October’s Apparitions

In September, I explored the idea of the approximate. This month, partly because it’s Halloween season, I’m turning to the spookier implications of the almost, but not quite, the not fully there, the insubstantial, untethered: ghosts, the ghostly, the haunting the haunted the haunts.

Now in November, I’m using my October ideas/words for a sequence of poems about haunting, haunting, and haunts.


  • ghosts, apparitions
  • places frequented, revisited, returned to
  • the almost but not quite (human) the uncanny—so close but not quite there
  • who frighten, seem alien 
  • who alienate
  • don’t follow what they’re supposed to
  • who can’t seem to quite fit in
  • who aren’t lost but aren’t found either
  • who never quite make it, can’t seem to get it right and are haunted by this inability
  • who feel strange, disconnected
  • there, but on the edges, the fringes, not fully invested or tethered to anything
  • who float through the world, never stay on the ground for long, hover
  • restless
  • lacking substance, insubstantial, on (or above) the surface
  • fuzzy
  • unformed only approximate, a semblance or resemblance
  • disembodied faint a trace
  • remainder reminder
  • pacing looping
  • repeating
  • possessed possessing repossessed
  • disinter dig up excavate
  • displace/d
  • fleeting
  • unfixed unfastened unhinged
  • unnamed or not properly named or name erased/ignored/changed
  • outside of logic time
  • a wanderer
  • lacking location
  • seeking searching for home  
  • to trespass
  • wearing down worn eroding crumbling cracks gaps
  • haunt hunt search for
  • seek stalk invade consume


  • the dirt trail in the grassy boulevard between edmund and the river road at its most worn: between 36th and 38th
  • the dirt trail in the grassy boulevard between edmund and the river road where it’s less worn: between 38th and 42nd
  • near the start of the Winchell Trail, down the steps, into the small wood, where the once-paved trail is rubbling and reverting to dirt
  • on the Winchell Trail, just past the 38th street steps, where the path is almost entirely dirt, with an occasional hunk of asphalt, and where old chain-link fences barely stand, held up partly by an occasional tree trunk, slowly sinking into the slope, leaning back towards the river
  • the bells, chiming (tolling?) every 15 minutes, across the river at St. Thomas
  • the bagpipes playing, across the river, near The Monument, every evening around 6
  • the damaged chain-link fence near the ravine, in some places missing entire panels, in other places the frame remains but the chain-link has been cut and curled back to make room for someone to slip through
  • the drip drip drip of the sewer pipe at 35th
  • the various seeps in the limestone, only appearing as ice in the winter
  • the forest floor, all dirt beneath the canopy, sometimes becoming one big trail. other times riddled with paths winding around smaller trees and rocks
  • the occasional bit of a short stone wall, erected by the WPA in the 40s of which my maternal grandfather was a part (possibly worked on this project?)
  • the trestle
  • the tunnel of trees
  • in particular, the bench near folwell, but also any of the empty benches along the trail


  • Trails, Paths
  • Bells, Clocks, Chimes
  • the Veil
  • the Other Side
  • Ghosts, Ghouls, Specters
  • Doorways, Thresholds, Edges
  • Shadows
  • Disembodied voices
  • Unaccounted for footsteps
  • Faint touch, slight breeze
  • drip or gurgle
  • the gentle shshshshushing of the wind or rustling leaves


Ghosts/Ghost Stories

Ghosts may be a part of the terror of Halloween, but our love of ghost stories betrays a far more fragile desire: that we do not fade so easily from life. We spend a lot of time talking about leaving a legacy in this world, grand or small, financial or reputational, so that we won’t be forgotten. But ghost stories show us a different concern, hidden under our bluster: we hope that the dead won’t forget us. We hope that we, the living, will not lose the meanings that seems to evaporate when our loved ones die.

Wintering/ Katherine May

from Halos/ Ed Bok Lee

I like, whenever I wish, strolling past
the myopic me
in a window or mirror or whatever

reflects back to believe the soul is
ubiquitous like water,
in our voices, our cells.

How else, when blinded by life,
would I remember:
to the dead, we’re the ghosts.

Some Helpful Passages from Wendell Berry in “A Native Hill”

The difference between a path and a road is not only the obvious one. A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape. It is not destructive. It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around.

Thinking about the large shell of a tree positioned in the middle of the Winchell Trail: an obstacle to admire and be curious about, not avoid. Other obstacles: the river jutting in, a ravine, the bluff.

A road, on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape. Its reason is not simply the necessity for movement, but haste. Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape; it seeks so far as possible to go over the country, rather than through it; its aspirations, as we see clearly in the example of our modern freeways, is to be a bridge; its tendency is to translate place into space in order to traverse it with the least effort. It is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way. The primitive road advanced by the destruction of the forest; modern roads advance by the destruction of topography.

Thinking about the information, found in the most recent Mississippi Gorge Regional Park Master Plan and their guidelines for paved trails and “natural surface trails”. Also thinking about the underlying values and purpose of the redesign and how those do/don’t challenge Wendell Berry’s ideas, from 1968, the 2 poles of our national life: 1. commerce and 2. expensive pleasure?

But the sense of the past also gives a deep richness and resonance to nearly everything I see here. It is partly the sense that what I now see, other men that I have known once saw, and partly that this knowledge provides an imaginative access to what I do not know. I think of the country as a kind of palimpsest scrawled over with the comings and goings of people, the erasure of time already in process even as the marks of passage are put down. There are the ritual marks of neighborhood — roads, paths between houses. There are the domestic paths from house to barns and outbuildings and gardens, farm roads threading the pasture gates. There are the wanderings of hunters and searchers after lost stock, and the speculative or meditative or inquisitive ‘walking around’ of farmers on wet days and Sundays. There is the sprawling geometry of the rounds of implements in fields, and the passing and returning scratches of plows across croplands. Often these have filled an interval, an opening, between the retreat of the forest from the virgin ground and the forest’s return to ground that has been worn out and give up. In the woods here one often finds cairns of stones picked up out of furrows, gullies left by bad framing, forgotten roads, stone chimneys of houses long rotted away or burned.

Useful Word: Palimpsest

  1. Piece of writing material on which original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
  2. Something resued or altered but still bearing traces of its earlier form.

This is a walk well established with us — a route in our minds as well as on the ground. There is a sort of mystery in the establishment of these ways. Anytime one crosses a given stretch of country with some frequency, no matter how wanderingly one begins, the tendency is always toward habit. By the third or fourth trip, without realizing it, one is following a fixed path, going the way one went before. After that, one may still wander, but only by deliberation, and when there is reason to hurry, or when the mind wanders rather than the feet, one returns to the old route. Familiarity has begun. One has made a relationship with the landscape, and the form and the symbol and the enactment of the relationship is the path. These paths of mind are seldom worn on the ground. They are habits of mind, directions and turns.

Thinking the brainscapes/maps/paths are brain makes for seeing and hearing (as discussed in Brainscapes). Also thinking about how much I appreciate the concept of familiarity as a type of knowing that is less violent than knowing as mastering or fully understanding or possessing. And, thinking about the question of when habit becomes sacred ritual and when it remains unthinking or automatic action.

Also see: You’re Probably Misreading Robert Frost’s Most Famous Poem

The Trail as a poem or an offering of devotion

Ars Poetica/ Arcelis Girmay

May the poems be
the little snail’s trail.

Everywhere I go,
every inch: quiet record

of the foot’s silver prayer.
                        I lived once.
                        Thank you.
                        It was here.

A trail, a trace as something which remains, refuses closure

“I am slow and need to think about things a long time, need to hold onto the trace on paper. Thinking is adventure. Does adventure need to be speedy? Perhaps revising is a way of refusing closure?…” 

Rosemarie Waldrop

The ringing and reverberations of a bell. The sounds of haunting: echoes, vibrations.

from oct 26, 2021

 Running north on the west river road through the small tunnel of trees before the double bridge, I suddenly noticed the faintest trace of my shadow ahead of me. At first, I wasn’t sure. Had I really seen my shadow or just imagined it? Then, it appeared again, and I noticed the sun had come out. I glimpsed it a few more times, always faint, casting itself on the thick-littered trail. Writing this paragraph, I suddenly wonder about how many times we think we’ve seen something but then discount it with, “it was just my imagination.” More often than not, we are seeing something and it is not being imagined; we just don’t have the right words to describe it, and we don’t trust how our brains see so much more than we realize (or fully process).