Against All The Signs

I stopped believing in harbingers,

the same way I try not to flinch

when passing on the stairs,

or hide the sidestep in my walk

for cracks on the pavement.

 

Superstition crawled inside my head

before I was old enough to name it.

Caught up between pie crusts

my great-grandmother baked,

hidden in the coils

of her apple peels.

 

Good Day Mr Magpie,

are you well? How’s the family?

 

We buried glass somewhere,

years ago,

when it broke like ice

and my mother feared

the things she’d been taught

might just come true.

 

Seven years bad luck

unless it’s buried.

Deeper now, deeper,

hide the evidence and the thought. 

 

Sometimes it’s simpler not to

see the shadows casts as signs.

Yet I still count in threes,

for these things always come in threes.

 

Crossed knives, 

tempest in a teapot,

do not stir and do not pour

these quarrelsome ideas.

 

The worst of it always comes unseen.

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28 Comments

  1. I like this a lot. First of all, I like the theme – those superstitions are hard to shake off! – and I recognised them, so that made me feel connected to the poem. There’s a sense of discomfort underlying it, though, and that last line, hanging in the void, is very sharply done. Great write, Carol, thank you for sharing.

  2. My husband is always telling me it’s superstitious nonsense but I still greet the magpie, avoid cracks in the pavement and so many other things I learned from my grandmother. Maybe it’s a way of clinging to childhood. I like the phrase ‘hide the sidestep in my walk’ and the lines:
    ‘Superstition crawled inside my head
    before I was old enough to name it.
    Caught up between pie crusts
    my great-grandmother baked,
    hidden in the coils
    of her apple peels.’
    That has to be a reference to ‘Apple peel, apple peel, tell me true, who am I going to get married to’!

    1. Actually Ba used to be able to peel an apple without the peel breaking. She’d peel and pare one every afternoon for my sister and I. However, your assumption sounds far better.

  3. There’s a sinister atmosphere to this poem. How can anyone live with so many illogical fears besetting them? I didn’t know we were supposed to greet magpies. Is it very bad not to? I greet some birds if they look as if they’ve just greeted me, but if I had to say hello to every single magpie, I’d never shut up.

  4. I really liked this–the superstitions as harbingers of things to come. I liked the sharp images here. I was also struck by the stanza Kim mentions–though I didn’t get the reference to the rhyme.

    1. I wouldn’t worry. I was actually referring to my great-grans ability to peel an apple without the peel breaking part way through. I’m going to pretend I meant it as a reference though because that makes it sound far more thought out than it was

  5. Enjoyed this very much….I’ve always thought of superstitions as fun things to recite and play at. Except one. Which may not really be a superstition? My mother always told me to wear a hat in cold weather “becuase 90% of your body heat escapes from your head.” Wonder if that’s true? But her repetition of it had me, even as a rebellious teen, wearing a hat outside in the cold! 🙂 Whereas I never bothered about cracks on sidewalks, or walking wide of a ladder, or worried about seeing a black cat etc.
    Your first line sets up the poem so well. And then the listing…but not really as a blank listing, done so in a very intersting way!

    1. I’d say that’s more of a myth than a superstition as it was considered fact until it got debunked. My family used to say something similar though.
      I have a book of superstitions that someone gave me but I can’t read it because I know they’ll niggle at me if I do. Silly but true.

  6. I was 12 when my grandfather caught a magpie, and kept it in a cage for a month. Magpies talk like parrots, much to my surprise. So do crows, my Pop said. I finally heard one talking about a decade ago while at the ocean.

  7. I love this! My great-grandmother wouldn’t finish a card game if the first card she turned over was an ace of spades. It is so interesting how superstitions are tied to tradition and are passed on through the generations.

  8. I do understand this. My husband would greet every magpie that showed itself.
    Maybe he missed a few – for ?fate was not kind to him…
    I’m not superstitious myself – but maybe I should be… (I deliberately walk under every ladder…}
    Anna :o]

  9. I grew up on many superstitions as well and it has an OCD quality to it at worst and a generalized anxiety condition at best. I wonder if anyone has done research on male vs female belief in superstition and the origins of the superstitions. Some of them underlie valid reasons for doing or not doing things, but many more serve no useful function other than to agitate if not followed.

  10. Bravo – so many superstitions that creep into our lives, challenges us to move beyond, and then the rules of three – not shakeable. Love your closing line.

  11. Wonderful poem! I’m not superstitious, but I do remember learning some of these as a child along with a lot of other little rules that I think we followed along with just to keep boredom at bay. The atmosphere is a lot more foreboding, though. I almost wish I had been superstitious!

  12. Though never blessed with that kind of family, I have always loves the superstitions of the old folks. Especially of the Southern variety. This was so lovingly put together.. Thank you.

  13. ‘Superstition crawled inside my head
    before I was old enough to name it.
    Caught up between pie crusts
    my great-grandmother baked,
    hidden in the coils
    of her apple peels.’

    I love this, Carol. I think everyone has some superstitions that they keep to themselves. As children, we are all so impressionable.

    1. I would certainly say it sticks. My mother complains about how she finds herself adhering to superstitions my grandmother and great-grandmother drilled into her despite wanting to be rational about the whole thing.

  14. A fascinating superstitious study. Though, I wasn’t familiar with all the references. I’ve never heard of burying a broken mirror, for example. You’d think that only led to heartache for some gardener in the future. Perhaps bad luck is self imposed in some of these solutions?

    1. I’m not sure how well know the mirror one is. My mother told it to me and I’d assume you’d bury the mirror somewhere out of the way so you’d be unlikely to dig it back up.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the poem though.

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