SHADWELL STAIR

I am the ghost of Shadwell Stair.
       Along the wharves by the water-house,
       And through the cavernous slaughter-house,
I am the shadow that walks there.

Yet I have flesh both firm and cool,
       And eyes tumultuous as the gems
       Of moons and lamps in the full Thames
When dusk sails wavering down the pool.

Shuddering the purple street-arc burns
       Where I watch always; from the banks
       Dolorously the shipping clanks
And after me a strange tide turns.

I walk till the stars of London wane
       And dawn creeps up the Shadwell Stair.
       But when the crowing syrens blare
I with another ghost am lain.

— Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918), English soldier and poet

 

BATS

Bats

unveil themselves in dark.
They hang, each a jagged,

silken sleeve, from moonlit rafters bright
as polished knives. They swim

the muddled air and keen
like supersonic babies, the sound

we imagine empty wombs might make
in women who can’t fill them up.

A clasp, a scratch, a sigh.
They drink fruit dry.

And wheel, against feverish light flung hard
upon their faces,

in circles that nauseate.
Imagine one at breast or neck,

Patterning a name in driblets of iodine
that spatter your skin stars.

They flutter, shake like mystics.
They materialize. Revelatory

as a stranger’s underthings found tossed
upon the marital bed, you tremble

even at the thought. Asleep,
you tear your fingers

and search the sheets all night.

Paisley Rekdal (b. 1970), American poet; Associate Professor of English, University of Utah. Copyright © 2007. Reprinted without permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.


 

Happy Halloween, everyone.