After Morticia Addams describing Wednesday’s
role model (“Wednesday’s great-aunt Calpurnia.
She was burned as a witch in 1706. They said she danced
naked in the town square and enslaved a minster ..
but don’t worry. We’ve told Wednesday: college first.”)
Young girls require a patron saint — aunt’s
abysmal ashes antiquate entwined,
Massachusetts grave, with God’s servant
whom she enslaved. Impious mind
in clerical cravat a town square dance
(performed in only raven plaits) bewitched
him, powdered wig, preaching tabs. Hung, entranced,
skinned bones inside this slab, witch ashes stitched
inside a velvet pouch. Five shovels, Salem
dig them out, Calpurnia and her slave,
by Packard V-12 conveyed to asylum
amidst a family deceased, depraved
to rest in peace beneath Wednesday’s window—
a girl needs role models six feet below.
Annotating the Addams Family Ancestry and My Own:
I’m not a jewelry wearer, but I’ve been wearing a man’s ring for a month now – a relative who passed away. He had small fingers, and it fits loosely on my middle finger. That fit felt like such a fortuitous comfort when I first tried it on. I immediately felt stronger that he was with me, at hand.
He was someone who had the charisma and small town grandiosity of a Tennessee William’s character, someone who loved me for being a writer, storyteller, a character herself and just for being me. He was a family member that did absolutely anything for me he could, and I don’t have a lot of family like that.
His unexpected passing was a huge loss to me. It was also an education about life and death. It was the first time I’d ever been with a person while he was dying and the actual death (preceded by a week-long coma). It was excruciating and overwhelming, and I wouldn’t trade any moment I gave him that last week. I gained so much insight into life and the importance of loving people, of giving everything that you can to people you love and your art while you have those precious moments to give.
This experience all happened during the Halloween season, which is usually a very joyous season for me. (Though really zealous readers of mine will know I had a Halloween season death before in losing my neighbor, an abused little girl, Dericka Lindsay. In fact, I desperately moved to the house where I now live to leave a crime scene that I was still living in after her passing. You can read some about Dericka in Pensacola Girls. I didn’t expect either of these deaths I’ve experienced during my favorite Halloween holiday.
This Halloween season, I’m trying to have a little fun with some spooky plans even if they are less elaborate than I would like. I am a huge Wednesday Addams fan, and in fact, Wednesday Addams was my childhood nickname. I’ve written a poem about Wednesday that Mookychick published one Halloween not long ago here: Wednesday. I dress like her often at Halloween. In fact, this Halloween, I know I’m going to because I’m so behind on the events of living due to all the rituals and ceremonies and events that coincide with a death. I always have my trusty Wednesday costume, and I included a picture of myself in it above.
In fact, I wore the costume already twice this Halloween season for the only two distractions I have had from grief: 1.) I went to see The Addams Family movie, the new cartoon. I didn’t have the highest expectations in the world for the movie, but I was grieving so hard and the movie came out at exactly the moment I was able to go do something fun again – and needed to so very much. I put on my Wednesday Addams black velvet costume, bought a black Icee at the concession stand concocted in honor of the dark family, ate way too much popcorn and enjoyed a cartoon. It was good for my soul, and I laughed for some of the first moments in a long time.
There are so many things I love about The Addams Family. I love a dark aesthetic, horror, death as themes in entertainment. I write a lot about those themes, too. I’m a complex girl though. Recently, I tweeted, “My hair is black. My soul is pastel.” That sums me up a lot. I love true crime, but I also crave cocoa and bedtime stories.
Beyond their interests though, I love how The Addams Family stick up for each other, celebrate each other’s differences. They are quite a bonded family in the ways I haven’t always known. They celebrate the dead and dig them up, have séances. They do not let them go even when they’ve gone.
The sonnet I wrote, Calpurnia, is a joyful celebration of the season, and it comes from a piece of information revealed by Morticia Addams about Wednesday’s role model Calpurnia Addams, her great aunt. The scene in Addams Family Values involves Wednesday’s teacher at school criticizing a piece of art Wednesday has created capturing the likeness of Calpurnia. It’s a disturbing drawing, as one would imagine created by an Addams. But the teacher offers contrary examples of acceptable art of “role models” like Jane Pauley.
Morticia explains to the teacher who Calpurnia is – a woman burned at the stake in 1706 Salem after she danced naked in the street and enslaved a minister. She finishes up the shocking description with the caveat, “Don’t worry. We’ve told Wednesday: college first.”
That exchange is the entire biography of Calpurnia we are given, and yet it is so rich in its imagery. I’m teaching a workshop next year at The Southern Literary Festival on The Succinct Striptease of Short Form Poetry, and this exchange would be a good example of packing a lot of content in a few brief dense lines. Calpurnia’s story, the tease of it, has always fascinated me, and I’ve always wanted to expand upon it a bit (even in my fourteen-line sonnet fashion).
I made a few small additions to this story. One, I decided that since Calpurnia was Wednesday’s hero and Calpurnia was burned at the stake in Salem, a trip would have had to have been made at some point to exhume her. The Addams Family believe in keeping the family close. I also decided that she had been buried with her enslaved minister who, in my account, was hanged for his witchy (Addams ancestor) connections.
When I started reading about ministers in Salem close to 1706 (actually researching their clothes, hence the details of the preaching tabs attached to a minister’s collar while he gives a sermon), I happened upon one, George Burroughs, who was hanged as a witch August 19, 1692. It’s a little before Calpurnia’s time, and from what I read on Wikipedia it sounds pretty certain that he was not, in fact, like the rest of these victims of these trials a witch. They say that he recited the Lord’s Prayer right before he was hanged in order to try to convince the people of his innocence (as this was supposed to be an impossible act for a witch to perform.) His timing and innocence aside, I used the idea of him as Calpurnia’s enslaved minister and imagined that after their executions they were thrown into the same grave, ashes and body co-mingled until the arrival of the family to take them back to Cemetery Lane.
I love the idea of Morticia, Gomez, Pugsley, Wednesday and Lurch (the five shovels) digging these two up, transporting them back to the family home and reburying them close to Wednesday, so she would have her role model close. It reminded me a lot of how I feel living in a house that belonged to my own beloved ancestor, a home he lived in a long time. It reminds me of the comfort I feel wearing this ring. This is why I love the Addams Family. They are dark and sentimental, and so am I.
New things are lovely because we give them stories. Antiques and hand-me-down furniture and clothing come with stories. I wear a ring that has been to places I have never been, a ring which rested on a finger at a table dining with John D. Rockefeller. Like its second wearer, who was often called “Big Daddy” by younger family members, it is imbued with Big Daddy Energy, and that’s something I need so much. When I wear that ring, I need it a little less, and what a blessing of the universe that is.
If you are a fan of my dark poetry like Calpurnia, I have a chapbook of dark poems that released a couple of weeks ago that is called Shut Your Eyes, Succubi (bedtime stories for badgirls). It’s all Shakespearean sonnets much like the one above, and you can order it from Maverick Duck Press and my website book page (if you would like a signed or annotated edition.)