HOW TO LOVE A GHOST
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.
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
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.
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,
if bodies fit together
like wooden joints.
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.
You should know, there is
something called dark
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
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.
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.