Saturday, February 11, 2012

Poetry Prompt #90 – What Haunts You?

We all have “ghosts” in our lives – people, places, experiences, mistakes, regrets – metaphorical “apparitions” that haunt us. This week, face one of your “ghosts” and translate “it” into written language. For this poem, I’m not talking about ghostly apparitions or things that go bump in the night but, rather, realities that inhabit our hearts and refuse to let us forget. Dig deeply, think hard. Meet your ghost face-to-face. Invite your ghost to inhabit your poem. Give your ghost words and a form. Write a poem you’re afraid to write.

Possible Ghosts:

1. Deceased loved ones …
2. Former friends or family members …
3. People we’ve hurt or treated unfairly …
4. People who have hurt us ...
5. Something we should have done but didn’t …
6. Something we shouldn’t have done but did …
7. Lost loves ...
8. Wartime Experiences ...
9. Houses or special places …
10. Unwise decisions …
11. Words we’ve spoken …
12. Lies we’ve told, lies of omission, truths we’ve withheld …

Example Poems:

And an excerpt from the title poem of my book Chosen Ghosts:

Always in autumn, when the backyard thins
and the brittleness starts, I go back to my griefs.
I bury the last chrysanthemums and pray for my
sorrows, wishing it was still summer when
the sky traveled in a thousand directions at once
or years ago when every season was spring 
with its risings and promise. But now, here
and now, in the whirl of this brief, sad season,
I call my ghosts home and gather them around me.
Like the flock of geese that sleeps in an open field
near the river, they rise in a rush of wings
that remembers the victory of flight.


  1. Ghosts are a metaphor for memory - this prompt is a great inspiration to work through memory to harness at least one of our ghosts and then to turn it into literature.

  2. For sure it was a ghost who dictated to Cesar Callejo this poem:


    Me moriré en París con aguacero,
    un día del cual tengo ya el recuerdo.
    Me moriré en París - y no me corro -
    tal vez un jueves, como es hoy, de otoño.
    Jueves será, porque hoy, jueves, que proso
    estos versos, los húmeros me he puesto
    a la mala y, jamás como hoy, me he vuelto,
    con todo mi camino, a verme solo.
    César Vallejo ha muerto, le pegaban
    todos sin que él les haga nada;
    le daban duro con un palo y duro
    también con una soga; son testigos
    los días jueves y los huesos húmeros,
    la soledad, la lluvia y los caminos...

    (English translation in by Rebecca Seiferle)

    To be honest, he died in Paris, on April 15th, 1938; it was Friday, not Thursday. It was not autumn.
    Sometimes our ghosts are wrong, I would say.
    Sometimes not: on Friday, April 15th, 1938, it was raining heavily ( con aguacero) in Paris.
    It is nevertheless true that in Paris it always rain...

  3. Ah, so powerful, and my thanks to you Jago for posting this. Thanks, too, for posting the link to the translation.

    P.S. I remember the rain in Paris - some days it was hauntingly beautiful!

  4. And "Ghosts" (#XXIX) by Emily Dickinson.

    "One need not be a chamber to be haunted ..." tells us that self-encounter can be a "haunted place."

    The Poem:

    One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
    One need not be a house;
    The brain has corridors surpassing
    Material place.

    Far safer, of a midnight meeting
    External ghost,
    Than an interior confronting
    That whiter host.

    Far safer through an Abbey gallop,
    The stones achase,
    Than, moonless, one's own self encounter
    In lonesome place.

    Ourself, behind ourself concealed,
    Should startle most;
    Assassin, hid in our apartment,
    Be horror's least.

    The prudent carries a revolver,
    He bolts the door,
    O'erlooking a superior spectre
    More near.

    1. Perfect quote and perfect poem! Thanks, Bob, for sharing this with us!

  5. Such perceptive and thought-provoking posts in response to a very probing prompt. Forgive the length of this poem, but I suspect it is a familiar haunt for many. I was with my father when he died after a long illness, but the one day I did not visit my mother at a nursing home was the day she died. It's not exactly guilt, but it haunts me nevertheless.

    Her Last Day

    I keep thinking about the last day
    I saw her alive,
    Wanting to go back and change it,
    Change myself,
    Be more patient,
    Less inclined to bolt and run
    From that nursing home,
    Its cold linoleum floors and distracted nurses
    Too busy to pay much attention
    To a dying old lady.
    They were all dying there.

    O yes, I knew she was dying,
    But she’d been dying for years,
    Dying slow.
    I did not realize death was so near,
    A day away,
    When she said:
    “I’ve lived about as long as anyone has a right to live.”

    A single clear sentence
    Rising above an hour of erratic thoughts.

    Her room was too hot,
    Too stuffy that summer afternoon,
    Magnifying the sickening concoction
    Of antiseptics,
    Damp bedding,
    Decaying flesh,
    Every room infused.

    A ceiling-high television
    With painfully exaggerated colors
    Was worrying her about the news,
    Danger right there inside her room,
    Inside her mind,
    The world in flames.

    I ached for escape.

    I listened for the end
    Of another incoherent sentence,
    Locked eyes with my wife
    Sitting across the tiny room,
    Then signaled,
    Rolling my eyes toward heaven.

    “I’ve got to get going,” I announced,
    Seeing no finality,
    Needing refuge.

    I did not return the next day,
    A small vacation
    From the dreadful daily routine
    So many months in the making.
    The phone rang late,
    Those unspeakable words,
    Asking if I wanted to see her
    Before she was taken away.

    In that dark and noiseless night
    I wondered:
    Had she seen me roll my eyes?
    Taken it as a cue somehow?
    Had I weakened her with my impatience?

    The final few days are not the life,
    I keep telling myself,
    Not even the final few years.
    The whole is what must be measured.
    But oh dear God,
    If I could just go back,
    Change that one single day.

    1. Thanks, as always, for sharing your poem with us, Russ! Yes, this IS a familiar haunt for many of us. I hope it was healing for you to write about the experience.