Start this with the invocation:
a seventy-seven Pinto,
an eastbound freeway, two boys
a few months from their driver’s license.
It happens again because you’ve
said it. You sit in the back seat,
a ghost of red vinyl, to listen
to these boys—one of whom was you,
the one along for the ride—talk
brave about cheerleaders
and socket wrenches as they pass
a stolen cigarette between them.
They don’t know you’re there,
wouldn’t believe in you should
they look backstage, backseat.
The boys are driving back from an October
orchard where they’d gone to see leaves
change. You remember: orange, brown,
as though you’d just seen those leaves,
because in this proximity
to yourself—the boy in the passenger
seat—you are thinking the
same thing, and each of your in-
carnations feels like they’ve thought this
before. Your ghost, your present tense
thinks that maybe this isn’t right.
Now you’re along for the ride.
These boys haven’t cuffed up against
their own mortality yet, though one
of them is sick. The other one,
driving and picking at the thin
hair falling from his scalp, will die
soon, because what lurks in his dark
blood can be cured by medical
science. And that cure is what will
kill him, as it leaves him weak,
unable to fight off infection
in his lungs. But that comes later.
You are here with them now to find
out what you owe to whom—your life,
mortgaged to one of these boys
and you’ve never been able to
rectify that debt. You are the
stage direction, a ghost backstage,
wanting a spotlight, a soapbox
a soliloquy. Dissolve
back into your life, like sugar
in tea—exit this scene now, stage left.
You are the apparition again
in your mother’s house. You follow
yourself down the yellow hallway
to the ringing phone in the kitchen.
You already know who’s calling,
the way you knew then—when you were
the self you’re haunting. Your friend
is dead. You know this even before
his sister tells you—but because your
ghost is too close, the boy can feel
your grief, but can’t feel his own.
And you did know then, didn’t you?
You knew that morning, that the earth
awakes closest to the sun—four
days into every new year.
And Lazarus, dead now, four days.
Roll away the stone. Believe
in something besides the past.
Awaken from this dream like
a man called out from a cave.
It happens this way each time:
a bourbon breakdown in January
rain—weeping an invocation,
Can you go to Tom’s grave today
and mandate him back to this life?
Should you cue him from the wing
like a stage direction? Would he
damn you—a sadness, a gravestone
on your chest, for calling him
into this mortal suffering?
If you had been in Houston that day
he’d have died anyway. You’re a fool
to think you can bargain across the river.
Haunting the past won’t stop
it from happening each time, exactly
the same way. Won’t stop your heart
from breaking like a glass decanter,
brown whisky sliding
mercury across the tile.