HomeSouthern VoiceGhost Sightings in Birmingham

Ghost Sightings in Birmingham

by Paul Alexander

The store on Second Avenue North stands dark and empty.
Its plate-glass windows are covered with a thin film of dirt.
You can barely make out the name on the sign
still hanging above the sidewalk: “Dixie Wigs.”
In the waning daylight, a cat darts by, heading up the street.

I cup my hands to the window and stare inside.
Soon I see her — a saleslady gliding among the menagerie
of wigs mounted on faceless Styrofoam heads
and divided into sections by color — blonde, black, brunette.
She is waiting on four women, three of them there to help

their friend pick out a wig she can wear to church on Sunday.
They ooh and aah over each choice until they settle
on a brown beehive. Their shopping done, the women
will go home to their husbands. These are men, they believe,
who are good-hearted, God-fearing. They would never

gather one morning in September and plant a stash of dynamite
under the steps of a church on Sixteenth Street with a timer
set for 10:32, just when parishioners are arriving for services.
When I step back from the window, the women disappear.
But fifty years on, I can still hear, only blocks away, the violent

thud of the explosion, the calm that followed, then the mothers’ cries
filling the air. I can still hear shouts of disbelief, the lonely wails
of ambulance sirens approaching. Finally, as I turn to leave,
from the corner of my eye they appear — four little girls
dressed in their Sunday best, smiles on their faces, frozen in time.

Paul Alexander is the editor of the essay collection Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath and the author of seven books, including Rough Magic, a biography of Plath, and Salinger, a biography of J.D. Salinger that was the basis of Shane Salerno’s documentary, which appeared on American Masters on PBS.  He has published nonfiction in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe and The New York Review of Books, among many others. His poetry has appeared in Poetry {Chicago}, The Sewanee Review, Southern Poetry Review, Poem, Poetry Now, Mississippi Review, The Louisville Review, The Vanderbilt Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, The Spoon River Quarterly and The Black Warrior Review. He is the author of Edge, a one-woman play about Sylvia Plath. A graduate of The University of Alabama and The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he teaches at the Eugene Lang College at The New School in New York City.

Read his poem, The Naming of Months, published earlier this month in Deep South. 

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