Fright Night

This is the night the dead walk in the streets
Looking like neighbors’ children, masked
In tricks they have been taught to trade for treats
That pose the questions spooks are always asked.

The six year old rouged like a Main Street Moll
Knows better than to say if she’s too young.
The pirate with the eye-patch loves to roll
His aliases on his suckered tongue.

The alien covered cap-a-pied in gold
Keeps noncommittal about gender,
While in the rear a ragged midget’s bold
And twisted grin implies he’s on a bender.

And look! Around the smoking lantern packs
A gibbering, cackling, elbow-prodding host
Of more unlikelihoods with open sacks
And hiding in each one an urchin ghost.

“Why treasure teeth yet threaten rot in those
We sweetly love?” the shade of Reason mutters.
The sigh of the unanswered question blows
A clot of wrappers down the gummed-up gutters.



Leaving the Dead to the Dead

Leaves soothed to slumber by the rain
Caress the drops that beat them down.
In every thoroughfare and lane
Their vivid corpses float through town.

We mourn for them. We miss their green.
Pale petioles offend the eye.
The leaking clouds become obscene,
Hinting our streets may never dry.

Too late we rouse ourselves from grief
To liberate the stinking flood
That blocks our way as leaf by leaf
The culverts choke on scarlet mud.

Some day the town will green once more.
Let’s hope someone’s still there to see
The beauty of a budding chore
Before it sprouts calamity.



Lionel Willis was born in Toronto in 1932. He has been a mosaic designer, portrait painter, watercolorist, biological illustrator, field entomologist and professor of English Literature as well as a poet. His verse has appeared in A Miscellany of Prints and Poems, The Canadian Forum,  Candelabrum Poetry Magazine, Descant, Dream International Quarterly, Harp Strings Poetry Journal, Hrafnhoh, Iambs & Trochees, Light, Romantics Quarterly, The Classical Outlook, The Society of Classical Poets, The Deronda Review,  The Eclectic Muse, The Fiddlehead, The Formalist, The Lyric, The Road Not Taken, Troubadour and White Wall Review, and in two books, The Dreamstone and Other Rhymes (The Plowman, 2003) and Heartscape, a Book of Bucolic Verse (EIDOLON, 2019).  

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8 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    Lionel – both these poems are full of startling imagery and remind me of the few paintings of the weird patricide Richard Dadd (eg “The Fairy-Feller’s Master-Stroke”. The surrealism is well-maintained with some very unexpected adjectives and unusual juxtapositions of words; vivid corpses, scarlet mud, gummed-up gutters, budding chores etc. Well done!

    • lionel willis

      Thank you, Peter. I am an extreme outsider, despite my successful academic career. My remoteness from the herd has always allowed me to see, think and choose words that seem unexpected to others. However, I am far from patricidal, though I could (but won’t) name a few popular figures I dream of hanging. My sons and grandchildren tell me they “have reservations” about me. None of them is a fan of classical poetry, but I forgive that too. All the more reason to treasure your kind words.

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Lionel, I have read and reread these two beautifully wrought, engaging and disturbing poems. “Fright Night” (aptly named) taps into all the oddities of Halloween with linguistic dexterity and aplomb. I love it all, but the closing stanza is a candy-coated tongue-in-cheek delight.

    “Leaving the Dead to the Dead” (clever wordplay) is equally engaging. Those symbolic leaves are a magnificent touch. I have thoroughly enjoyed this extended metaphor with its vivid imagery and melancholic beauty. Thank you!

    • lionel willis

      And I have just been reading your beautiful sonnet about Lady Macbeth’s afterlife. I’m in the midst of a medical issue right now. When I have less divided mind I will return to pay closer attention to it and the song about grief. I was moved, but have few words now. Thank you for the skill and insight of your work and the generosity of your praise.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Lionel, I am sorry to hear of your medical issue. I hope and pray that you are on a calmer and kinder path in life soon. Take good care.

      • lionel willis

        It’s OK, Susan. An unexpected attack of hives and eczema was robbing me of sleep until a prescription for 0.01% Betamethasone was delivered. The itch is gone and I can begin to think again. (It all came on after my second Covid shot, which mixed vaccines. At least my immune system is thoroughly alerted!) Thank you for your concern and prayers.
        I think you have found the essence of Lady Macbeth’s hold on her spooked husband. That kind of relationship seems rare but disastrous. I notice Joe’s piece about Pope Sylvester II hints at the same sort of evil. In both cases the real temptation was probably lust for power, and All Souls provides an apt moment to skewer it.
        A teaching colleague of mine was Rex Southgate, who was an accomplished professional actor. I asked him about a production of “That Play” in which the actress who played the murderess lady also played one of the three witches. Rex had directed the production as well as playing the lead. He thought the double role was sanctioned by custom. Something to muse on.

  3. Damian Robin

    Both are beautiful. Thanks Lionel. Annual occurrences can seem mundane as they recur. You accept them
    in everyday words, without exaggeration, and lift them into a delicate realm of observation and feeling.

    It’s like being there as you describe the details.

    Petiole is a word I’d not come across before. So to me it was not an everyday word. However, you’ve educated me (after I’ve looked this word up) as well as lifted my sensibilities. Thanks.

  4. C.B. Anderson

    I must say, Lionel, that these poems could not have been written without a poet’s acute eye and astute ear. I envy your ability to pull arresting phrases out of thick air, by which I mean, your knack for making connections between heretofore unconnected strands of natural human experience. Both are poems of the first water. Even the opacities are crystal clear.


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