A saggy cloud of painkiller
idles above, tethered to a pole.
The t.v. is on, it is always on,
and Uncle, you are so close
to your time I can barely watch —
the swift emaciation, collapsed face,
just the eyes completely familiar.
For hours you have been half-in,
half-out, your head lolling
on its slight stalk and sometimes
you utter a clue, a clotted phrase
snared from deepest space,
syllables smoky and enigmatic.
The t.v. is on, and we are watching
the tale of a stubborn man, older
and riper than you, who recently,
the narrator says, gave up the ghost.
Yet he sits rocking on his porch,
as if there were no end to rocking.
His details, the ears, the nose,
have come to a withering, then
breaking off. I think to change
the channel, but don’t. You return
from where you were and pivot
your head towards the spectacle.
Now the whole family is trying
to tell him. His doddering wife,
the daughter and spouse, their blond
unblinking kids in chorus: Don’t you
know you can’t stay? Don’t you know
what’s happened? Next his hand
drops, the whole blessed thing.
No strain or gore, just a quick snap
like a hollow branch that you crack
for kindling. Still I don’t turn it off.
From deep in the chest, a voice bubbles,
but not like you, like a child, not afraid,
just perplexed. What is that?
Your eyes flick toward the screen,
then back to me. Before I can speak,
it has ended. And how it resolves,
whether, finally, the man figures
out what to do, I can’t say.
I walk to the bed, sit close.
Your eyes are marbles, rolling in ether,
even their color wanders now.
But your face is frozen, as if you
crave an answer. So I give one.
It was nothing. Only a show.
Brad Clompus is the author of poetry chapbooks Talk at Large and Trailing It Home. His writing has appeared in such places as West Branch, Willow Springs, The Journal, Natural Bridge, Sonora Review, Tampa Review, Quarter After Eight, and The Pinch. Brad teaches at the Tufts University Osher program, and has been a guest writer at the Harvard University Extension School and Regis College.
About “Ghost Story”: The poem is framed by one of those universal situations that, in retrospect, seems to have a dream’s metaphoric density. It was written ten years after the actual event and revised intermittently for another ten years or so. Nearly half the lines are devoted to the TV show that corroborated or amplified what the narrator was experiencing. I was interested in how when one story seems too horrible to figure out, another story may arise to do that work.