Don’t Look Now: Reading Aloud to Ghosts

By Thomas G. Palaima, University of Texas

 

“You ever seen a ghost? No
But you have heard of them.”

 

The blind side, they say,

is what hits you by surprise.

 

It can drive you

to your knees,

tap your shoulder,

caress you gently.

 

The sudden smell

of smoke

upon the air.

 

Milk

poured on cereal.

 

Water

on the soil

in a flower pot.

 

Cream

poured on coffee

in your coffee cup.

 

A place of one’s own,

they say, too.

 

How was that

on the blind side?

And when?

And just that?

 

Sometimes the blind side

is a mirror.

 

Or conjures up a phrase

from Bob Dylan.

 

“You give something up

for everything you gain.”

 

Sometimes the blind side

is not there.

 

Never was.

 

How can you take

precautions against

what never was?

 

“So pay for your ticket

and don’t complain.”

 

A ticket delivered

from the blind side

can have exorbitant

handling fees.

 

It can admit you

to the blind side

in the mirror.

 

To see the father

fallen short.

 

The lover

confused

by love.

 

The person

placing belief in

what is

no more.

 

And maybe

never was.

 

In others.

 

In oneself.

 

A deep breath

is calming, they say.

 

It takes

the blind side

into the spirit

inside.

 

Like light tendrils

of cream

spreading through

strong hot coffee.

 

Like water

disappearing

in darkening

soil.

 

Like milk

that makes cereal

float

or sink.

 

Like the caress

that had

no meaning.

 

The touch

that called

attention

to nothing

apparent.

 

The force

of a

sledge hammer

upon

a

spike.

 

A whispering

scent

of

smoke.

 

What’s that?

 

Don’t look.

 

But you

already

have.

 

And you’re

“left looking

just like

a ghost.”

POEM BY Jacqueline Osherow, University of Utah

 

One chord of a harmonica can take 

me back, or a name — Johanna, Mr. Jones

to that Eden of stretched-out afternoons

on the living room carpet, an open math book

neglected at my elbow, index cards

untouched beside it in a fallow stack.

I’m halfway in a trance, half trying to crack

each cipher in the snarled onrush of words

surging through the stereo’s dark mesh.

Something is happening and you don’t know 

what it is . . .  I’m fourteen. Of course that’s true 

but I get an inkling — as limits vanish —

of word as lightning flash, wick, whiplash, arrow

and soon-to-be accomplice. Dylan, thank you. 

Visions of Desolation: Cleveland 1965 Austin 2012

POEM BY Thomas G. Palaima

Ecce homunculus.

This new blank document
could remain blank
for all I care
to reveal or conceal.

Ask me.
I ain’t sayin’.
Coax me.
My lips are sealed.

I could turn myself inside out.
My soul could slowly spin about.

Spin? Turn? Rotate? Whirl?
Like a chicken on a spit?
Like coffee in a microwave?
Like a top? A dervish? A compact disc?
A vinyl record from my youth?

What would you like me to play?

The needle in the groove works
its wonder in high fidelity,
but faithful to the max to what?

The songs from cheap speakers,
two-bit, sentimental,
still sound good to me.

But who cares?

If I stood naked, who would hear?

My dried voice
is more than quiet
and less than meaningless.

Not a whimper.

“Peanuts, here, four bags for a quarter.”

“Buy your rags from Daddy Wags!”

A naïve young
Roman Catholic boy,
Lithuanian-Polish,
thirteen going on ten,
by way of the CTS
(Cleveland Transit System)
Number 35
—“Trowbridge next!” —
after eighteen miles
and fifty minutes
of fading storefronts
run-down bars
reading the same
soon-to-vanish
lexicon of Polish,
Czech, Hungarian,
Irish, Croatian
and now Puerto Rican
names,
steps off
at Lorain Avenue
and 25th Street,
walks from the West Side Market
five blighted city blocks
to the red-brick Jesuit high school,
and sits among other boys,
among, but not with.

What was that shell,
what kind of envelope
kept him sound,
and soundless?

Move, move, move,
you splendid little machine.

Not quite a robot.

What did Eliot really know
about the butt ends of days?

Who can count
the butt ends
of the ways
that life can play
blind man’s bluff
with your soul,
and for keeps?

There isn’t even any key chain.