Carolyn Forché

(28 April, 1950 - / Detroit, Michigan)

The Ghost of Heaven - Poem by Carolyn Forché

Sleep to sleep through thirty years of night,
a child herself with child,
for whom we searched

through here, or there, amidst
bones still sleeved and trousered,
a spine picked clean, a paint can,
a skull with hair

Sewn into the hem of memory:
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,
God not
of philosophers or scholars. God not of poets.

Night to night:
child walking toward me through burning maize
over the clean bones of those whose flesh
was lifted by zopilotes into heaven.

So that is how we ascend!
In the clawed feet of fallen angels.
To be assembled again
in the work rooms of clouds.

She rose from where they found her lying
not far from a water urn, leaving
herself behind on the ground
where they found her, holding her arms
before her as if she were asleep.

That is how she appears to me: a ghost in heaven.
Carrying her arms in her arms.

Blue smoke from corn cribs, flap of wings.
On the walls of the city streets a plague of initials.

Walking through a fire-lit river
to a burning house: dead Singer
sewing machine and piece of dress.

Outside a cashew tree wept
blackened cashews over lamina.

Outside paper fireflies rose to the stars.

Bring penicillin if you can, surgical tape, a whetstone,
mosquito repellent but not the aerosol kind.
Especially bring a syringe for sucking phlegm,
a knife, wooden sticks, a surgical clamp, and plastic bags.

You will need a bottle of cloud
for anesthesia.

Like the flight of a crane
through colorless dreams.

When a leech opens your flesh it leaves a small volcano.
Always pour turpentine over your hair before going to sleep.

Such experiences as these are forgotten
before memory intrudes.

The girl was found (don't say this)
with a man's severed head stuffed
into her where a child would have been.
No one knew who the man was.
Another of the dead.
So they had not, after all,
killed a pregnant girl.
This was a relief to them.

That sound in the brush?
A settling of wind in sorghum.

If they capture you, talk.
Talk. Please yes. You heard me
right the first time.

You will be asked who you are.
Eventually, we are all asked who we are.

All who come
All who come into the world
All who come into the world are sent.
Open your curtain of spirit.

Comments about The Ghost of Heaven by Carolyn Forché

  • Tom Allport (3/25/2017 7:09:00 AM)

    a sad poem that tells us of some of the atrocities that mankind can inflict on each other? ............well written. (Report) Reply

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  • Susan Williams (3/2/2016 3:32:00 PM)

    This is a piece of literature that is not ashamed of demanding t be read many times over. In fact, it is necessary. This has depths thrumming under the depths and I think it will be well worth the plumbing of its depths. (Report) Reply

  • Moira Cameron (3/2/2016 10:52:00 AM)

    What a powerful poem. I know that it is sometimes best to leave interpretation to the imagination of the reader, but is there something you can share about what inspired this poem? (Report) Reply

  • Jasbir Chatterjee (3/2/2016 6:16:00 AM)

    It's a very intriguing poem with very grotesque images, especially the part where The girl was found (don't say this) /with a man's severed head stuffed/into her where a child would have been./No one knew who the man was./Another of the dead.
    So they had not, after all, /killed a pregnant girl./This was a relief to them. It seems the girl was raped brutally and the poem, it seems, goes on to suggest that ultimately we also end up getting mauled in the same manner...Am I right? Correct me if I am wrong.
    (Report) Reply

    Denis Mair (3/5/2016 10:22:00 AM)

    Yes, I think you're right. Maybe we will all get mauled by in some way, eventually, by terrible things that happen in the world. I think she is trying to convey that the consequences of these things ripple outward. Carole Forche took risks to spend time interviewing a leader in El Salvador who was for a time pursued by death squads. He communicated everything he could to her, and that urgency went into her poetry. I don't feel comfortable with the way Carolyn Forche handled this material in her poem. I realize there is no perfect, right way for a poet to respond to atrocities and injustices. I cannot criticize her unless I try to grapple with themes like this myself.

  • Edward Kofi Louis (3/2/2016 4:46:00 AM)

    Thirty years of night! Nice piece of work. (Report) Reply

  • Shah Surja (11/25/2015 7:08:00 AM)

    'All who come
    All who come into the world
    All who come into the world are
    Open your curtain of spirit.'
    (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, November 25, 2015

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