For Keith

by Ellen Beegel

Summer evenings we pushed open the rusty iron gate.
Quail rustled in tangled blackberry brambles along the creek.
Cows lifted their heads from grazing.
We walked in silence, step by step, over the hill, to the wooden bridge that
             spanned the foaming creek.
But as your balance faltered, we walked only to the top of the ridge.
Then only to where the blackberries ended.
Finally you would not walk at all.

Being a ghost becomes you.
It was harder to be human.
Fields needed mowing, a fence needed mending.
You could not bear that others finished tasks you could no longer do.
Now you gesture lightly towards the jumbled heap of shame you shouldered as a man,
             easier in ghostliness than you were in life.

Summer evening. Trudging through the gate, I head into the hills.
As the path begins to climb, I’m tempted to turn back.
Then I sense your presence.
Go to the bridge, you say.
So I walk on.
Beyond the blackberries, over the hill, one foot following another.
Don’t complain, you say. You’ve got a body.
I do, indeed, still have a body.
Legs to climb the ridge, eyes to see the sky.
Feet to carry me home.

Ellen Beegel has been a vagabond, a single parent, a teacher in rural Kenya, and a psychotherapist for twenty-five years. She lives with a feisty cat, and is nourished by writing, painting, and singing.

About For Keith—My husband, Keith Hearn, died in 2010, and I’m grateful when I sense his spirit. I set the poem in the Sierra foothills of California, where we lived before moving to Asheville, North Carolina.