What a Ghost Feels

What a Ghost Feels

Once they were dark whispers
that lived under beds and in closets,
so real she could feel sandpaper fingers
brush an arm or a leg left exposed
above a worn chenille bedspread.

Today she knows their nightly forays
were more hope-filled than horrifying,
an attempt to warm a handful of bones
next to the inferno of her young life.

And now she floats through school halls
with papers to grade and files to fill
while young eyes gaze right through her
and she tries to hook a bony finger
around a smile to acknowledge she exists.

She longs to release a blood-curdling
scream or snatch up a freshman for lunch
to force her way back into their reality,
to feed on their hopes and dreams and future.

Yes, she knows what a ghost feels,
to wake in the middle of a cold night
thinking it’s time to rekindle the hearth fire,
only to find her finger bones scuttling
across the covers of a child’s bed.

Published in The English Journal, NCTE, Summer 2006

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2 thoughts on “What a Ghost Feels

  1. Julia~
    “What A Ghost Feels” is such an unsettling poem which is its negative blessing. I feel the empty, sterile, dissociated state in the midst of all the teaching moments asking you for engagement.
    The acute numbness is palpable. Worth noting that I have watched you “retire” from the profession (and moments of life?) from three different perspectives: from the 3rd person distance, just noting what I think I saw…from the first person sharings in cars and “measuring out lives in coffee spoons,” and now, so restlessly vivid in the internal monologue of this poem. The poem actually scares me. It scares me because I get it at such a visceral level. The line, “She tries to hook a bony finger around a smile to acknowledge she exists…” is painful and powerful. I also appreciate “…nightly forays” juxtaposed with “an attempt to warm a handful of bones next to the inferno of her young life.” (tight lines and singular, not same ol’ same ol’)

    If you love words, you can’t help hearing the extra resonance of “scuttling across the…” I could never hear those first two words without alsohearing Eliot’s “scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” I believe you crafted this consciously, but I would like to know if it was unconscious…or even “not what you meant at all.”

    I love your poetry, Julia. Keep posting more.
    ~nancy

  2. Scuttle was exactly the word I wanted. Those knocking skeleton bones bumping up against each other as they search out a young life … the word also reminds me of spiders — another thing that freaked me out at night … and those over-riding childhood night fears of what could grab hold of you if any arm or leg wasn’t carefully tucked under the covers. In the darker moments, that was what teaching was for me … of course, there were the light sides too.

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