Aleda Shirley

It takes more than a door painted blue

to keep the ghosts away. All you have to do

is live long enough and they will come.


Beside the interstate the old road still ran,

though it ended abruptly in a field of sage and mist.

That road seemed like the future: an emptiness


that could turn, at any moment, into beauty.

I stopped in a small town in Oklahoma—

a liquor store in a bad neighborhood,


old men and teenagers standing around out front,

a radio crackling in the dry wind.

Did the old men come this far and stop?


Smoke from their cigarettes disappeared an instant later.

In the darkness nothing was visible but the darkness.

By dawn the road was the color of silk


gone orchid or violet when tilted to the light,

the trees on the side of the road permanently twisted

from the wind off the plains. On that leg they bent


toward me. I stood some distance from the car and felt

the dry air whipping my skirt around my legs.

I realize I’d forgotten too little about my life,


that there was in sleep and inattention a kind of salvation

and I wanted to be saved because I no longer believed

any one place was different from any other.


Being haunted means you never feel wholly abandoned,

and as I drove past the blinded diners and the shells of old trucks,

I gathered it close to me, all of it, and went on.

Found In Volume 26, No. 04
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  • aleda shirley
Aleda Shirley
About the Author

Aleda Shirley's debut book of poems, Chinese Architecture, (University of Georgia Press), won the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award in 1987.  She received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and the Kentucky Arts Council. Her poems appeared in such places as the Kenyon ReviewPoetry, and Virginia Quarterly Review


She died of cancer in 2008.