American Life in Poetry: Column 501
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
I love a good ghost story, and here’s one about a ghost cat, by John Philip Johnson, who lives in Nebraska, where most ghosts live in the wind and are heard in the upper branches of cedar trees in country cemeteries. He has an illustrated book of poems, Stairs Appear in a Hole Outside of Town.
Bones and Shadows
She kept its bones in a glass case
next to the recliner in the living room,
and sometimes thought she heard
him mewing, like a faint background music;
but if she stopped to listen, it disappeared.
Likewise with a nuzzling around her calves,
she’d reach absent-mindedly to scratch him,
but her fingers found nothing but air.
One day, in the corner of her eye,
slinking by the sofa, there was a shadow.
She glanced over, expecting it to vanish.
But this time it remained.
She looked at it full on. She watched it move.
Low and angular, not quite as catlike
as one might suppose, but still, it was him.
She walked to the door, just like in the old days,
and opened it, and met a whoosh of winter air.
She waited. The bones in the glass case rattled.
Then the cat-shadow darted at her,
through her legs, and slipped outside.
It mingled with the shadows of bare branches,
and leapt at the shadow of a bird.
She looked at the tree, but there was no bird.
Then he blended into the shadow of a bush.
She stood in the threshold, her hands on the door,
the sharp breeze ruffling the faded flowers
of her house dress, and she could feel
her own bones rattling in her body,
her own shadow trying to slip out.
We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2013 by John Philip Johnson and reprinted by permission of John Philip Johnson. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.