This week, THERMOS will run a feature of Laura Walker’s poetry, assembled by Cassie Donish. It begins today with a public letter — or, a series of public letters — addressed to Cassie. Please check back throughout the week for poems, new and old, and an interview.
i can’t write and mean it at the same time.
it’s an old problem, a recurring dream where the characters happily shift places with each other. intent becomes a brisk snow becomes a wide-eyed betrayal. sleep turns visible, perception moves among its various guises, the dream of a steady gaze. i envy people who write what they know.
my first ghost story was the one about the woman with the blue ribbon around her neck. do you know it? she tells her husband she can’t take the ribbon off. when he finally does, late at night while she sleeps, her head falls onto the floor.
was she already a ghost or always about-to-be-one? and which was more alluring to me, eight years old and unable to sleep? the silkiest of betrayals. what’s known and what’s believed; who positions whom. sketching the dark because you’re awake anyway.
the first ghost i ever saw i didn’t actually see. i was driven by a dark house in a dark night and something shuddered. it seemed like a new way of knowing, the way things touch you in the dark.
containment and the precarious: waiting for someone to grow tired of waiting. watching your fingers twitch in the night.
that year we moved into a blue house and i saw a ghost on the stairs. swept skirts, hair done up. not looking at me; me not looking at her. we had, i guess, other things on our mind.
what do you see when you look away from what you see? a helpless envy.
like the girl who switched places with her dead twin, an episode of the incredible hulk we watched with my first stepfather in a blue and humid night: a ghost differently. i dreamed about her for years, re-enacting her sister’s body, the bent of her head. meticulous. resemblances, semblances, assembly. what can’t be even though it’s exactly the same; a container aware of itself. holding becomes another beast entirely.
clear and steady.
a ribbon, a twin’s body, a dead house.
something to hover and move through.
my mother read us the little matchgirl from the front seat on long car rides, hoping we’d fall asleep.
we never fell asleep.
when the matchgirl stands outside the pulsing windows, watching them eat in the light, what is the ghost? glass, candles, a tree. they shimmer and merge and become rivers through the floor. the matches burned our fingers. when her grandmother arrives, ribbons and arms, who is the ghost then, asleep in the snow? the boys who chased her across the street and made her lose her slipper. the pavement stones. something about the air.
a fading in the first clear light.