In recent posts I have been revisiting poems from the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Eye to the Telescope #22, “The Ghosts Issue“, which I guest edited. The issue went live October 15th.
Today we continue the series with four poems exploring a range of spectral manifestations, from ghastly ghostly weather to spirits that consume us from within.
Ghost Month by Christina Sng
August rain falls lightly
On the summer-scorched soil.
The ghost month is taking its toll,
With spirits about a thousandfold.
Christina Sng’s skill with short form poetry shimmers forth in “Ghost Month”. Like traditional haiku, the poem reflects upon the natural world, obliquely evoking emotion or insight. Yet “Ghost Month” slips easily between the natural and the supernatural — a lovely vein of magical realism which accepts spirits as part of the everyday landscape — at least for the duration of “the ghost month“.
I was particularly taken with the atmospheric quality of these five concise couplets, with their gentle rhymes. Like spectral offerings, the effect is haunting and enduringly satisfying.
Christina Sng is a poet, writer, and artist. Her work has received nominations in the Dwarf Stars and Rhysling Awards as well as Honorable Mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She is the author of several chapbooks, most recently, Dark Dreams (Smashwords, 2011) and A Constellation of Songs (Origami Poems Project, 2016). Her first two full-length books, Astropoetry (Alban Lake Publishing, 2016) and A Collection of Nightmares (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2016) are slated for winter this year. Visit her online at christinasng.com.
Summer Hauntings by Andrea Blythe
Even the ghosts
collapse over clotheslines and tree branches, dripping
like clocks in a Dalí painting, all
their footsteps and whisperings, cupboard slamming and shadowing
stilled by the oppression of the hot night…
Of course, “Ghost Month” dovetails perfectly with Andrea Blythe’s “Summer Hauntings”. Like “Ghost Month”, Blythe’s poem describes the overlap of the ghostly with the everyday as if it were a natural phenomenon, like a heat wave.
“Summer Hauntings”, too, is delightfully atmospheric; the reader comes away feeling sticky and damp with these wonderful words.
I especially love the invocation of Dalí, to compare sagging ghosts with melting clocks — it gives a certain authority to the images, allowing the entire poem to serve as a surrealistic painting. Blythe’s descriptive technique is fantastic, enviable. I love chewing on this poem, like summer taffy.
Andrea Blythe bides her time waiting for the apocalypse by writing speculative poetry and fiction. Her first chapbook of poetry, Pantheon, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications in August 2017. Her work has also appeared in several publications, including Yellow Chair Review, Nonbinary Review, Linden Avenue, and Strange Horizons. She serves as an associate editor for Zoetic Press and is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Learn more at andreablythe.com
No Longer Mine by Aisha Tayo Ijadunola
Each spoonful she puts to my mouth
You steal it, you always steal
How long has it been since I’ve eaten?
I can’t remember
In a dramatic shift of tone, “No Longer Mine” by Aisha Tayo Ijadunola is a powerful short piece that leaves the reader feeling anemic, gutted, like the child held captive by a rapacious spirit.
For this issue of Eye to the Telescope I was careful to draw distinctions between ghosts and other myths and beasties, such as corporeal undead (zombies) and, say, demons. But “possession” stories are part and parcel with ghost cannon — this idea that spirits envy us our flesh, and seek to take it from us, subduing or ousting our own souls in the process.
Abiku is a Yorubas (West African) word meaning “that which possesses death” or “predestined to death”, referring to a type of spirit that attacks children; its victims are often the successive offspring of one mother. Perhaps the Abiku is something alien, a demon that develops a taste for a particular bloodline; or perhaps it is the ghost of a child who won’t let go, returning to its natural mother over and over. In either case, that mother-child bond, (“She was crying for me/She knows I’m close) is at the heart of this poem, and the heart of its horror.
I found the repetition of the final lines particularly moving: the “Aren’t you full/Aren’t you done” refrain strikes like a hollow drum, and sucked-out bone: an echo of longing, hunger, and loss.
Aisha Tayo Ijadunola is a London-based fantasy writer and digital artist. Her works often feature elements of Nigerian as well as other African myths and legends.
The Doppelgänger and the Ghost
by Lev Mirov
I am not what remains of her after the fire, or some phoenix—
I am what the house was hiding, locked away,
set free into the ruin after the conflagration
the unloved brother that starved, forgotten.
There is a notable similarity in theme between “No Longer Mine” and Lev Mirov’s “The Doppelgänger and the Ghost”. Both deal with the struggle of spirits for ownership of flesh. But while “No Longer Mine” gives a human voice to a ghostly myth, “The Doppelgänger…” does double duty as a metaphor and memoir.
In this poem, the narrator is the natural, rightful owner of his own body — a survivor of a battle with a pretty changeling who’d ensorcelled his parents into believing they’d birthed a girl. The real tragedy, though, is that after defeating the usurper, the narrator has no victorious homecoming; his family grieves for their lost “girl”, the illusion. Their disappointment drives him to examine “self”, again and again, searching his body and mind as if he must now constantly justify living in this skin.
While “The Doppelgänger and the Ghost” is a compelling story in its own right (a mash-up of the “fairy changeling” and “evil double” motifs, with a cool gender subversion), and beautifully written, it’s also a powerful metaphor for the psychological- and body-trauma often faced by people on the LGBT spectrum.
Though its length might have made it a hard-fit because of budget constraints (see my comments on “Tulpa” here), I found “Doppelgänger” too big – that is, too important – to pass up. I’m honored to debut it in Eye to the Telescope.
Lev Mirov is a queer disabled mixed race Filipino-American medievalist who lives with his wife, fellow writer India Valentín, and their two cats in rural Maryland, where he feeds the ghosts of Antietam when it rains. His Rhysling-nominated poetry has been featured in Strange Horizons, Liminality Magazine, Pedestal Magazine, and other fine magazines and anthologies. His fiction appears in anthologies including Myriad Lands and the forthcoming Sunvault Anthology. To read his magical worlds and poems, find him at levmirov.wordpress.com or by following him on Twitter @thelionmachine.