The sun is a dark smudge in the sky
for the ghost women of the birthday
pale fat arms cradling plates of apple pie
trailing smoke from a burnt out day.
The clouds bleed quietly down for hours
and they dance under ragged umbrellas
singing about how they love to be powerless.
The houses of ritual have made them careless,
and sometimes the light shows their true faces
behind the opera masks. There are no words
for their expressions — there is no place
for comfort or for grace, the songs they heard
as children, when afternoons on dirty strands
became evenings drifting out to sea in dreams
asleep in the back seats of cars, hands
twitching in the rhythm of piano lessons, hymns
washing in from memory shores like wrecked ships.
As sadness and failure like cold voids
suck the clouds and the sun down into their lips,
their skin, their hair, they frown, they get annoyed
by children who will not obey, pets who want to die,
dolls who will not stand upright, friends and lovers
self-obsessed and desperate, who cannot cry,
cannot speak the truth, cannot even stay together.
The ghost women drift through parties and wakes
as the songs and the rain tell them in whispers
that they were once young, that the hand that shakes
is a punishment, the skin that is wrinkled and crisped
is a judgement on their innocence. They watch
the children learn about loss, they watch the graves
open and swallow and close and wait, they watch
the works of the Lord, noting who he damns and saves,
what his plan might be, why he does not love them —
they gather between lifetimes where the water shines,
dancing on the endless beach under ragged umbrellas,
pale arms linked, lonely only in their minds.