More from Featured Poet Ryan Van Winkle

Ryan is the Reader in Residence at the Scottish Poetry Library and the author of the prizewinning debut collection Tomorrow, We Will Live Here. See his poem They Will Go On here.

My 100-Year-Old Ghost

sits up with me when the power cuts,
tells about the trout at Unkee’s Lake,

the wood house burned on the hill.
He says he was intimate with every

leaf of grass. Wore one hat
for Griswold, another for his own field,

the possibilities of the century laid out;
an endless string of fishing pools. But

they never got ahead of my ghost -
he took them like cows, one at a time,

never lusted for the color of trout
in a pool a mile away.

He knew from the smoke in the sky
Mrs. Johnson was starting supper, and, in March,

when the candles appeared,
he knew Bobby’s boy had died.

My ghost only ever had one bar
where the keeper didn’t water his drinks,

nor did he feel the need to hide his moth cap,
his potato clothes, or scrub himself birth pink.

My ghost tells me there was a time you’d look out
and not find a Dairy Queen. You could sit

on your porch a whole life and never think
about China. Sometimes I see my ghost

bringing cut sunflowers to his wife
and it seems so simple.

Then, sometimes, it is dark,
he’s just in from work and Griswold says

they ain’t going to raise his pay. And even back then
the power went out, long nights when they had no kerosene.

And my ghost tries to sell me on simpler times:
the grass soft, endless –

lampless nights,
pools of crickets singing.

Praise for Tomorrow, We Will Live Here:

“The experience of exile haunts these poems, as speakers reach helplessly towards forever-lost pasts and glimpsed, impossible futures. The wide and empty landscapes of America are stalked by ghosts and silences, suicides and roadkill. Words go unsaid; the old family life is unreachable because “They do not know the time in my zone”. Even death is ambivalent: is it a longed-for escape, or yet another numbing failure of intimacy?

Ryan Van Winkle’s back-country lyricism is tinged with cross-cultural influences – the beat-up resignation of Springsteen’s smalltown USA, the teabags and toast of bedsit Britain – that come together in a distinctive and harmonious poetry of distance and loss.” — Kona Macphee

(Photo by signs and wonders)

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