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To the Lady Who Gave Out Pencils on Halloween
Paul Hostovsky


I would like to say thank you,
because I don’t think I said thank you
once in all those years
that I climbed your steep front steps
in my mask or sheet or wig or witch’s hat
and held up my opened pillow case
among the other opened pillow cases
like so many straining baby-bird mouths
in the hope that you would finally come around
to our sweet-tooth point of view. Which you never did.
So we mocked you, and we spurned you,
and we littered your lawn with our candy wrappers,
our chewed gum the sweet had gone out of,
the rinds and sticks of the much-lauded,
much-coveted candied apples your neighbor
Mrs. Schachtel gave out each year—the syrupy
antithesis to your dry and austere
number two pencils. But they survived,
it needs to be said—when all that sugary
frivolity melted away, your stiffly formal
wooden gifts remained, like so many horizontal
soldiers standing at attention at the bottom
of the bag. Deployed in kitchen drawers,
desk drawers, jars jammed with pens, pencils,
brushes, penknives, magic markers, emery boards,
they were mostly overlooked, forgotten. Some of them
probably outlived my entire childhood. A few
probably outlived you. It’s entirely possible
that one or two—this one, for example,
which feels as sharp as the day it was first

sharpened—could outlive me, too.


From The Bad Guys (FutureCycle Press, 2015).
Used here with the author’s permission.


Paul Hostovsky starting writing poetry in the fifth grade, inspired by his novelist father. Today, he is the author of more than a dozen books and his award-winning poems have been featured in a wide variety of print and online journals. Paul lives in Boston, where he is a sign language interpreter. Learn more about him at



Post New Comment:
A friend usually known for giving lavish presents gave me a Funk & Wagnel Dictionary for my eighteenth birthday! I was not pleased - however I still have and use it at 90! Your poem gave me happy - and funny- memories. Many thanks
Posted 11/01/2015 08:15 AM
pillow cases/like so many straining bird mouths" perfect image!
Posted 10/31/2015 09:47 PM
Lori Levy:
Great poem!
Posted 10/31/2015 07:18 PM
Wonderful! We all had someone like her ~
Posted 10/31/2015 06:36 PM
It's always a pleasure to read a Hostovsky poem!
Posted 10/31/2015 03:45 PM
So clever, sweet, and funny, and true. What we hated was the apple that some lady dropped into our bag; there were always two or three.
Posted 10/31/2015 12:05 PM
Posted 10/31/2015 11:19 AM
It's not just the message that makes this poem special—it's the humor and the use of language that makes it so effective. Diana Anhalt
Posted 10/31/2015 10:42 AM
Dandy poem. Goes to show that EVERYTHING, even inanimate pencils, has a life of its own, and some live past our time. Thank you, Paul.
Posted 10/31/2015 09:34 AM
Larry Schug:
I love this guy's poetry! and this poem is no exception. There is a poem about a junk drawer inside a poem about pencils A keeper, for sure.
Posted 10/31/2015 08:18 AM

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