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HOW TO LOVE A GHOST
Murfreesboro, TN

Our love lived in a chain-link town thirty miles outside

of Nashville. A breeding ground for surrender—the state

 

university, its dropouts collected in aging homes along the edges

of campus like twigs, trash in the gutters. The shopping mall

 

in Murfreesboro was named for the battlefield it’s built over—

Stones River, twenty-five thousand dead in 1863. Chances are,

 

if a man fought at that river, he died there, too. So what chance

did we have? We were never whole—my lungs and his arms,

 

my mouth and his legs. Two different prescriptions for two different

kinds of empty. Naked in bed, we practiced breathing; I taught him

 

how to eat. And when he disappeared, I said, this town is

a half-life, don’t expect too much. He came home to tell me

 

what he saw: the ghost of a boy, tucked into the tub of some other girl’s

attic bath. Or was it a mirror on the wall? So much of Tennessee is a graveyard—

 

fault lines and familiars, chimneys still visible through the skin

of the lake, but he was the largest piece of me that I had to bury. Still,

 

weren’t we always a cluster of bones in the dirt? Aren’t there many methods

of exorcising a ghost? We used to make smoke of ourselves, acrid promises

 

that blossomed in the air around us like ink in water—

 

                                                I should have burned him with our words.

 

 

DYSTHYMIA

                        I am trying to explain

the misfired synapse.

 

                        I am trying to train you

in methods of self-preservation.

 

                                    Crouch under your desk. Be somewhere else.

 

The diagnosis: constant, low-level. The prognosis is

            never letting up. You say    “just take a walk”    and I already feel

 

like burning down the house.

 

                                    It’ll only get worse.

 

                                                                        This is why you need

to know how to protect yourself. This is why you ought to

 

                                    stop sleeping in my bed.

 

Once, I stayed in a dark room for four months, only left

                        to buy groceries and adopt a feral cat.

 

She shit blood on the futon, then

 

                        clawed her way through a window screen, out.

 

 

WHAT I KNOW OF LOVE

1.

My psychiatrist asks You know

that feeling when your heart skips

 

a beat? Apparently, it isn’t love, just

childhood trauma—like echoes—

bouncing around our insides. It feels

right because it’s familiar, like jeans

that haven’t been washed in weeks

 

and smell of cat piss and rainwater

around the ankles.

 

2.

My parents would lock the door

to their bedroom every few

months, during a rainy Sunday

or after a party. Barricaded

 

from their passing romance,

I wondered

if bodies fit together

like wooden joints.

 

3. 

Amazing how your thumbs

dwarf mine, how the constellations

of looping hairs on your chest—damp

with sweat—can feel so soft against

my shoulders. And how, in the mirror,

we look like people in love: your arms

wrapped around my waist, my arms

wrapped around your arms. We could

choose to stay this way. We don’t

have to ask why we’re looking

in the mirror in the first place.

 

4. 

You should know, there is

something called dark

matter—missing mass—

that accounts for everything

we can feel, but not measure.

And dark energy, whose scalar

fields are divorcing our atoms

at accelerating rates. Relief

comes at the end, when we are

spread so thin that we won’t

need to struggle for this

unreasonable reconciliation.

 

5. 

An attachment, or

affection, or concern

born of kinship

or sexual desire.

 

Or a deeply seated need

to find what we haven’t,

the stubborn insistence

that we can.

 

6.

Your body temperature,

always a few degrees above

average. At night, our bed

is damp and small, and I feel

inside the sticky summer

of my childhood—mosquitos

nipping at my ankles,

that inescapable heat,

my submission to it.