Don’t Be Afraid


The old silk Sunday dress at the back of the closet
has something to hiss: hopes
thick with rust, in a murmur made of pearls.
Don’t be afraid – ghosts
are only memories with engines.
Absences with litters of ten thousand flies.
Your nine-year-old summer evenings
are breaking the plates and bursting the lightbulbs.
Grandma slams the doors while you’re dreaming,
sleepwalks through the bookcase. The voices there
are adamant: remembrance is no game.
Innocents can die, houses can burn,
crows can neck-snap against the windows.

But what is so different here,
from your driving to work, the silent
wish for lightning and hurricane curtains?
Death is only our oldest way of saying nothing leaves.
Remember how you remembered that boy’s birth,
and then listen to the attic tumble.
If a soul weighs however many grams they say,
then memories, which are naked and freeze-dried,
weigh less than nothing, almost as little
as wishes, which float upward
and burn away in the aeropause.
Either way, you’re flying,
wind-took with the dragonflies
over the soccer field you and I remember,
those little boy bodies hurtling like atoms in the cool sun,
and if this is haunting, then good.

About the Author

Michael Atkinson‘s first book of poems, One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train (Word Works), won the Washington Prize in 2001. His poems have been in The Threepenny Review, Ontario Review, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Michigan Quarterly Review, Chicago Review, and elsewhere. He teaches at Long Island University, and works as a longtime film critic, late of the late, lamented Village Voice.