by it.

      As for youth, one thing is sure. Whatever its successes and failures, if it weren’t for those years we wouldn’t be the people we are today. Faulkner was right: all of that past isn’t really past. It still lives in us and, if we’re lucky, it helps to inform a more satisfying present.

  12. Sandberg had a home not too far from me. I was supposed to go visit it with a purported beau, but we never made it. Coincidentally he was from Texas! He had come to visit to give me one more looking over before he decided to just date someone closer to home. That really had nothing to do with your post – it just reminded me of a near miss. Ha!

    It really does feel like his poem is coming to fruition. No matter which “side” you are on – we are all in some despair due to misstatements, misinformation, outright lies, and what feels like an ever widening gulf. I feel pretty desperate to reach across that gulf but sometimes I’m afraid that I’ll just be pushed away. But that feeling (and most of the others) seem to be generated by people who profit from us fighting each other. I’ll sit across the table from some of those “others” at Thanksgiving and I’m pretty sure we will still love each other.

    1. Isn’t it interesting, the way memories suddenly pop up? Before the internet and dating sites came along, it used to be fun to read the Houston newspapers’ personals columns; geographical location was a primary criteria for a potential date. A guy on the NW side of Houston wasn’t interested in a woman living on the far south side. After all — who needs a fifty mile one-way drive just to Netflix and chill? As for your Texan? Things worked out for you and Dr. M just fine!

      Have you read psychologist Eric Berne’s 1964 book Games People Play? One of the games he describes is called “Let’s You and Him Fight.” It’s a classic description of the way manipulators will set people against one another, and there are a lot of people playing that game these days. While the combatants are busy destroying one another, the manipulator becomes the real winner, whatever the nature of the prize. Discussion and disagreement are one thing; destruction is another. I grew up in a family where disagreements over issues and candidates were real — and sometimes loud. But everyone stayed at the table to hash them out.

  13. This ‘greatest city’ and ‘greatest nation’ still offer hope to many. Their dreams draw them to our shores hoping to find the best that ever was. For many, it is true. They make their dreams come true. But, it is more difficult than ever. We see some of this underlying hope in our ELL students.

    I grew up about 30 min from Sandburg’s birthplace.

    1. I remember you mentioning your work with ELL students; I think you’ve been doing that for several years now. As I’ve tried to learn rudimentary Spanish to communicate on the docks, I’ve certainly come to appreciate the struggles of newly-arrived non-English speakers.

      Did you visit Sandburg’s birthplace? Have you written about it? I did visit Faulker’s home in Missisippi, and that was quite the experience.

      1. Yes, it has been several years now. They are brave to set out in a new country. I would have a hard time at this age. But, I am certain there would be people to help along the way. There always are.

        I didn’t go into Sandburg’s home. But, I’ve seen it. I haven’t written about it. Another person from the same city of Galesburg IL was John Ferris, inventor of the giant wheel that bears his name. I have written about that.

  14. I like Faulkner’s line: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” There’s a great deal of truth in that thought. As we as a country suffer the aftermath of The Donald’s disastrous four years, I can’t help but feeling that the past is still here with us. Your photos lend weight to my thoughts.

    1. It’s possible to be political without being partisan. The issues I raised here are not limited to one person or one party. Those who demand that we sort ourselves into tribes are one of the greatest threats we face. There are days when I suspect they might be greater threats than the fear-mongers.

      1. Agreed. I don’t belong to either political party, just rely on my own ability to understand what has happened. But friends and family are crazy nuts about belonging to one side or the other. It’s unhinged to be sure.

  15. Thank you for the Sandburg poem. I have always liked his work. If I had a wish I would hope that his poem would be just a beautiful piece with no relevance. Unfortunately, that is not how it is. Thanks, again.

    1. No, that poem was relevant when it was written, and I suspect it will continue to be so long after we’re gone. What’s sad isn’t that the poem is pointed and poignant. What’s sad is that most people today are cut off from wisdom and art like Sandburg’s. Zuckerberg’s ‘metaverse’ may be the next big thing, but I’ll keep reading my poems, and talking to real people. I find it more satisfying.

    1. The biographies are easy enough to find, but there’s always something to discover in his poems. He wrote prolifically, and tonight I found this one for the first time: so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. This article is a little long and scholarly, but I found this paragraph buried in it that made me smile:

      “For all this fame, he remained unassuming. What he wanted from life was “to be out of jail, … to eat regular, … to get what I write printed, … a little love at home and a little nice affection hither and yon over the American landscape, … [and] to sing every day.” He wrote with a pencil, a fountain pen, or a typewriter, “but I draw the line at dictating ’em,” he said. He kept his home as it was, refusing, for example, to rearrange his vast library in some orderly fashion; he knew where everything was. “

      1. Wow! Thank you for sharing the poem and the article clip.

        It seem he had a way of summing up all we really want at the end of the day. This modern chase of fame and being an influencer is just a very public search for be seen (get printed) and a little love. I do appreciate the affection hither and you over the American landscape.

  16. I know we read this poem back when I was in school, but somehow, it seems to have a different meaning today. Perhaps it’s because of the times we live in. Then, it sounded overly pessimistic; today, it sounds pretty realistic. And I find that terribly sad, don’t you?

    1. Context sure does make a difference. I suspect when Sandburg wrote the poem, just four years after WWI, the experiences of that war still were fresh, and affected his view of the world. When we came along, post WWII, the world was quite different, and easier. Today? There’s change in the air again, and a poem written a full century ago, in 1922, speaks directly to us, as the classics always do.

  17. A relevant poem, but I suspect anyone could say that at any point in our history. Like others, I know Sandburg mostly through early years of reading; it rings more true, or at least understandable, with a few decades of life. Interesting post, Linda.

    1. I just realized that Sandburg’s poem, written in 1922, is a full century old. That seems amazing to me, especially since his work was considered quite modern when I was in school and memorizing it. It’s certainly true that our life experiences affect our understanding of a poem like this, but it’s also true that the ebb and flow of world events sometimes help to make “old’ insights relevant again.

  18. Instead of “political cross currents” I would have called them riptides, which are deadly and contain the unsuspected undertow. The gullible and undiscerning follow the fake news over the cliff’s edge.

    1. The interesting thing about riptides is that they’re survivable. Too many people panic and try to swim for shore, rather than swimming parallel to the shore until they’re out of it. I wouldn’t say rip current deaths are common in Galveston, but they happen. NOAA has developed a new predictive tool that ought to be helpful, as long as people are aware of it and pay attention to it.

      Your mention of the over-the-cliff phenomenon reminded me of Native American’s buffalo jumps: a way of hunting that involved sending bison over cliff edges to their deaths. For our herd, it might be worth stopping now and then to see who’s coming up from behind.

  19. The whole family is fond of holding Halloween traditions, and we continue to do so here in New Zealand. The histories and the mysteries hold a special set of feelings and all of us–especially the grands–always look forward to it with great anticipation. The little, rock-hard pumpkins here are awfully hard to carve well, though.

    1. However rock-hard and poorly carved, a real pumpkin still beats the inflatable plastic sort that seem to be everywhere these days. On the other hand, a local tradition that everyone loves began decades ago; a family hangs hundreds of plastic jack-o-lanterns from the branches of their oak trees. At sunrise or sunset, they often appear to be lighted. They hang them well, too. After a couple of days of 40-50 mph winds, they’re all still intact — just like our beloved traditions.

  20. I am on Sandberg’s side, attracted to shade more than sun. Can’t stand all that unquestioning happiness stuff.
    As for Halloween, the bucket of snappy celery sticks are waiting for the knocks on the door.

    1. Your celery made me laugh — and remember those neighbors who handed out little boxes of raisins instead of candy. To be honest, I was most fond of the homemade popcorn balls, hand-pulled taffy, and pumpkin cookies. Candy bars are fine, but they can’t rival a good popcorn ball.

      As for all that unquestioning happiness, I’ve always thought of it like the fancy icing on commercial cakes and cupcakes. The first thing I do if I’m faced with that sort of treat is scrape the icing off and put it to the side. It’s the solidity of the cake I’m interested in, not the additional fluff.

    1. Thanks for the note on the link error. For a couple of reasons, I can’t simply edit the link, so here is another link to the Toronto charity that dedicates itself to helping such people. I’m on the run this morning, so I’ll fix things up later.

  21. I don’t know this time. It’s brilliant. And bloody prescient (sp). How so many can deny or even argue about things that will make our planet better, our people more financially stable — or even just allow them to vote and have their vote counted — is beyond me. Our world is quite gone bananas these days, and perhaps no place more than here in the US.

    1. Part of our current problem is that there’s too much arguing and too little discussion or debate. Yelling doesn’t make any position more understandable, or acceptable! Beyond that, the first step in solving a problem is agreeing on the nature of the problem. Big issues, like immigration or the pandemic, are often talked about as though they’re monolithic. Sometimes, breaking the big issue down into several smaller issues can lead to at least a bit of progress — as long as the issues are described accurately. Facts do matter, and describing others’ view inaccurately doesn’t help.

      Of course, we’re learning just how ‘helpful’ social media has been recently — but that’s a whole other discussion!

  22. I know it’s an age-related thing. The older I become, the less importance I ascribe to some world events. It all seems as if some sort of Déjà Vu Blanket has been tossed over my head. Current news is the same news as ten years ago. Those in charge of governments and businesses repeat lines that must have been written decades ago as we are constantly assured this or that nostrum will lead to eternal happiness.

    Yet, when I take the time to talk with other human beings, one common theme emerges. Life is good.

    Yes, there are problems. Big, universe-sized issues about the continued existence of our species. Daily problems of the age-old variety such as how do we make ends meet this month? Unexpected problems as sudden illness. Life-altering problems for those who find themselves with no shelter or no food for today.

    Halloween. A scary time. But it can be a fun time for a child or a family with children. If it’s done right. A “pretend” scary time for adults to escape the reality of their own daily horrors. A boon for the business person. A soapbox for a politician. (“Vote for me and I’ll get rid of that nasty candy/socially unacceptable costume/politically incorrect movie.”)

    Back to my own Déjà Vu. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

    So, taking a cue from Mr. Sandburg (whom I have always admired) and from those with whom I have semi-regular discourse, I shall go forth believing: Life is good.

    Now, smell my feet.

    1. I enjoyed your mention of a Déjà Vu Blanket. I developed a similar attitude thanks to the ‘soap operas’ my mother enjoyed. Eventually, I figured out that if I stopped watching for two weeks, and then came back, the plot would have advanced imperceptibly, if at all. The dramas playing out around the country (not to mention in DC) are similar. I suppose the primary difference is that today’s social media and other sites work frantically to keep us engaged. Recent reports about a certain site’s disproportionate weighting of negative, angry, and critical posts or reponses only confirms what many people already suspected.

      I was on the road for a bit yesterday, and listened to hosts on a local radio show discussing the best Halloween candy, the worst candy, and how to get back at those creeps who hand out little boxes of raisins or carrot and celery sticks. It was some of the most entertaining programming I’ve come across for a while. By the time the hour was over, it was clear that the guys’ inner children had taken over, and the joy of Halloween was real again.

      Now, I’m off to find that troll with the long white beard, and you’d better believe I’ll have something good to eat close at hand! (Who needs Monty Python when we have Monty Harper?)

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Eliza. Things like this aren’t easy to write. As a friend often says, there’s a big difference between politics and partisanship, and partisanship generally is easier.

  23. Powerful, meaningful, and honest! Thanks for sharing a thought-provoking vision of Carl Sandburg. This post takes me back to a poem written in 1986 by CBS News journalist Charles Osgood, “Pretty Good.”

  24. There is so much dissonance among the expression of opinions hovering over our nation these days. I am not sure it is all that much different than at other times in our history with semi-truth or outright falsehood being purveyed as absolute truth. I’d like to think that the extremes we hear and experience lately will eventually ebb into something resembling normalcy but the antagonism between factions is so strong and strident I fall back on my pessimism very easily. Of all that is scary about Halloween, I think the lack of national polite discourse is the scariest of all. Disagreeing with one another is healthy for debate but taking it to an extreme leading to hatred and the ruination of lives is a sad commentary on where we are as a people right now.

    At least for a little time this evening we can all rejoice in the gaiety of children joyfully dressing up and visiting us hoping for treats.

    1. I do think the combination of the pandemic and use of social media have created an exceedingly toxic mix. It’s not just discussions about politics that grow heated and argumentative. Around here, even taking to the roads can be nerve-wracking. Aggressive driving has become common; the anonymity of the vehicle seems to be paralleling the anonymity of online presence.

      I think, too, that the imposed isolation of the past two years has contributed. I’ve yet to come across any commentator willing to mention that over the centuries “solitary confinement” has been considered the worst form of punishment. Place an entire society into solitary confinement, and the results are going to be exactly what you’d expect. Some cope, but a good many more go crazy, and when they’re let out into the light again, they go a little wild.

      I understand that I’m on a certain fringe with this one, but I never would have imposed such stringent lockdowns. What might have been gained in terms of stopping a disease has been more than counter-balanced by what was lost in terms of humanity and social cohesion. In this case (and setting aside the power issues involved) I suspect the cure eventually will be seen as worse than the disease.

      1. I think there is an endemic rudeness in our society that has bubbled to the surface over the last several years. Not a political statement per se, but for four years we had a guy in power whose response to most anything that wasn’t praise or in agreement with him was to insult the person and in some cases fire him or her. Couple that with the freedom without repercussion (sometimes by having a false name identity) to do the same on the internet to anyone who doesn’t agree with you and that just made things worse. The web has wonderful things to offer, like your blogs, but there is too much darkness to it as well. As far as road rage and rude aggressive driving, that’s been with us for a while. Quite a few years ago, I am not sure how many but my mother died in 1999 and this happened before that, she was backing into a parking space when a young woman zipped in behind her and upon getting out of her car laughed and gave my little old mother the finger. As I drive the highway often I could give you more examples but I am sure you have seen plenty yourself in all your travels.

        In a way I agree with you that the lockdown caused harm. At first I think it was a good idea, but so many people, again encouraged by a leader who praised them for not complying with mask wearing or taking the virus seriously, refused to cooperate with efforts to keep things under control and caused the problem to escalate now with deadly variants. As a society we are asked to drive responsibly and do many other things that keep our country from becoming unsafe and chaotic. Wearing a mask was not that much to ask but it has become a point of pride for some, and violently so in some cases, to not comply. Some of it can be attributed to cabin fever but a lot of it is just plain disagreeable nastiness. And some stupidity like believing Fauci and Gates teamed up to implant bugs in our brains.

        I also recognize there were plenty of people who did comply that spent a lot of time insulting and shaming others who did not. Not a good formula for winning people’s hearts.

        That’s my opinion…or some of them. So now the cure is to some degree worse than the disease. It didn’t have to be.

        1. Most of the people I know have made their decisions about a whole series of new challenges (to vaccinate or not; to wear a mask or not, to live in fear or not) by examining the evidence and doing a cost/benefit analysis rather than by simply accepting the advice of governmental officials or agencies. I have friends who’ve come down on every side of every question, and yet we get along just fine.

          My own attitudes toward much of this were developed while learning to cope with hurricanes. A variety of governmental agencies divided my area up into sections, and then began telling people to stay put until it was “their turn” to evacuate. Phooey on that. I understand storms, I can see for myself the telltale signs of their approach, and I have hurricane experts and certain agencies I trust far more than I trust local bureaucrats. When it’s time to leave, I recognize it, and I go.

          I do have one aunt who refused to be vaccinated for covid. When we talked about it, I learned something I didn’t know; she never has been vaccinated for any disease, including flu and pneumonia.
          She just doesn’t think it’s necessary, and who am I to argue with her? She’s 95 and in terrific health.

          1. Yeah, at that age let it all go, although it sounds like she always has. Every once in a while there is a story about someone who surpasses 100 and tells folks it’s because he or she smoked a cigar and drank a pint of whiskey every day. It works for some but not advisable for everyone.

            1. Quite true. I’d never take up cigars, for any reason. What’s kind of neat is that my mom lived to 93, and a couple of their cousins made it past 95. I’m hoping I’ve dipped my toe in that part of the gene pool.

            2. I hope you have also…of course. What kind of a friend would I be otherwise? In my case I hope I have genes from someone in the old neighborhood. Everyone on my father’s side had dementia and on my mother’s side cancer or heart disease. You’d think I would take better care of myself. Maybe I’ll start tomorrow.

  25. Your posts always make me think, and in this case, make me realize I need to go read more Carl Sandburg. But as for the division we now face, and the popularity of censoring or ignoring any fact that doesn’t advance our own agenda, you’re right: far scarier than anything Halloween could ever come up with. I am amazed and saddened by how many people buy into that….

    1. It became a cliché at some point, but I still think from time to time of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s version of a quotation that made the rounds for several decades: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” The tendency of people to ignore facts that don’t support their preferred opinions is increasingly obvious.

      Other issues play into the problems, such as mathematical illiteracy. I’ve always had trouble with math, not to mention statistics, but even I can recognize what’s going on when a governmental agency trumpets the fact that deaths among ‘young people’ (how old? what’s the age range?) have ‘tripled’, and recommend all children be vaccinated based on those ‘facts.’ In that context, what does ‘tripled’ actually mean? If the base number of deaths was thirty per 10,000, or three hundred, that’s clearly something to think about. But if ‘tripled’ means a change from three deaths per 10,000 to nine — that’s sad, but not a reason for panic. As I was told years ago, “Thinking is hard!”

  26. Thank you for this gift of thought plus a soupcon of Sandburg. Then to make it even more meaningful to those of us who think visually, you add those powerful images.

    1. I’ve always enjoyed a combination of words and images. Here, words predominate, and on my photographic blog, Lagniappe, images take center stage. But whatever the proportion, I think having both is useful.

      Sandburg is such a gem. It saddens me that so many great American poets are being ignored in many curricula, but I try to do my part to remind people that their work exists and continues to be relevant.

    1. It’s interesting to me that readers of quite different views found something of value here. Perhaps there’s hope for us all to begin talking to one another again, after all.

  27. That’s one dark poem, there’s a bit of Ozymandias in it. There’s a lot of worthwhile reading in the comments as well. I’ve been away from there too long!

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