Believing good friends should not live with ghosts,
though ghosts warm up a wintry student dorm,
bewail a good man’s fall in wedding toasts,
and wonder at coincidence and form,
I came to play the guest to your good hosts,
to your love nest at Squirrel Hill, your home
away from the home dreamed, New York City,
and from Dunkirk of childhood memory.
The ghosts would not leave us alone. Seduced
by spirits, round the table, poems we read
spoke: Wendi spilled a past life, wife abused
for bearing a son not resembling dad;
you wrote of foreign women who refused
to bend under the trash but in the yard
danced and danced in the direction of light;
I read my “Payday Loans.” Called it a night.
Next day, we drove to Dunkirk where your mum
welcomed us three and showed me her Elvis
memorabilia in a back room:
posters, snow globes, baseball caps, ashtrays,
head portrait in red wool, clock pendulum
rocking both quadrant legs and arc pelvis.
Only that room, the brightest, played music
since you left. Other rooms stored her antiques.
Thanksgiving dinner with the family
of Uncle Joe. On the way, you called on Todd
who died in his car flipped drunkenly.
Another desperate grade school mate who shot
and killed a cop might join that cemetery.
Someone remembered flowers; someone forgot.
A fence protected the Civil War tombstones
from restless teens who piled them up like loans.
Joe drove and gave to boxing’s hall of fame
his portraits of the greats, you almost boasted,
proud of one who gave his art a name.
His house a gallery, one small room hosted
baseball images, giants of the game.
Between mouthfuls of Aunt Stephanie’s roasted
turkey, Joe answered me about paintings.
And gave me the Big Blues’ head, Albert King’s.
After leaving your mum’s for Squirrel Hill,
we dropped by your dad’s place near Lake Erie.
Around the house posed photos of him still
youthful behind the wheel or by the sea,
and of his father, both alike as pills.
At lunch, he praised turmeric and tea.
The shots he asked you take of him last year
developed blank. You blamed the camera
but know the mind, better than any machine,
collects the fumes in serviceable shapes:
the killer drinking through a car-wrecked grin;
Elvis watching himself on videotapes;
Joe DiMaggio homerunning Marilyn.
So take heart, friend, the figure in the drapes,
Danger or Need, is a familiar ghost.
Let the lost find in you and Wendi host.