Friday, October 24, 2008

Photographing Ghosts

This is an old one, from my last year at BG. I went with with a friend to take pictures in an old house. Some of the images are real, some are made up. As old as this one is, it still feels somehow complete to me. It's been revised of course, several times.

Photographing Ghosts

I’ve heard the house is haunted
but there is no evidence
of ghosts, only empty rooms
and dirty shards of windows.
There is very little left
that has not decayed or been
stolen, but I finish one roll
of film and start another before
the winter sun starts to fade.

I focus on Mason jars lining a shelf
in what must have been the pantry,
a stained sink filled with dust
and crumbled bits of ceiling,
flowered wallpaper clinging
in faint strips to the stairwell,
curling at the ends as it tries
to pull free of the wall.

I hesitate before ascending,
not knowing what I’ll find
or if the steps are sound. Upstairs
a door with its flaking coat
of blue paint does no want to open
as though someone holds it shut.
I push a little harder, afraid it will
break, but it gives up and opens. A gust
of bitter wind shakes the second floor.

The door creaks behind me as I enter,
rust flaking from corroded hinges
and falling with a sigh. Inside the room
is a baby’s high chair, legs broken
off, a fractured piece of drywall
in the seat where the child
should have been. Sun comes through
the vacant window in harsh bright
angles. The room glows with pain.

I look away, find time in a closet
in stacks of newspapers, bundled
and tied with baling twine. The date
on top is 1951, just before an unknown
disaster, then emptiness, a myth
about some ghost.

And then vagrants sleeping on wood floors,
oblivious, teenagers breaking in
almost hoping to meet the supernatural
but seeing nothing, leaving broken
bottles glittering in the morning.
Their brown and green shards
are still embedded in the cracks
between floorboards and catch
light like tiny mirrors.

And after these invaders, the house died,
the colored tiles falling from the roof,
rain eroding carved stonework
around windows. And now, every
so often, people stop their cars,
pull into the cinders beside the road,
and take photographs of the house,
picturesque in its decay. The ambitious
venture inside, searching as I am for spirits
or for nuances of shadow, forms and
textures in the wood, the brick, the plaster.

But no matter how many rooms I examine,
the story escapes me, leaving hints
in washed out color, cold January rays
which can’t illuminate the past. I can’t tell
what color the flowers on the wallpaper used to be,
how the vegetables in the pantry tasted,
why no children took over the farm
after their deaths. The house alone
knows what happened between
the headlines in the closet and the broken
highchair in the attic, and its ghosts
won’t whisper into curious ears.

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