Letitia Trent
Selections from “The Ghost Comes With Me”


II.


What do the dead know?

The only form of god
I know is mystery. I try
to live in it. I bought all
these crystals. I don't know
what they mean but I like
the feel of them in my hands.
I've wished for belief
in something, ghosts, god,
the akhashic records as
breathed by delicate-wristed
women who say they eat
only air and that we've all
ascended and create Youtube
videos of high pitched noises
to demonstrate our new
human frequencies, but
I can't, they're so obvious
and tender in their reaching.
So am I. I listen
to a man who says he speaks
to the dead and I wonder
what the dead know. My grandmother
is dead and spent her life
reading Weekly World News
and The National Enquirer while smoking
cigarette after cigarette
at the kitchen table, writing checks
to the handsome priest. The dead might
be as empty as they were
when bodied, or even worse
they can't remember
what it was like to haul this
flesh around, like how parents
forget the difficult days when the baby
was a ball of hunger
and sleep, when you were so tired
you forgot to eat, to bathe,
and the world was as small
as a room where the child
would not latch, and the love
was enormous, throat crushing,
but you also wanted to scream
into the dark of the parking lot
but it was 4 AM, and you could
not scream and so rocked yourself
and him instead, yes, like that,
and how later, as the child's hair
grew silken, as he took his first
steps away, you wanted those days
back. A man on the radio says
we ask the dead for yes
or no answers when what they
know comes to us in symbols:
Did you see your mother's
favorite flowers? Her name
on a license plate? Those can
be kinds of communication.
I see my mother's favorite
flowers everyday: I tattooed them
on my shoulder, not even thinking
of her when I chose them,
but I'm sure she lives
inside me, not dead but a ghost
still, those old structures built
by her manic highs of elation
her hours of depressed sweeping
as I became very quiet
on the square of sofa cushion
where I slept, waiting
and watching from the beginning,
and when I'm dead maybe
my son will suddenly remember
the importance of roses, the smell of sandalwood,
maybe he'll need to sit on the ground
sometimes because he knows
that's where I am, and that's how
I calmed down when the world
became heavy, I'd say come down
here on the floor with me and he'd sit
down next to me and ask
do you have a hurt, mommy?



III.

Maybe ghosts are the dead left in the places where they lived or died, attached the world as we're attached when alive, loving a particular place but never able to touch it fully, loving people who they can watch from a distance but never feel with their bodies or breath.

There's this belief that the body and the real self are made of different stuff and one can slip off the other like a stocking from a pointed foot.

I once thought I’d always love from a distance, never touching, no joining of body or breath. I’d run my hand along my slip in the dark and wonder what had gone so wrong.

I taught a class about the American Gothic tradition and asked what great tragedies in our cultural history could inspire a Gothic tale, what great evil could a family carry, what horrors do we know happened, have happened, are happening?

The ghost is a disturbance and disturbed and will not move toward its final destination.

They make the lightbulbs flicker. Sometimes they shut doors and scare children. Sometimes the children speak to them like friends. Sometimes the children are friendless. Sometimes we think the child is a ghost but she's a living child.

A ghost can be a repetition, a groove in the record that sends the needle back over and over, created by terror, by sadness, by some unusual surge of emotion that tears the silk that usually covers everything, this fine film of softness that rounds out the corners.

In my small Ozark town, a plaque commemorates German alley, a former black neighborhood with its own thriving markets A fire happened. That's what the plaque says. A fire happened, nobody responsible, and those families left. Ghosts, then. And the street's now empty except an antique store. The old town beneath it. The soil still rich from the burning.

I've loved to touch the face of the jagged, dynamited rocks that line the roads in this town, a ghost town compared to what it was a hundred years ago, a place full of springs that cured various ailments until the spring polluted, the pipes pumping poison each time the water rose, poison in the system though they still called it a cure.

I grew up in a trailer catty-corner to a half-finished house, two stories, far enough along that the wood frame had been tacked over with aluminum sheets, old newspaper print, which I read sometimes when we went to the wreck to pillage the wood and metal to bring to the recycling center. We stripped the house down to the wooden bones, then pulled the bones down for dog houses and porches, until it was just a concrete square forested over, the grasses cropping up so far if you ran across the yard and didn't know you'd break a toe. But I knew. The ghost bones of the house still inside me.



V.

I've been lonely
for a double
since I played
in the forest
waiting for something
to come up beside me
some secret danger
I could call like
a good cat

to make a witch
you need one
lonely child and the rest
of the recipe varies

danger in
my own hands
was better
than the danger
in the house, that black
void that opened
beneath my mother's body
the beam of her sweeping
that never cleaned
but spread the detritus
everywhere

I'd lay on the pine needles
the dead scent of them
around me, and ask
something to speak to me

always seeking messages
from the busted bag
at the bottom of the cup

in the spread of pennies
and doll shoes in the front yard




VII. Tales from the Darkside Season One, Episode Two

The episode is called "The New Man" and it begins with a large man in a shabby suit in an office, an office that's dreary simply because it's from the 80's and the show was filmed in a way that bakes cheapness into every square frame. This man has just done something to please his boss, who emerges from a cubicle with two glasses of alcohol, caramel-colored in squat glasses. I don't drink, the man says, and the boss, with exaggerated enthusiasm, says he'll drink for the both of them. As the boss leaves, a child named Jerry arrives, looking for his father. He walks to the shabby, large man and says Dad. The man is surprised. This is not his son. He doesn't know this child. His surprise turns to anger. Somebody insisting an intimacy that doesn't exist makes him want to push that person to the edges of perception. He drops the child off at the local police station.

At home, his wife hums with a particularly feminine, seething anger that involves smoothing a tablecloth over and over: why did the man drop Jerry off at the station? The man is puzzled, then angry: somebody is playing a trick. The wife cries. Not again, she says. Have you been drinking? He's helpless against their consensus reality; her and Jerry and his real son, mulleted, all stand against him. The world moves very quickly: he's suddenly unshaven, shabby, and has missed work for days. His wife is leaving. The house is his alone and he finds a liquor bottle in Jerry's drawer.

We're back in the office. Another man at the same desk, another glass offered with approval from the boss smiling so hard it feels wrong, it feels off. The man at the desk demurs: I'm on the wagon. The boss implies he'll enjoy both drinks himself. He leaves, passing a child named Jerry. Jerry walks up to the sober man and calls him daddy.

The episode is a puzzle with a piece missing from the middle, maybe the central figure's eyes or the legs of a dancer. Who is this child? He's ruin, a liquor bottle in an alcoholic's drawer. He's wearing a Superkid t-shirt. He says Daddy and the man recoils. The child is almost certainly not a child

And so maybe Jerry is some old self asking for love at the sight of commerce. Maybe the child is where they were injured, here is what they abandoned, here is what the boss ushers in with his approvals, some kind of disaster that looks like a face the men might recognize in a filigreed mirror. Maybe this is why the child inspires such visceral disgust. The first man in the story had barely skirted disaster when we met him. We no longer have to buy dinner on credit the mother said as they cut their steak into bites that would not choke a child. Jerry reminds him of past failures, the ground that could shift at any moment, that hole you could fall into, you being men, a man, the world full of traps like the caramel in that glass.

Or maybe women and children are the trap. Cleaved to timelines, to dinner, to the smooth tablecloth, to the humming world that supports the job that has averted disaster. They look up at you, thinking of all the ways you could fail them.



VIII.

Is anybody there?
I asked aloud
as I held the planchette
against the Ouija board's woodplank
and it dragged my limp hand
from letter to letter
like a smart animal

my friend recorded the words, slow in coming:
I hear a baby crying

and the board was right,
by that time, I'd had a baby
and he cried for me upon waking
my face the first face
the world's canopy

tell me something about
where you are
I asked
a little angry the shade
could see my life, this
secret repetition of naps
and feeding, the daily
circuit done over
and over but never
finished, that circle
of complex walkway that always
somehow pointed directly
into the slanting sun
as the baby pressed himself
hard into my body

I knew my world, the baby crying,
the feeling of his fuzzy head
against my cheek, his curled
fingers fisted, the way
his mouth kissed open
as he slept, the saliva
flowing out, I knew
all this, its beautiful
circuitry, balanced and propelled
by me, what power,
but what about

somewhere else

tell me about where
you are
I asked

hungry for a place
where I'm not all body

and the board
said nowhere/can't
talk/nowhere you

can understand/where
are you now?

*

now that memory
of the baby's fuzzy head
against my skin
is a ghost, the baby himself
now a child
soon a teenager, then
a man, walking out
of the house, keys
in his hand, later,

his palm
rests on a planchette
he's saying
in response to slowly spelled
words (such
distances make
communication difficult, usually
impossible) nowhere, no time
to explain, where are you?

Letitia Trent's books include the poetry collections Match Cut and One Perfect Bird and the novels Echo Lake and Almost Dark. The above selections come from her chapbook the ghost comes with me, out in august of 2019 by Ghost City Press. Her writing has been featured in Waxwing, Thrush, Exigencies, Gamut, Jellyfish Review, and Fence, among others. Her stories have appeared in the anthologies Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 and Suspended in Dusk II. Trent lives in a small mountain town in the Ozarks with her husband, son, and three black cats. You can find her on Twitter @letitia_trentand at tinyletter.com/letitiatrent.