-“I ain’t afraid of no ghost.”
-Ray Parker Jr.
Ghosts are scary. That’s the idea, anyway. They haunt places and people, and allegedly pull little pranks just to unsettle us. When we see a friend with terror on her face we say, “Well, you look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
Not for me, though. You should ask me if I’ve seen the line at the hotel Starbucks.
Because I’ve never been afraid of ghosts.
I have the spiritual shortcomings of fairly extreme agnosticism, and I’m, frankly, terrified of myself in this regard. I’m so closed-minded! But I can’t help it—I look around, often, and I just keep seeing trees and buildings and birds and shit, and, all around these things, all over the damn place, the living. Like, one living person after another getting up in the morning and probably crapping with a cup of coffee. Not flying, not bending spoons with their minds, possibly dying, irrevocably, and getting culled within minutes.
I’ve never believed in ghosts, but man, I’ve wanted to. When we played the pajama-party “Stiff as a board, light as a feather,” game as a kid, I prayed for extra phantom fingers to thread under the subject and lift. This never happened. We spent a lot of time in those years, my young friends and I, discussing the supernatural, trying to scare each other, one-upping with stories of ghosts that haunted buildings we’d known. In my case, I was making them up, but I hoped mine would compete in scariness and that the other stories were real.
Because my agnosticism started early. If ghosts could be verified, the doors of possibility might then swing heavily open. If ghosts, then maybe anything. Like heaven. If dead people could come back in some way at all, the rest of them might be going to heaven, a concept I can’t remember knowing about without doubting. My whole life, I’ve wished for living to be eased by hope. Grieving would be better if it weren’t forever. And now that I’ve got two small children, I’ve begun grieving in advance for them, too.
When my eldest, Sofia, screamed as a toddler every time she saw static on the TV, I enjoyed some of my few freaky ghost spooks. Static is trippy, and I was exhausted, and Poltergeist had scared the shit out of me years previously, regardless of my doubts. Pre-verbal kids, like cats, seem especially wise because they haven’t broken the spell by babbling like lunatics, and when Sofia freaked the fuck out at all that swirling fuzzy depth, I freaked the fuck out, too.
Between bursts of chatter, Sofia still tweaks at static. I am slightly better rested, and unalarmed (at least about that).
And what, exactly, was I alarmed about in the first place? What is a ghost? A bunch of nothingness under a sheet? I did like the idea of the nothingness as a kid—that ghosts could walk through walls, that something thrown would go right through them. I don’t think it occurred to me that the sheet was there just to give us something to see. But then, again, why be afraid?
Ghosts so far have been benevolent. Casper. Patrick Swayze. When we played whiffle or kick ball with only a few players, we had imaginary base runners we called, “ghosties.” Rather than ghosts, it’s generally been the real people who frighten me—administrators, dentists, clowns.
We’re afraid, I guess, because ghosts are dead people; they don’t belong here, and they remind us of being dead, that we’ll be dead, too. I never needed ghosts to make me scared of that.
I think about the people I’ve known who are dead. Do they haunt me? The people I didn’t like who’ve died would be the best candidates for haunting, I guess, but I’ve never played a role in their deaths, and if there’s any haunting going on, it’s pretty subtle, and I’m blaming any extra noises on my kids.
Dead people I loved when alive come back more often. My buddy and bandmate, Scott, appears to me often, but more like a dead Jedi than a ghost. Grandparents, a dog, a couple drinking buddies—they show up in dreams and drifting thoughts. They beckon and cajole and scold and comfort, but they don’t haunt.
I’m more haunted by the people I’ve been than the people I’ve known. I see me in pictures—sitting joyfully in a driveway puddle, or on a roller coaster, minutes from losing my lunch and a cherished cowboy hat, or at college in what I considered a lethally cool and certainly dirty wool poncho, playing guitar in Chicago subways. Where did I go?
I’m still around. All the people I’ve been, dragging chains around the attic and flushing clean toilets, promising never to return entirely, but in hopes of some attention. Unless, of course, that’s just the kids up there.
In Matt Rowan’s short story, “The Possibility of Ghosts,” even the raccoons actively haunt the place of their death. The characters’ exaggerated mannerisms and the speaker’s outrageous lack of empathy entertain and surprise in a usually scrubbed and precious literary world. Something is added to the dark fun, too, by the speaker’s understanding that she and her family members “were a horrible group of people back then.” Are they a little like us?
“Dumpster Theater,” flash fiction by Rhoads Stevens, juxtaposes images of vitality and decay into a short, complex arrangement. Stevens’ striking and original piece layers lush imagery, brilliantly clear syntax, slapstick, despair, innocence, and a great, ghosty part by a living marionette.
The ghost of a marriage flickers in Christine Kitano’s poem, “Before the Divorce, A Dry Thunderstorm.” Emptiness within the often-warm suburban glow finds great expression here—“The automatic/sprinklers sputter on, spitting fake rain across flattened/scabs of grass.” Kitano’s long supple lines crackle and mourn.
Kristin LaTour’s “When Billy Collins Falls for Me” romps through seven tercet stanzas of Collins’ dusty ego and “letters filled with verbs/and feathers.” LaTour evokes a brilliant new paradigm for the poet, one that balloons over dinosaurs like printed paper and masochism. Three cheers!
Our issue concludes with a fragment of a long poem, “Leafmold,” by F. Daniel Rzicznek, that elegantly shreds a walk with the dog into an enviable series of associative images and thoughts. Rich and evocative and worldly—this poem nestles down to the earth and out into our widest concerns and dreams with controlled abandon.
Photo By: Tommaso Galli