An Unexpected Specter

by Josh Bishop

for Becca

There are no graveyards here that want a ghost,
no clapboard churches crowning far-off hills
whose stones like granite corn rows stretch almost
to where a slate-cold sky meets soil and chills
our blood with thoughts of Pilgrim bones laid down
beneath the frost line, safe from fall’s last fell
and skittish breath, which blows before it browning
autumn leaves to heap in grave-like dells
where wait old ghosts on crisp New England nights.
No, here belong no poltergeists to spy
and startle from our peace with sudden frights
we weary, footsore souls who wander by.

Here, instead, spring-turned-summer’s splendent rays
(as far removed from cold Atlantic glooms
as south from north) have long lit tranquil days
where wildflowers — butter-yellow blooms,
or lupine blue, like bonnets — dot vast plains
still somehow green despite the noontime heat.
Those wisps might later swell with evening rains
to water prairie grasses, long like wheat,
but now they simply scuff the sky, too thin
to send their shadows racing by, now slow,
now fast, spurred on before some sigh of wind
that ripples waves across the fields below.

Yet even here, beneath the shadeless sun’s
benevolent and gently warming face,
the headless Hessian’s stallion sometimes runs.
Its sudden gallop spooks and puts to chase
scared choirs of startled songbirds from their trees.
Then, with withered visage grimaced, tight-drawn,
an unexpected specter stoops to seize
with grasping, grapnel hands — and then it’s gone.
The steadfast sun still shines unfazed, still bright,
while we, who half-recall the birdsong, grieve
to hear the fading wingbeats of their flight,
the skittish scratch of browning autumn leaves.

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