Hauntings by Lisa Dordal

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately, in part because of a recent, unexpected death in my spouse’s family. In part, because the days are getting shorter. And, in part, because we are approaching that time of year when, in some cultures, the “veil” between the dead and the living is thought to be at its thinnest.

I don’t know what happens to us when we die or where our loved ones go but I do know that sometimes, as a poet, I feel “haunted” by people who are no longer living. Sometimes I feel haunted by historical figures–people from the past who I suddenly want to learn more about. In my poem “Even Houseflies,” for example, I reference Pliny the Elder who was a 1st century Roman Historian and Otzi the Iceman whose 5,000-year-old body was found in the Alps over two decades ago.

Other times I am haunted by family members–by my mother, in particular. My mother died in 2001, largely from the effects of alcoholism, and just when I think I’ve written the last poem about her, another one comes along. Although many of my mother poems emerge from a place of pain and loss, I consider these hauntings to be a wonderful gift; a way for me to connect, through my writing, with one of my dearest ancestors.

I am sharing two poems below: “Last Poem about My Mother” (which is definitely not the last poem about my mother) and “Even Houseflies” which references both kinds of hauntings–the personal kind and the historical kind.


Last Poem about My Mother


This is my mother

watching her heart–


dark, liquid motion

on the screen beside her.


How she called it

beautiful. This is


please and thank you,

and softens the wounds


of strangers. This is a body’s

last words; what is left


after fire. This is cavities

in the bones of a bird


that make flight possible,

and flits unseen


through every gesture and word.

This is my mother


and a way out of my mother;

a place I can say


that I left.



Even Houseflies


The day they entered our house

I did not know that their brains,


if separated from the body,

would resemble a single grain of sugar.


Or that liquid is their only intake,

requiring them to moisten anything solid


with their own saliva. Their lives,

an array of endless regurgitations.


And who’s to say, after I’d killed

the last one–nine, maybe ten in all–


and resumed my reading,

only to be stopped by the words:


Even houseflies must have their angels–

that it wasn’t the angels themselves


who sent me to learn how they live.

Who’s to say this wasn’t the gesture


of some lively god pressing a small coin

into my heart. Like my mother


who won’t stay dead, her eyes

fixing into mine like she knows


I’m her best chance. Or like Otzi

who keeps coming back–as shaman


or shepherd–in a cloak of woven grass;

the ease with which he walks


on hilly terrain. Or Pliny,

studious and brave, drawing a bath


too close to Pompeii. Who’s to say

these aren’t the gestures of gods. Active


during the day, but at night they rest

in the corners of rooms, where their eyes–


their thousands and thousands of eyes–

make a mosaic of the dark.



Both of these poems were first published in Connotations Press, 2017