Poem: Burning Ghosts

Burning Ghosts

Now and then you look at them on the shelves,
lined up, dusty,
neglected from the moment you put them there,
all that passion and madness released onto pages
with ink and heart, then left.

There are times you think about burning them,
now that you are old and mostly formed,
now that you have lived through love and hate
and love and hate and love again.
Now that you have survived your legs
being cut out from under you,
have nearly bled out. Who needs to see that,
read that?

And who needs to read the passion?
You and God. You and lovers.
All too bright, too hot, too personal,
those moments that reminded you
just how alive you could be.

Who needs to read the madness,
a journey anything but smooth,
wondrous and convoluted, too much humanness
in a single package, too complex to be real,
but therefore it is. Is this what you want
to be remembered as? You are unsure.

Perhaps they could be read as a poor man’s Proust,
less descriptive, more self centered,
a tale of redemption, of forgiveness,
of learning to Jagger dance in your old age,
of growing younger as you age.

You have burnt your past once before,
Twenty five years of love letters in a bonfire,
betrayal and pretense curling in the flames
and rising in little black ashes and disappearing
into the night.
It was not an act that brought joy,
but there was a certain release,
a symbolic starting over, a freedom.
You remember thinking, “Who knew
ghosts can burn?” as you sipped your glass of red wine.
you felt, if not good, lighter.

And so you look at these. Written since. Old journals
on new shelves, and wonder why “
you keep these old ghosts around.
Perhaps it is time to burn them as well,
and learn again how to fly,
before writing new anchors for your new age.

About this poem

I journal. And I keep the journals. Sometimes I wonder why.

And yes, I really did have a bonfire with my first wife’s love letters and cards many many years ago. I am still not sure if it was a good idea, but we do what we do and live with it, all of it shaping us, each action, even actions of destruction, an act of creation.



  1. I asked a friend once if he ever thanked his ex for divorcing him. He was flummoxed. my interpretation was that his healing wasn’t complete. when one reads about destructive acts bringing catharsis, ,he might ask if being passive is a bad thing. acceptance? as fast as the world turns, looking back and second guessing can be dizzying.
    glaring down the barrel of what your health-issues are putting you through, your out-put of in-depth quality of poetry and essay astounds me. Thanks.

    • It’s a fascinating subject. I am one who tends to do all I can, and once I have determined it’s a lost cause, I move on, rarely second-guessing decisions, for better or worse. There are so many paths to healing, and I’ve traveled most of them over the years, for better or worse. At this point, I’d likely thank her if there was room for conversation. The path has been hard, but I sure like myself better these days, struggles and all.

  2. Beautiful and thought provoking Tom….

    Curious timing because I’ve recently been reading journals and letters my mom left me. Some written by my grandfather and others by my grandmother. She also gifted me all the letter she and my father exchanged when he was in the service and they were first married.

    I can appreciate the temptation to dispatch your journals into the flames,releasing them, the ghosts they shelter and ultimately those raw parts of yourself. But I’d implore you to reconsider. I’ve discovered an immeasurable treasure amid the writings mom left me – insights that while they’d not perhaps have felt comfortable in sharing whilst here on earth,now allows me to know and love them all the more.

    Their writings have allowed me to know them as the honest, real and complex multi-faceted humans that they were. I’d not fully grasped how continual the thread of life was woven amid each of our lives until I’d read their words. The good, the bad, the lofty, the struggling. Human. Funny. Brave. Crazed. Loves lost and won. Pain and pressure. Joy and hope. All of it there in their words, ink to paper, their hearts to mine.

    All the things that filled their days, sometimes boring, challenging, sometimes happy, horrific. Most times a curious mix. But every page is a map for me to learn what made them who they were. It’s fascinating and illuminating to discover the lessons they took from life via their journals and letters that, in absentia, they now share with me.

    So for whatever it’s worth from one who has (and continues) to have the rare opportunity of sorting through the worded paths of those she loved via their letters and journals, I hope you choose to give your writings a reprieve from the flames…

    Who can ever know what person who loves you or stranger who never knew you many one day find and treasure in those pages of your words, in those volumes of your life?


    • I must have hit a nerve – lots of comments private and public on this one. THere’s no going back on this one – it happened fifteen or more years ago, when I was my rawest. The reasons don’t bear a public airing. Today? I doubt I would actually burn the journals I have written since then, though there is good reason – they tell an incomplete story. They are my dumping ground of negative emotions, done in the morning to release them and get on with a life that is full, and good, and mostly, despite the depression, joyful.

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