The Working Ghost

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Radio address for April 13, 2013. A report on the weather: of the neighborhood, of the mind. Mention is made of our April snowstorm.

From The Dogwood Tree, by John Updike:

Goethe — probably among others — says to be wary of our youthful wishes, for in maturity we are apt to get them. I go back, now, to Pennsylvania, and on one of the walls of the house in which my parents now live there hangs a photograph of myself as a boy. I am smiling and staring with clear eyes at something in the corner of the room. I stand before that photograph, and am disappointed to receive no flicker, not the shadow of a flicker, of approval, of gratitude. The boy continues to smile forever at the corner of the room, beyond me. The boy is not a ghost to me, he is real to me; it is I who am a ghost to him. I, in my present state, was one of the ghosts that haunted his childhood. Like some phantom conjured by this child from a glue bottle, I have executed his commands; acquired pencils, paper, and an office. Now I wait apprehensively for his next command, or at least a nod of appreciation, and he smiles through me, as if I am already transparent with failure.

The end music is Welcome Home, Son by Radical Face. I first ran across it on Internet radio several months ago and was disappointed to learn it had already been used in the soundtracks of several films, tv shows and commercials. However, I feel the poetry in the song is good enough to be worth rescuing from brand entanglements, and felt this was as appropriate a context as any for doing so.

Sheets are swaying from an old clothesline
Like a row of captured ghosts over old dead grass
Was never much but we made the most
Welcome home

Ships are launching from my chest
Some have names but most do not
If you find one, please let me know what piece I’ve lost

Peel the scars from off my back
I don’t need them anymore
You can throw them out or keep them in your mason jars
I’ve come home

As the original music video makes clear, this is in fact a song about returning to the haunted tatters of one’s childhood home. Ships are launching from my chest…


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