Becoming Regardless - Jack Gilbert
I begin to see them again as the twilight darkens.
Gathered below me and to the right under the tree.
Ghosts are by their nature drawn to the willows.
They have no feet and hover just above the grass.
They seem to be singing. About apples, I think,
as I remember the ones a children's red in the old
cemetery in Syracuse where I would eat one each day
because the tree grew out of a grave and I liked
to think of someone eating what was left of my heart
and spirit as I lay in the dark earth translating
into fruit. I can't be sure what they are singing
because no sound comes through the immense windows
of my apartment. (Except for the sound somebody
makes at two and four in the night as he passes
around what was the temple grounds hitting a block
of wood two or three times with a stick. I have
begun listening for it as I lie on the floor awake.)
I try to see in what is left of the light down there
the two I was. The ghost of the boy in high school
just before I became myself. The other is the ghost
of the times later when I could fall in love:
the first time, and three years after that for eight
years, and the last time ten years after. I feel
a great tenderness for all the dozen ghosts down
there trying to remain what they were. Behind each
pile of three boulders that are the gravestones
is a railing making an enclosure for the seven-foot,
narrow, unpainted planks with prayers written on them.
They are brought on the two ceremonial days each year
by the mourners and put with the earlier ones. But
in many enclosures there are just weathered old ones,
because they are brought only as long as there is
still someone who knew the dead. It puzzles me that
I care so much for the ghost of the boy in high school,
since I am not interested in those times. But I know
why the other one frightens me. He is the question
about whether the loves were phantoms of what existed
as appearance only. I know how easily they come,
summoned by our yearning. I realize the luminosity
can be a product of our heart's furnace. It would
erase my life to find I made it up. Then I see them
faintly dancing in the dark: spirits that are the invisible
presence of what those women were. There once was
a Venezia even if there is not now. The flesh thickens
or wanes, but there was somebody I knew truly. Three
of them singing under the willow inside my transience.