What Those Who Believed in Purgatory Maybe Knew

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What Those Who Believed in Purgatory Maybe Knew

That there were dry spaces, in-between places,
where one must step through slews of shriveled souls
like so many fallen leaves–the faces,
crimped at the curves as old potatoes,

yet, still eyed–  where one would mute one’s gait
to cause no crackling, slide to not break a spine
(nor crush the dun spine once had backed). No, the game
was to walk as one walked through clover, thyme,

to schuss the crinkling wince, as if they were bees
that buzzed beneath, bees that didn’t truly
wish to sting, but needed warning of lithe feet;
to walk the freeze as one might walk July–

except with mourning pace, with low-bowed head–
just in case they traced your gaze, these waiting dead–

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Here’s a poem that’s gone through many iterations, in part because this is one of those I read to someone else (my husband) when still in draft, and he kept telling me he liked some earlier no-longer-quite-intact version better.  This is not one of the earlier, allegedly better, versions.  The only claim I can make is that it’s a sonnet–and it’s unintentionally Halloweeny–I am posting it belatedly for With Real Toads, hosted by Magaly Guerrero.  I am also going to hazard posting this for Izy Gruye’s “out of standard” prompt re zombies, since this may be the closest to zombies, I can get today (without looking into a mirror.)

Yes, it gets a little rhyme-y there at the end.  And the pic (mine) should really be browner leaves, which in fact is the case in upstate New York where I live–but I am in Manhattan just now, where the leaves are still pretty green!  

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18 Comments on “What Those Who Believed in Purgatory Maybe Knew”


  1. ‘fallen leaves – faces crimped at the curves like old potatoes’ Such a beautiful metaphor to describe dried, fallen leaves. Truly great. Thanks for posting it on your website. I hope you won’t mind it if I save the poem on my computer. Of course, under your name. I won’t till I don’t get your permission. Thanks.

  2. hedgewitch Says:

    I can’t really imagine an earlier version that would be better than this, k, but I know it can happen that we lose something in the process of evolving the poem–I have to doubt whether that happened here, as this package is full of gifts, vivid and alive amid the dead, these images and phrases. I especially like the bees, and the All Hallows feeling of how the living and the dead are still somehow entwined–in a joint experience–somehow–as our different planes find a congruency for a time. Really one of your best, and your ease with the form enhances the poem beautifully.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Ha. Well, thanks. To be fair to my husband, I did not read this version to him, and he never read any of the others on the page. I don’t always read things to him, but he usually has a very good ear. One thing funny is that because I kept re-writing it over the last day or so, I had to repeatedly change the end rhymes, which led to kind of a slant rhyme at the ends and a lot of internal rhymes from the shifting lines. Thanks again, as always.

  3. mhwarren Says:

    I used to think a lot about Purgatory as a kid and try to figure out what it was really all about besides being strange and unfair. You catch the weirdness of it here perfectly in describing how to walk among these dead-caught-in-between shriveled souls. And I love that line to schuss the crinkling wince.


  4. That first stanza is outstanding and the rest wonderful.

  5. brian miller Says:

    these waiting dead…quite haunting end that caps off a verse that def smells of the season …i dont know that i would want to end up in purgatory actually…stuck in between…though i do like fall…

  6. Brendan Says:

    I thought this was exquisitely crafted, Karin, walking a verbal tightrope precisely along the poem’s conceit as I read it — that as we obey superstitions because we fear they might be true (like avoiding stepping on those cracks), there is a purgatory for souls who fear just enough the penalties of hell to put a purgatory in to pay off all of one’s half-assed sins. As you say, just in case. Lots of dread and wonder seeping up through the cracks of this.

  7. Marian Says:

    Karin, you had me with “schuss.” 🙂

  8. Kerry O'Connor Says:

    Brilliant! A sonnet… a Dystopian world…mesmerizing images… Not much more I could ask for in a poem. You always bring the human element forward in your poems and with an enviable subtlety which I find so compelling.

    No, the game
    was to walk as one walked through clover, thyme,

    to schuss the crinkling wince, as if they were bees
    that buzzed beneath, bees that didn’t truly
    wish to sting….

    I think this is sound advice for living in any scenario.

  9. Helen Says:

    One of your best (hard to choose as they are all great) .. the photo is scrumptious ~ colors amazing!! I converted to Catholicism in my early 20s .. purgatory never ‘clicked in’ for me.


  10. I love the rhythm of the sonnet – you’ve captured it well and the Halloween-y tone as well…this is my favorite, “the game
    was to walk as one walked through clover, thyme,” 🙂

  11. grapeling Says:

    this one patters the tongue ~

  12. Isadora Gruye Says:

    Wow Karen! I am late in reading posts, and for that a thousand lashings. This piece really sings. You captured a mood of foreboding and bittersweet. Love the word play on Mourning Pace….well done and Viva la


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