Unlike My Husband
Unlike my husband,
the ghost can see pain. My nerves glow red
like irons in a fire. Sometimes I wonder
if the ghost sees me at all—is it just the shape
of aching that attracts it? Days when
the last leaves are blown from the trees, curved
like bodies protecting something precious, I dare
a gust to take me, too. The pain makes me in turns
very heavy and then light. I could drift off
the planet, a fine vibration, a whisper,
an exhalation. Something holds me
here, where I belong, with my family
and its laughter. A temptation is not always
a desire. Right? Sometimes it is the darkest fear.
The Ghost Wakes Me from a Nightmare:
My father was alive but sick—unable to speak,
like in the last few months of his life. He shuffled
from room to room with a walker getting smaller
and smaller until he disappeared. It is dark,
and my daughter’s breathing is so loud
the baby monitor picks it up. Grief has found somewhere
to take root. I go to the window. The world outside
is lit glass. I let my skin become glass, too. I am
a ringing vessel. From here I can see the canopy of
the park. Bats tuck beneath the branches. The ghost
hears every creature living out there. I let it speak through me.
The Ghost’s Demands
The ghost comes to me with a list of demands;
my body makes demands on me, too.
And the baby in the other room, her eyelashes
golden stitches, her hungry mouth full of need.
I have nowhere to go, but the ghost asks me
to leave. This is its first demand. I rise
from my bed, despite the leaden pain, and disappear
into the night. The cars along Woodhaven Boulevard
echo against the brick buildings as I swoop down
into the forest canopy and join the bats looking
for mosquitos and other flying insects. The ghost
did not ask me to transform, but it comes
as naturally as pain. As naturally as the milk
that leaks into my bra when I wake with stone
breasts. I’m tempted to stay here, a wild creature
of fur and wing, but the ghost is gentle but firm.
Would my family miss me? The ghost says yes.
The list of demands becomes dust—I try
to grab it, but it crumbles into motes. It was never
solid. Like my grief, it only held itself in shape.
The shape of grief or pain or the ghost is whatever
shape it needs to take. It could fill your world.
It could hide in the very atoms of your body.
I don’t believe it will ever be gone.
Emily Hockaday’s first full-length collection, Naming the Ghost, is available on Barnes & Noble and with Cornerstone Press. Her second book, In a Body, an ecopoetry collection about chronic illness, is forthcoming October 2023 with Harbor Editions. You can find Emily at :
or tweeting (for now) @E_Hockaday.