Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February 10: Ghosts

Driving home from the gym tonight on Park Street, I passed the house where my grandfather died. The house doesn't always consciously register in my mind when I go by it--which is fairly often, being my main cut-across route from the Y. He only lived there for a few years before he passed away. While I spent a lot of time with him there when I was home from college, mowing his lawn and helping with house-cleaning, it never really felt like his true home to me. My entire life before that, he and my grandmother had lived on a saltwater farm with sheep, chickens, a pet goose, and a big organic garden in Lincolnville. After my grandmother died, he down-sized to the house in town as a way of making his daily life easier and renewing his social life. By his choice, it ended up being where he eventually succumbed to cancer. 

The few times that I think about this as I drive by, I wonder if the people who live there know that someone died in that downstairs room. And I wonder if there's anything of my grandfather's spirit left about the place, if the house is haunted. But if my grandfather's ghost is anywhere, I don't think it's lingering in that nondescript ranch house on Park Street. I would think if his spirit were going to linger, it would be hanging out again at Sea Bluffs, the old farm that was his life's joy... which has now been transformed into a luxury inn. You can sleep in my old bedroom (or his)--both utterly transformed--for $385 a night. My grandfather would have been amazed and delighted by that. 

My grandfather once told me that gulls were his favorite bird. A herring gull would hang out on their chimney, coming down to feed on table scraps strewn on the lawn when called (his name was Joseph). Joseph and his buddies were a constant presence, and my grandfather loved to watch them soar on the sea breeze. He said that it looked like they were sailing around just for the sheer pleasure of it, and that after he died, he'd like to come back as a gull so he could fly like that. Sometimes when I see a flock of gulls in the air, white wings illuminated by sun in a way that renders them positively angelic, I think, Maybe he's up there now, enjoying his wings

After passing his house this evening and remembering him thus, I arrived home to find a pre-pub copy of a Maine poetry anthology that includes one of my poems. The poem is an homage to my grandparents' kitchen--a place I remember in the minutest detail and with much love. Sadly, my name is misspelled in the book. The poem doesn't even properly carry my grandfather's surname--pretty much the only tangible thing I have left from him. But my grandfather loved me and was so proud of everything I ever accomplished. Even though they got my name wrong, his unshakeable support of everything I did would have made it seem okay. And he would have been so thrilled that a poem about his kitchen was published in a such a lovely little book. Here's the poem published in the anthology:

There is the ritual of icing the sugar cookies,
the sacrament of eating them:
sheep, reindeer, turkey, tree, little man.
There is the prayer of the old pressed tin ceiling,
litany of the clock with its waxing moon face,
blessing of the cast-iron potbelly stove
fragrant with coffee and rising bread.
The hymn of certain knowledge.
The psalm of bringing it back.

Whether he's a ghost or a gull or simply life essence in the ether, I know he's still with me somehow.

No longer a child
yet still missing what was lost,
I talk to your ghost.

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