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Gabriel Congdon


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My best friend growing-up made the most complex jack-o-lanterns you ever saw. He carved pumpkins all year, but because he was rich and handsome nobody thought it was strange. It appeared as one of the many aspects of the affluent: your kid makes the most freaking amazing jack-o-lanterns ever and he looks like Prince William, nothing odd here. But I had to talk to the guy.

He said that the pumpkins were the ones telling him what to carve; each pumpkin had its own message. I told him that that was crazy. He said that Michelangelo spoke of sculpting as the releasing of bodies trapped in stone, I said, “Michelangelo? The guy never recovered from a broken nose. He carved David for like, fifty bucks. Dude had a permanent crush on Dante. Got freaked out by Savonarola’s sermons and spent the rest of his ill-stricken life in the closet writing poetry about scripture and catamites.”

He spun the pumpkin to reveal the image of me making the very speech I’d just made, only I’m not wearing shorts like the pumpkin thought I was going to.


“See? Each pumpkin has a message. This one is from my own patch, which is why it revealed such a close truth. I need different pumpkins, denser ones.”

The in-town pumps are gar-bage, so with the help of his rich parents we traveled to different counties and tried out their kins. He’d carve battle scenes that concurred with the town’s history; clues to local mysteries would emerge from the orange flesh that led many an adroit investigators to unforeseeable answers. The pumpkins of the north had in them landscapes, while the pumpkins of the south spoke in ancient fables. One pumpkin decried the barbaric practice of pumpkin gutting, but the orchard keeper promptly stomped it to smithereens and after that none of the pumpkins tried anything funny. Town to town I’d buy up all the albinos, he’d churn out some Pisano reliefs, and I’d sell them back for a good chunk of change. Word spread of our travels, we were approached by different gourd companies to be spokesmodels or compete in jack-o-tournaments, but my friend showed little interest in such endeavors. His medium, he knew, melted.

One night I caught him with terracotta making the stupidest sculptures you ever saw. I bluntly asked if this was the case with the other mediums and he said that it was. With a chisel his subjects are prey to accidental Gothic, and his clay moldings were slithery and sinister.

“I’m condemned to pumpkins.”

“But your parents are wealthy, surely money could procure a cure?”

“Well, the freeze-ray is on its way. Maybe in my life some works will be preserved.”

“What about this grand scheme of yours?”

“Pumpkin language.”

It’s the message of all pumpkins he was searching for.

The question is this: did they have pumpkins on Mount Olympus? Could Hermes fly over the Atlantic? Or did he peer into the distance and think nothing out there save hostile islands. The pumpkin was without story, it had a freedom Persephone’s pomegranate and Eve’s apple could only dream of. It wasn’t until an adroit Irish bloke slid a knife into the great gourd and told a story about a man playing a trick on the devil, that the pumpkin landed its biggest bit, dwarfing Cinderella’s carriage, and eventually transmuting itself into Washington Irving’s pumpkinonic tale. Never mind that the impetus for the clown-eyed, bucktooth lantern was originally intended for the turnip. No, fuck the turnip. The exiled soul in the Stingy Jack tale was waiting for the pumpkin, the ultimate medium of its Promethean punishment. Only the pumpkins’ plasticity could possibly render the many-faced agonies of the damned.

An Aroostook observing to the Irishman carving the first jack-o-launten tried to mention his culture's story of the pumpkin but the Irish bloke brushed it off, commenting that a story about tricking the devil would be pretty tough to beat and that he best try his luck with strawberries, but he’d better hurry as Bosch was already doing some pretty funky things with them.

Such were the thoughts that perched on our handsome protagonist’s brow. He wondered what the vegetable’s potential might’ve been had it not been commandeered as the symbol of an entire hallowday. He was despondent about the endeavor. It was his skill at reliefs that perpetuated the problem, but he didn’t want to supplant technique in pursuit of new forms. He could very well spend the rest of his days carving nativities and crucifixes without nudging the pumpkin paradigm like he’d like to. He searched for a way to void an object its referent. He peered a world-over, where we made our jack-o-lanterns from watermelons, and the pumpkin was just a pumpkin was just a pumpkin.

When we finally got to Australia, I’d turned fourteen and had enough money to last me till I was twenty-three! I didn’t need school or my dumb parents anymore! I wanted to ask what he expected Australia’s famous blue pumpkins to say, but he’s really gotten into Michelangelo and it’s made him really moody.

“I’m sorry I said those things about Mikey. I’m sure it wasn’t God intervening to give him the worst tomb of all time. Agents of chance are what produced that picture with Constantine’s tent and the putti looking like potpourri spokesmodels. And those three chicks, they’re super cool. All you have to do is smash your head against a wall enough times to forget a place like the Medici Chapel and what a tomb is supposed to look like. (Pause) We’re like Mikey and Vassar, you’re doing cool sculptures and I’m writing about you in a dumb way.”

The blue pumpkins blew. He played around with some impressionism and a couple of those early, sad Picassos’, but they were doltish and lacking in inception. Besides the amazing time we had, it was a fruitless trip.

When fall hit news was captivated by the appearance of a record breaking pumpkin. “Did you hear? Biggest pumpkin of our time. They’re looking for carvers. I submitted a Battle of the Centaurs, and an Adoration of the Magi.”

“Yug, too classical my man, and only art historians like Christian shit. Everybody else thinks it’s lame.”

“Shut up.”

“What are you going to do once you get the gig?”

“I’m not sure.”

It was essentially a paisley pattern with some Cufic poetry mixed in. He listened to my yakking (scene not included) and decided against representation. It was a bold move and I championed him for it. Because the subject was pattern no single part was more important than the rest, and because it was so big it created a psychedelic effect. He put the candles on the outside and the viewer crawled into the pumpkin.

The public at large rejected it. In agricultural squares it was considered the botch of the century. There’s no way pumpkins are going to attain their own ethos, in a culture that fetishes its visual imagery. Plasticity unconverted into illusionism is plasticity wasted. Pumpkins, in the end, need to just shut the fuck up and be jack-o-lanterns.

I’d later hear that my friend made a Zuccone scarecrow that was deemed exceptional and achieved for him great acclaim, as well as entry into the annals of the Postmodernly Novel.

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