The Woman Poet Series

Chasing Ghosts in Charleston


Across cobblestones too notched

and pebbled for meandering,

the tour guide gives us the reason why

there are so many lost souls here.


Tragedy, he says.

His mouth forms the word

the way fever and high water

divide the spirit, sudden and startled

from it’s bones, leaving it to wander

and hold to grief like a stillborn baby,

or the limpets encrusting ancient seawalls.


There is music in the air and the cadence

of lit windows down every storied block.

The clattering of glass and silver and footsteps

stirs the dead air from the corners like a chime.

Tourists still lose earrings while trekking

through the old jail and take pictures in graveyards

at night, hoping for a smudge beyond

the camera lens to manifest into the ghosts

of squandered fortunes and consumption,

lovers lost when the mouths of cannons

were still rimmed in smoke and gunpowder.


We pass a crypt that suffocated a child

awakened from a coma

and headstones jostled by earthquakes.

There is a bed that was buried whole

with the woman who died in it.

Four carved posts still spire from the grave

because no one had wanted to touch

what they could not define.

And another soul was left to rise

from beneath her sheets,

and remember, and remember, and remember,

as if longing were a state of eternal limbo,

beneath the sway of gray moss in trees.


Laura Sobbott Ross

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