In port towns, ghosts are as common as the fish—
Gray, ugly, blind—that scavenge sludge in bays.
Outside my new bare house, in a drunk daze,
Men float, stumble, and dart toward scraps of trash
That might… it’s hard to say. It’s night. They haunt
A maze, draped from the stars, of airy curtains
Stitched with mirrors, invisible, uncertain.
I shudder, chilled, swear I will orient
Myself and not get lost, then walk… wherever,
Nowhere: to see. Lit by street lamps above,
South Ann’s rowhouses look like statues of
Ascetics stooped beside an asphalt river,
Forsaking purer water. I live here?
The road slopes down ten blocks to a dead end
Before the bay, where a new pier is planned,
A sign says, due in ’94. Last year.
Momentum might have carried me farther out
Above the Inner Harbor, to crouch, lean forward,
And reach below. Instead, I spent what onward
Impulse I still have in a good spit,
Then turn and… my God, I’m all alone. A dream,
Loose in the sleeping city’s mind, to be
Forgotten when it wakes, ineffably
Unreal. I walk again, faster, feet numb,
Through intersections—each a flat, dark cross
On which unnumbered pedestrian lives are nailed,
Each a paved hieroglyph for wait or yield—
Lugging the sloshing weight of loss
Back up South Ann, to where at Lombard Street
Skyscrapers, huge, their glass heads in the clouds,
Obscure the moon. Panting, I stop where the roads
Converge, four corner stores out-thrust, and read
Their names: Bill and Marie’s Pub, closed for years,
The couple—divorced, perhaps—incapable
Of staying in the black; the Lombard Tool
And Hardware Store (“We Fix Interiors”),
Cracked wood trim painted yellow as noon sun;
Chojnacki Funeral Home, back-lit stained glass
(its pride) depicting twin blue chalices;
And Quality Eggs, since 1857,
To which I see no door. Love and what fails
To sustain it, Death and Life, opposed across
A no-man’s land where paths lose edge, and choice
Dismantles will. I breathe: inchoate details
Begin to roam my mind: two stolen hammers.
My great-grandfather’s badge. A large red ball
My thick, infant fingers once fumbled to roll.
A woman I have not seen in several summers.
A stray I fed. A vase. They were all
Mine, or are, or I was theirs.
Then hot, surprising tears
Bitter my lips.
I kneel among stacked boxes
Like a latecomer easing into church.
My hands, tucked in my lap,
Begin to thaw.
Around me, cardboard flaps—
Creased wrongly, dog-eared, and over-lapped—
Remind me of the folds of well-used maps
We keep long after we have learned our way.
And so I pray:
Let relocation be an alchemical fire
Applied to the base lead of how I’ve lived.
Let me derive—unpacking what I’ve moved—
From what I actually own, what I desire.