Poetry Sunday: Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015

In a few days, we'll be celebrating Halloween with parties and festivals, costumes and candy. "Trick or treat!"

This poem by Craig Santos Perez contrasts that happy kitschy holiday spirit with some of the real atrocities that are all too much a part of our real world and the time in which we live, the Anthropocene epoch.

From Poetry Magazine's analysis of the poem:
Perez toggles between blissful American play and abusive foreign labor, between carefree and careworn children, between—more horrifyingly—live children and dead. Black boys, “enslaved by supply chains” rather than literal chains, carry “bags of cacao,” raw material for the treats the Disney princess begs for. Her costume, like most Americans’ clothes, is the product of “brown girls” at risk of perishing in sweatshops. The ninja-wannabes are relying on a stereotype of real Asians, some of whom make the “toys and tech” that Western children adore. A “chain” of cause-and-effect links the barbarities of child labor to the joys of American kids who, despite all they have, are asking for more: “give me something good.”

The poem itself aims to “cut through,” to “unthread,” the masquerades not only of Halloween but also of the West in general. “Pray for us,” Perez writes, “because our costumes / won’t hide the true cost of our greed.” Like naïve children, he suggests, Westerners play a kind of dress-up, deceiving ourselves about the catastrophes just over the horizon—catastrophes from which we may well benefit.
The “true cost of our greed” is, among other things, environmental destruction, and—as if to emphasize that cost—this poem links elements of the Halloween scene with manmade ecological disasters.

Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015

by Craig Santos Perez

Darkness spills across the sky like an oil plume.
The moon reflects bleached coral. Tonight, let us
praise the sacrificed. Praise the souls of  

black boys, enslaved by supply chains, who carry
bags of cacao under West African heat. “Trick
or treat, smell my feet, give me something good

to eat,” sings a girl dressed as a Disney princess.
Let us praise the souls of   brown girls who sew
our clothes as fire unthreads sweatshops into

smoke and ash. “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me
something good,” whisper kids disguised as ninjas.
Tonight, let us praise the souls of Asian children

who manufacture toys and tech until gravity sharpens
their bodies enough to cut through suicide nets.
“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me,” shout boys

camouflaged as soldiers. Let us praise the souls
of  veterans who salute with their guns because
only triggers will pull God into their ruined

temples. “Trick or treat, smell my feet,” chant kids
masquerading as cowboys and Indians. Tonight,
let us praise the souls of native youth, whose eyes

are open-pit uranium mines, veins are poisoned
rivers, hearts are tar sands tailings ponds. “Trick
or treat,” says a boy dressed as the sun. Let us

praise El Niño, his growing pains, praise his mother,
Ocean, who is dying in a warming bath among dead
fish and refugee children. Let us praise our mothers

of  asthma, mothers of  cancer clusters, mothers of
miscarriage — pray for us — because our costumes
won’t hide the true cost of our greed. Praise our

mothers of  lost habitats, mothers of  fallout, mothers
of extinction — pray for us — because even tomorrow
will be haunted — leave them, leave us, leave — 


  1. Most of the images conjured by this poem are not the ones one thinks of thinking about Halloween. Powerful stuff. It made me utterly uncomfortable. ;-)

  2. Not a fan of Halloween myself as it is practiced in our country. I think the poet has accessed the real meaning of the day.

    1. He certainly nailed the dichotomy that exists between the fantasy of Halloween and the reality of horror that exists in so many corners of human society.


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