The Ghosts of Pompeii

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Skeletons,
wizened mummies,
burnished bodies preserved in peat—
these earthly objects do not undo us,
disturbing though they may be.

But the ghosts of Pompeii,
those plaster casts of stranded souls,
we are not equipped for visions like that.

The man who thought to fill those voids
had no idea what he might bring forth.
He must fallen to his knees
when he saw the first one,
prized from its grave in the ash.
Hollowed eyes and gaping mouth,
out-stretched arms and locked calf muscles.
Cadaveric spasm, they call it,
the body rigid in an instant,
claimed by searing heat.

Over a hundred were pulled out,
men, women and children,
a twisted dog on a chain,
all caught between this life and the next
in a gap too quick to measure.

That is why we are hushed
at the sight of them,
as if we are seeing
something we shouldn’t:
people whose lives were ended
before they had time to die.

Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

6 thoughts on “The Ghosts of Pompeii

  1. seeing
    something we shouldn’t:
    people whose lives were ended
    before they had time to die.

    Jean Ryan!, I am so grateful that you are so articulate and insightful. I have now read this poem over a dozen times and each time I’m finding a related thought to the discovery of these people who look like something between ash and snow. Brava! Thank you for being more of a Life Instructor to me than you might ever know.

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