Ghost Poems

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.

Back to Medmic

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.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Eric Dessner
December 2, 2022 4:10 pm

This is such a beautiful series. I really love the line “is it just the shape of pain that attracts it?” There’s some mystery here for me as to what the “ghost” represents. I think “the ghost” represents the memory or “spirit” of the authors father? I think the fact that the author’s family anchors her to the earth, and life itself is a pretty honest and beautiful rendering. I wonder if there are other… Read more »

December 3, 2022 2:53 pm
Reply to  Eric Dessner

Thanks for this thoughtful comment! I like this reading of the ghost, though for me the ghost is somewhat of a stand-in for the speaker’s amygdala—the part of her that wants to keep her safe but also makes her feel unsafe (adrenaline, etc).
There are more poems in the book that discuss the speaker’s relationship with the father and also how his death led to the appearance of the ghost!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
Send this to a friend