It’s never a Ghost (and other poems)

It’s Never a Ghost

It’s just the trees swaying to the breeze,
The confetti of their leaves falling. 

It’s someone walking home, counting steps
So he doesn’t fall asleep, starting again 

At every hundredth step, at every  
Streetlight he passes. It’s just the glow 

Of a cat’s eyes, it’s surprised at the length
of your shadow. It’s just two dogs

Looking for a suitable place to mate.
It’s never a ghost; it’s nothing spiritual.

Everything seems sacred at this time,
Everything has a leg. Everything’s walking.

First Weed

I wanted the greed to slice me like the need 
sheaving through my belly, this brilliant scythe 
edges twice-sharpened, glinting, ricocheting 
the angry rays of the afternoon sun. I thought
I was the mice scuttling through the room, 
hoping to make it to the hole in the wall. 
On second thought, there was no hole in the wall.
At one moment I thought I would bleed 
through all the orifices of my body;
I thought I had already started bleeding, 
dark red spots blooming on my purple shirt,
spots that, when I bent my head, patterned 
the ominous brown of the paneled floor. 

To be a lynx in her own thicket 
was what I wanted. To be a raven 
perching from tree to tree was what I wanted.
I opened my mouth and screamed but nothing 
poured forth. Had I lost my hearing?
I struck my head on the concrete wall, 
hoping to open the orb of my skull
but there was no wall. Can you imagine 
the whole room was dark but all I saw 
was this continuously burning light, 
that I believed I slept with multitudes
when I was alone in the room all night long?


Too late for coffee. Too cold for linen.
There was rain. Now a teal light in the sky. 

Lacerta has crawled out of her tree. 
The dog downstairs will not stop crying.

Nostalgia has lain her head in the clouds —
I can't stop thinking about the years I spent 

Away from my family and not cry.
I hide my face from the window, burying 

It in the damask of the curtain;
When I'm done, I blow my nose into it. 

I'm writing a letter no one will read 
Because, after writing it, I will burn it.


  • Okwudili Nebeolisa is an MFA candidate at the Iowa Writers Workshop where he is a Provost Fellow and won the Prairie Lights John Leggett’s Prize for Fiction. His poems have appeared in The Sewanee Review, The Threepenny Review, Image Journal, and Florida Review, and have been nominated for a Pushcart by Beloit Poetry Journal, The Cincinnati Review, and Salamander Magazine. His nonfiction has appeared in Catapult and Commonwealth Writers. He was first runner up for the inaugural Granum Foundation Fellowship Prize.

  • The colorful images below, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were painted by an unidentified artist sometime around the turn of the twentieth century. These portraits on silk each represent a particular character from one of nine plays. Like most operas of this style, the characters hail from diverse sources — literature, military history, and myth — but play stock parts. There are four basic roles in traditional Peking opera: sheng, dan, jing, and chou, each of which have numerous subtypes. Sheng and dan are male and female leads (historically both played by men), jing is a villain, and chou, the clown. As Mei Chun details, complex personas were to be avoided. “The flatness is deliberate. Flatness in characterization contributes to the effect of moral contrast while rounder characterization could lead to ambiguity and disorder.” The characters’ painted makeup, known as lianpu, tracks back to masks worn by dancers during the Tang dynasty, and is mainly used for jing and chouroles. The colors and expressions convey moral qualities that were easily legible to audiences of the opera. From Public Domain Review