summon ghosts

September 25, 2018

Of course, you summon ghosts at your peril. The sufferings of others can bleed into your soul. You try to protect yourself. Memory is inventive. Memory is a performance. Memory invites itself, and is hard to turn away.

Susan Sontag
Where the Stress Falls

Vulnerability Study

September 23, 2018

your face turning from mine
to keep from cumming

8 strawberries in a wet blue bowl

baba holding his pants
up at the checkpoint

a newlywed securing her updo
with grenade pins

a wall cleared of nails
for the ghosts to walk through

Solmaz Sharif

I am the unknown whispers of the dark hallways I tread, The darkness, how it disintegrates into a deeper one, leaving the world shallower, How many ghosts breathe inside my skin, how pale my veins beat, I have no idea if I can taste mornings anymore, as if I have been walking in an everlasting night.

Channing M
The Monochrome of Darkness

a boy ghost

The ghost boy was the colour of bone, of gossamer spider web, of salt trails of dried tears. He still had his shape, his outline. No one had said his name in thirty years, even though he’d scarred the house with it, carved onto a tree in the garden, scratched into the paint under the outdoor kitchen. Scars unseen, name unspoken. The house had stood for close to a century, waking to kiss the sea breeze decades before, still standing when the red dirt roads had hardened to dark tarmac and the state had stolen the sea from it.

The house called the dead unto itself, and so the boy persisted, him and the others, outnumbering the living. Walls skinned with the colour of the ocean meeting the sky, a driveway of parched and cracked stone, girded with the garishness of bougainvillea and the shyness of orchids. The newest owners had furnished the house with a television screen the same size as a car door, computers in every room, tiny bulbs the size of candles with the glare of lighthouses; ripped out the old worm-eaten flooring in favour of inky Burmese teak. Now, you can do that, strip a house down to the bone, flay the walls from it and pull tiles like teeth. But the marrow of the house remained, so the living never stayed and the dead never left.

On the thirtieth anniversary of his death, a new ghost came to the house.

L Chan
The sound of his voice like the colour of salt

Pier

July 19, 2018

Baroque merry-go-round with its painted mermaids
and the over-exuberant, tinny sounds , so flashy and garish they
haunt my long dark hours.
The black water at the edge of the
Ghost pier lapping or lashing, there’s
careering starlings seeking shelter against
a grey slate sky and waves of predators.
As evening’s inevitability tells us of
the coming threats of night, far from the funfair, grinding to a halt,
the sickening streetlights are ghastly in the yellowing evening air.
Along the streets of rollicking revellers,
you’re seeking something that would free you. But
there’s others planning, lurking, waiting idly
in the shadows.
Among this sea town’s myths of endless partying, fun, this
dark underbelly of chaotic glee, your sudden newfound friends
are jovial, watchful, promising.

The party’s over.
On the bleak beach now with the encroaching tide you’re
vulnerable.
Daytripper, tripped out and tricked you’re calling and calling
until silenced.
Until the waves take your body out from the pebbles, out
from the link between land and sea
entering that Other, shoreless, wild, vast , water world.
That dissolution.

Gina Wisker

Remember when

May 7, 2018

Remember?

You had me on the waste ground behind the old changing rooms
just as the day, snake-like, shed its skin.
You were like a wild thing in the shadows, desire firing your blood.
Un-fucking-stoppable.
I said: ‘I don’t usually do this on a first date.’
You said: ‘This isn’t a date.’

Remember?

And you were right.
It was more a rape.
You stabbing me with that angry cock of yours.
And I thought: WOW!
This boy’s a beastie –
thrusting up me and waiting for the moon.

Remember?

And when you started cumming
I knew the morning would be foggy with drizzle.
I knew I’d feel like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces.
And I thought: ‘Is this love?’
And yes, you made me cum too, you bastard.
Then you left me to give birth to the ghosts we two had made –

Remember?

GREY WOOLF

i am reading ancient poetry composed thousands of years ago, and the words dance off my tongue like rain bouncing off of flower petals, filled with so much life for a language that so many have called dead. around me, the ghosts of those who lived long ago settle in beds of their own words, their paper blankets tucked up to their chins as they listen to their bedtime story. their happy sighs are the whispers as i turn the pages; their soft, sleepy breaths are the rhythm of the words that flow around us. a warmth fills my chest as i keep reading. they are content, and i know that i am not alone.

sarah thoodleoo
Concept

a house on a hill

Regrettably, the ivy of literary criticism attached to Hill House has tended to obscure its finer features. Biographers, scholars, and pop-culture commentators alike have proven dubious guides, telling tales riddled with factual error and taking interpretive leaps that a careful reader hesitates to follow. The first step, then, to pushing toward a clearer understanding and appreciation of the novel involves hacking through such accrued verbiage.

Judy Oppenheimer’s hefty biography, Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson, has surprisingly little to say about The Haunting of Hill House, and the scant analysis it does offer is marred by inaccuracy. Discussing Eleanor Vance’s climactic smashing of her car “into a wall” (actually, it was a tree), Oppenheimer asserts that the protagonist kills herself “triumphantly. For it is not a defeat, far from it — in the moment she makes her decision to merge with the [house’s] dark powers, Eleanor is more blazingly alive than she has ever been in her life”. Grossly misreading the novel’s ending, Oppenheimer ignores the dismay Eleanor expresses when facing fatality: “In the unending, crashing second before the car hurled into the tree she thought clearly, Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Why don’t they stop me?”. Oppenheimer concludes her chapter soon thereafter with the punning assertion that Jackson’s “triumph was as total, and as smashing, as Elinor’s [sic],” and the glaring typo here does nothing to inspire trust in the biographer’s attentive reading of the novel.

In Shirley Jackson’s American Gothic, scholar Darryl Hattenhauer devotes an entire chapter to Hill House, but his study proves no more reliable than Oppenheimer’s. Hattenhauer states that the line “Fear and guilt are sisters” is an admonition inscribed by Hill House’s founding father Hugh Crain in his daughter’s primer, whereas the line is a bit of third-person narration that appears in the chapter section subsequent to the main characters’ perusal of said primer (Jackson writes: “Fear and guilt are sisters; Theodora caught [up with Eleanor] on the lawn”). Discussing the scene in which Theodora’s bedroom is defiled, Hattenhauer observes that Eleanor “apparently smears menstrual blood on Theodora’s clothing and then blocks out any memory of doing so”. But that would have to have been one deluge of a period to produce “so much blood”, and Hattenhauer’s reading of the incident in natural and psychological terms fails to explain the complete disappearance (later in the novel) of the blood smears from both the bedroom wall and Theodora’s clothing. Most problematically, when describing the author’s notes for her novel, Hattenhauer observes: “Jackson (apparently unconsciously) inscribes herself into the house. Her several sketches of the two-storey house exhibit traces of her body”. Unfortunately, Hattenhauer fails to produce any sketches to corroborate this off-the-wall theory.

Another take on Hill House can be found in Dale Bailey’s American Nightmares: The Haunted House Formula in American Popular Fiction. In this treatment, the author (a horror writer as well as an academic) seems preoccupied with legitimizing the haunted-house subgenre as a subject worthy of scholarly scrutiny. In his constant search for deeper meaning, Bailey refuses to consider the novels’ domestic horrors on their own terms: “In the hands of the best paperback novelists,” he writes, “the haunted house becomes a strikingly versatile metaphor; transcending the glossy clichés of formula, it drags into light the nightmarish tensions of gender, class, and culture hidden at the heart of American life”. Accordingly, Bailey argues that Jackson employs Hill House “as a metaphor for an oppressive patriarchal society”. He reads the novel in light of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” an 1892 weird tale in which medically-prescribed home confinement exacerbates rather than cures the female narrator’s mental and emotional woes. Jackson no doubt alludes to Gilman’s story (although Bailey fails to forge any specific intertextual links). Dr. John Montague’s plan to “rent Hill House for three months” starting in late June recalls the doctor named ‘John’ in “The Yellow Wallpaper” who likewise makes a summer rental of a Gothic manse. Montague’s wife comments as she obsesses over the titular wallpaper: It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide — plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions” Eleanor’s reaction to her blue-wallpapered bedroom at Hill House echoes this; scanning the perimeter of the room, Eleanor ponders:

“It had an unbelievably faulty design which left it chillingly wrong in all its dimensions, so that the walls seemed always in one direction a fraction longer than the eye could endure, and in another direction a fraction less than the barest possible length; this is where they want me to sleep, Eleanor thought incredulously; what nightmares are waiting, shadowed, in those high corners—what breath of mindless fear will drift across my mouth.

Yet, just because the two texts parallel each other in some regards does not mean they do so in all. Jackson ultimately appears more interested in the frisson generated by “The Yellow Wallpaper”‘s ambiguities (mental breakdown occurring in a quite-possibly-haunted setting) than in rehearsing an unmistakable feminist critique (during the extended rest cure forced upon her, Gilman’s narrator significantly comes to perceive a female figure trapped behind the wallpaper). Bailey, whose book is representative of the predominant feminist-psychoanalytical approach to Hill House, misses the mark when he targets the patriarchy as the arch-villain of Jackson’s novel. Eleanor’s problems trace back to her relationship with her unpleasant mother, not the father whose absence Eleanor regrets: during her childhood “it had seemed to be summer all the time; she could not remember a winter before her father’s death on a cold wet day”. The textual evidence further contradicts Bailey’s positing of Hill House as “the vast corrupt palace of the patriarchy itself”; with its “concentric circles of rooms” and rounded furniture, Hill House (whose very name suggests female contours) is more overtly figured as a “mother house”. Similarly, Bailey’s ultra-Freudian assertion that Eleanor “ascends the library’s phallic tower in a moment of ‘intoxicating’ sexual union with the patriarchy” overstates the case — in this scene, Eleanor (a character too sexually repressed to engage in wanton union) believes she is chasing after her “Mother”. Sometimes, Bailey should be reminded, a tower is just a tower.

Bailey is not the only horror author to make a nonfiction study of Hill House. In Danse Macabre, Stephen King devotes considerable space to Jackson’s novel, which he lauds as one of the only two (Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw being the other) “great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years”. King’s comments are not devoid of error — even as he extols the brilliance of Jackson’s opening paragraph, he flubs the analysis of the lines. Jackson begins: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality, even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within – “. The implication here is that Hill House has been subjected to too much absolute reality, but King misreads the passage and claims that the house “does not exist under conditions of absolute reality; therefore it does not dream; therefore it is not sane”. Also, for all the admirable rigor King demonstrates in mapping out the novel’s various interpretive possibilities, he falls disappointingly short in his commentary by ruling out one particular reading: “the one thing we can be sure of is that there are no actual ghosts in Hill House. None of the four characters come upon the shade of the companion flapping up the hall with a rope burn around her ectoplasmic neck”. This last statement is true enough, yet signals how easily Jackson’s subtlety can mislead — just because the author is not so blunt as to let a ghost manifest front and center in the novel does not mean it is not there haunting Hill House.

King’s denial of a ghostly presence in Hill House represents the fundamental flaw in the literary criticism of Jackson’s novel. Time and again over the past half-century, the strange happenings at Hill House have been explained in either psychological (i.e. as the unconscious projections of the disturbed and telekinetically-gifted Eleanor) or vaguely-supernatural terms (i.e. the house itself has been malevolently-sentient since its construction). Marvin Kaye, in a bibliographical appendix to his anthology, Ghosts, qualifies his inclusion of The Haunting of Hill House, which is “technically a twisted story of haunted people”. Critics Dara Downey and Darryl Jones conversely assert: “The manifestations themselves, their multifarious nature, and the fact that they almost never take visible form, all imply an amorphous malevolent force, without origins or motives”. A closer reading of the novel, though, exposes the limits of such polarized perspectives, which jointly overlook the fact that Jackson has scripted a bona fide ghost story. Lenemaja Friedman is a rare critic who holds that “the reader must accept the possibility of ghosts…all members of the party share in seeing and hearing the same manifestations, which are not the product of any one person’s imagination”. But one can still take another step beyond Friedman’s generic discussion of “the spirits of the house”. For all her crafted ambiguity, Jackson embeds key clues within her text that point to a specific ghost haunting the premises. After fifty years’ worth of confusion, the time has surely come to identify (the origins and motives of) Hill House’s resident revenant.

Joe Nazare
Haunting Anniversary: a half-century of Hill House

Tied to other realms

March 4, 2018

river crossing

For as long as I can remember, I have been tied to what I call other realms. My childhood is filled with amazing yet what many would call unexplainable experiences…hearing voices of those who are not physically present, feeling a presence not physically there and even seeing someone who is but a reflection in appearance. I have even seen those who look so much like a physical person I mistook them for one.

I have had numerous encounters with things beyond this plain of existence yet I still find it difficult to name these experiences. I am extremely reluctant to label myself or to try to define those things that might not have a definition. I have shied away from using the word gifts yet for those of us who are sensitive to these encounters I guess gifts are a good name to use.

I am fascinated by all the experiences I am so fortunate to have. I remember feeling both nervous and excited by the footsteps of those I could not see in my grandmother’s attic. I would eventually leave the comfort and sanctuary of my grandmother’s bed to investigate. As I approached the attic door I did my best to be quiet, to be cautious and not alarm those whose footsteps I could hear. Slowly I reached out my hand and as soon as my fingers touched the delicate doorknob all was silent. Imagine me thinking I could sneak up on ghosts, spirits or magical creatures. It seems humorous to me now however I took it quite seriously then.

Xntric Raven
The Lady on the Stairs

black and gray in the shadows

December 30, 2017

sensuous threat

The first ghost was Iris Lesley, looking as if she had been peeled from a movie screen. She was all silver when the moonlight hit her, black and gray in the shadows. She moved like she hadn’t been in the ground for thirty years, like she was walking a red carpet in diamond slingbacks and McQueen gown. Welch hadn’t been able to look away, thinking the actress was a hallucination. After the knife across a throat . . . After all that blood . . . What might a mind do to erase it?

So Welch didn’t move when Iris Lesley did, allowing her ghostly fingers to stairstep their way up a cheek, into a tangle of hair, across and into a mouth. Iris Lesley was hot and tasted like ash, which didn’t surprise Welch one bit, given she had died in a studio fire that had consumed four blocks before it too died.

E Catherine Tobler
Ghostling