The Poetry Project

There are ghosts in the forest

Lea Parlan

There are ghosts in the forest;
my dog can sense them. He stops
and sniffs the air when a breeze passes through the trees,
he smells every leaf of every bush and fern.
Sometimes he freezes, burying his nose as if compelled by a great secret.
He never shares the secret with me.

The ghosts of trees are all around me too.
Their bodies are consumed by moss and mushrooms
after they’ve fallen or been choked out by their sibling.
Were they here when the first nation tread this earth?
The footprints are gone and I wonder if the forest remembers them,
or if their memory is just out of reach like a dream
on the edge of your mind,
that you can’t quite hold still.

Instead of the path, I followed the creek;
the water rang so sweetly over the rocks and roots.
Through branches and brambles
I crunched and swished
until I was stopped by a sign with a crudely drawn bear saying:
“You must be at least THIS tall to ride.”

Sun peeked through the canopy and speckled
what seemed at first a giant beast.
Green moss and leaves covered the wooden skeleton
of an old roller coaster. It twisted like a snake
but the vines kept up with it, thwarting it at every turn.
Trees grew under its frame, some rising and cracking its body as they grew stronger,
others cozied up in its curves, intertwining their branches with its spine.

The forest gnawed the bones of the rides left behind:
Teacups so overgrown with moss they looked like plush armchairs,
The rotted remains of a carousel frame, animals gone missing.
Perhaps they returned to the wild.

If Henrik’s life was forgotten after he died, did he ever exist?
He imagined the generations of his descendants growing distant, like rings in a tree.
Henrik always wanted to live forever,
so he did what he thought was most logical:
built an amusement park outside his rural town.

The old forest wrapped around his village like a shawl.
Too many trees, he thought, not enough fun.
So he cut down some of those trees. He dug up their roots
and sometimes he found bones.

When he brushed the dirt from a man-sized skull,
he wondered:
did he release two ghosts, unearthing both tree and man,
or was the tree that grew from man’s flesh the ghost of the man?
And would Henrik’s new roller coaster be the ghost of the trees he felled?

Henrik worked day and night,
time ticked by in the clink of his hammer.
The river carried away the leaves from the shorn trees
which became timber.

The roller coaster stood taller than the forest when it was complete,
and Henrik felt proud as the kids from his town filled the park.
Even if his name was lost in the wind of history, he hoped
his children’s children would be on his roller coaster,
screaming as his ghost took them for a ride.

Work from Boo: Ghosts and the Unconscious for Utopian Dreaming with Claire Donato & Adrian Shirk