Edited and introduced by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc.

On the eve of All Hallows’ Eve, here’s a poem by poet and essayist Deborah Cummins, who splits her time between Portland and Deer Isle. The poem asks us to consider a thought – what do kids’ choices in Halloween costumes reveal about their future lives? This question, the poem shows us, has a deeper one buried within it, a question that any of us might consider: “What other selves have my costumes hidden?”

But we shouldn’t overlook that the poem is focused on the speaker’s granddaughters. This is also a poem about girlhood and gender. The speaker, a grandmother, knows about the dangers of the world and how they can affect “little girls / of open minds and violable flesh.” She wishes for their imaginations to “leap from smolder to blaze” and for them to remember “[t]his night when anything seems possible.”

On Halloween

By Deborah Cummins

How innocent the seasonal question –

Who do you want to be? –

that once-a-year opportunity for re-invention.

How tempting to read too much

into my granddaughters’ choices –

that Sarah, as bride, will marry early,

and Micaela, cheerleader, is doomed

to the sidelines. Let’s hope youngest Annie

who demanded a “scary guy”

strikes out unafraid, ambitions ungendered.

Years from now, in some middle-age October

threatening to diminish the world leaf by leaf,

what tricks will they have they needed to master?

In some future autumn of life’s afternoon,

might they lift from memory

their veil and pom-poms and mask

and ask, What other selves have my costumes hidden?

Oh may they then with exhilarated heart

recall how they quick-stepped into the dark,

their laughter shrill, on the edge, sweet-bags laden.

Let their imaginations leap from smolder to blaze

as they do this Hallow’s Eve, seasons away

from sad arrangements, wrong turnings.

This night when anything seems possible,

when, frightened and giddy, little girls

of open minds and violable flesh,

venture forth in flimsy rayon and glitter.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2006 Deborah Cummins. First published in Counting the Waves, 2006, by Word Press, it appears here by permission of the author.