Electricity’s Ghost

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Poetry

Electricity's Ghost graphic

By 1966 I still hadn’t read a book,
thought history was for dead people,
math for those who didn’t count,
and that there were three sexes:
men, women, and nuns.

And now, for Junior year,
the worst of the worst:
Sister Johanna would engineer English,
slap down Speech, and herd us
into Home Room where, one day,
she’d tell my friend, Paul, that he wasn’t
worth the postage it would take
to send him out of the country.

All summer I listened to Dylan’s
“Visions of Johanna” for guidance
but learned only that the “ghost
of electricity howls in the bones of her face.”
Maybe why Sister Johanna beamed
red when angry, like warning lights
on the missile silos that circled Cheyenne,
those heath-hidden annihilation tubes
that transformed us into targets, our futures
misshaped into crackling particles of ions.

I tried to sneak out of her classroom
on that first day, but Sister Johanna
captured me en passant, “I’ll see you
after school.” Her words like fallout fell.
I hadn’t had time to do anything
wrong yet. What the hell?

The fragrance of Tide, her habit’s scent,
spread dread dark as a mushroom cloud;
pulsed like a Bikini Island tsunami.
I’ve got a horrible reputation,” she blinked,
“And so do you. So why don’t we call it even?
You give me a chance; I’ll give one to you.”
Her crimson face shone now more like
an airport light that beckons a landing.

A month after her proposal, I asked her
to recommend a book that I might read.
If she was about to faint, she hid it well,
and pointed to an oak case against the wall.
“That shelf belongs to me. Take any book
that strikes your fancy.” Two feet of shelf,
her sole possessions on this earth,
and she had offered half an inch to me.
Did she roll her eyes at my choice?
Crime and Punishment, what I hoped
might be a detective story.

She cried when I told her, years later,
that she had launched me that day.
She’d pushed a button that freed me
from my hiding place in a lonely silo
along the prairie. An ignition
that led not only to war,
but to War and Peace,
and A Separate Peace,
and A Farewell to Arms.

Passion Contents


Charles W. Brice was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he attended St. Mary’s High School and encountered the nuns he’s written several poems about. He is a retired psychoanalyst and freelance writer living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his wife of 38 years, the psychiatrist and poet, Judith Brice. His poems have appeared in The Paterson Literary Review, Barbaric Yawp, Jerry Jazz Musician, The Erie Peace Voice, and The Front Weekly.