It’s a no-no

It begins on a negative note
surely no month offers less
than this. Novemberish is dreary after all
and more so now pollution pundits
ban the bonfire whilst gainsayers of gaiety
frown and tut at the ritual burning
of an historic effigy.1

I recall woollen gloves and frigid hands
eyes that stung with wood smoke from the blaze.
Our gaze hypnotised by tongues of fire
licking up all the dry dead leaves
of a faded Autumn. We’d searched the garden piles
for hedgehogs; sleepy balls of fleas and prickles
gingerly transposed to box or barn. On the fifth night
a rustic Guy would top the pyre, and in our hands
sparklers sizzled, sausages burst their skins
amongst embers and all the bangs and fizz
of family fireworks faded out
like a late afternoon conversation.

Lest we forget, November is a bloody month.2 The sanguine poppy
symbol of bloodletting keeps us remembering. More ancient still
the livestock ritual slaughter before winter starvation.
Meat dried, fat rendered, skin leathered,
only the carcase left for the bone fire, cauterised to cinders.
And where the plough furrowed the fields, ashes cast before seed.

Arable acres are turned again now. I rejoice seeing rich earthy hues
and the rare blue of skies showing through
skeleton trees of Ash.


  1. The Gunpowder Plot to blow up parliament in 1605 was foiled – bonfires were lit to celebrate. Commemorated every year since with fireworks and burning effigies of the main Catholic conspirator, Guy Fawkes. ? to celebrate Fawkes’ execution or honouring his attempt to do away with the government.
  2. Blōtmōnað – literally “blood-month” in Old English was the name for November.
A somewhat nostalgic no-nonsense nominative  poem for Sanaa's Poetics prompt: November

40 Comments on “It’s a no-no

  1. I do love the storytelling in this. Indeed November as a blood month I can believe, after all, it’s only after the harvest is brought in you know how many cows you may keep…

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    • yes winter fodder just for the breeding stock in those days when Anglo Saxons knew it as Blōtmōnað
      – am glad you heard the storytelling for bone fires must have been made for these too

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  2. I enjoyed the playfulness of the title and opening lines, Laura, which then quickly gives way to November dreariness and the memories of Bonfire Night, so familiar and similar to my own, especially the ‘woollen gloves and frigid hands’. We both wrote about bonfires and smoke, which must be entrenched in British life. The poor old hedgehogs should be a bit safer during lockdown. I especially love the images in the final lines.

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  3. “Lest we forget, November is a bloody month.2 The sanguine poppy
    symbol of bloodletting keeps us remembering,” … oh yes .. there is so much attached to the month of November especially Guy Fawkes. This is exquisite in its portrayal. Thank you so much for writing to the prompt! 💝

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  4. The negative note made me think of the Thomas Hood poem. I’m afraid I’m one of those who frown and cringe at the burning of the Guy. It was too close to home where I came from and I still hate it.
    I do like those final lines where the carnage ends in peace and clarity.

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    • am sure Hood crept up from my unconscious reflecting my own negativity at this time of year but then I did find some brighter sparks!

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  5. A sense of history…maybe a challenging of history….November from a different perspective and without rose-tinted glasses

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  6. I enjoyed learning that this month is a bloody month. Thanks for the notes. I appreciate the story of the ritual burning including the livestock ritual slaughter before winter starvation. Good one Laura.

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  7. You wrote an informative and nostalgic piece honoring this month of flame and darkness of many kinds.

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  8. I enjoyed every bit of this journey through November – exactly the kind I remember as a child growing up in the UK. I like how you picked out the ‘No’ at the start of the word – it’s a difficult time of the year. This is so rich with stunning imagery and history, just fantastic.

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  9. I got caught up in the nostalgia of your great poem. Sounds like so much fun! Well done.

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  10. I feel the drama of November’s story in full force in your words. They are mesmerizing. November is a bloody month. I love the ending of “skeleton trees of ash.” Great write!

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  11. I love your November memories of the bonfire, sausages and fireworks. Visiting the childhood memories of others is wonderful armchair travel!

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  12. This is stunning, Laura. History lesson in poem form, not an easy task. You managed it brilliantly.

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