Aubade on a Ghost Hunt

We prefer to do it with the lights on, 
the Victrola scratching How long can it last?
against the tremble of curtains. Patient,
we learn the walls, their glossary of knocks,
translating harlequin and dust. What we
know lives here—lonely bone star blossom
of the spider plant, lost bee on the sill,
the recorder’s static alive and puckering.
I tell you our future is the guttering candle
in the basement birdcage. Prove it, you say,
and I set both its shadows swaying. Our history—
the attic window, how the unseen surprises
the photograph. You ask what is there
to be afraid of. I ask the past to make itself
known to me. We only have to make it through
the night, so we close the dolls’ eyes. Danger
midwifes the heart’s spring. We are cabbage roses 
grooming the parlor air with unsexed pistils. 
I have this kiss and its sleepless itinerary. 
Your lip, pink logic and cushion. The door 
tests its lock, and I let you ruin each light
orb and whisper with physics. If we’re sure
something is here, then we have to find out 
what it wants. A voice on the recorder, sweet
as gravecake—don’t go. We can admit it wasn’t
proof we came for, it was the question.

What They Found In the Diving Bell

The first time I saw my mother, she'd been dead 
fourteen years and came as a ghost in the mirror, 

plucking the hair beneath her arms, and humming 
a bossa nova. She lotioned her chapped heels 

and padded her bra as if she were alive in the old way. 
She said I was born with my cord wrapped 

around my neck like a rosary, and she knew God, 
the doomed father of her days, wanted us both. 

Before midnight she plaited my hair, hemmed my skirt, 
sang lullabies she'd learned on the other side of the flood. 

She lifted her dress to show her bones shedding light 
on a stillborn fetus accidentally raptured into her ribs. 

She said she'd choose her death again, obey any pain 
heaven gave her. Years ago she watched a man ride 

a diving bell to the bottom of the Amazon to face 
the mysteries God had placed there. The chain broke, 

and they pulled him to the surface smiling, stiff, refusing 
to open his fists. They broke and unpeeled his fingers. 

No one wept or fought to hold it. She covered her eyes 
so she wouldn't see what God, in his innocence, had done.

Our Bodies Break Light

We crawl through the tall grass and idle light,

our chests against the earth so we can hear the river


underground. Our backs carry rotting wood and books

that hold no stories of damnation or miracles.


One day as we listen for water, we find a beekeeper—

one eye pearled by a cataract, the other cut out by his own hand


so he might know both types of blindness. When we stand

in front of him, he says we are prisms breaking light into color—


our right shoulders red, our left hips a wavering indigo.

His apiaries are empty except for dead queens, and he sits


on his quiet boxes humming as he licks honey from the bodies

of drones. He tells me he smelled my southern skin for miles,


says the graveyard is full of dead prophets. To you, he presents

his arms, tattooed with songs slave catchers whistle


as they unleash the dogs. He lets you see the burns on his chest

from the time he set fire to boats and pushed them out to sea.


You ask why no one believes in madness anymore,

and he tells you stars need a darkness to see themselves by.


When you ask about resurrection, he says, How can you doubt?

and shows you a deer licking salt from a lynched man's palm.

The Last Known Sighting of the Mapinguari

Before she died, my mother told me
I’d make the monster that would kill me,
so I knew this was someone else’s death
creeping into my field, butchering my cow.
I recognized its lone eye and two mouths.
Perhaps it mistook the lowing for the call
of its own kind. I didn’t mind the heifer—
she’d been sick for weeks, her death a mercy—
but her calf circled, refusing to leave even
as the creature pulled out its mother’s tongue,
fed one of its mouths and moaned from the other.
The intestines glowed dully in the moonlight.
The calf bawled. The disappointed mapinguari
sat, thousands of worms rising out of the split
heart it held, testing the strange night air.
I’ve outlived all the miracles that came for me.
My mother was wrong and not wrong,
like the calf who approached the monster
and licked the blood from its fingers.

Related Poems

Ghosting Aubade

The air smells soft today and of the past,
redbuds dispersing their ruby secrets,

myself among them. I kept the body
taut with thirst, so that it thrived without.

Then, this new man, suspect as always, showed
up, glinting like he knew which songs I liked.

What I know of him fits within my palms:
his twin scars but not their cause. His lamb’s wool

voice and canvas shoes. A lavender net.
What I know of love fits inside my mouth.

The air smells soft today and of the past.
I robe myself in gray and green.

Some come to us in the perfection
of their frailty, some leave us by it.

We're All Ghosts Now

So says my friend who doesn’t know it now
But he’s been conscripted to say what I shouldn’t

Want anyone to say too soon, too suddenly, too many times
More than must be said. It’s a tall order, or as another friend says

A tall drink of water, otherwise: it’s plain & simple:
What anyone wants most of all.

Another friend tells me I’m easy and means something sweetly as when
One caves with the slightest shudder somehow thoroughly.

Another says what you say should be in a poem which means
Someone is taking for me the trouble to breathe, maybe fire.

Lucidity, quick and painlessly employed, kind of, as a kind nurse employs
Her rough pinch to be less strict than her needle’s as it settles into a vein

To take sufficient blood away somewhere to be deployed in centrifuge
To diagnose and otherwise and likewise and counterclockwise say, the way

Metaphor or blood can have the last word. In order to be sure of what the
Center is, everything has to spin away, I guess. Your words like a lost ghost

On a mission. I've never met a ghost who's not on a mission.
Why otherwise bother to be a ghost's ghost?

When we write to ghosts we write on stony water. One can skip a stone
In order to pretend to find ten thousands things.

Nearby is very close.
Nearby I take your words to water. My ghosts are growing restless.

How Can It Be I Am No Longer I

Winter was the ravaging in the scarified
Ghost garden, a freak of letters crossing down a rare

Path bleak with poplars. Only the yew were a crewel
Of kith at the fieldstone wall, annulled

As a dulcimer cinched in a green velvet sack.
To be damaged is to endanger—taut as the stark

Throats of castrati in their choir, lymphless & fawning
& pale. The miraculous conjoining

Where the beamless air harms our self & lung,
Our three-chambered heart & sternum,

Where two made a monstrous
Braid of other, ravishing.

To damage is an animal hunch
& urge, thou fallen—the marvelous much

Is the piece of Pleiades the underworld calls
The nightsky from their mud & rime. Perennials

Ghost the ground & underground the coffled
Veins, an aneurism of the ice & spectacle.

I would not speak again. How flinching
The world will seem—in the lynch

Of light as I sail home in a winter steeled
For the deaths of the few loved left living I will

Always love. I was a flint
To bliss & barbarous, a bristling

Of tracks like a starfish carved on his inner arm,
A tindering of tissue, a reliquary, twinned.

A singe of salt-hay shrouds the orchard-skin,
That I would be—lukewarm, mammalian, even then,

In winter when moss sheathes every thing alive
& everything not or once alive.

That I would be—dryadic, gothic, fanatic against
The vanishing; I will not speak to you again.