Haunted Passages: Conor Scruton
In summer we make stories for the ungrowing seasons,
the sweatspeckled back of the blue sky
made real in its telling,
each winter to come.
Some of what we know—
we can only make out in contrast.
I cannot give you much
but another season’s worth of words,
this basket I hold to my stomach,
these petals I take from my tongue
and place on yours, over and over.
There’s something that happens when men
look for ghosts, with their metal recorders, how
our minds make forms out of senseless
objects, sounds. The same as we see
in clouds, dogs with rabbit ears,
a onceloved face in the shifting fire,
a voice on switching radio signals
matched with the dead girl’s,
stillvoiced haunting of the house.
Of all our names, what must we give
the pattern that’s been broken—
Ghost Sings a Hymn
I don’t know the first time I fell in love with a ghost.
In the first grade we were given time in class
to “create,” which I think meant “draw, quietly.”
When autumn came to Tennessee late,
when you could smell the cool wet woodburn
across the morning fields, of course I went to school
and drew ghosts, and wolves and demons—
a vague cosmology I felt moving on rivers
between gravestones and a weightless heaven.
It’s how I colored sense into the world around me.
I had been easily scared by movies and books,
and the dense dark of the forest outside our house,
the mysterious lantern lights a few miles off,
all the beast-lined wooded trails I knew
from the stories. All waiting, if you were to step out
of home, of safety, for a minute. I knew.
I knew what I wanted, though I didn’t know why
I wanted what scared me. I don’t remember falling
in love with ghosts any more than first falling in love
with boys—though both happened, and one day
I turned to find both visiting me, true as death,
inescapable the way people take haunted to mean.
My teacher passed back papers, with tight lips
and eyes turned elsewhere. She gave me bad grades,
for my visions not being “creative enough,”
which stuck in my memory less because I was upset
but more because I was confused, I think.
The church can be loud and unforgiving in that place.
Deeper too, the idea of what children should be
thinking about—softlit, painted pictures of lambs,
ghostwhite and untouched, the kneeling man
in the desert clearing, the light of the lord.
Belief that there is no world out there left
to be created. Only the souls floating through it,
the many tempting voices without. The tongues,
to men wholly illegible, whispering
sweet nothings between their wolf teeth.
Ghost Tries to Remember the Hymn’s Middle Voices
They all told me this, they said it will come [building, knowing]
to the foxholes and cliff faces,
find you where you are
All together, like cicadas, they spoke [in overtones, phasing]
leaving their skeletal wings
stuck to trees and eastfacing walls
They saw me out into the desert, [in a mode most have forgotten]
where I belonged.
As they slept
I’d lure the neighbor dogs out
and wonder if they could sense [very soft, almost whispered]
what was coming
as I bit the backs of their necks,
if they would whimper when I pawed at their ribs.
Everyone walks with their whispers
from room to room, as if spirit were a dust
that could be lifted from the walls,
dissipated and lost
with a wave or loud word.
What is the name
for the comfort of thinking you know exactly
what crouches in the corners?
The woman who lives in this place
cradles her husband’s hand so nicely,
her other thumb so used to finding
a Saint Benedict’s cross, to caress
the mindless tarnish in its grooves.
Finally the priest and cameramen
listen close to the emptiness, to make sure
they’ve left here only what they invite.
The recorders don’t pick up voices, anymore,
or misty figures in the doorways.
The man takes a slow step away from his wife,
lifts his shirt and undershirt
and exposes his soft back
just to see if there are any demon scratches
like those she found in bed one night,
though that had been before, before
she believed in possession.
Ghost Is Disturbed to Find the Walls Impermeable
People are starting to ask
about the moaning
in my walls, the secrets
so full of blood they talk.
The most rational answers
would be water
and pipes whispering
as they expand, draw back.
The building’s old after all,
and there’s no telling
who’s passed through it before,
with me. It should be simple
then, to shake that feeling,
of ghost lips
that came and whispered
hymns in your ear,
touched your unspilled cup,
the clamwet stillness,
what set you sweating
through your sheets.
Conor Scruton lives in Milwaukee, where they research and write about ghost stories and serve as a poetry editor for Cream City Review. Their work has appeared in CutBank, Puerto del Sol, Salamander, and other journals. Find them @conorscruton on Twitter.