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Coming Soon — DEATH — This Spring

January 12, 2015

10606170_10152544243081519_6213069424677841467_nOver the holidays I made cookies similar to the ones certain adults no longer with us made for me. I had never done that before. I also became strangely interested in music not my own. I played songs obsessively that were not necessarily songs I like, but the favorites of those — once again — no longer with us.

What an oxymoron.

Nothing was more present for me.  There was indeed a peculiar sensation of a presence listening to these songs through me, songs like the very first hit by young Bob Marley (“I’m Still Waiting”).

The track and the photo of the boys (Bob was 16!) who would later sprout into iconic godfathers of neo Pan Africanism put me in a mood I can’t quite articulate. And so I won’t. Because it is not my mood. It is a current, an influence that possesses me  — and I mean that term ‘possession’ in its most classical etymological sense.

Antique tongues know the power of redundancy. If a concept matters, the word associated with that concept might bloom into an objective correlative, an ideal materialization of the idea. The chair you name wouldn’t simply refer to that particular chair you sit on; it would embody the ideal of all chairs now and forever of every chair that has ever been, including the weird ones that hardly seem sufficient for ghosts to squeeze into.

4dd90e9432eaad4844d8ca2427a488dfThis is the dream of an ADAMIC language that Ralph Waldo Emerson and so many others (probably you too) hoped for. Language that is pure and original. Words that call forth the things they name even as they deposit the ideas of those things into the abyss of linguistic abstraction.

For example, to ghost something up, if you’ll pardon the Germanic for a moment (which is really another way of picturing English without its make up on), is a phrase that derives from a simplistic translation of  ‘inspiration’.


Spiritus is the ghost. Respiration. To breath is to take in some ghost, over and over again. Inspiration. To influence is to pour some ghost in me. Transpiration. To happen is to have a ghost move across me. Expiration. To die is literally to give up the ghost.

In a world where ghosts keep hanging around, if only on the tips of our tongues, dying is not so gruesome. The ubiquity of the spirit as a root word of everyday language proposes a world in which all the ghosts get to be as free as prepositions, coming and going as they please, near and far, beside us, inside us and out, above and below.

From this linguistic point of view, ghosts become another way for us to understand our own invisible centeredness. We are in invisible relation all the time. Whether we see it that way or not is incidental–ipso ghost facto.

Invisible-CinemaA lot of music is inspirational, to be sure, but over the holidays I began to notice that some of it does its ghosting in the dark.  Indeed, some music is adspiration. It ghosts AT you. It comes neither from nor through but towards you.

The music that ghosts at you meets you at a threshold in the material world. You and the ghost meet face to face, suing for peace after a beleaguering siege. And during this meeting, weirdly, it is suddenly not the ubiquity of these ghosts that you sense, but the terrifying ghostlessness of the material world.

Earth-Fire-Pit-1The musical ghosts that refuse me their ghosthood like to teach me about death’s tasteless jokes (in other words, ghostless jokes). One of the oldest jests goes like this. (If you’re an old ghost you’ve not only heard this one before, you’ve probably told it, no doubt clanking your chains and rapping the tables all the while.)

When you give up your one single, measly ghost, the world will be giving out ghosts like candy, raining ghosts from the skies manna-style. Ah, but you only have one ghost, and oh no! there it goes. The world, on the other hand, is tripping on ghosts, drunk on them, flicking ghosts from a fat wad in its hands. The world will have ghosts galore, ghosts on stand-by, ghosts to burn at the precise moment yours shrivels up and checks out.

When you come to the Winter’s end of your ghost, frozen there like Jack Torrence the next morning, the world goes to ghost Aruba on a cruise ship with free cocktails and hairbraiding so that ectoplasmic scalps may gently warm to a ghost-rich sun.


To imagine one’s death coming in the midst of a Springtime, luscious and wanton, is to put your ghost beside some of the oldest haunts ever heard.

What is the difference, after all, between Jacques Brel’s famous lyric (made famous by Terry Jacks and later by a Kurt Cobain cover):terry-jacks-seasons-in-the-sun

Goodbye, my friend, it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky
Now that the spring is in the air
Pretty girls are everywhere
Think of me and I’ll be there

and the ghostliest lines of all–from Alan Seeger’s World War I poem “I Have A Rendezvous with Death” (1917):
I have a rendezvous with DeathScreen Shot 2015-01-12 at 9.38.18 AM
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air–
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
I think I know the answer, but I’ll let my ghosts imply their intention to yours. When they meet you at your threshold, it’ll be your decision to let them in (and through) or not.
One Comment
  1. Loved this post, especially liked your word-journey exploring Spiritus….”Respiration. To breath is to take in some ghost, over and over again. Inspiration. To influence is to pour some ghost in me. Transpiration. To happen is to have a ghost move across me. Expiration. To die is literally to give up the ghost.”

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