As in Hamlet, […], everything
begins by the apparition of a specter. More precisely,
by the waiting for this apparition. […] this,
the thing (“this thing”) will end up coming.
The revenant is going to come
—Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx
My mother never saw them, only
The kitchen doorknob turning on its own, TV
Shouting on upstairs—so sure of our family
Haunting that we moved two states over,
And she stayed fearful the thing had stowed
Away in our green moving van, packed in
Our coffee cups and family photos. Whatever
It was shadowed her and owned
Every dark room of our house. She was our
Self-proclaimed protector from the haint.
We couldn’t speak of it for pain of grounding—
You’ll call it up, she’d say. Stop it, now.
But when she was at work, sometimes
We’d let ourselves go, give in
To our mother’s lore. My brother would stagger
From the kitchen, arms out like a mummy,
and say Look, I’m Uncle Jack, moaning,
See these chains I forged in life. Back then,
My grandfather was still around, sitting
In his recliner watching gameshows,
Sucking peppermint, but I’d play him for dead.
I laid in the living room floor, arms crossed
Over my heart, still as a parked car,
Eyes closed. Who am I? I’d shout to my brother.
I’d seen dead before—watched a great aunt
For her eyelids to twitch or quiver, a finger
Tick, like my brother when he played dead. I watched
The dead aunt and felt bad watching someone sleeping
As if I’d stepped in on a private scene only a lover
Could imagine. Even then, I knew the world
Was all in-betweens—ghostly, like breath,
Like rivers, like being twelve, like holding
Someone’s hand. Still, we’d turn the lights off
And slam the door behind our mother and wait
For her shriek to see if we should
Be afraid, and scared we wouldn’t care.
A whole childhood, that summer, taking turns
Walking into walls to prove we were still alive.