Douglas Cole, Ghost Town

Douglas Cole has published four collections of poetry. His work appears in journals such as The Chicago Quarterly Review, Chiron, The Galway Review, The Pinyon Review, Solstice, Eastern Iowa Review, Kentucky Review, Wisconsin Review, and Slipstream. He has been nominated for a Pushcart and Best of the Net, and has received the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry; the Best of Poetry Award from Clapboard House; First Prize in the ‘Picture Worth 500 Words’ from Tattoo Highway. His website is


This place is always post-war
river gulls circling the wasted fields
then coming in to glide over
anonymous window sills
among the red brick hotels
overlooking the long train yard night

Enter this with an inland mind
the wind like Theremin music
in a Fifties version of the way
we imagine the end of time—
body beneath the radio tower
illuminated like a dime under one
streetlamp from which I rise
with no connections
window eyes gazing at the passing
auroras in the coming dawn
Spokane Falls at Dawn


You might envision
the end of the world this way,
streets devoid of people,
a little wind,
hints of something
that could have been,
the form of a person emerging
from nothing more than paper
with date unknown,
photographs of an earlier age,
mannequins with white
clothes faded out by time
and you calling
with no answer coming
but the river over which
the suspension bridge arcs,
water rushing through
black monolithic rock
as you say this prayer.


Ghosts howl out of the water,
and you realize
a whole cascade of voices
weaving into the current,
the way your cry joins
that traffic of wind
funneling through the alleyways
and torn awnings down
to the train yard,
the gulley,
the alluvial wash
where we rise
like sea waves once again
with unified desire
to raise another crucifix
out of the dust.


We went to the fair in ’74, he said.
It was the last time my father was with us
before he disappeared in an apartment
in West Seattle looking out over the city.
And he left everything he owned behind—
paintings, clothes, power tools in the basement.
But he wanted to see the expo,
so we all drove out—
my mother my sister my father and I
in the yellow station wagon to see the World’s Fair.
And I remember the heat of the road,
little desert rest camp and the buzz of crickets,
a snake sliding by in the dry pine-needles.
When we arrived at the fair,
the rides were rickety bone-shakers,
the exhibits of the future already looked like the past,
but I don’t remember seeing the river.
Of all things, the river.
Funny I’d forget something like that.
It cuts right through the city.

Old timers. Faces that don’t smile. Ghosts. I see the world this way. And these poems come from a suite called Ghost Town because that’s what memory is.

And even when I go back and try to take down some kind of record of what is there in, say, photographs, Guy Debord shouting out the psychogeography from his Situationist buckboard, the medicine show musicians stoned on elixir, it seems like every space is empty the moment I arrive. Like going into a room and finding an ash tray with a smoldering cigarette in it, a glass half empty on a table, music playing but no one there. It’s like a movie unreeling.

Let me put it this way, I rose out of the northwest, and many of you have probably never heard of Spokane let alone the other western towns out here that seem to float in a kind of mist, a land that time forgot, as though the exhaustion of pioneers dreaming their destination, like a sinking ship swirling into its own vortex, took time down with it.

Only the land lives and the river, because without the river no one would have settled here in the first place to inject their fantasies into the dirt. In the search for the living spirit of a place that has become a mirage which is every moment of remembering, the only thing that corroborates your presence is the river, the flowing river, always the river.


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