Bidwell Ghost Summary
by Louise Erdrich

Start Your Free Trial

Download Bidwell Ghost Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Poetry for Students)

“Bidwell Ghost” is an example of Erdrich’s use of myth or legend in her poetry, a practice which is a firmly rooted tradition in her Chippewa heritage. It’s difficult to tell what “Bidwell Ghost” is a reference to—possibly a family name or the name of a small town in Minnesota, the state where Erdrich was raised. Included in the collection Baptism of Desire in 1989, this poem recounts the myth of an orchard haunted by a young girl’s ghost. Presumably killed in a house fire twenty years earlier, she still waits at the edge of the road for passing cars; if you stop she’ll climb in but “not say where she is going.” By using vivid images throughout, Erdrich describes the burned trees waiting for someone to pick their fruit, as well as the girl’s ghost waiting for anyone to pass by, in turn blurring the lines between the human and the natural, and the natural and the supernatural. The poem ends with a question, perhaps asking the reader to ponder the cycle of death and new life.


(Poetry for Students)

Lines 1–3
Here the poet introduces the ghost, a girl, caught in a pattern of waiting, standing by the road “each night” in the same white dress. Using figurative language to describe the dress as “embroidered with fire,” the poet suggests this is probably the same outfit the girl died in years ago.

Lines 4–6
These lines establish how long ago the fatal fire occurred, destroying the house in the orchard along with the girl, though there is no mention of her family. These lines also inform us that even after this long, the place is still abandoned; no one ever visits.

Lines 7–9
Here the poet describes the effects of the fire’s heat on the surrounding orchard. The branches were burned, though the trees didn’t die. Notice the similarity between the tree and the girl thus far in the poem: both show evidence of the fire, yet both still “survive,” the trees still standing in the orchard, the ghost still haunting the road.

Lines 10–12
Note how the tone of the speaker’s voice shifts here from third person description to second person direct address. But who is the “you” being spoken to? Since there’s only one person—the girl—introduced in the poem, we might conclude that we, the readers, are being directly spoken to, are being given instructions. This personal and immediate connection with the reader might help create a spookier feeling, as if we let the ghost right into our own car. Once she’s in the car with us, the ghost won’t tell us where to drive, and the poet suggests we “shouldn’t ask,” perhaps for fear of what the answer might be.

Lines 13–15
In these lines, the poet continues offering instructions in the event we meet this ghost. Using a disturbing and vivid image, Erdrich suggests the girl’s hair was burned in the fire, now resembling a “black nest.” Note how this comparison reminds us again of the trees in the orchard, where a real bird’s nest might be found. In line 14, the image implies the girl ghost is still crying after all these years, her tears like “agates,” which are colorful layered stones found abundantly in Minnesota, where the poet grew up.

Lines 16–18
Here the poet returns us again to the orchard after the fire. In these lines, she personifies the orchard, giving it human qualities, suggesting the trees were unhappy because no one showed up anymore to pick the fruit from their branches. Then, as if because of the lack of attention, the burned branches “cracked apart and fell.” Note, again, the similarities of emotion between the girl and the orchard, both lonely and waiting for someone to come back.

Lines 19–21
“Windfalls” are unpicked apples which fall to the ground near the end of the season, sometimes even at the slightest wind. At the literal...

(The entire section is 989 words.)