The ghosts swarm. They speak as one person. Each loves you. Each has left something undone. • Did the palo verde blush yellow all at once? Today's edges are so sharp they might cut anything that moved. • The way a lost word will come back unbidden. You're not interested in it now, only in knowing where it's been.
When by thy scorn, O murd'ress, I am dead And that thou think'st thee free From all solicitation from me, Then shall my ghost come to thy bed, And thee, feign'd vestal, in worse arms shall see; Then thy sick taper will begin to wink, And he, whose thou art then, being tir'd before, Will, if thou stir, or pinch to wake him, think Thou call'st for more, And in false sleep will from thee shrink; And then, poor aspen wretch, neglected thou Bath'd in a cold quicksilver sweat wilt lie A verier ghost than I. What I will say, I will not tell thee now, Lest that preserve thee; and since my love is spent, I'had rather thou shouldst painfully repent, Than by my threat'nings rest still innocent.
In the days when a man would hold a swarm of words inside his belly, nestled against his spleen, singing. In the days of night riders when life tongued a reed till blues & sorrow song called out of the deep night: Another man done gone. Another man done gone. In the days when one could lose oneself all up inside love that way, & then moan on the bone till the gods cried out in someone's sleep. Today, already I've seen three dark-skinned men discussing the weather with demons & angels, gazing up at the clouds & squinting down into iron grates along the fast streets of luminous encounters. I double-check my reflection in plate glass & wonder, Am I passing another Lucky Thompson or Marion Brown cornered by a blue dementia, another dark-skinned man who woke up dreaming one morning & then walked out of himself dreaming? Did this one dare to step on a crack in the sidewalk, to turn a midnight corner & never come back whole, or did he try to stare down a look that shoved a blade into his heart? I mean, I also know something about night riders & catgut. Yeah, honey, I know something about talking with ghosts.
(it’s scaffolding) (it’s supposed to be temporary) (the domino effect) (had been forgotten about) (it was in storage) (nobody knew where) (that’s a logging road) (you can see its gutters) (they leave handprints) (they shudder with dolor) (nobody could settle on any particular color) (they meant different things to different people) (for luck) (on the cheap) (stop now) (flesh for sale) (fresh fruit) (insect free) (aquafarm) (moon control) (it was label-resistant) (nobody knew how to embroider it) (it felt like hailstones) (big as tombstones) (it strained everyone’s intelligence) (we had tooth problems) (we’d been flying too much) (our edges were curling) (we were like silt over sand) (we felt as if we were sugar dissolving in lime juice) (it was heavy-handed) (we were covered with treadmarks) (it was cosmetic) (like crystal handcuffs) (we were fish then) (we wanted our ladders) (most of them were rotten) (we can cut down some trees and build new ones) (we can contrive it out of convection) (say you’re a weatherman) (seed them some clouds) (remember how it felt to be scuds on a mountain) (we had good motivations) (like treeroots buckling up sidewalks) (we worked like treeroots) (we’d go anywhere looking for water) (we were hydrologists then) (we had stewpots) (we were fast-breaking) (we were aerosol) (we had currency) (we were paper airplanes) (our creases were in all the right places) (we hadn’t been stratified so many times) (it was because they were eye-minded) (they couldn’t see us) (we weren’t eyefuls) (we were just something to take note of when they weren’t working) (we were like scrimshaw) (you were one of the ones covered with flags and lady liberty) (she was an eyeful) (we were hay rolls) (then we were haywire) (we needed paperweights) (we needed dollys) (it was money-laundering they did as a sideline) (one little cooking fire stirred up all of that cloudcover) (we were walking through a ghosttown) (it was a terrestrial globe) (it wasn’t any bigger than an eyeball) (it was at the bottom of a fishbowl) (there weren’t any fish in it) (the water was gone) (and it looked as if it had been con- signed to oblivion) (do you still have it) (it’s somewhere around) (we tried to put it in a safe place) (in one of the treetrunks) (act like a lumberjack) (show them your blue ox) (your animal companion) (show them the marks left where you merged) (they said they were covered with scruples) (they needed some tearlifts) (you can seed them with dryice) (that will use up all of the liquid assets we have left) (then we can sell off some of the dunking contraptions) (we don’t need them) (we can act the way hummingbirds act) (we can fight the way hummingbirds fight) (you can wear your red vest) (you can wear your red cowboy hat) (it looks awful) (as if it were made for television) (the worst kind) (remember the scripts that were written to teach us something) (past the stratosphere the sky isn’t blue anymore) (we were unteachable) (we were woodblocks) (we lived in a sawmill) (when there was lightning) (it nearly burned down) (we were unwashed) (we were scoured) (we felt untouch- able) (and somewhat equivocal again in our science) (you were always exact to me) (like a storm cellar) (I liked it near your airstreams) (you never called me a social parasite and I felt good about that) (you never said things like the handwriting is on the wall) (you never said we were biding our time) (you weren’t a warden) (you weren’t a damper) (you didn’t live in a chimney) (you didn’t work for management) (we were still under construction) (there were warning signs all over us) (in that shocking pink orange) (like we’d been pickled) (as if we were beets or some other kind of root vegetables) (you weren’t a gladiator) (you weren’t resistant) (you weren’t a virus) (you didn’t know what a firewall was) (sometimes you did do a little fire-breathing) (not like a firebrand) (more like a fire that some- one banked in the evening waiting around until morning) (there were streets of clouds over the plains) (we were ice crystals) (laboratory grade)
Beyond the traceries of the auroras, The fires of tattered sea foam, The ghost-terrain of submerged icebergs; Beyond a cinder dome's black sands, Beyond peninsula and archipelago, Archipelago and far-flung islands, You have made of exile a homeland, Voyager, and of that chosen depth, a repose. The eel shimmers and the dogfish darts, A dance of crisscrosses and trespasses Through distillate glints and nacreous silts, And the sun, like fronds of royal palm Wind-torn, tossed, lashes upon the wake, But no lamplight mars or bleaches your realm, A dark of sediment, spawn, slough, and lees, Runoff, pitch-black, from the rivers of Psalms.
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.
This morning in an alleyway I was startled by a face I seemed to recognize, in a dormer above a garage and so slunk up to him, who was ranting quietly, mauling the mind of some imagined ear out the pane as if maligned, or high, like one moony and almost witless in a poppy ditch, or one waking ill and supine in a wet bed of opening mullein: "I have no desire to theorize language-- I was raised modestly and have sinned unspeakably. I would rather waylay and destroy whose voice molests me." On his desk a thin book I knew, a tragedy whose residue was a Sentry's couplet I half-knew and began to recite--startling him who turning was outwardly unknown to me--, "'Does it hurt in your ears--'" "Fuck Antigone--I detest language, I detest artifice, I would rather waylay and molest the beast that has imagined and pent me here."
For Russell Edson
If not for flesh's pretty paint, we're just a bunch of skeletons, working hard to deny the fact of bones. Teeth remind me that we die. That's why I never smile, except when looking at a picture of a ghost, captured by a camera lens, in a book about the paranormal. When someone takes a picture of a spirit, it gives me hope. I admire the ones who refuse to go away. Lovers scorned and criminals burned. I love the dead little girl who plays in her yard, a spectral game of hide and seek. It's the fact they don't know they're dead that appeals to me most. Like a man once said to me, Do you ever feel like you're a ghost? Sure, I answered, every day. He laughed at that and disappeared. All I could think was he beat me to it.
for Danny Fletcher
I. Call and Response 1 Plumbline of disaster, shadow storage of the way thought travels, the opinion, the sentiment, only assertion following silence, only a way of everlasting breathing, a verb searching for grammar too devoted to making sense so that the self interrupts with a final pitch. From stop to stop the mouth makes music by holding sound in a razz mixed with spit, air pushing through idea to a new phrase, followed by a chill, then riding on the other air. So the moment might live outside itself, lips vibrate against the mouthpiece of the horn, the face blooms in concentration, the idea of interval. 2 Anoint the valves, they stick -- my it is bright when you bring out your trumpet William, standing there, tapping your right foot, bent like a cricket at the knee, slouching. Whoever hears your Ode to Joy hears your knocking then setting down of carrying case, cradling of brass. Dizzy said it took his whole life to learn what not to play but in one month you deny nothing, not even the feel of your embouchere, who'd been in school all day. Lubricate the valves, once neighbors lifted up their heads like lilies in the field, and wind rolled over the need to stay away. 3 It's beauty people fear, bright rose riding on Aunt Billie's forehead, the way light makes green everything after her pickled okra, stubble in the hands of day labor, callouses of a parade of things and touching them without seeing or hearing without knowledge, dumbstruck by a brooding need to define or look without a place to grieve, beauty and not faith in truth in the light of justice -- just reach and nothing's there but what's there already. 4 William -- where -- is -- your -- horn, did you leave it in math class again with Fibonacci's sequence, flaring bell, flex and curve in sunlight leaning at a forty-five degree angle, your teacher Mr. Fletcher having cranked open the classroom window with an allen wrench, merged with sunlight so a horsefly wheeled blue-green in its own wingbeat by a rote it answered to in music, lesser to the greater as the greater to the whole, tube twice bent on itself, Sin curve on the line of displacement, sending sound backwards until it's now? 5 William, when thirty kids try out for basketball calculate the odds, the tendency of mind to see itself in transition -- feminine green light like call waiting -- you might be playing trumpet into the speaker, your girlfriend Corrine might be listening, exhausting her telephone allotment of fifteen minutes, holding her ear inches away, glint of a clipboard watching you both. You might move out of the paint. The yellow squeak of rubber on oak wakes rivers of grain -- what does it matter that this matter jumps back or breaks for open court -- sometimes you only stand and scream, wave both arms, put it on the floor and drive, lay it up, put it down, take it home. 6 Let me find the keys says Candace let's go says William the water nibbles at the bank sunlight shafts the fog wait says Candace clouds back off the water what else the boat suspended glint gray along the gunnels here they are I've found them the washing machine idles in its cycle sun shattered in water slaps let's go says William the legs follow the surface tension the door closes the car starts the green wave slides under the boat a day begins. 7 Slow it down, bring it down, bring it on home, tympanum of the trumpet- flower, raised hood, swollen yellow face, pathological woe standing in rank grass against the Hurricane fence, half a brick bewildered, half carried through slatted shadows, cracked bell shrouded by buildings, doorways listening, patiently waiting for someone to open a paper bag and bring out the horn and this one time it sounds exactly like laughter, wind blows in your face, from a high window in metallic light long green trumpets beat back rain. 8 When the instruments linger in the band room, snare leaning into itself, tuba beached against green cinderblock, do they riff where a fault opens, make a crazy line in space, does brass lie in bronze alloy, does longing breathe in acoustic energy? Notes hang to the skirt of the bell like a city of light for a moment. A tire spooks the gravel, you hear talk about the weather, the leaning toward and then away. Pierce the blind to better hear the music, the fall of each sound and pause between. 9 It damages people when they do not understand the healing power of friendship. I am damaged. The left front light of my transport is out. A day doesn't pass. An hour does not go by. There are minutes that glow in human flesh. A trumpet has a voice. A place lives in music of people and time. These are not things I know. Things of the air are also not thought of in time of need. That is why the passive voice is so active in distortion, and well to note that a slur is more expressive than a sharp note timed to surface admiration, though the fool in me shines to perfection. 10 Soft percussive no-look pass of summer, flexion of bell, white seed of longing and forgetfulness -- I remember stopping on the way home from school at a car showroom, perching on vinyl I could smell thinking I don't belong here and the place about to close. I hold the page of music so you can see it, William, your face reddens, your foot taps eight times to push breath past unbelievable seconds, a dandelion head floats out of sight senseless and alive, full of feather and plume, empty to itself wherever it flies, drifting from its own heart. 11 The dog growls, a low unearthed intent stands up on back of the neck -- I am here and somewhere else -- back in time maybe, fingers tap the valves. Make two trumpets of silver Yahweh said to Moses -- and make them play flat and sharp notes at the same time said Ornette Coleman, no loose lipping. Wake the memory. Wake the present tense. The tongue wicks the mouthpiece. Horripilates the cause. Lights up the argument. A column of air moving through an empty place, three stops, an opening outward toward no purpose or proof beyond the time when people will not hear it. 12 My father's there. Like fugitive dust seeping through cracks and keyholes in Oklahoma in the early 30's. What happens when I try to hold him is my arms pass through air. Goodbye goodbye to the river and to green metallic leaves. I leave the darkness which sat on my shoulders for love talk and grace of music. Still, there are strains of darkness dear to light. I found a photograph under the couch. My father barbecuing chicken with his shirt off, skin brown as a berry. Grinning from the other side. Into the lens. Of light and song. II. Shout Trumpet 1 When passing the Trumpet in Zion Church, red brick soaked with morning rain, four cars parked on slickened blacktop, marked yellow lines, redbud clusters, heart-shaped lavender pods, I keep hearing my own minor key. Even so, a person puts a thumb out, an awning cantilevers, traffic comes to a rolling stop. Through an open window high bright notes clarify the air back to March wind, locked doors, to those who have lost their love, decided to go and not come back: the high C of incalculable motion. 2 At the Trumpet in Zion they do the laying on of hands -- your long hair passes over me, the purpose of the body hidden in the word. Thinking nothing. Resembling an eighth note. If the rapture taketh then where does the body go when hands lie down on air? A flag dragged through the iris upside down. Desire runs through its stops -- the dance rises to water level. What happens inside music to make it run over arms and legs like a squirrel? Toot toot go to the water to the river of folded wings, 3 where catalpa shade holds a body of gnats just the shape of smoke and water saturates yellow air and a water moccasin displaces the imagination -- not away from but toward where the world reaches and a song carries across water, one they've been singing all along, the same notes and fears, the sound of pure tones. I wouldn't know it if I heard it. I might not know if it were only mine. I would like to think I could clearly hear the music as it calls across so I could know what you know. 4 Bats are back. Looping the Mulberry. Concentric gravitational waves. I think I notice my own radar. I loll in a yellow chair with two ear plugs connected to Art Porter. Art Porter Junior in background on clarinet. Little Rock's own. Follow the ogive turns past Maybelline to Telegraph Road, past Jimmy Doyle's and the white birches, signs for Alltel and Jesus, SunCom, and Ruby Lube. Are you a holy roller William asks his grandmother. No but I'm spirit-filled. Her sisters' faces ghost across her own face as it is -- Jean, Billie in her garden, pious Lucille. 5 I ask myself riddles in sleep and part of me thinks it knows the answers. My body leaks, my ignorance, my desire. I keep a gold tooth which is not the trumpet, wood landing over water knock, photon locked in early light wrapped around a cove, people in a boat, not much talking but it echoes, love is there, when will I ever believe, fill the body up and sing. A wireless chip with beams of light carries itself in your eye. Who sleeps upside down on a ledge with toes turned in, dreams of making love mid-air, only you and me in water? Bats are back. I feel a scarf of air rush past. 6 Some mean ass little red bug just bit the shit out of me! So why does it grease the room with soulless nasal noise, no antennae for opposites, alighting on the trumpet case? Seven years of mending, leaving and coming back through you, I think I can hear syncopation in the last half of the beat, cancellation too, but I only want to touch the button on your blouse. The hi-hat clears the moment. Out of nowhere you came to me. Where is memory with its leaning sideways solo under a stone weight? Out of nowhere you came back. Today and today an old wind blows, music flares above the grasstips. 7 When the moon stares from its forehead and sound waves and particles knock on tiny hairs in the inner ear, information travels -- how can one not know the only pressure occurs at a molecular level? A channel forms in the flow of ions. When one whacks at a cloud of flies, one clarifies that insects don't know where the hell they are -- they can't hear right so spend their remaining days complaining that music by itself is trivial. Their bristles get bent, ions flow in to trumpet the brain, but still no hard high note, no upward rip. 8 Plumbline of the asters, music caught inside the throat, the implacability, the fluted crescent of the body, the temple, the infarcted heart, the age of reason, the tap tap tap of the baton: one time one steps off the porch two stories high, next the song sings itself: the air, the ambient glue, the tongue in mid-salute, the coup de langue, the nation at war, the wormhole connecting nothing to nothing, the creak of heaven over the creek, the flat speckled rock, the event horizon, the accretion disk, the no which means no, the wide swing under stars, the water, the verb, the hidden grammar. 9 Not long ago a fly landed in the butter. The buzz stumbled, the the stared out from the portable computer, the astral light combined with the high speed line to toot back an unheard, unseen opinion so popular here in the South. I reach for you and nothing, not anything from all the days of walking, breathing in and out, waking to change and resemblance, quickened to the task of words, time and timing unsung -- belly to belly, keyboard to hyperthought, one wing gleaming on a salt sweet brick like a face in the screen, increased singularity. 10 I hear the neighbors talking over the fence -- "He came driving up in that turd-colored convertible and didn't even open the door when he saw his stuff all flayed out in the bushes and grass, his shirt with the sleeve drooping over the hostas . . ." The glass doors screech, the monarch glisses over standing water, the ego in its drifting boat interminably waits. We have no ideas but why should we say goodbye? The signature and sign don't mean the end of it. White azalea blossom stuck to mud. That is the end of winter, this a preoccupation with weather which has nothing more than last night on its mind. 11 Thunder and rain all day like the drumming of Zutty Singleton. Ivy gropes the fern, a sprig of oak pollen navigates over two bar breaks. One or two octaves over, like a ghost flattened out, down the basement, up one flight to the dirty silver door with Judas hole, to a few tables and wicker chairs, late afternoon -- that's where to hear a phrase turn. The upright shakes the floor, and when however fast the falling torrent flows -- stop that please thinks management if people stand too long and listen -- the whole world knows in wind when self assured, the roses blow. 12 You know that silo in Oklahoma, the one with chipped tooth on the way to Grandma's house where apple blossoms lit the way to certain hell? Well, it's gone now. The leaping light and silence. Through channels of urgent voluntary sing-song, passing tones in the hallway mirror, tension through the saunter of water cooled air, all is gone. You don't have to remember. Only that violation in the upper registers which sounded and does sound in houses just a few blocks over, and in fact, in this house which is hot at night and cunning, waits for a future. Slap-tongue's gone. The mouth meets and notches the music.
Through shattered glass and sheeted furniture, chicken wire and piled dishes, sheared-off doors stacked five to a wall, you're walking like cripples. Toward a dirty window, obstructed by stacks of chairs. And once you move them, one by one, palm circles through the grime and cup your hands round your faces, finally able to see through— Charged night. Sheet-flashes of green, threaded with sparks, the pale orange pan of the moon— Finally, what turns the wheel: the moon ghosting a hole through a rainbow, the rainbow's rage to efface the moon, which the moon sails through slow as a ship, in the shape of cross-legged Buddha... Lotus-folded, a figurine. The kind you once found in the Chinatown markets, for a dollar and a dime— Saying you're dying, you're dead. You can withdraw from this orbit of mirrors.
Marcellus to Horatio and Bernardo, after seeing the Ghost,
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated, This bird of dawning singeth all night long; And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad, The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike, No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.
We meet them at the door-way, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.
There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.
The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.
We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.
The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapoursdense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.
Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.
These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star
An undiscovered planet in our sky.
And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o'er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night,—
So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O'er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.
A gleaming glassy ocean Under a sky of grey; A tide that dreams of motion, Or moves, as the dead may; A bird that dips and wavers Over lone waters round, Then with a cry that quavers Is gone—a spectral sound. The brown sad sea-weed drifting Far from the land, and lost; The faint warm fog unlifting, The derelict long tossed, But now at rest—though haunted By the death-scenting shark, Whose prey no more undaunted Slips from it, spent and stark.
Winter was the ravaging in the scarified Ghost garden, a freak of letters crossing down a rare Path bleak with poplars. Only the yew were a crewel Of kith at the fieldstone wall, annulled As a dulcimer cinched in a green velvet sack. To be damaged is to endanger—taut as the stark Throats of castrati in their choir, lymphless & fawning & pale. The miraculous conjoining Where the beamless air harms our self & lung, Our three-chambered heart & sternum, Where two made a monstrous Braid of other, ravishing. To damage is an animal hunch & urge, thou fallen—the marvelous much Is the piece of Pleiades the underworld calls The nightsky from their mud & rime. Perennials Ghost the ground & underground the coffled Veins, an aneurism of the ice & spectacle. I would not speak again. How flinching The world will seem—in the lynch Of light as I sail home in a winter steeled For the deaths of the few loved left living I will Always love. I was a flint To bliss & barbarous, a bristling Of tracks like a starfish carved on his inner arm, A tindering of tissue, a reliquary, twinned. A singe of salt-hay shrouds the orchard-skin, That I would be—lukewarm, mammalian, even then, In winter when moss sheathes every thing alive & everything not or once alive. That I would be—dryadic, gothic, fanatic against The vanishing; I will not speak to you again.
Ah broken is the golden bowl! the spirit flown forever!
Let the bell toll!--a saintly soul floats on the Stygian river;
And, Guy De Vere, hast thou no tear?--weep now or never more!
See! on yon drear and rigid bier low lies thy love, Lenore!
Come! let the burial rite be read--the funeral song be sung!--
An anthem for the queenliest dead that ever died so young--
A dirge for her the doubly dead in that she died so young.
"Wretches! ye loved her for her wealth and hated her for her pride,
"And when she fell in feeble health, ye blessed her--that she died!
"How shall the ritual, then, be read?--the requiem how be sung
"By you--by yours, the evil eye,--by yours, the slanderous tongue
"That did to death the innocent that died, and died so young?"
Peccavimus; but rave not thus! and let a Sabbath song
Go up to God so solemnly the dead may feel so wrong!
The sweet Lenore hath "gone before," with Hope, that flew beside
Leaving thee wild for the dear child that should have been thy bride--
For her, the fair and debonair, that now so lowly lies,
The life upon her yellow hair but not within her eyes--
The life still there, upon her hair--the death upon her eyes.
"Avaunt! to-night my heart is light. No dirge will I upraise,
"But waft the angel on her flight with a Pæan of old days!
"Let no bell toll!--lest her sweet soul, amid its hallowed mirth,
"Should catch the note, as it doth float up from the damnéd Earth.
"To friends above, from fiends below, the indignant ghost is riven--
"From Hell unto a high estate far up within the Heaven--
"From grief and groan, to a golden throne, beside the King of Heaven."
Dear K., there’s a mosquito stain
between the pages of your book, a streak
of platelets beside my index finger.
The broken microscopic cells have escaped
the hurly-burly of the wide aorta, the stark
unholy flow through veins and tubules.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mistake
anatomy for emotion. My heart is meat
and gristle, like Artaud’s: a simple
pump, it never falters. If I weep
it’s for the rocking chair, three knocks
embedded in the nursery wall.
On one window, I found instructions:
“Here, no cares invade, all sorrows
cease” in almost perfect iambs.
Forgive me. I tried to keep them
“far outside” but they marched right up
to my room. All month they’ve been waving
tenuous arms. Have you seen them?
What could I do but let them in
and let them rest in your favorite chair. Soon
they’ll disappear or I will. In the afternoons
(do you remember?) light falls
or spills, spills or falls through the amber
stained-glass windows. It lifts my spirits
but I’m still waiting for you to appear
at the edge of my bed with a message. Think
of the ruins I could have traveled to
by now, think of the days I’ve wasted
lying on the pink divan, a stand of hawthorns
blocking my view of the rose garden,
my American Beauty, already fully blown.
The south-wind strengthens to a gale, Across the moon the clouds fly fast, The house is smitten as with a flail, The chimney shudders to the blast. On such a night, when Air has loosed Its guardian grasp on blood and brain, Old terrors then of god or ghost Creep from their caves to life again; And Reason kens he herits in A haunted house. Tenants unknown Assert their squalid lease of sin With earlier title than his own. Unbodied presences, the pack'd Pollution and remorse of Time, Slipp'd from oblivion reënact The horrors of unhouseld crime. Some men would quell the thing with prayer Whose sightless footsteps pad the floor, Whose fearful trespass mounts the stair Or burts the lock'd forbidden door. Some have seen corpses long interr'd Escape from hallowing control, Pale charnel forms—nay ev'n have heard The shrilling of a troubled soul, That wanders till the dawn hath cross'd The dolorous dark, or Earth hath wound Closer her storm-spredd cloke, and thrust The baleful phantoms underground.
My hero bares his nerves along my wrist That rules from wrist to shoulder, Unpacks the head that, like a sleepy ghost, Leans on my mortal ruler, The proud spine spurning turn and twist. And these poor nerves so wired to the skull Ache on the lovelorn paper I hug to love with my unruly scrawl That utters all love hunger And tells the page the empty ill. My hero bares my side and sees his heart Tread, like a naked Venus, The beach of flesh, and wind her bloodred plait; Stripping my loin of promise, He promises a secret heat. He holds the wire from the box of nerves Praising the mortal error Of birth and death, the two sad knaves of thieves, And the hunger's emperor; He pulls the chain, the cistern moves.
Papier-mache body; blue-and-black cotton jersey cover.
Metal stand. Instructions included. --Sears, Roebuck Catalogue
O my coy darling, still You wear for me the scent Of those long afternoons we spent, The two of us together, Safe in the attic from the jealous eyes Of household spies And the remote buffooneries of the weather; So high, Our sole remaining neighbor was the sky, Which, often enough, at dusk, Leaning its cloudy shoulders on the sill, Used to regard us with a bored and cynical eye. How like the terrified, Shy figure of a bride You stood there then, without your clothes, Drawn up into So classic and so strict a pose Almost, it seemed, our little attic grew Dark with the first charmed night of the honeymoon. Or was it only some obscure Shape of my mother's youth I saw in you, There where the rude shadows of the afternoon Crept up your ankles and you stood Hiding your sex as best you could?-- Prim ghost the evening light shone through.
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.
As the falling rain trickles among the stones memories come bubbling out. It's as if the rain had pierced my temples. Streaming 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 falling and memories keep flooding by they show me a senseless world a voracious world--abyss ambush whirlwind spur 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.
At first she thought the lump in the road was clay thrown up by a trucker's wheel. Then Beatrice saw the mess of feathers. Six or seven geese stood in the right-of-way, staring at the blood, their black heads rigid above white throats. Unmoved by passing wind or familiar violence, they fixed their gaze on dead flesh and something more, a bird on the wing. It whirled in a thicket of fog that grew up from fields plowed and turned to winter. It joined other spirits exhaled before dawn, creatures that once had crept or flapped or crawled over the land. Beatrice had heard her mother tell of men who passed as spirits. They hid in limestone caves by the river, hooded themselves inside the curved wall, the glistening rock. Then just at dark they appeared, as if they had the power to split the earth open to release them. White-robed, faceless horned heads, they advanced with torches over the water, saying, We are the ghosts of Shiloh and Bull Run fight! Neighbors who watched at the bridge knew each man by his voice or limp or mended boots but said nothing, let the marchers pass on. Then they ran their skinny hounds to hunt other lives down ravines, to save their skins another night from the carrion beetles, spotted with red darker than blood, who wait by the grave for the body's return to the earth. Some years the men killed scores, treed them in the sweetgums, watched a beast face flicker in the starry green leaves. Then they burned the tree. Smoke from their fires still lay over the land where Beatrice travelled. Out of this cloud the dead of the field spoke to her, voices from a place where women's voices never stop: They took my boy down by Sucarnochee creek. He said, "Gentlemen, what have I done?" They says, "Never mind what you have done. We just want your damned heart." After they killed him, I built up a little fire and laid out by him all night until the neighbors came in the morning. I was standing there when they killed him, down by Sucarnochee creek. I am a mighty brave woman, but I was getting scared the way they were treating me, throwing rocks on my house, coming in disguise. They come to my bed where I was laying, and whipped me. They dragged me out into the field so that the blood strung across the house, and the fence, and the cotton patch, in the road, and they ravished me. Then they went back into my house and ate the food on the stove. They have drove me from my home. It is over by DeSotoville, on the other side in Choctaw. I had informed of persons whom I saw dressing in Ku-Klux disguise; had named the parties. At the time I was divorced from Dr. Randall and had a school near Fredonia. About one month before the election some young men about the county came in the night-time; they said I was not a decent woman; also I was teaching radical politics. They whipped me with hickory withes. The gashes cut through my thin dress, through the abdominal wall. I was thrown into a ravine in a helpless condition. The school closed after my death. From the fog above the bloody entrails of the bird, the dead flew toward Beatrice like the night crow whose one wing rests on the evening while the other dusts off the morning star. They gave her such a look: Child, what have you been up to while we were trying to keep body and soul together? But never mind that now. Here's what you must do: Tie a red flannel string around your waist. Plant your roots when the moon is dark. Remember your past, and ours. Always remember who you are. Don't let those men fool you about the ways of life even if blood must sign your name.
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.
Horses were turned loose in the child's sorrow. Black and roan, cantering through snow. The way light fills the hand with light, November with graves, infancy with white. White. Given lilacs, lilacs disappear. Then low voices rising in walls. The way they withdrew from the child's body and spoke as if it were not there. What ghost comes to the bedside whispering You? -- With its no one without its I -- A dwarf ghost? A closet of empty clothes? Ours was a ghost who stole household goods. Nothing anyone would miss. Supper plates. Apples. Barbed wire behind the house. At the end of the hall, it sleepwalks into a mirror wearing mother's robe. A bedsheet lifts from the bed and hovers. Face with no face. Come here. The bookcase knows, and also the darkness of books. Long passages into, Endless histories toward, sleeping pages about. Why else toss gloves into a grave? A language that once sent ravens through firs. The open world from which it came. Words holding the scent of an asylum fifty years. It is fifty years, then. The child hears from within: Come here and know, below And unbeknownst to us, what these fields had been.
I am the ghost of Shadwell Stair. Along the wharves by the water-house, And through the cavernous slaughter-house, I am the shadow that walks there. Yet I have flesh both firm and cool, And eyes tumultuous as the gems Of moons and lamps in the full Thames When dusk sails wavering down the pool. Shuddering the purple street-arc burns Where I watch always; from the banks Dolorously the shipping clanks And after me a strange tide turns. I walk till the stars of London wane And dawn creeps up the Shadwell Stair. But when the crowing syrens blare I with another ghost am lain.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brother is we is each of us we ghosts Brother of white folks we don't never known us brother we Because we never doesn't fits Nowhere we brother doesn't fits in bodies Our bodies we is always walking leaking like a ghost can't be a body in one place But every eyes / Catches and pulls at it Like every eyes in any white folks is another Hole in our bodies Brother / Is we is never known them close Up close whose ghosts we brother leaking is Whose story of us we is told is us is water in a fist Brother we not the fist we not the water we the thirst