They visit me
when my skin feasts
on yours.

It’s become a ritual,
a habitual trick of the brain; some might call it
a glitch.

It’s as if the brain
had two hands,
but endless smoke and mirrors,
and no matter how I pick the grasp
I’m sure this time is right,
I’m left with wrong,
the wrong being
that they are gone. 

Their hair looks beautiful–so much more body
than mine–lifting off a rueful forehead–
and the flowers that draped the coffin of the one
who was buried
could not be more real, the glow of the gladioli softer
than the hue of pearls,
the green baize a flat glisten veiling
the ochre of riven clay.

You hold me
close as it gets, but they close in
in an instant and I say, “please,”
and they say, “please,” and the problem
is that we each still want
to please each other;
we were that kind of people–

but all pleasure is sacrificed–our pleasure
was sacrifice–we were, you see,
mothers, daughters, wives–

and though you hold me still,
close as it gets,
still I weep for them, one of me,
who doesn’t get to have you, their you,
still holding them;
so the brain instead grasps tightly
with both hands,
though the brain doesn’t actually


Very much of a draft poem for Grapeling’s prompt on With Real Toads to write a ghost story based on a list of words. 

 (Yes, I’m not sure about the enjambement at the end or throughout.) 

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22 Comments on “Survivor”

  1. This is a tough piece. I feel the pain that comes with being the one who remains….the haunting why..”the brain grasps tightly with both hands” Strong visual

  2. Susan Says:

    OH! What horrible timing! On one level a ghost story, and on another level The Ghost Story of survivors everywhere. Bless you!

  3. mhwarren Says:

    The ghosts of the women we’ve loved can break our hearts all over again when they visit and seem so real. I remember the vivid dreams of my mother and godmother, how I loved having them but then wept all over again at the loss. The ochre of riven clay- gorgeous sound.

  4. That line about the brain is so vivid.That, to me, encapsulated the whole poem. Haunting. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  5. This is very moving, and evokes the grief we all carry for our many losses. I really love the image of the brain with hands, especially repeated the second time. Wow. Stunning.

  6. hedgewitch Says:

    Ah, Karin. I really *really* like this one. It is eerie, and yet, the ghostliness has a homey, prosaic feel as well–for it comes from the most basic places, a cooking and cleaning in the subconscious that is pure female…in all its manifestations…yet also cerebral and imaginative in a non-gendered, very human way. Really, the enjambement seems fine to me, but that is one of the things that always repays a little tinkering–when I go back to poems after a long interval, it is almost the first thing I adjust–well, that and adverbs. ;_) But this is extremely effective just as it is. One of my instant favorites.

  7. There’s a lot of depth here…emotion and transformation of states of being…it seems to me…my favorite portion is this:

    “he glow of the gladioli softer
    than the hue of pearls,
    the green baize a flat glisten veiling
    the ochre of riven clay.”

    I enjoy the choice of subject you bring in…the flowers, the gems and the different specific colors…these bring a richness, for me.

    Great poem, Karin!

  8. Kerry O'Connor Says:

    I say, “please,”
    and they say, “please,” and the problem
    is that we each still want
    to please each other..

    This says so much to me about human nature – not to detract from the narrative at all, but the observation is very striking.

  9. Beautiful language in that fourth stanza. And the grasp that is yet not a grasp conveys well a sense of the inconsolable.

  10. brian miller Says:

    what a horrible place of being….the one left behind…makes me think of my FIL..its been a long several years since his wife passed…and i keep waiting for that call…

  11. grapeling Says:

    first, thank you for all your thoughtful responses. I am always humbled by your capacity to offer cogent and useful observations. second, you know how much I like to mess with jambs – I guess it’s my little rebellion against the strictures of linearity that words both allow and conceal, and by switching up the flow, do make the reader slow down. so, as Joy points out, while I may tinker, and you may tinker, this is such a strong pen, with its flows and returns, that I hope you don’t tweak it overmuch. third, as to the write itself, the opening stanza’s image is so evocative – I immediately envisioned a tree slowly feasting on a buried human – which of course isn’t ‘right’, but also maybe is, if only because we always identify with what we believe we perceive. it’s one of the tricks of that brain that has two hands, but doesn’t. not sure if that makes sense, but it’s late, and again, thanks for adding your voice ~

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      You are very welcome. I really love your work, so responses are easy. I’m afraid that they are (in fact) often a bit garbled as my mind can be chaotic, but I thank you for your thanks. k.

      On Fri, Oct 24, 2014 at 3:21 AM, ManicDDaily wrote:


  12. Brendan Says:

    Ghost stories are spiritous, so the flow here is apropos, sort of a leak through the vents which smells this way then that. The silent chorus behind the participant in acts of love inhabit and inhibit long after they’re gone, though I can’t tell if they’re lost children or siblings or lovers or selves. It matters in trying to tell what kind of love song this may be, and doesn’t in that we’re all truckin’ on with an accumulating freight of ghosts. They slow our motions, inhibit fresh intimacy: yet that heaviness also gives us substance we didn’t have before. Amen.

  13. Polly Says:

    This is a keeper for me, Karin – a powerful yet gentle poem, so fitting – poignant.

  14. Powerful, deep, raw. Haunted and haunting as an unfolding process. I’m moved, enamored, and a little wistfully sad… a sign of a great poem. And this is a draft? Gorgeous work!

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