Countdown #1: My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar (with recording)


My last five posts of 2020 are reruns of five of the most viewed posts on this site during the year.



My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar

Blue-tinted and red-mouthed, you light a cigarette
that glows green between your lips and smells of
menthol and old coffins, burnt fruit and days carved

into lonely minutes. I mumble hello, and because
you never speak, order a tulip of double IPA, which the
bartender sets in front of me. Longing to ask someone

in authority to explain the protocol in such matters,
I slide it over, but of course you don’t acknowledge
the act. The bartender shrugs and I munch on spiced

corn nuts. I wish I could speak Japanese, I say, or cook
with chopsticks the way you did. We all keep secrets, but
why didn’t you share your ability to juggle balls behind

your back sometime before I was thirty? And I still
can’t duplicate that pork chili, though my yaki soba
approaches yours. You stub out the cigarette and immediately

light another. Those things killed you, I say, but what the hell.
As always, you look in any direction but mine, your face
an empty corsage. What is the half-life of promise, I ask. Why

do my words swallow themselves? Who is the grandfather
of loneliness? Your outline flickers and fades until only a trace
of smoke remains. I think of tea leaves and a Texas noon,

of rice balls and the vacuum between what is and what
could have been, of compromise and stubbornness and love,
then look up at the muted tv, grab your beer, and drink.


* * *


“My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar” was first published in The Lake in December 2018.


10 thoughts on “Countdown #1: My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar (with recording)

  1. This is the first author-recorded poem I’ve experienced, and it was striking. I wish I was still teaching so I could have my students discuss this new mode of writing, which is, after all, so old as to be the original mode of writing. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re very kind, Suzanne. Thank you. The writing comes first, of course, and recordings usually emerge much later. But I must admit that reading/reciting aloud is a part of my process, line by line, from draft to completed piece — if it doesn’t sound right, it isn’t right. 🙂 You might also enjoy the recordings of “How to Write a Poem” and “Helsinki,” both of which are on this site.

      Liked by 1 person

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