Someone forgot to whisper your death to the bees
And so all the bees have left
And the fruit trees have died.
In the house there are twelve ghosts
And all of them you—
Caught like birds in the stations of girlhood.
One ghost kneels before an empty fireplace;
She sings her sister’s name
Into the cool mouth of the chimney,
Listens as the voice shivers
A barefoot ghost pitches stones
Down the red dirt road.
The melancholy sister at the kitchen window
Waits for a letter, watches for the postman.
Twelve ghosts. Each sister ties
A different color ribbon in her hair.
One sweeps all the rooms of the house.
Two stand before the mirror. But it’s bad luck
For two to look into a mirror at the same time;
The youngest will die.
And what of the one in the basement?
No, we don’t visit her.
Twelve white plates laid on the table for supper.
All twelve drink water from one well.
Each daughter moves in the mood of her own month.
They carry the tides, the seasons, the year of you.
Each daughter, each dancer,
Delivers the message of you.
One dreams she’s a racehorse rider—
She straddles the propane tank in the yard
And rides recklessly into the night.
One ghost plays a nocturne on the piano,
While another skips into the room,
Strikes the discordant keys, and vanishes.
The last ghost leans with her ear against a dead wasp nest.
She closes her eyes and listens
To you, still singing
Beyond the kingdom of the living
Copyright © 2023 by Ansel Elkins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.