Ghost House

not even Chardon technically
but the outskirts beyond the sign
the higher speed limit
if you know where to turn
along this stretch of highway
a dirt road cut between banks of earth
past meadow grass
to our rental
                      a farmhouse
where somebody died

root cellar shelves bowed with jars
            of yellowish fruit
blowsy carpet roses all through the house
rust stains in the clawfoot tub
            her stairs tick at night
            her filmy curtains stir

we’re a scrum of children
tumbling out of a station wagon
into her murk

I pull browned newspapers
            and magazines out of the cubbies
each time I crawl in
to find the end of it
            angled under the eaves
                        to the pinch of the roof’s edge
I bump into another stack of her papers
            I am twelve I need to fill
            the hollow spaces
            with my own evidence

outside my brothers Chris a toddler
            and David barely older
heirs to the kingdom
entertain themselves
            an old mayo jar of soapy water
and a wand with a loop
            they dip and wave and fill the air
with shimmering globes

we are that simple here

my sisters nine and ten
poke in the outbuildings
filled like the cubbies
with the musty past
            the girls come spilling out
arms cartwheeling shout
wild cat and kittens in the barn
cheerleaders for the found life

I look down from the dormer
captive to a dreamy story
from one of her magazines
            if I could shake this spell
I would share the nest of kittens
but I’m cobwebbed my tongue wears
a jacket of dust

I’m unaware the ghost
is tapping David’s shoulder
turning his face up to the round window
so he can call come look
            I’m stuck behind warped glass
it seems like any day
there are lots of such days
I don’t see it none of us see
he was a spoon
the size of her mouth





Marilyn A. Johnson’s poetry has been published most recently in Plume, RHINO, The Provincetown Independent, and Salamander. Her work has also appeared in On the Seawall, North American Review, FIELD, Inkwell, and Hole in the Head Review, where she is currently an associate editor. She was the recipient of a fellowship from Yaddo. She is the author of three non-fiction books, including The Dead Beat, a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize. She lived in multiple Midwestern and Southern states as a child, and now makes her home in New York’s Hudson Valley. (Photo courtesy of Rob Fleder)