After Anne Sexton

 

Some ghosts are my mothers
neither angry nor kind
their hair blooming from silk kerchiefs.
Not queens, but ghosts
who hum down the hall on their curved fins
sad as seahorses.

Not all ghosts are mothers.
I’ve counted them as I walk the beach.
Some are herons wearing the moonrise like lace.
Not lonely, but ghostly.
They stalk the low tide pools, flexing
their brassy beaks, their eyes.

But that isn’t all.
Some of my ghosts are planets.
Not bright. Not young.
Spiraling deep in the dusk of my body
as saucers or moons
pleased with their belts of colored dust
& hailing no others.

Louisa County Patrol Claims, 1770–1863

I pry open the files, still packed
        with liquor & strange brine.

Midnight seeps from the cracks
        slow pulp of arithmetic. Four or five

or six at a time, the white men draw
        along the Gordonsville Road, on foot

or on horseback, clustered close—
        each man counting up his hours, the knife

of each man’s tongue at the hinge
        of his own mouth. For ninety-three years

& every time I slip away to read
        those white men line the roadway

secreting themselves in the night air
        feeding & breathing in their private

column. Why belly up to their pay stubs
        scraping my teeth on the chipped flat

of each page? This dim drink only blights me
        but I do it.

Terrorem

Every night, I go back to Mr. Jefferson’s place, searching still
his kitchens, behind staircases, in a patch of shade somewhere

beside his joinery & within his small ice house, till I get down
that pit, lined with straw, where Mr. Jefferson once stacked frozen slabs

of river water until summer. Then, visitors would come to him
to ask about a peculiar green star, or help him open up

his maps. They’d kneel together on the floor, among his books
lavish hunks of ice melting like the preserved tears

of some antique mammal who must have wept
to leave Ablemarle, just as I wept when I landed in Milan

for the first time, stone city where Mr. Jefferson began
to learn the science of ice houses, how you dig into the dark

flank of the land, how you seal the cavity. Leave open
just one small hatch through which I might lift, through gratings

Mr. Jefferson’s cold dressed victuals, his expensive butter & salads
the sealed jars sweating clear gems of condensation, white blood

appearing from warm air, as if air could break & slough, revealing
the curved arc of our shared Milan. There, I wore silver rings

on each thumb. I studied & spoke in fine houses 
of ice. I knew a kind of crying which sealed me to such realms

for good. Old magic weep, old throb-in-throat. How much
of my fondness for any place is water, stilled & bound

to darkness?

Related Poems

Her Kind

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.