There are ghosts you can’t avoid
& there are ghosts you create.
& then there are what you call ghosts
That are not ghosts at all but some live
Version of the no longer living. Here
Are some examples. You may evade
The stubble of your gin-soaked father’s lip.
You may redact his coarse sailor’s hands
Trying for tenderness when he yanks you
Onto his knee, the porch boards squealing
For you. You may not ever free your mother
Sweeping a brush through your hair before
The melanoma, even when your hair has gone too.
You may run, & run harder through the labyrinth
Of her memories, & her hair may be all
You catch, if any part of her, ahead,
At each edge. They both may stay, unwelcome,
Dissolve as you sit alone on a porch,
Watching a storm to the south darken
The hills & the last vivid images
Of your life. A person you never met
But with whom you shared some years,
Must have walked in the same city
At some time. You traced one another’s steps
Somewhere in this country—she is not a ghost at all.
He will whisper from some pages
What you never could have known without him.
She will reach, with gentler hand than any man
You’ve known, under your sternum & grip
Your lungs, your heart valves. He’ll rewire you
Because you let him, no, because you were looking
Always for someone who could. & you will step
Out from under the corrugated tin & see
All the wet faces of the dark centuries
Before you, & your face will first speckle
With rain, then run rivulets until
You’re lying in a river just beneath
The surface watching the world wobble
& shimmer, fluid as you couldn’t imagine.
& everybody is with you, in the river,
Looking up into the future, the past, revised, floating.
Wesley Rothman is the author of Subwoofer (New Issues). He has received fellowships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Vermont Studio Center. New writing appears in The Believer, Kenyon Review, and Missouri Review.