I'm crossing the river where it narrows,
carefully, it being Sunday
and I'm past the root end of the log
when I look up,
and there's a haunt sitting
on the blossom end.
I can see trumpet vine and blackberries
through her white dress.
Gnats hang in the air.
The river runs, red-brown and deep.
The haunt sings
and it's my music, the blood song
of my heart and bones
and my skull dancing in the road.
And Chloe, she knows my name.
She says Oh Patsy, take care,
or you will surely fall
and the thick river
will pull you too to shroudy weeds
and you'll be gone,
gone as the moment you looked up
and saw the trumpet vine and
berrries, hot and ready
through my white dress,
gone as all the years since I died,
and waited here for you.

From Desire Lines: New and Selected Poems by Lola Haskins. Copyright © 2004 by BOA Editions, Ltd. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.

As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It’s as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
streaming chaotically
come memories:
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
of ghosts.
They sat beside me
the ghosts
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
a voracious
but I keep loving it
because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.

From Casting Off by Claribel Alegría. Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. Copyright © 2003 by Curbstone Press. Distributed by Consortium. Reprinted by permission of Curbstone Press. All rights reserved.

The wasp's paper nest hung all winter.
Sun, angled in low and oblique,
Backlit—with cold fever—the dull lantern.

Emptied, the dangled nest drew him:
Gray. Translucent. At times an heirloom
Of glare, paper white as burning ash.

Neither destination nor charm, the nest
Possessed a gravity, lured him, nonetheless,
And he returned to behold the useless globe

Eclipse, wane and wax. He returned,
A restless ghost in a house the wind owns,
And the wind went right through him.

From The Pear as One Example by Eric Pankey. Copyright © 2008 by Eric Pankey. Published by Ausable Press. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

A quiet akin to ruins—
another contracted hillside, another split-level
fretting the gloaming with its naked beams.

The workmen have all gone home.
The blueprints are curled in their tubes.
The tape measure coils in its shell.

And out he comes, like a storybook constable
making the rounds. There, where the staircase
stops short like a halting phrase,

there, where a swallow circles and dips
through the future picture window, he inspects
the premises, he invites himself in.

There he is now: the calculating smacks
of a palm on the joints and rails,
the faint clouds of whispered advice.

For an hour he will own the place.
His glasses will silver over as he sizes up
the quadrant earmarked for the skylight.

Back then, the houses went up in waves.
He called on them all; he slipped through walls.
Sometimes his son had to wait in the car.

So I always know where I can place him
when I want him at one with himself, at ease:
there, in the mortgaged half-light;

there, where pinches of vagrant sawdust
can collect in his cuffs and every doorframe
welcomes his sidelong blue shadow;

anywhere his dimming form can drift at will
from room to room while dinner's going cold—
a perfect stranger, an auditioning ghost.

Copyright © 2006 by David Barber. Published 2006 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

The spirit world the negative of this one,
soft outlines of soft whites against soft darks,
someone crossing Broadway at Cathedral, walking
toward the god taking the picture, but now,
inside the camera, suddenly still. Or the spirit
world the detail through the window, manifest
if stared at long enough, the shapes of this
or that, the lights left on, the lights turned off,
the spirits under arcs of sycamores the gray-gold
mists of migratory birds and spotted leaves recognize.

Autumnal evening chill, knife-edges of the avenues,
wind kicking up newspaper off the street,
those ghost peripheral moments you catch yourself
beside yourself going down a stair or through
a door—the spirit world surprising: those birds,
for instance, bursting from the trees and turning
into shadow, then nothing, like spirit birds
called back to life from memory or a book,
those shadows in my hands I held, surprised.
I found them interspersed among the posthumous pages

of a friend, some hundreds of saved poems: dun
sparrows and a few lyrical wrens in photocopied
profile perched in air, focused on an abstract
abrupt edge. Blurred, their natural color bled,
they'd passed from one world to another: the poems,
too, sung in the twilit middle of the night, loved,
half-typed, half-written-over, flawed, images 
of images. He'd kept them to forget them.
And every twenty pages, in xerox ash-and-frost,
Gray Eastern, Gold Western, ranging across borders.

From Old Heart by Stanley Plumly. Copyright © 2008 by Stanley Plumly. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton. All rights reserved.

No one knew the secret of my flutes,
and I laugh now
because some said
I was enlightened.
But the truth is 
I'm only a gardener
who before the War
was a dirt farmer and learned
how to grow the bamboo
in ditches next to the fields,
how to leave things alone
and let the silt build up
until it was deep enough to stink
bad as night soil, bad
as the long, witch-grey
hair of a ghost.

No secret in that.

My land was no good, rocky,
and so dry I had to sneak
water from the whites,
hacksaw the locks off the chutes at night,
and blame Mexicans, Filipinos,
or else some wicked spirit
of a migrant, murdered in his sleep
by sheriffs and wanting revenge.
Even though they never believed me,
it didn't matter--no witnesses,
and my land was never thick with rice,
only the bamboo
growing lush as old melodies
and whispering like brush strokes
against the fine scroll of wind.

I found some string in the shed
or else took a few stalks
and stripped off their skins,
wove the fibers, the floss,
into cords I could bind
around the feet, ankles, and throats
of only the best bamboos.
I used an ice pick for an awl,
a fish knife to carve finger holes,
and a scythe to shape the mouthpiece.

I had my flutes.
When the War came,
I told myself I lost nothing.

My land, which was barren,
was not actually mine but leased
(we could not own property)
and the shacks didn't matter.

What did were the power lines nearby
and that sabotage was suspected.

What mattered to me
were the flutes I burned
in a small fire
by the bath house.

All through Relocation,
in the desert where they put us,
at night when the stars talked
and the sky came down
and drummed against the mesas,
I could hear my flutes
wail like fists of wind
whistling through the barracks.
I came out of Camp,
a blanket slung over my shoulder,
found land next to this swamp,
planted strawberries and beanplants,
planted the dwarf pines and tended them,
got rich enough to quit
and leave things alone,
let the ditches clog with silt again
and the bamboo grow thick as history.
So, when it's bad now,
when I can't remember what's lost
and all I have for the world to take
means nothing,
I go out back of the greenhouse
at the far end of my land
where the grasses go wild
and the arroyos come up
with cat's-claw and giant dahlias,
where the children of my neighbors
consult with the wise heads
of sunflowers, huge against the sky,
where the rivers of weather
and the charred ghosts of old melodies
converge to flood my land
and sustain the one thicket
of memory that calls for me
to come and sit
among the tall canes
and shape full-throated songs
out of wind, out of bamboo,
out of a voice
that only whispers.

From Yellow Light by Garrett Hongo, published by Wesleyan University Press. Copyright © 1982 by Garrett Hongo. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

Evening, and all my ghosts come back to me
like red banty hens to catalpa limbs
and chicken-wired hutches, clucking, clucking,
and falling, at last, into their head-under-wing sleep.

I think about the field of grass I lay in once,
between Omaha and Lincoln. It was summer, I think.
The air smelled green, and wands of windy green, a-sway,
a-sway, swayed over me. I lay on green sod
like a prairie snake letting the sun warm me.

What does a girl think about alone
in a field of grass, beneath a sky as bright
as an Easter dress, beneath a green wind?

Maybe I have not shaken the grass.
All is vanity.

Maybe I never rose from that green field.
All is vanity.

Maybe I did no more than swallow deep, deep breaths
and spill them out into story: all is vanity.

Maybe I listened to the wind sighing and shivered,
spinning, awhirl amidst the bluestem
and green lashes: O my beloved! O my beloved!

I lay in a field of grass once, and then went on.
Even the hollow my body made is gone.

From Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone by Janice N Harrington. Copyright © 2007 by Janice N. Harrington. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.

So says my friend who doesn’t know it now
But he’s been conscripted to say what I shouldn’t

Want anyone to say too soon, too suddenly, too many times
More than must be said. It’s a tall order, or as another friend says

A tall drink of water, otherwise: it’s plain & simple:
What anyone wants most of all.

Another friend tells me I’m easy and means something sweetly as when
One caves with the slightest shudder somehow thoroughly.

Another says what you say should be in a poem which means
Someone is taking for me the trouble to breathe, maybe fire.

Lucidity, quick and painlessly employed, kind of, as a kind nurse employs
Her rough pinch to be less strict than her needle’s as it settles into a vein

To take sufficient blood away somewhere to be deployed in centrifuge
To diagnose and otherwise and likewise and counterclockwise say, the way

Metaphor or blood can have the last word. In order to be sure of what the
Center is, everything has to spin away, I guess. Your words like a lost ghost

On a mission. I’ve never met a ghost who’s not on a mission.
Why otherwise bother to be a ghost's ghost?

When we write to ghosts we write on stony water. One can skip a stone
In order to pretend to find ten thousands things.

Nearby is very close.
Nearby I take your words to water. My ghosts are growing restless.

Copyright © 2013 by Dara Wier. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on June 10, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

On the Mexico side in the 1950s and 60s,
There were movie houses everywhere

And for the longest time people could smoke
As they pleased in the comfort of the theaters.

The smoke rose and the movie told itself
On the screen and in the air both,

The projection caught a little
In the wavering mist of the cigarettes.

In this way, every story was two stories
And every character lived near its ghost.

Looking up we knew what would happen next
Before it did, as if it the movie were dreaming

Itself, and we were part of it, part of the plot
Itself, and not just the audience.

And in that dream the actors’ faces bent
A little, hard to make out exactly in the smoke,

So that María Félix and Pedro Armendáriz
Looked a little like my aunt and one of my uncles—

And so they were, and so were we all in the movies,
Which is how I remember it: Popcorn in hand,

Smoke in the air, gum on the floor—
Those Saturday nights, we ourselves

Were the story and the stuff and the stars. 
We ourselves were alive in the dance of the dream.

Copyright © 2014 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 3, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Although it no longer has a body
to cover out of a sense of decorum,

the ghost must still consider fashion—

must clothe its invisibility in something
if it is to “appear” in public.

Some traditional specters favor
the simple shroud—

a toga of ectoplasm
worn Isadora-Duncan-style
swirling around them.

While others opt for lightweight versions
of once familiar tee shirts and jeans.

Perhaps being thought-forms,
they can change their outfits instantly—

or if they were loved ones,
it is we who clothe them
like dolls from memory.

Copyright © 2015 by Elaine Equi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 6, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Home (from Court Square Fountain—    
where affluent ghosts still importune     
a taciturn
slave to entertain
them with a slow barbarous tune     
in his auctioned baritone—
to Hank Williams' headstone      
atop a skeleton 
loose in a pristine
white suit and bearing a pristine
white bible, to the black bloodstain 
on Martin King's torn
white shirt and Jim Clark's baton,
which smashed black skulls to gelatin)
was home, at fifteen: brimstone
on Sunday morning, badminton
hot afternoons, and brimstone      
again that night.  Often, 
as the preacher flailed the lectern,     
the free grace I couldn't sustain  
past lunch led to clandestine  
speculation. Skeleton              
and flesh, bone and protein
hold—or is it detain?—
my soul. Was my hometown
Montgomery's molten
sunlight or the internal nocturne 
of my unformed soul? Was I torn
from time or was time torn
from me? Turn
on byzantine
turn, I entertain
possibilities still, and overturn 
most. It's routine
now to call a hometown   
a steppingstone—  
and a greased, uncertain,    
aleatory stone 
at that. Metaphors attune   
our ears to steppingstone,        
as well a corner-, grind-, and millstone—
all obtain
and all also cartoon
history, which like a piston, 
struck hard and often
that blood-dappled town
scrubbed with the acetone
of American inattention. Atone
me no atoning. We know the tune
and as we sing it, we attain
a slow, wanton,
and puritan
grace, grace can't contain.

Copyright © 2010 by Andrew Hudgins. Used by permission of the author.

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
    Half of the night with our old friend
        Who'd showed us in the end
    To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
        Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug, 
        Suddenly, from behind, 
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
        Your instep to my heel,
    My shoulder-blades against your chest.
    It was not sex, but I could feel
    The whole strength of your body set,
           Or braced, to mine,
        And locking me to you
    As if we were still twenty-two
    When our grand passion had not yet
        Become familial.
    My quick sleep had deleted all 
    Of intervening time and place.
        I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

From Selected Poems by Thom Gunn. Copyright © 2009 by Thom Gunn. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved.

This salt-stain spot
marks the place where men
lay down their heads,
back to the bench,

and hoist nothing
that need be lifted
but some burden they've chosen
this time: more reps,

more weight, the upward shove
of it leaving, collectively,
this sign of where we've been:
shroud-stain, negative

flashed onto the vinyl
where we push something
unyielding skyward,
gaining some power

at least over flesh,
which goads with desire,
and terrifies with frailty.
Who could say who's

added his heat to the nimbus
of our intent, here where
we make ourselves:
something difficult

lifted, pressed or curled,
Power over beauty,
power over power!
Though there's something more

tender, beneath our vanity,
our will to become objects
of desire: we sweat the mark
of our presence onto the cloth.

Here is some halo
the living made together.

From Source by Mark Doty, published by HarperCollins. Copyright © 2002 by Mark Doty. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out—at work maybe?—
having a good day, almost energetic.

We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative

by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of —warm brown tea—we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.

Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.

From Sweet Machine, published by HarperCollins. Copyright © 1998 by Mark Doty. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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From Dark Sparkler (Harper Perennial, 2015) by Amber Tamblyn. Copyright © 2015 by Amber Tamblyn. Used with permission of the author.

Every tree is an ancestor tree, 
not just grandfather redwoods. 
Every sapling, every sprout, 
carries that majesty, 
the dissolution of stone and bone, 
of mold and leaf and tongue, 
flowing as freely as blood 
in earth's leisurely body, 
the oldest and slowest rhythms 
crooning in its ways.

But who can sing with maple and beech 
in the cold wind's demanding meters? 
The crimson and gold of their dying fall 
choke the singing of our blood.
We cling to the tree of our moment, 
weep for its unleaving; our mothers 
and brothers, so recently fallen, 
neither flow in the roots 
nor creep upward under the bark 
nor come to rest in orderly rings.

We know where our flesh is buried, 
know the place and mark it, 
but also know the repetend, 
know the flesh will bend 
to the root, creep in the trunk, 
sing in the leaf, 
fall and repeat itself, 
old as every wizened oak, 
old as the sap and sea salt 
in every infant's blood.

From Every Infant's Blood: New and Selected Poems by Graham Duncan. Copyright © 2002 by Bright Hill Press. First appeared in Phase and Cycle literary magazine (now defunct). Reprinted by permission of Bright Hill Press. All rights reserved.

It's the ragged source of memory,
a tarpaper-shingled bungalow
whose floors tilt toward the porch,
whose back yard ends abruptly
in a weedy ravine. Nothing special:
a chain of three bedrooms
and a long side porch turned parlor
where my great-grandfather, Pomp, smoked
every evening over the news,
a long sunny kitchen
where Annie, his wife,
measured cornmeal,
dreaming through the window
across the ravine and up to Shelby Hill
where she had borne their spirited,
high-yellow brood.

In the middle bedroom's hard,
high antique double bed,
the ghost of Aunt Jane,
the laundress
who bought the house in 1872,
though I call with all my voices,
does not appear.
Nor does Pomp's ghost,
with whom one of my cousins believes
she once had a long and intimate
unspoken midnight talk.
He told her, though they'd never met,
that he loved her; promised
her raw widowhood would heal
without leaving a scar.

The conveniences in an enclosed corner
of the slant-floored back side porch
were the first indoor plumbing in town.
Aunt Jane put them in,
incurring the wrath of the woman
who lived in the big house next door.
Aunt Jane left the house
to Annie, whose mother she had known
as a slave on the plantation,
so Annie and Pomp could move their children
into town, down off Shelby Hill.
My grandmother, her brother, and five sisters
watched their faces change slowly
in the oval mirror on the wall outside the door
into teachers' faces, golden with respect.
Here Geneva, the randy sister,
damned their colleges,
daubing her quicksilver breasts
with gifts of perfume.

As much as love,
as much as a visit
to the grave of a known ancestor,
the homeplace moves me not to silence
but the righteous, praise Jesus song:

Oh, catfish and turnip greens,
hot-water cornbread and grits.
Oh, musty, much-underlined Bibles;
generations lost to be found,
to be found.

From The Homeplace, published by Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 1990 by Marilyn Nelson. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

After so much time you think 
you’d have it netted 
in the mesh of language. But again 
it reconfigures, slick as Proteus.

You’re in the kitchen talking 
with your ex-Navy brother, his two kids
snaking over his tattooed arms, as he goes on 
& on about being out of work again.

For an hour now you’ve listened, 
his face growing dimmer in the lamplight 
as you keep glancing at your watch 
until it’s there again: the ghost rising

as it did that first time when you, 
the oldest, left home to marry. 
You’re in the boat again, alone, and staring 
at the six of them, your sisters

& your brothers, their faces bobbing 
in the water, as their fingers grapple 
for the gunwales. The ship is going down, 
your mother with it. One oar’s locked

and feathered, and one oar’s lost, 
there’s a slop of gurry pooling 
in the bottom, and your tiny boat 
keeps drifting further from them.

Between each bitter wave you can count 
their upturned faces—white roses 
scattered on a mash of sea, eyes fixed 
to see what you will do. And you?

You their old protector, you their guardian 
and go-between? Each man for himself, 
you remember thinking, their faces 
growing dimmer with each oarstroke.

From The Great Wheel, published by W. W. Norton & Company, 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Paul Mariani. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.