I've got your ghosts right here. 

Mary Hamilton


The drunk boy is singing along to Mustang Sally even though no one asked him to and it’s not the song that’s playing on the speakers and you are upstairs burning away layers of skin into the puddle made by the ice you threw into bed when you thought this was a bug that would pass and now you can’t move, can’t even think of rotating your body off the bed to break the ice out of the trays, can’t even think of the strength it would take to turn the faucet, to fill the spaces. The time it would take for the ice to freeze. You are a puddle of sweat and mattress. You have never felt more human and Mustang Sally is playing in your brain and you hear that one voice singing it out of tune over and over the same mumbling words of the song banging around in your head and you are finding it hard to believe how cold it is how hot your skin with the wind billowing in through the window that you opened to relieve the heat. You are the furnace. You are the fire. Temperature rising and you are alive and you are still alive and maybe your eyes are open and watching the inkblot shapes in your eyes get bigger, blend together, cover the vision of your right eye.Your left eye, your bad eye, is trying to focus on the door handle, waiting for someone to come in, put the back of their hand to your forehead. Tell you they’ll make it good again.


Downstairs, in the bar, someone is trying to comfort the drunk boy, is there someone here to take him home? Is there someone to make sure this boy gets home safe? As long as he’s paying he’s staying and he's singing his song. The worst song. That awful repetitive song in that awful repetitive key.


Relentlessly seeking comfort, you opened the window when you were hot, too hot to believe that this skin was necessary. Scratching at your arms, attempting to pull away the covers.


Giving up on breath. The way it pushes its way in, the strength it takes for you to exhale, the desperation for air, the grudging allowance of another breath and another and another, knowing the strain, the effort it would take to push it back out. But this breathing effort allows you to start talking. You call to the shadows. You recognize them. You call for water. You call to these ghosts of you. The faces that used to smile when you entered the room. The hands that used to show kindness. Share a sandwich, a drink, a hand to hold. You call out to them, these faces you used to curse, the names you forgot, these pictures you burned. Torn away, torn up and tossed in garbage bins in three different cities. You call to these strangers, these hands you used to hold, these palms you tried to read by candlelight in an attempt to be a memory that would last. You were always bad at staying. But this is real. You see them in the room with you. You believe this is possible. This return. These faces gone so long. To you, they are real. They are here, caring for you, holding your hand, moving your hair back and away from your face. You have been gone so long your last name is that word on the tip of their tongue.


And the drunk boy leans his forearm on the jukebox, rests his head on his fist and types the numbers for his favorite song. Disc 7, song 16. Mustang Sally, he howls. The bar groans. The patrons of the bar, the seams of the floorboards, the pipes behind the walls. A woman stumbles out of the bathroom and a man takes her hand, squeezes it and they make an eye contact that says, we are together in this misery, as the drunk boy raises his face to the ceiling and raises his glass to his long lost mother.


Reeling upstairs, you are still looking at the doorknob, waiting for it to turn, waiting for someone to know you’ve been gone so long. You hear the noise downstairs. The chorus of that one voice singing that one song, these are the oars that will ferry you to the other side. You are still alive and the fever is rising and if you had the strength you would make your way to that window to shut out the cold.


A bird is eying you from the sill, testing the size of the gap between window and ledge, calculating the flexibility it would take to move in. To make of your body a nest. To pillage your home for materials to make a soft lining. Bird gives up, moves on. The dragonflies arrive. A few at first, testing the territory. Evaluating the environment. And then the backup arrives. They nibble at your ears. Then more, pulling out your eyelashes and eyebrows and all of the hair on your head. They move themselves around feasting on the landscape of your shoulders and thighs. Their work is a flurry of wings and hunger and still you are alive, eyes open, the room is spinning. God, the room is really spinning. Rotating one way and then turning on you like friendship to move the calculation of space on its side. The dragonflies continue their work taking these pieces of you and not even you miss the absence. The theft is a relief. The cold bodies of these insects a brief escape from the fever that has so long been consuming. They take these parts of you and you don’t even know you’re gone until you’re out the window with their wings and feeling the squeeze of their muscles in the exhausting flight to the next haunted house.


The drunk boy stomps his feet and mimics a drag race, pushing bodies and knocking sideways his only ally in the bar. A fight ensues, a rumble. A throw down knock out brawl. Glasses, bones, wood breaks and the mixture of whiskey and out of tune singing somehow causes fire.


Justifying their efforts, the dragonflies have made their way to bone, picking apart the last remaining connections of limbs. They take what it was of you that could ever be remembered. And still part of you, some part of you, lingers. Some piece of you that can still want to be someone real. You want them to take that too because the flesh and blood of you was a ghost long enough. This disintegration is a welcome release from the desire and need to be something recognized as more than the sound of a chair moving across a floor.


In the bar, the flames push at the corners of the room, hands pull at hands to find a way out. In a space like this, there is only so much time before the heat and the smoke make escape nothing more than a metaphor.

 (Lord knows a better song has already been sung. Better poems already written and read out loud tonight. Better stories already told. This pen is a piece of shit. These self-important words are better used to call a mother, to comfort a wounded animal, to make a note to buy toilet paper. Better minds have tried to explain the intricacies of science using better words than this.)

Letting the hours pass, you wait until every cell and memory of you has been pulled apart and swallowed, you wait until you can finally feel that you are the weight in the belly of these dragonflies, moving heavy through flight.


When walking on a city sidewalk, familiar eyes catch sight of Queen Anne’s lace pushing through the pavement and the story you told of the name becomes a present tense memory. Because you told of Queen Anne, who while doing her craft of making lace, pricked her finger and a drop of blood made a stain and this piece of her gave the flower a name. Familiar eyes will fall on that weed and remember your voice and the way you told the story and the memory will be unexpected and the memory of you will be unbearably real. 

Just as quickly as the memory fell it will fade. Like the outline of this mass of dragonflies on the horizon, it will rise like the smoke from this burning building into the sky and, like that smoke, it will be pulled apart by space. Years later, when the building has been put back together and a drunk boy sings a song out of tune, this ghost of you will be more than the phantom sound of a window opening and a chill in the air. Some uninvited and momentary memory of you is what will linger, will remain, will be the reminder and the haunting.