Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Stray Ghost

In the little village by the deep lake, someone
Found Gretchen one morning, not long ago,
Dead in her bed. She had wanted to be
Drummed on her way out of this world, so,
Although there had been no one to drum
Beside her bed the night she went away
To stay, a drumming ceremony was called
For the following evening outside Al’s place,
Which happens to be backyard from here.
By midday, Al and helpers had arranged
A circle of chairs, stumps, and benches
Around a large, impromptu hearth, piled high
With raw brush in the shadows of the maples
And birch. A table was set, spread with red
Cloth and heaped with assorted cutlery,
Plates, and food, pizza included. By six, Al
And a man I didn’t recognize sat and chatted
Quietly, occasionally thumping on a drum.
An hour later, the drumming picked up,
And a peep out the back window overlooking
The scene showed a dozen and more locals,
Some logical, some with no known reason
To be attending a ceremony for Gretchen,
Some with bored and somber small children,
Most seated close around the smoking fire,
Listening as the few who held drums,
The two smaller children among them,
Thumped monotonously, and occasionally
One of the older voices said something kind
Or funny about Gretchen. We retreated
From the window, so as not to spy on them,
The solitary mother who spoke poor English
With her tall, thin, quiet daughter, standing,
The seated photographer in his Panama hat
Who shows up at damn near every event,
The dour old woman from Manhattan who,
For all we knew, might have been Gretchen’s
Best friend, and the various others, familiar
And random. We closed the windows then,
So that neither their smoke blew in nor any
Random domestic noises from our side
Floated out to disturb them. We are human,
Sort of, and ceremonies are serious business
For humans, we understand. Just after dusk,
Long July twilight glimmering from the lake,
The group could be heard breaking up like
People saying goodbye after regular church.
But then, once all had gone quiet again, one
Drum and then a second set up a pounding
Rhythm, and someone, possibly Al or the old
Friend, started a howl that rose and went on
For some minutes, setting off a dog or two
In nearby houses, until we wanted to go out
And shut them the hell up already, and then
Nothing again. We re-opened the windows,
And any stray ghost could wander right in.

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