Living Ghosts

Living Ghosts

Jim Hanson

Ghosts engender all of us
and live in our civilization
—so read a book, watch a movie, recall a line or speech or historical event, look at a great skyscraper or jet airliner
—they are here in the light of day from the shadow of the past.

They were back there studying and experimenting, developing their talent, breaking down old forms and creating new ones, dreaming of the ideal form, celebrating their genius, sparkling with youthful energy, disdaining any limit on themselves, and assuming as do we their life and age to be quintessential. They composed, performed, wrote, painted, acted, designed, engineered, deliberated, legislated—creating civilization, our civilization.

(And we are here as their careless caretakers, redacting and revising their works, defiling the primary with the secondary, reinterpreting their dictums of truth, beauty and goodness with the hermeneutics of postmodernism, misinterpreting the flame of eternity for the flux of modernity, acting as corrosive as the acids of nature, listening to Glenn Gould play Bach and Al Pacino perform Shakespeare – defiling authenticity, our replicability.)

Ghosts also engender each of us
and live in our home
—stay up late, turn out the lights, drink a whiskey, watch an old movie, see live actors long dead, appear in the dark
—I watch a late-night movie with Fred Astaire dancing sweetly with Ginger Rogers, gliding across the black/white screen, brightening the drudgery of the thirties. And not alone—yes, my father and mother are here, from a long time past, in this moment of suspended disbelief. We sit on the couch and talk about the good times when dancing the jitterbug, singing the tunes of Broadway, listening to Jack Benny; also surviving the hard times of bankruptcies and strikes during the depression, the dust storms of the great plains, and rations during the war. My mother recalls working nights at a roadside café for 25¢ an hour, which was the price of a movie ticket, and there she met my father a truck driver. My father talks, too, about Model T cars and Clydesdale trucks, about FDR and Eisenhower. I offer cocktails, but the movie ends, and they rise from the couch. No, please stay, we have so much to talk about. But no use, the more I plead and attempt to hold them, the farther they drift away, phantoms fading in the late night air. Past and present tear apart, silently, leaving no trace of what once was.

Ghosts live in mid of night with me
when then and now occur as one.
At dawn of day they go away
to where I know I too will go.

[Jim Hanson]