A Haunting
                                                                        —Boyer Rickel


Waking from a dream,
the pleasure you felt
in another life

that is not yours.

(The sound of a voice
in a room you thought was empty.)

Upon looking in the mirror—
your face
now old—you see

long ago, there once
was a future.


Why spend your day
attempting the impossible—

the beloved
in a sentence;

the dream, its frantic
still damp from sleep,
chalked in a sketchpad?

Is randomness
in disguise?

A patient’s symptoms are
a way of thinking,
an analyst suggests,

about difficult things.


The feeling as you age
without him
you’ll get around, eventually,
to being young again

by a face, androgynous—
pretty boy? pretty girl?—
that falls

(something he hand-cut
for you into
an oval, a flat
pendant portrait)

from a notebook. At twelve
so like his mother, eyes
alight, in retrospect,
with departure. 


for MLS

Present, Absent

One in the oven.

She knew it meant someone was pregnant.

Come out, come out, little brother.

(In German.)

Oh, come out, little sister, she cried, standing before the closed oven door.

(In the ‘30s, before she fled across the Atlantic to New York.)

Hoping for a sibling.

The not-knowing, releasing desire.

(Retelling this at 90, her laughter—our laughter—startled the other diners.)


A kitty princess? I ask the girl, hunched over the drawing on the concrete drive. 

On an afternoon walk with my dog.

Un huh, she says, extending a whisker.

Blue dots for eyes, the ears red triangles.

Her crown’s three peaks, the face, just outlines in green and pink.

Alive with possibility.

Next day, the girl gone, the princess looks up at us.

Her face, the kitty ears, the crown and all, chalked in.

Flattened into absence.  


They’ve hitched the wagon, my grandmother said, the day before she died.

Her parents had come to take her home.

Two granddaughters bathed her, dressed her in the burial gown; their daughters washed and set her hair.

A grandson, my cousin, raised his infant son over the open coffin.

Touch her, said an aunt, stroking the hands, the brow.

My grandmother—present, absent.


A neighbor builds a kind of cage, five feet wide, extending from her back door twenty feet.

Framed with four-by-fours eight feet high, the walls mere chicken wire.

Her cats can venture safely now from house to yard and back.

Space, once open, continuous, given form.

An emptiness contained.

Boxed to keep the hawks and coyotes out.


I dreamed him night after night.

The sleeping self couldn’t believe it, without a body.

The friend killed in a car crash a thousand miles away; cremated.

The dreamer, I read in an essay, is present in experience but absent in knowledge.


To steady myself, I took hold of the skirt’s edge.

Its familiar red checkered pattern.

A toddler, dazzled by the colorful boxes along the aisle’s bottom shelf.

Who am I? I thought, looking up, howling at the stranger’s face above the dress.

A memory, long misplaced, that makes me smile.

Reminded today, on my 65th birthday, by a yearning for my mother.


Dead in the house a week, most likely murdered.

We’ll never know.

The body, decomposing, was partly eaten by her dogs.

A detail that fills me—a literal body-wide sensation—with horror.

Saying it aloud, the friend who told me felt the need to whisper.

A sign of reverence?

Shame? Who for, the dogs?

We’ll never know, she repeated.

Who, I imagine, like me, couldn’t stop imagining: the body of our friend, enclosed for days in that house with her beloved animals.


The youth, a teen, in line at the theater.

His eyes fail to project, as if he’s blind.

But his face: clear water over colored stones.

The surface in continuous change; gradations of emotion.

Performing elsewhere, perhaps, in a drama of his own making.

Like the solitary child digging in the garden.

Speaking to the no one beside her, her other self.


So many people say, Well, why didn’t you leave sooner?

You don’t know you’re breathing CO2 until you breathe oxygen again.

Said, as reported in the paper, by a church member.

One of many who participated.

A beating that went on and on, until the boy, who was gay, was dead.


My dog, wild with joy, leaps and shakes her head side to side.

The snake in her jaws, green with black and white stripes, made of cloth, swinging left and right.

In perfect rhythm with the shriek of the toy’s squeaker.

It’s like the cry of prey, explains the young man at my computer, a tech installing the latest operating system.

That’s why they do it.

photo: John Levy

photo: John Levy

Boyer Rickel’s publications include two poetry collections, remanence (Parlor Press) and arreboles (Wesleyan), a memoir-in-essays, Taboo (Wisconsin), as well as three poetry chapbooks, two from Seven Kitchens Press, reliquary and Musick’s Hand-maid, and one from Green Linden Press, Tempo Rubato. Recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Arizona Commission on the Arts, he taught in the U. of Arizona Creative Writing Program for twenty years.

ISSN 2472-338X
© 2019