Three Poems by Ward Kelley

The Ghost Can Only Hope

The ghost knows he is not allowed to touch . . .
no one told him this rule, but rather it's a bit
of intuitive knowledge that comes with death,

that whirl of stampeding thoughts who flip-
flop the brain, leaving the soul righted and no
longer askance. So he does not try to touch

his daughter who lies on the concrete driveway,
her bike on top her body, the handlebars over
her broken arm, her sparrow thin, arrow of an arm

that always appeared destined for transposing
the evils of this world by the kindness of her
child's touch. She is in agony. The ghost

does not know what to do. He tries to breathe
an alleviation into her soul, but her eyes -- blue
blades of accusation -- scissor him apart.

He believes she can see him, or at the very
least she knows he hovers at her face . . .
is this a lesson for her, or for himself?

The ghost can only hope; her eyes still cut
away his soulish flesh -- that is no longer
flesh -- until she reaches the very heart of his

sorrow. And there, in the middle of his soul,
she performs the operation, the implant of a
germ of faith, that a life is shaped by simple

responses to great pain. The ghost does not
like this prayer; there is no alleviation in it
for either one of them, but he accepts her gift.

To Explain Our Place

I have no memory of the greatest love
of my existence, only an odd feeling
of great loss which I carry like bones,

bones I heft through this life, dragging
myself through the process, trying my
damnedest to create a happiness but

always ending up with bones in my bowl,
bones in my manuscript, bones in the eyes
of my exuberance. Why do they appear . . .

when my will would have them desist
then disintegrate? My will would have
them brush away like dust on the veneer

of a new car. I can sense the flesh who
once resided on these bones, yet I don't
remember her face. Every now and then

her spirit appears, some déjà vu of a trickster
who once shared my own flesh but later learned
how to flee. I see her in the corner of a sales

clerk's eye or in the tilt of the slender hand of
the flight attendant who serves my coffee; once I
awoke at 2AM, her question drifting away with my

dream, "I fear you might never learn to trust
death . . . but can you now trust me?" For now, I
can only trust these bones I lug and lug, I cry out.

Author's note: Will and Ariel Durant (1885-1981 and 1898-1981) wrote in "The History of Civilization" that "When a Hindu is asked why we have no memory of our past incarnations, he answers that likewise we have no memory of our infancy; and as we presume our infancy to explain our maturity, so he presumes past existences to explain our place and fate in our present life."

Silent Guards.
The rebels separated the men from the women,
placing them in different, roughly-made
barracks while they awaited disposition ...
most of us feared our execution.

Exercise yards were defined by barbed
wire which looped from the barracks,
enclosing a muddy, grassless ground
where we captives trudged and smoked.

It happened in the corral - as the guards
called the female exercise yard - where
the youngest, most comely, women, maybe
seven or eight of them, held hands, joined

in a ring, ring-around-the-rosy, then slowly
rotated their circle of humans in the sun;
some of us men drew near our wire
as we tried to peer into their purpose...

on the third rotation, without a signal,
they removed their shirts then rejoined
hands.  We shouted, and abruptly all the men
pressed into the wire, our arms reaching

toward the unattainable;  the guards ignored
us, mesmerized by these girls who now
removed their bras.  We shouted again
and again, but the women kept their eyes

fastened on each other as pairs of breasts,
untanned, revolved around and around, just
beyond the silent guards, far beyond our hands,
around and around, an act of graceful beauty

and great bravery in this sad place where
we might very well meet our deaths today...
these women have found the courage to defy
the fates who predict our lives go straight,

from beginning to end.

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