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Joe Randolph Ackerley

(1896-1967)

Ghosts


I
Can they still live,
Beckon and cry
Over the years
After they die,
Bringing us tears
Meditative?

II
Those we once set
With us abreast,
Shielded and cherished,
Are they distressed
If we forget
After they've perished?

III
So while they sleep
Do they not trust
Friendship to keep
Memory bright
Lest it fall quite
Into the dust?

IV
Ah, but they try
That to retain
Lest they should die
Over again . . .

V
What magic art
Conjured his name
Out of still seas,
So that my heart,
Stripped of its ease,
Filled me with shame?

VI
Out of what space
Echoed his laughter
Back to my ear?
Whence rose his face,
Friendly and clear,
All this time after?

VII
I had been reading,
Rapt, never heeding
How the light crept
Out of the room . . .
Almost I slept
Lulled by the gloom .

VIII
.. . Dreamily raising
Out of the embers
Castles and forts. . . .
Ah, it's amazing
How one remembers
Trivial thoughts!

IX
And . . . did I brood?
Nay, free from care,
Grief, or desire,
Such was my mood,
Sunk in a chair
Close to the fire.

X
Almost I slept . . .
Weariness swept
Idle pretences
Out of my heart;
Slowly my senses
Glided apart. . . .

XI
. . . Glided like ships
Over the seas;
Flitted like birds
Over the trees . . .
Then came his words
Back to my lips.

XII
Softly they stole,
Wave upon wave,
Crushing my soul
Into his grave. . . .
'You will forget. . . .
You will forget. ...'

XIII
Then came his eyes
Shining with truth;
Then came his voice
Broken with sighs;
Friend of my choice !
Friend of my youth !

XIV
God! But I burned
Him to embrace,
Feeling his breath
Hot on my face,
So that I yearned
Almost to death.

XV
So that I reeled
Free from sleep's fetters
Out of my chair
Over to where
I had concealed
Certain old letters.

XVI
Holding a taper
Over my head,
Thrust I aside
Bundles of paper,
Labelled and tied,
Seeking my dead.

XVII
Hearing him yet
Saying 'Good-bye!'
Hearing his sigh,
Murmured so low,
'Ah, but I know . . .
You will forget.'

Had I not chaffed,
Mocking his dole?
Had I not laughed
In my endeavour
Him to console,
Telling him,- 'Never'?

XIX
Almost distraught,
Kneeling I sought.
Rummaged and fumbled,
Straining my eyes. . . .
Then my hand stumbled
On to my prize.

XX
Buried like him,
Withering under
Many a story
Nearly as dim,
Drained of its wonder
Barren of glory.

XXI
So that I wept:
Strong as a tide
Bitterness swept
Over my head. . . .
I had not cried
When he was dead.

XXII
Dully I sobbed.
While my heart throbbed
Still with that low
Cry of regret;
'Ah, but I know. . . .
You will forget.'

XXIII
How came this shade,
Strangely begotten,
Back to my mind,
Bringing behind
Grief long allayed,
Almost forgotten?-

XXIV
Ah, but they live,
Beckon and cry
Over the years
After they die,
Bringing us tears
Meditative.

Submitted: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Edited: Thursday, October 24, 2013

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