The Spirits of the Season?

Advice and insight from a professional poet.

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Do poets believe in ghosts?
— Sonja, Houston, Texas

I think so. Lots of poets write poems about ghosts, but I want to use a voice that I have neglected so far in this column:  Archy, from Don Marquis’ “Archy and Mehitabel” series which initially appeared in New York’s The Evening Sun in 1916. Archy is a cockroach, but in his former life he was a free verse poet, so let’s see what he has to say (he has to press the keys of a typewriter by jumping on each letter with the full thrust of his weight, so he can’t bother with punctuation and capitals, but cut him a break — he’s a cockroach).

you want to know
whether I believe in ghosts
of course I do not believe in them
if you had known
as many of them as I have
you would not
believe in them either
perhaps I have been
unfortunate in my acquaintance
but the ones I have known
have been a bad lot
no one could believe in them
after being acquainted with them
a short time

According to Archy, “believing” is based intimately upon “being acquainted with,” and personally, I’ve never stuck around a situation long enough to get to know a ghost when he or she showed up. I grew up in Douglas, Arizona, home of the haunted Gadsden Hotel, and a lot of weird stuff went on in that town, so I think that ghosts exist. If something weird happens though — a floorboard squeaks, a wolf’s cry sounds in the deep of night, an apparition appears after I’ve taken off my eyeglasses — I take off and dial Ghost Hunters from a neighbor’s house. So, since I do not give myself that chance to judge their character, I cannot say whether or not I “believe” in ghosts. I would guess that other poets are in the same boat. Poets tend to stick around creepy situations long enough to get inspired to write their own creepy situation:

“Patsy Sees a Ghost” by Lola Haskins

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
berries, hot and ready
through my white dress,
gone as all the years since I died,
and waited here for you.

30 November 2009

Kristen Hoggatt lives, works, and writes in Boston, where she received her MFA from Emerson College. She volunteers at 826 Boston.

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