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PoetrySnaps! Lois P. Jones: A Ghost of One's Self

Courtesy Lois P. Jones

Poet Lois P. Jones is a bit of a fan girl when it comes to Austrian writer Rilke. So much so that her poem A Ghost of One’s Self imagines what it would be like to live with him through the experience of his housekeeper. In this week’s segment of PoetrySnaps! Lois P. Jones shares with us her poem and her Rilke fascination.

Lois P. Jones:

I started to think what would it have been like to live with him? I knew that his relationship history was very patchy, and he never had any long relationships. He had a lot of affairs, but he couldn't live with anybody. He needed that kind of solitude. But he could live with a housekeeper. I hope that doesn't sound selfish on his part. If you're a writer, you need somebody to respect that space.

So, I started looking into it, who was his housekeeper? Who did he live with? And I came across this memoir by a woman named Frida Baumgartner who lived with him in Switzerland in a place called Muzot which was a 13th century Chateau with no running water, no electricity. And she wrote about her life with him for the last six years of his life and what that was like. It was in German, and I had to get it translated! And there are many stories behind that. She just really took over in the house.

So, I decided to write a collection of poetry of persona poems from the viewpoint of the housekeeper. And, it starts out with an epigraph from her:

A Ghost of One’s Self

            Once we arrived at Muzot’s gate, everything looked so familiar to me,

like a déjà vu….

                           ~ Frida Baumgartner, housekeeper to Rilke, 1921-1926

Because I have no life
it is easier to remember who I was,
though exact names pass from flesh
into sunlight, forgotten. What stays
belongs to a land’s measure, a root
system of the soul, a kind of capillary
consciousness for the places I thirsted,
drank, became. And so too, a transpiration,
something of me exhaled into the air
and revisited, rebreathed. These things fall
across the senses like a fingerprint no winter
can erode. It is the only way to explain
how the birches swayed with returning,
a sky as soft and familiar as my blue shift.
Why I’m at the foot of the poet’s vineyard now,
everything flushed with October. I want to empty
my mind into this brook as it moves from
the ancient glacier so I can see what flows
from past into present. I want to want again –
to be the poplar’s quivering gold, to kneel
and feel my bare knees in the late summer burn.
A cloud haunts me from its tufted height.
It has a woman’s eyes. I close mine and remember:
old birch trees, acacias, a courtyard with a bubbling fountain.
This land holds me
in its hands like a pocket watch.

About the poet:

Lois P. Jones’ first poetry collection, Night Ladder, was published in 2017 and was a finalist for the Julie Suk Award and the Lascaux Poetry Prize. In 2022, Jones was named a finalist for the Best Spiritual Literature Award in Poetry from Orison Books. She is the poetry editor for the Kyoto Journal and co-host of the poetry series Moonday.

About the host:

Steven Law is a poet, journalist and educator based in Page, Arizona. He is the author of a collection of poems called Polished.

About the music:

Original music by Flagstaff-based band Pilcrowe.

Steven Law was the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps!
Gillian Ferris was the News Director and Managing Editor for KNAU.