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.
The yellow flowers on the grave
make an arch, they lie
on a black stone that lies on the ground
like a black door that will always
remain closed down into the earth,
into it is etched the name
of a great poet who believed
he had nothing more to say,
he threw himself into literal water
and everyone has done their mourning
and been mourned over, and we all
went on with our shopping,
I stare at this photograph of that grave
and think you died like him,
like all the others,
and the yellow flowers
seem angry, they seem to want to refuse
to be placed anywhere but in a vase
next to the living, someday
all of us will have our names
etched where we cannot read them,
she who sealed her envelopes
full of poems about doubt with flowers
called it her “granite lip,” I want mine
to say Lucky Life, and what would
a perfect elegy do? place the flowers
back in the ground? take me
where I can watch him sit eternally
dreaming over his typewriter?
then, at last, will I finally unlearn
everything? and I admit that yes,
while I could never leave
everyone, here at last
I understand these yellow flowers,
the names, the black door
he held open
and you walked through.
Copyright © 2023 by Matthew Zapruder. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 18, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.