“By Reading” by David Burliuk
The end of the day strikes the most troubling ticks of my clock.
So many thoughts gather all day in my head. Each and all
want my nightly reflection and orderly broom-clean sweep.
The right things acknowledged, safe put behind mind’s key and lock.
The wrong things I agonize over and file for recall.
Then I hunt up a good book to carry me off to my sleep.
My mind thus engaged, I make my yawning way down the hall
where I notice that something’s not right, no, not right at all.
My library doorsill is cast with an unexplained light,faint,unsteady.
Yet, I know that I never leave candles at night burning ready.
Strange noises within give me start and a slight swoon to heady.
With firm grasp of the knob and a cautious inquisitive pace,
I silently open on scene so alarming my heart kicks to race.
At my old oaken rolltop, where I compose papers,shimmers a ghost.
An unsettling icy gust shivers my tapers,lit at their post.
Ethereal odor hangs heavy, like vapors,air full engrossed.
The wraith bears no features of ready identity,
no hallmarks defining this intruding entity.
Yet, there’s some tacit sense of familiar bearing upon my chair.
My presence goes heedless of notice, or caring,as does my stare.
Colorless hands grip one loose-leaf and, tearing,create a pair.
Hunched forward, its fullest attention is paid those two slips.
Shapeless fingers take up one and touch it to pursed pensive lips.
With a tug at my collar, my neck stretched to bolder,I take some steps in.
As if in a deepfreeze, each inhale pulls colder than wickedest sin.
I anxiously peer over top of its shoulder,leery within.
The flickering light is sufficient to reveal those writs,
and what I read curdles my stomach and slurries my wits.
Each piece carries one trim and well-columned list,as if by my hand.
One, quite long, catalogues all my vices. None were missed. It bears Death’s brand.
The other, quite brief, my few virtues. Little grist.Morally bland.
I screw up the courage to speak to the poltergeist’s back.
“Who are you and what are doing with my life in track?”
A rumbling laugh shudders through floor joists and beams.Up comes my fear.
“I’m the one knows you best, not the ‘you’ that just seems.” Dread shoots a spear.
“I’m here to take stock of your doings and schemes.” Is it Death here?
“Why does Death play me for the fool with this furtive call?”
At that brave declamation, I back up, retreating its pall.
With awkward stiff movements, impossibly mine,it rises slow.
Using gestures I’ve made all my life, it gives sign not to go.
Comprehension too sluggish, so still his design I don’t know.
“Why does Death come cruel mimic, posing as shadow of me?”
He merely holds out the two papers with my life’s debris.
Still fearful and cold, I slump under worried weight,unwont to move.
“The time’s not arrived when I close your estate.” There’s no reprove.
“Am I not, then, about to be sent to my fate, as you behoove?”
“Death I am not, but Death takes my recommendation.
Time yet to turn bad for good and well earn your salvation.”
I reach out, implausibly taking possession of my life from me.
Learning destiny’s null, but for my own discretion, feels rather free.
Displacing my heretofore ghastly expression, a wink of glee.
My visitor fades till his pulsating aura has vanished.
Blessed warmth returns, air clarifies, and all odor is banished.
Memorizing the lists like treasure maps, I cinch my robe.
No more vestige of him, I lower the tambour in place.
Candlefire dispatches his work, not to leave them about.
So much to reflect on tonight, much to ponder and probe.
Remake vice as virtue, heal ethos, restore soul to grace.
I find sleep in due course. Or do I? There lingers some doubt.
(originally posted December 2013)