At first she thought the lump in the road
          was clay thrown up by a trucker's wheel.
          Then Beatrice saw the mess of feathers.
Six or seven geese stood in the right-of-way, staring
at the blood, their black heads rigid above white throats.
Unmoved by passing wind or familiar violence, they fixed
their gaze on dead flesh and something more, a bird on the wing.
It whirled in a thicket of fog that grew up from fields plowed
and turned to winter. It joined other spirits exhaled before dawn,
creatures that once had crept or flapped or crawled over the land.
          Beatrice had heard her mother tell of men who passed
          as spirits. They hid in limestone caves by the river, hooded
          themselves inside the curved wall, the glistening rock.
          Then just at dark they appeared, as if they had the power
          to split     the earth open to release them. White-robed, faceless
          horned heads, they advanced with torches over the water,
          saying, We are the ghosts of Shiloh and Bull Run fight!
                    Neighbors who watched at the bridge knew each man by his voice
                    or limp or mended boots but said nothing, let the marchers
                    pass on. Then they ran their skinny hounds to hunt other
                    lives down ravines, to save their skins another night
                    from the carrion beetles, spotted with red darker than blood,
                    who wait by the grave for the body's return to the earth.
                    Some years the men killed scores, treed them in the sweetgums,
                    watched a beast face flicker in the starry green leaves.
                    Then they burned the tree.
                                                  Smoke from their fires
still lay over the land where Beatrice travelled.
Out of this cloud the dead of the field spoke to her,
voices from a place where women's voices never stop:
                    They took my boy down by Sucarnochee creek.
                    He said, "Gentlemen, what have I done?"
                    They says, "Never mind what you have done.
                    We just want your damned heart." After they
                    killed him, I built up a little fire and laid out
                    by him all night until the neighbors came
                    in the morning. I was standing there when
                    they killed him, down by Sucarnochee creek.
                    I am a mighty brave woman, but I was getting
                    scared the way they were treating me, throwing rocks
                    on my house, coming in disguise. They come to my bed
                    where I was laying, and whipped me. They dragged me
                    out into the field so that the blood strung across
                    the house, and the fence, and the cotton patch,
                    in the road, and they ravished me. Then they went
                    back into my house and ate the food on the stove.
                    They have drove me from my home. It is over
                    by DeSotoville, on the other side in Choctaw.
              I had informed of persons whom I saw
              dressing in Ku-Klux disguise;
              had named the parties. At the time
              I was divorced from Dr. Randall
              and had a school near Fredonia.
              About one month before the election
              some young men about the county
              came in the night-time; they said
              I was not a decent woman; also
              I was teaching radical politics.
              They whipped me with hickory withes.
              The gashes cut through my thin dress,
              through the abdominal wall.
              I was thrown into a ravine
              in a helpless condition. The school
              closed after my death.
From the fog above the bloody entrails of the bird, the dead flew
toward Beatrice like the night crow whose one wing rests on the evening
while the other dusts off the morning star. They gave her such a look:
              Child, what have you been up to while we
              were trying to keep body and soul together?
              But never mind that now. Here's what you must do:
              Tie a red flannel string around your waist.
              Plant your roots when the moon is dark. Remember
              your past, and ours. Always remember who you are.
              Don't let those men fool you about the ways of life
              even if blood must sign your name.
 
From Walking Back Up Depot Street, copyright © 1999 by Minnie Bruce Pratt. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Poems by This Author

At Deep Midnight by Minnie Bruce Pratt
It's at dinnertime the stories come, abruptly,
Breakfast by Minnie Bruce Pratt
Rush hour, and the short order cook lobs breakfast
The Blue Cup by Minnie Bruce Pratt
Through binoculars the spiral nebula was
The Great Migration by Minnie Bruce Pratt
The third question in Spanish class is: De donde eres tu?
The Subway Entrance by Minnie Bruce Pratt
He was her guide. He lived in hell. Every day he thought
Walking Back Up Depot Street by Minnie Bruce Pratt
In Hollywood, California (she'd been told) women travel


Further Reading

Poems about the Afterlife
Advice to Passengers
by John Gallaher
Beyond Even This
by Maggie Anderson
Beyond the Years
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Cruel Cogito
by Ken Chen
Descriptions of Heaven and Hell
by Mark Jarman
En Route
by Darcie Dennigan
Gone
by Lia Purpura
Heaven for Helen
by Mark Doty
How Can It Be I Am No Longer I
by Lucie Brock-Broido
In a Country
by Larry Levis
Larry Levis in Provincetown
by Rick Hilles
Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh
XXI Dynasty

by Thomas James
Populating Heaven
by Maureen N. McLane
Purgatory
by Maxine Kumin
Song ["When I am dead, my dearest"]
by Christina Rossetti
The Book of the Dead Man (Food)
by Marvin Bell
The Odyssey, Book 11: ll. 538-556
by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Ghost Poems
Hamlet, Act I, Scene I [Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes]
by William Shakespeare
A Ghost
by Cole Swensen
All Hallows Night
by Lizette Woodworth Reese
At Night
by Yone Noguchi
Blue Dementia
by Yusef Komunyakaa
Blue Oxen
by Dara Wier
Epitaph
by Eric Pankey
Ghost
by Paul Mariani
Ghost Elephants
by Jean Valentine
Ghost House
by Robert Frost
Ghost in the Land of Skeletons
by Christopher Kennedy
Ghost Notes [excerpt]
by Ralph Burns
Ghostology
by Rebecca Lindenberg
Ghosts That Need Reminding
by Dana Levin
Hallow-E'en, 1915
by Winifred M. Letts
Haunted Houses
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Haunted Seas
by Cale Young Rice
How Can It Be I Am No Longer I
by Lucie Brock-Broido
Lamp or Mirror
by Tony Barnstone
Lenore
by Edgar Allan Poe
Letter from a Haunted Room
by Lisa Sewell
Low Barometer
by Robert Bridges
My hero bares his nerves
by Dylan Thomas
Ode to a Dressmaker's Dummy
by Donald Justice
Patsy Sees a Ghost
by Lola Haskins
Poems About Ghosts
Rain
by Claribel Alegría
Restless Ghost
by Eric Pankey
Sequestered Writing
by Carolyn Forché
Shadwell Stair
by Wilfred Owen
Shaking the Grass
by Janice N. Harrington
Something Whispered in the Shakuhachi
by Garrett Hongo
Song for the Clatter-Bones
by F. R. Higgins
Spirit Birds
by Stanley Plumly
The Apparition
by John Donne
The Ghost Has No Home
by Jeff Clark
The Haunted Palace
by Edgar Allan Poe
To the Trespasser
by David Barber
Unbidden
by Rae Armantrout
We're All Ghosts Now
by Dara Wier
What They Found In the Diving Bell
by Traci Brimhall
When There Were Ghosts
by Alberto Ríos
Whose Story of Us We Is Told Is Us
by Shane McCrae