R. T. Smith

The Restless Dead: Walker County, Georgia

For decades the funeral director had been dropping bodies in the swamp like litter. His crematorium, he said, had long ­needed repair.    — AP

I’d hoped to wake in glory, a bird returned
to the brightest limb in its dazzled mind.
I said, Bless me and let my body disturb
no earth, let my smoke spiral as it ascends,
my ash just sleep. So often I had shoved
sourdough into the oven to make bread,
I had no fear of worldly flame. My name
in God’s gold book would gleam. Out here,
the owl scares me with its silent wings,
for I had wanted angels, not this swamp
of moss and stench, decaying remains
half floating in the fishing lake. Dark,
this realm of riddled grieving in-between.
Somewhere in the spirit place my husband,
dear Harmon, waits. I want to cross over,
to soothe his fading face. How I yearn
to know I’ve slipped from this limbo
into God’s soft arms. The ghostly green
of a cherry willow weeping makes me
ashamed. Is this fate? I keep rehearsing
all my trespasses, those simmering sins,
but still cannot reckon this neglect.
The woods are stirring new life as redbuds
tremble and glimmer. Pale dogwoods
like lifted bridal wreaths shine. One
shy bird gathers the sky’s blue in a wing,
and I am left to fester and pine, left wanting
with every fiber to climb toward heaven,
to turn pure as sap, to seep into the stem
of the scarlet trillium, into the bloom.
I ache to speak through mist, to sing.
Is this what they mean by haunting?