Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Ghost

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.

Credit


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.

Author


Paul Mariani

The oldest of seven children from a working-class background, Paul Mariani was

Date Published: 1996-01-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/ghost