The Ghost Speaks

I forgot how sweaty it was
being alive, the slow creep down
the gutter of the spine, the flush
when the sweat hits the thigh
and slides down until split
by the twin divots behind the knee,
legs like paddles trying for
some kind of shore, the flounder
of moving through wet air.

When it gets like this,
ninety-seven and too humid,
the streets are so empty
I can walk them at noon,
cicada clicks aligned with
the shuddering rows
of air conditioners
rambling toward their
eventual ruin. Inside
the people lie like corpses,
felled by weather, breathing heavy.

I’d forgotten how
their longing brims up
until it spills over, making sticky
their palms and faces,
their bodies etched
with salt and memory.

I remember how they break
when they tumble,
their open mouths full of
a harsh keening, how inside
they are animals, vicious,
and how they killed me with
that animal violence, how
I sunk into a rotten trembling,
and now I speak
where they can’t reach me.

Ghosts don’t mind
ice or fire, we move
in a place past hunger,
strong because
we’ve already lost.

When we see them,
we see how need
makes them weak,
   see the way
grasping rips them apart.

Their loneliness burns
              like neon
making its way through fog.

Click here to read Ann DeVilbiss on the writing of this poem:

Ann DeVilbiss:
I hate the hottest days of summer; there’s something about them that wears on my nerves worse than a cold winter ever could. This poem came to me in the midst of a Kentucky August, after I attended a concert inside a big tin building with no A/C and was walking home, cranky and sweaty and ready for fall. The first lines came to me then, and I followed the sweat where it led me.


At the time I was reading and writing about murder and finding myself frustrated by how the victims are always silenced by the crime, unable to speak for themselves (and often fetishized as a result of this existence as object rather than speaker). So this poem also came to me as I was seeking ways to let the murdered speak for themselves.


My favorite thing about the ghost is how her pride in being separate, “apart,” seems hypocritical; she scorns the desire for companionship, but she also seems to romanticize it, to long for it herself. Humans are lonely by nature, and I imagine that their ghosts are even lonelier..



Image:  “It’s Good To Be Handy, Even In The Afterlife” by garlandcannon , licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ann V. DeVilbiss
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