Ghost at My Door
When my daughter disappeared, the town gathered
to search the frozen river.
Her name was read on the radio,
printed on milk cartons
and the front page of the county newspaper.
I found no trace of her. Nothing
but the succession of hours,
dumb, numberless, indifferent.
Sleepless, I hollered across the hills
her name, the name I chose for the music
of its two simple syllables. The birds
in the trees have memorized my call.
They repeat her name, return it to me in song.
Near an abandoned sawmill by the river
the search party unearthed the woven rope
bracelet she’d worn that day.
The sheriff brought it to me in a plastic ziplock bag.
He found tire tracks by the unpaved road
alongside the river. Sunk into mud and snow,
a heavy bootprint.
The boot sole left little Xs in the mud.
I dreamt that I’d uncover her sleeping
face in the ground like Snow White
shepherded by kindly dwarves.
I combed through the woods and slash
pine in unlaced boots.
I called her name
and called her name.
Was God so cruel?
I, too, became unlaced.
All this time I haven’t cried.
The women in the supermarket cry for me.
I gathered all the dresses—mine and hers—
and burned them in a pile in the yard.
I left the wire hangers to hang in the empty closet
because they wouldn’t burn.
The only clothes I own are those my father left behind.
My arms inhabit the sleeves of his field coat, its lining torn.
I loved how his hands smelled of sweet feed
when he came back from the barn in evenings.
He liked to be alone
when he walked every morning at sunrise.
I would go to the window of our cabin and watch him
head down the road with his cane until he vanished behind the hill.
Her teacher came by to bring the rest of her things.
Her red raincoat with a strand of hair still in its hood.
The contents of its pocket: a candy wrapper, a dime,
a piece of string for Cat’s Cradle.
And a small, stapled handmade booklet
titled in blue crayon My book of seasons.
On the left page was penciled Fall.
Five fat turkeys are we.
We slept all night in the tree.
Til the cook came
around, we couldn’t be found,
and that’s why we’re here, you see!
On the facing page she illustrated the fat birds
safely perched in the tree’s high stretched arm.
And then Spring.
I am like spring. I like to jump rope.
Spring is the season for flying kites.
Hello, my mother sees me fly my good kite.
And I was reminded of that past April, how the sun
sang to the land as it leaned at the edge of ripening
season. Wind swept through the greening
limbs, muscled through the budding tulip trees.
She built a kite, fashioned the sail
out of an old scarlet dress I discarded.
I watched her from the kitchen window while I washed dishes.
She flew it across the field, the kite’s
scarlet sail hurrying skyward. My daughter
fed the line through her bare fingers
and called out to me to come see
how she could make it dance in the air like a flaming bird.
I tore the front door from its hinge
and threw it in the pasture.
What was the use of keeping anyone out or in?
Nothing lives here anymore. Only hushed land.
Cinder blocks. A bicycle tire. Shards
of mirror gleam from the muddy yard.
Stained glass in the gravel road. I shattered
all the windows. This house
held sorrows too heavy
for any one woman to hold.
Fog rolls over the pasture, weaves through open windows.
Stationed at the dilapidated porch
I smoke my father’s pipe,
cradle its warm wood bowl
in my graying hand.
I took a pocket knife, severed my long braid
and threw it in the yard.
The following morning it was gone.
I dreamt a wolf
crept to my cabin by night and stole it.
I watch the rising breath of the half-starved mare
as she stands in bare, frozen field,
too hungry to move, even though I’ve left
the pasture gate open
and wait for her to leave.
The mare is finally gone from the field.
The crows too have left the trees.
Rolling fog reaches across pasture.
Wind guides its fingers into the windowless
house, threads through the yawn of absent
door, where, even if nothing inside
me moves, the wind’s breath
moves through me. Sings
through my bones like wind chimes
hanging from eaves. Awakens
my skin to the forgotten sense of touch.
And I remember I am still alive
in the world of the living
where a spider has quietly
made herself my companion,
her web extravagantly spun
within the gulf of window frame.
From here I see a bird
at the top branch of the tulip tree begin
to clean gray wings.
I wonder why not even her ghost has returned
though I wait for her
at the door of the physical world.
Originally published in Mississippi Review