String Quartets & Ghosts


August night in the hollow hall,
the string quartet plays Schubert.
Somewhere, the pale earth blooms.

I walk along the poppy-lined path
and lean to scrape peonies from my soles.
There is smoke in the distance
from chimneys and wildfires,
and I cannot remember
the last time I had felt the embers
dance in the yearning pit,
humming to a sweet darkness.



From a certain angle where
the rain parts and thins,
lamplight illumes a ghost
in a patch of rough bluegrass.
He wears sodden clothes
and a trimmed collar,
spectacles perched on his slippery nose.
The weighted boots retrace
their winter journey, hurrying
on the pavement whetted
by rain and acid,
the mist of earth curling
toward a pink sky,
and my eyes clamp shut,
knowing I carry this story
too deeply.



Slowly the night wraps itself
in a mythic oath.

The violins stretch
a heartbeat across
the cello’s thunderous drum,
and for a stroke of breath
nobody listens to sweet buds
branching from the viola.

We will not cease, cries
the turning sound.

There is virtue in knowing
why vibrations echo,
why the horsehair sheds.



The ghost and I meet at the dead gazebo.
He is tired.

We sit and watch the mulberry bush. I want
to tell him a secret, when I remember
that I’ve long since forgotten.

We listen to each other’s silence.

He stands up. There is a familiar, atavistic
fear in his gaze, as if he can’t help jostling
the door to solitude.

He saunters away and the mulberry wilts.
I imagine him drawing thin lines in the dirt,
stepping over each as he wrings his hands
and dusts his cuffs, vanishing over and over
like a magician’s inevitable act.



(© Phoebe Pan)