For Gary GilmoreA ghost came to kiss
the boy in his bed.
Ghosts, his grandmother tells him,
never surrender. On her nightstand,
a Ouija's heart-shaped planchette spells out
bad omen, family histories written in charlatan ink.
A brick in a graveyard marks a plot
with no name: Our Baby.
The boy wears a cowboy shirt.
Behind him, a burning
smudges the sky with October.
Into the eye of a camera, he takes aim
at a spectator visible only to him,
his gun's deadly wick
razing his opponent
with two shots to the heart's chambers.
Years later, he shows the world his last trick of escaping,
a bull's-eye target pinned to his chest
as the five of his firing squad take aim,
the world calling down his erasure.
There will always be a father,
he says, the murdered pale as garments
the Mormons wear for the Rapture:
a clatter of bone,
all the dead rising together.
Night folds its black napkin,
each star a torn suture.
The boy's bones sing from a jar.
Swimming With Eels
All summer, I watched them
make their ghostly caduceus through water—
on their way to their own kingdom.
Seeing them rise out of the clouds of decay,
from the lake's silk bottom
gold with an afterlife lit from within,
I thought: Even the dead lift their heads to collect sun.
Even the body carries its lantern of distances.
All my life, I have gone through this world,
waiting to be shown a wet road
galvanized by the body's own lightning,
clairvoyant as stone.
What flayed thing stared at me
from its button of blood,
its lidless socket,
greaved in its chain mail of lead?
I don't know what I expected to happen.
Perhaps for some god, the color of nothing,
to come rest its head on my thigh.
Long before this, I'd made my covenant.
To be left with their glistening,
I would learn to live within their circle of dread.
The amphitheater holds them like a chalice:
fair-haired, blue-eyed boys
bused in from all four corners of the state
to hear the coroner's lecture on alcohol-related death.
His address could be the farm report:
his dry recital of quantities consumed,
absorption rates classed by weight,
his description of the slow, almost exquisite
paralysis of the brain followed by slides
of sundry decapitations. Then there it is, a corpse
spread-eagled across the screen, its eyes upraised like Christ's—
twinned cornflowers afloat in a milk-filled glass—
and everywhere a sea of the cheapest cans of beer,
not even the dying wish of a connoisseur in evidence.
But not a word is said about what makes a man
want to kill himself, that alpine lake that glimmers
in the reptile brain, or how he goes from room to room,
dousing the lights on each compartment of his life:
the kitchen with its garbage pail and rack of spoons;
the living room, its fold-out couch the marriage-bed
where he took his wife, a burning town inside her,
the sounds of small animals scaring out as she fit
over him like a silo. The sensible boys will go no further;
but there are a few, transfixed perhaps by the music of a voice
that stings them in the dark copses of their blood,
who would have followed Orpheus
to a lake as mysterious as the face of any stranger.
They want to touch its bottom, rub a bit of it
between their fingers. They step into the little heart-sac
of water that swells around them and feel first chill
then stupor. The evening lusters as they enter,
translucent as they leave themselves behind.
And in accordance with that psychoanalytic school,
they don't believe in death, or to put it in another way,
each one remains convinced of his own immortality
and, as on a dare, wants to see what survives the wreckage.
Their bodies ghost beneath the surface then disappear;
and then the good god Thanatos enters them
like grain force-fed through a funnel.
Their faces peaceful and sublime,
they feel nothing but the body's slight loosening;
and as they pass the point where others' lives have faltered,
they hear their mother calling:
You love life more than you know.
his life held to Earth by thin umbilicals,
waves from his oxygen tent, his white space suit,
as monitors track the death-defying swan-dives of his blood,
calculate his odds of reentry.
Schooled in the human physics of roll and yaw,
I remembered it then,
the day my father came to explain starflight,
the auditorium curtains made of the same heavy velvet
as Scarlett's at Tara.
Paper models of airplanes reeled in air currents
like pterodactyls or mobiles by Calder.
Astronauts held by thin tethers floated in space
above ice-blue mountains eroded thin as wavers.
Houseled on stories of astrophysics and starflight—
Tiros, Nimbus—names of satellites in geosynchronous orbit,
the orchestra set sail to Mozart's tribute,
the pock-marked face of the lone band teacher rising above us
as we tongued our bright payload toward heaven.
There was never this question of reaching it then:
The moon, still uncaptured, rose
in its nightly appearance
over the manicured lawns of suburbia,
beckoned each night to its moon-girl.
No one talked of the war then.
No talk of misplaced O-rings or rocket failure,
life lessons in stability and control,
the heat of reentry. That would come later—
the future then only a question of striving.
a speck now in the mind's eye,
waves from his spit of starlight,
points to my life's center, it's gravity,
the balloons of my wishes for flight held to Earth
by unforeseeable forces,
and says Lise, go ahead, be grandiose in life.
You're lovable even when no one else loves you.
The pock-faced moon of the band teacher rises above us,
as we make our double helix back to the classroom.
We lift bright bones from our coffins to make music,
play to the laggard tempo of uneasy transcendence:
the screen of the one black-and-white television silvering
as the rocket lumbers at liftoff;
and we count backwards,
10, 9, 8, 7,
toward a future we cannot know.
Lise Goett's work has garnered numerous prizes, including the 2001 Barnard New Women Poets Prize for her first collection,(Beacon 2002), which won the Pen Southwest Book Award in Poetry in 2005. Her other awards include The Paris Review Discovery Award (1995) and postgraduate fellowships from the Milton Center and the University of Wisconsin Creative Writing Institute. Her poems have appeared in such journals as , and . She currently resides in Taos, NM, where she is working on a second manuscript of poetry entitled Leprosarium.