The Commuter Challenge

2 September 2012

The September 2012 Challenge

by CC @ 17:59

This month’s challenge is Spooky Sonnets:

Write two or more spooky sonnets. The subject of at least one of the sonnets must be a typical Halloween character/monster (vampire, witch, mummy, werewolf, etc., use your best judgment). The other sonnet(s) can also be about Halloween monsters, or they can describe a creepy landscape, or a grisly situation, etc.

The Results

Ryan Finholm


For centuries, I’ve lived through tribulations,
And I’ve survived the hangman, firing squad,
Drowning, freezing, plagues and immolations.
Though I will never grasp the hands of God,
I am quite used to the Grim Reaper’s touches.
Crosses harm me just about as much as
A circle, square, or any other form,
And sunlight does not burn, nor does it warm.
A splash of holy water? I don’t mind it;
I tend to drain the strength that faith imparts.
Perhaps a wooden stake plunged through my heart
Might work – if only anyone could find it –
For nothing in me pumps, or beats, or feels,
Except this ache, which blood fleetingly heals.


Before each full moon, we must corner Don,
Strap him in tight to a bed or a chair,
Muzzle him, chain him, and make sure he’s on
The highest-dose sedative that he can bear.
Something about the moon changes that guy,
Turning him from the dear friend that we love
Into a dangerous creature that I
Have learned, the hard way, to be wary of:
The gnashing of teeth and the brambles of hair,
The razor-sharp talons and guttural moans,
The bloodlust is clear in that hideous stare
And deafening howls that rattle your bones.
At the last full moon when the shackles broke he
Escaped, got drunk, and then sang karaoke.


I did not ask that psychopath to wake me,
But now I lie here, blinking in his lab.
I did not turn out as he’d meant to make me:
A hulking patchwork carcass on a slab —
A wraith inside a shell of flesh and fury,
Dragged back into this world of mortal worries.
I feel the strength returning to my limbs,
And stirrings of some frantic, savage whims.
Helped by the township’s crooked undertaker,
One madman tried to make death obsolete,
But my ambition is the converse feat
Of sending sorry souls to meet their maker.
I did not ask to be ‘reborn’ or ‘built’,
And I’ll crush many men before I’m killed.

The Mistress of the House 1

I thought we got on rather well.
Jack was a very quiet spouse.
I really had no way to tell
That I would never leave the house.
The servants were all off that day,
So Jack made the café au lait.
I sensed an odd taste to the cup,
And then my throat closed itself up.
At that time I was not aware,
But since then, I have come to learn:
The parts of me that would not burn,
He buried by the cellar stairs.
So why do I still drift these halls?
I’ll be here ‘till Saint Peter calls.

The Mistress of the House 2

I swore I’d never come back here again;
I know the gruesome story of this place.
It makes me nervous, waiting in this den.
The former Mistress of the House’s face
Is framed and hung above the mantle’s sill.
The portrait seems to watch me as I pace,
While waiting for the reading of her will.
The lawyer sits, and sighs, and gets down to it,
Announcing that this mansion on the hill
Is in arrears and worthless. Damn, I knew it.
I murdered her for nothing after all,
Except the manic joy it brought to do it.
I stand and turn to walk out to the hall,
And see her portrait glaring from the wall.

The Mistress of the House 3

After my sis was missing for one year,
Jack had the local judge declare her dead.
I do see why she’d want to disappear,
And I put all the blame upon Jack’s head.
In fact, I don’t believe that she skipped town,
I am convinced of foul play instead.
I hired a private eye of some renown
Who says the case is virtually solved;
He thinks she’s buried on the manor grounds.
On learning that, my plan quickly evolved.
Back at the house, I see Jack’s body shakes
When he finds out her fortune had dissolved.
Jack flees. I’m pleased to see which car he takes –
An hour ago I meddled with its brakes.
Brian Raiter


I wed a wife unsmiling and devout.
She would resort to prayer ‘stead of laughter
For moral guidance, within and without,
So planning to be glad in the hereafter.
Her faith was firm and never wavered once:
Not with the passing of her lifelong friend,
Or when our child died within a month,
Or in her fevered illness at the end.
She earned her place within the church’s plot.
The next night, though, she tried to abdicate,
Cradling a babe whose face I’d not forgot.
I locked the door, the daytime to await.
Although this world is full of grief and strife,
She still preferred it to the afterlife.


A run-down house stood on our street,
And as a child I learned to fear it.
The walls would creak in summer heat —
It chilled my blood each time to hear it.
But even in my adult years,
I shrank to see its shadowed face.
I cannot say what fueled my fears —
Just that its aura perseveres.
I quickly learned to cross the street,
Than walk before that fearful place.
I could not justify retreat —
Yet nonetheless I still steered clear it.
And though I did not once go near it —
It now is haunted by my spirit.


  1. The idea for this month’s challenge stemmed from the October 2009 Sonnetfight Commuter Challenge. For that challenge, Brian’s submissions included a tragic, Poe-inspired “Ring Them Bells” and a twisted “Welcome Home, Frank”. My own “Welcome Home, Frank” was very Halloweeny (no coincidence – that poem was due on Halloween). I thought that those three sonnets were the most successful submissions for that CC.

    This month’s sonnet challenge, though limited to a specific cast of characters and situations, still offered a lot of leeway. There was a wide cast to choose from, and they all had their own well-known sets of powers, weaknesses, and behaviors. I felt like all I had to do was decide which fiends to focus on, and the poems almost wrote themselves.

    My vampire sonnet started out as a screed against the Twilight saga, with lines like “no sparkling skin, just unhingeable jaw / and a cluster of teeth in a lamprey-like maw”. As I wrote, I got to thinking about that ‘well-known set of powers and weaknesses’ and decided to question and tweak them. I wanted to do a Pushkin sonnet because I thought it would be an extra challenge to make a natural-sounding Pushkin sonnet (I’ve never really liked Pushkin sonnets, I think they often sound awkward and uneven). This was a very busy work/travel month for me and I wrote most of my sonnets on airplanes, so it was a big, unpleasant surprise for me when, midway through the month, I double-checked the Pushkin sonnet rhyme scheme in Wikipedia and found out that my original finished vampire sonnet and the first Mistress of the House sonnet were not proper Pushkin sonnets: I had neglected to include feminine endings (meaning lines with an extra unstressed syllable) on the lines that required them.

    I was able to correct/change the vampire sonnet (changing ‘touch/much’ to ‘touches/much as’, etc). The first Mistress of the House sonnet did not respond well to revisions, so I’m just leaving that as-is, as a failed Pushkin sonnet. The Frankenstein sonnet was the last sonnet I wrote in September, and by then I knew what the Pushkin sonnet was supposed to be.

    The Mistress of the House sonnets should have been a set of six. Number 4 would have been about Jack dying in a car crash while fleeing the mansion, #5 would have been about Jack’s girlfriend planning to take revenge on Jack’s in-laws, and #6 would have been a more philosophical poem about revenge being an analogue of (or a manifestation of) curses and ghosts. I took several unsuccessful stabs at #4, and then I ran out of time.

    I stole Brian’s terza rima sonnet format (from his July 2007 Commuter Challenge submission) for the Mistress of the House sonnets #2 and #3. I also tried to go back and revise #1 to make it consistent with that format, but I couldn’t figure out how. Brian should put his name on that sonnet format, because it’s awesome. It could be called a Breadbox sonnet.

    by RyanF — 1 October 2012 @ 10:16

  2. I like both of Brian’s sonnets. The stories are solid. The first is sad, and all good ghost stories should have an element of sadness. The way I read Brian’s first sonnet, I prefer “instead” to his “’stead” – is “prayer” supposed to be two syllables in that line? Maybe it’s an accent thing.

    His haunted house sonnet seems like an odd jumble of rhymes whose scheme (AbAbCDCCADAbbb) I do not recognize as any traditional pattern. But it sounds extra-great, perhaps because it is limited to four rhyming syllables where a typical sonnet will use seven. And also because the C rhyme complements the b rhyme. I’m even tempted to suggest his rhyme scheme is actually AbAbBCBBACAbbb, but I don’t know if that is appropriate notation.

    I have a little inside information here, so I know that one of Brian’s sonnets was composed last-minute. It is a testament to his talent, then, that I am not certain which one was rushed. I doubt the first sonnet was rushed because all of its separate elements are so well incorporated into the melancholy narrative. I doubt the second sonnet was rushed because of its super-tricky rhyme scheme. I’m stumped.

    by RyanF — 1 October 2012 @ 11:35

  3. I spent most of the month spinning my wheels. For some reason I thought it would be more interesting to select a more traditional Halloween creature — e.g. a spider, bat, or black cat. But nothing more specific for subject matter came to me. Finally, while considering ghosts, I hit upon some ideas. I sat down to write a sonnet, and then found at the end of it, somewhat to my chagrin, that I had spent the whole time writing about the person while alive, and didn’t mention ghosts until the very last word, literally. So I reassigned that one to be my second sonnet, and took another approach to ghosts for my first sonnet.

    The idea for sonnet #1 came from a description of the common idea of ghosts in earlier times. Being mere disembodied shades, they were imagined as having lost much of their original personality, vaguely craving warmth and light as symbols of the aliveness that were forever lost to me. If and when they managed to escape the underworld (such as on the night before All Souls’ Day), they would therefore gravitate towards familiar faces and hearths.

    My second sonnet was inspired by a misreading of a passage in a (mundane) novel, giving me the idea of something that haunts ones thoughts becoming something that is haunted *by* ones thoughts. The denser rhyme scheme is something that I indulged just because I could.

    I’m flattered that Ryan chose to give my sonnet form a whirl, and I heartily endorse the term “breadbox sonnet” for its rhyme scheme. I’ve only revisited it once myself; I should remedy that.

    by Brian — 8 October 2012 @ 19:01

  4. […] wrote this for the September Commuter Challenge, and kept meaning to post it and never getting around to […]

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