Blowin’ In: Phantoms

By Sue Mangan

Laugh, heart, again in the grey of the twilight,Sigh, heart, again, in the dew of the morn.


Come, heart, where hill is heaped upon hill:

Of sun and moon and hollow and woodAnd river and stream work out their will;

“Into the Twilight”

Eliza Foote

I have walked by her modest gravestone, a stone’s throw from the crashing waves of Lake Erie, for many years. Eliza walked this earth from 1764-1844. Each time I pass her grave I wonder at her life. I admire the solidity of her name: Foote, with an e.

William Butler Yeats once alluded to “the little stitches that join this world to the other.” Often, I find myself looking for those phantoms, ever alert for signs from the past that do not lie complacently, forgotten. I do not look for the phantom that rises from the grave on a moon swept autumn night, but rather the phantom that peers through the old wood of a picket fence: heirloom daisies blooming from seeds that my mother once gave to me in a folded piece of parchment.

Phantoms are present in the energy that spark memory and ignite a new thought. Our pasts are indeed connected to our future paths, the choices that we make, the turn in our moods.

My father recently told me of a dream he had. The summer air was warm and the lake still. He had fallen asleep in his deck chair and immediately began to dream, more vision than dream, that my mother, grandmother, and he were sitting on a bench talking as they did of cards and history, books and travels.

He awoke from this dream to the real-life vision of a hummingbird floating above the lower branch of his sycamore tree, seemingly looking into his half-asleep eyes. Never one for signs, he believed for a moment that the delicate bird was my mom paying him a fleeting visit.

picture of a hummingbird flying over purple flowers
Lone Hummingbird via Canva

During this somnolent state, the mind enters a world of creative perception. This past summer I struggled with insomnia. When sleep evaded me, I would often succumb to the twilight world to write or think. Sipping chamomile tea to encourage my return to slumber, I would open the windows wide and listen for cricket serenades and the cry of night birds.

I watched a diminutive moth, no bigger than a petal, the color of a chamomile flower, flap blindly against the textured honeycomb of my ivory beeswax candle.
Lonely, but present, the moth rose, seeking the pale luminescence of my kitchen light. Wondering if the moth knew that it would ultimately fly too close to the heat of the bulb, I thought of loneliness, resilience, and the need to seek light no matter the cost.

As a young man, William Butler Yeats became fascinated by phantoms and mysticism. He and his contemporaries, all part of the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th and early 20th century, formed societies and salons in which to address the mysteries which lie “’twixt night and day.”

Lady Gregory

Lady Gregory

Thinkers, writers, revolutionists, and artists would gather at the home of Lady Augusta Gregory in Coole Park, County Galway. Yeats knew that the past, the history, the folklore of the Irish people held the key to his art and his own self-understanding.

For Lady Gregory and Yeats, the invisible world became tangible through the fragrance of the natural world and the tales of her people. The phantoms that brushed against the coat sleeves and skirts of all who walked amid the meadow and wood of Coole Park were more real than not.

During our honeymoon, my husband and I walked the paths of Coole Park. We visited the copper beech tree where Yeats engraved his name. We listened for Yeats’ spirit in the 15th-century Norman Tower, Thoor Ballylee, where he wrote his final and most contemplative poetry. At the time, I was awestruck at the communion of Yeats’ history with my present life and my future reality.

Perhaps this is the lesson to be learned from the shadows; you and I are not strangers, but rather travelers alighting on the same journey. I have crossed paths with Eliza Foote and William Butler Yeats. I have touched the leaves of an ancient copper beech. I have watched a Daddy Long-Leg spider lumber across the grave of a woman.

How peculiar that one person’s present can become the past, present, and future of another traveler in the invisible world? How wonderful that real time is filled with the evocative memory of a phantom’s whisper?

Find this column and others from the October 2023 issue here!

Sue Mangan

Sue Mangan

*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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