Photo by Mark Auer

Twelve years ago my father died. For two years prior he had been fighting a debilitating cancer of the plasma cells called Myeloma. I watched him during that time shrink from a hulking, and sometimes frightening figure, to a slight shell, barely able to move his own body from the bedroom to the bathroom 15 feet away. The father had shed away, yet hidden inside of him was another father, a father like a baby.

The night of his death I was in a hotel room with Ronaldo V. Wilson in Iowa City where we were attending a poetry conference. In the middle of the night, Ronaldo noticed a green light glowing diffusely under the bed. I saw it, too. Then I felt a presence like none I’d ever felt before. This benign presence enveloped me for a long few seconds, and for those few seconds only, I understood who my father was outside of his human form, outside of his often problematic human actions. It was, dare I say, a soul seeming feeling. [I want to put this translucent scrim into a poem.] And, then, he was gone.

It occurred to me then that perhaps ghosts are not persistent, but brief glimpses of some shadow past before the door is finally shut. A figure runs through a backyard in the darkest part of night.

How delicate the balance between time and lifting.

The written does not compensate for loss. It does not speak it. Loss is one of many, I believe, unspeakabilities. The sentence, its enemy. Representation, its farce. Perhaps death is not loss, but indicative of an already absence. [Possibility in ghosts.]

So there are no origins then? No, no origins. And the text? It is itself, a book, the edifice of attempt and therefore failure. This only happens when we leave things out. Or when we use language. The book lasts longer, its artifice unyieldingly apparent. Like the word, “whole,” the irreconcilability of wholeness and puncture.

Like the “I” of the “self.”

To write “I” in a poem is to be stricken with a sudden terror.

Lacan proposes that “lack” occurs at a first traumatic moment as children when we lose our sense of wholeness and connection with the mother. This recognition of the self as disconnected from the mother casts us into a state of perpetual longing.

Like a nation.

In Bhanu Kapil’s Schizophrene, the following phrase in quotation marks: “I was born in a country that no longer exists.” I love this investigation of the irretrievable. That the post-colonial nation is a nation fraught with desire for something it cannot access. This enduring grief.

I was born in a body that no longer exists.

I am thinking about the assertion of “I” in its most exciting [to me] potentiality in the poem as a kind of ghost, a shadow effect. This might be the opposite of scripture. It forecloses the sacred, is instead open to the chaos of vibration. Maybe it’s the vibration in writing that produces the recuperation of the ghost figure as knowable to the extreme but only temporarily. Hello, green orb, hello.

Originally Published: June 19th, 2013

Poet and activist Dawn Lundy Martin earned a BA at the University of Connecticut, an MA at San Francisco State University, and a PhD at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her poetry collections include Discipline (2011), chosen by Fanny Howe for the Nightboat Books Prize, and A Gathering of Matter/A Matter...