“Stalled,” “The Familiar,” and “The Visitation”
by Jeanne Julian
Once, I was corralled into competing
against other tense and giddy youthful thespians
delivering emotive monologues. Mid-
Voice stopped, choked
Inwardly howling in humiliation
I pretended my faltering was
to a bathroom stall, pent, locked
there trembling like a rodeo bronc,
hide wet, breath haltered
by nerves, thinking my soul
sentenced to a stymied story, stuck
in a haze of mediocrity
all my days, never spurred
to brazen glory,
ever snared in witless shame.
And you—you, Reader—
Gentle and perhaps in maturity
don’t you too yearn
to finagle the freeing
of your early self,
that wrangled filly?
Unbolt the gate, holler “git!”
and watch her gallop careless,
unsaddled, undone, undimmed
at being unfinished?
Or, are you stalled, still?
“Luck! Luck! that’s what I care for in a cage.”—Theodore Roethke
Your finger came at her like a sunbeam
through the Shelter bars.
She tapped it with her paw and so picked you.
Strange: the only one among all creatures
whom she allows to gather
her malleable heft,
the sleek, soft, sheathed bone bundle of her.
You exchange small arpeggios
of greeting and need
which seem successfully to intimate.
And so you believe
you do not fail
you’ll never know:
absence of purr remains mystery.
You think you see her curled shape
in the unbuckled sandals on the floor,
in the shadow cast
by the shirt draped on a chair.
But outside the house
disguised by fern and twilight.
Her canary eyes singing
in the dark pit of separation
watch your door.
I checked in to The Gullible Inn of quaint Quandary Corners, Vermont.
The only room available was The Honeymoon Suite.
I said, “That’s okay. I’m immune.”
That evening I lay beneath the patchwork quilt,
eyeing the floral wallpaper,
moonglow on wide pine floorboards.
Then the ghost appeared, a winsome fellow.
He slipped into bed with me.
He said, “You have a choice. I can tell you a story
or I can say nothing.”
I said I wanted the story.
He said, “The ending’s not happy.”
I said, “I want the story.”
As he spoke, I must have drifted
into sleep, held in his misty arms.
Later he tried to creep from the bed
without disturbing me, but I was awake.
I could see through him as he moved away,
like looking through a waterfall into firelight.
Then he passed through the wall, radiance
fading into pale flat flowers.
Next morning I saw a framed cross-stitch on the wall:
If you want blueberry muffins
you must make your own.
Over breakfast I said to the other guests, “This place is haunted.”
They smirked. “Of course. What did you expect
at the Gullible Inn?”
Ah, but they’ve never seen a ghost.
Co-winner of Reed Magazine‘s Edwin Markham Prize (2019), Jeanne Julian is the author of Like the O in Hope and two chapbooks. Her poems appear in Poetry Quarterly, Bacopa Literary Review, Snapdragon, Kakalak, Coastal Shelf, and other journals and have won awards from The Comstock Review, Naugatuck River Review, the North Carolina Poetry Society, and Maine Poets’ Society. She regularly reviews poetry books for The Main Street Rag. Jeanne lives in South Portland, Maine. www.jeannejulian.com