Am I willing to believe what I saw, or even to tell you? The dead
on the street, smiling ghost of the friend who was not my friend,
the man who introduced me to young death, to strangers’ grief, to
the lousy importance of chance in a lifetime, the smiling pitted living
face of the man, smiling, walking by me, in the other direction. Identity
given away in the quickest glance, certain, but brief enough to bring
doubt, doubt enough to allow skepticism. Certain identity given away.
My walk had been his, the young, alive, despairing and celebrating
walk up the avenues—far—beyond youth even, just living and
walking up the avenues, and then he went to death and I, wallower
in the soil, digger of any kind, I stood up and took his place.
Impossible! The ghost on the street, the hollowed smile, and there
were Keith’s eyes on Keith’s face on the body of his ghost walking.
He turned toward me, met my eye, and smiled Keith’s smile.
And I am not the first one. Examples of the supernatural rise like heat
through the masses. Some scientists, cynics have been converted.
We the believers, the heretics of secular culture, telling ghost stories
of murder and plague. The atheist, the poet, I am willing to become
something else. A spiritualist, touched. Myself plagued with questions—
or guilt or self-doubt. Who sees what I see? Who meets the living eye
of the dead on the street and holds it, returns the smile? Only the open.
What am I betraying, a further search for meaning? Some kind of
unhappiness? Keith looked at me taking that same walk we once had
made together—what seemed to Keith in illness a long walk—and
smiled to me. Do the dead come back to smile on us? To mock us
with a smile? Do they smile in anticipation, or in glory? And I lingered
just beyond where he passed me. Could I look back—admit to it here? I
walked farther, looking somewhere else. I looked back and he was gone.