Now the Girls Are Not Impressed

Ghost Thing Poems by Elizabeth Gross

Now the Girls Are Not Impressed

ghost thing stuck in my head like Emily Dickinson/like a pop song

met a ghost thing, thought it was mine
come to me amplified by summer hunger
in a bad smell at street level, some death
washed incompletely down the drain.

come to me amplified by summer hunger —
slide out of time, down the memory hole
washed incompletely down the drain.
ghost thing, I’ll carry you on my back —

slide out of time, down the memory hole
waiting at the corner of Wooster and Broome.
ghost thing, I carry you on my back
wear a new old dress on your birthday.

waiting at the corner of Wooster and Broome
in a bad smell at street level, some death
wears a new old dress on your birthday —
met a ghost thing, thought it was mine.

ghost thing come in swinging from the chandelier

says you’re nothing but a prism for my light
nothing but a prison for my prison
blues to sing from

girl, your past is clean enough to eat from,
so why you play it so wounded?

ghost thing, I thought a surgeon
scooped you out
and I was glad and I was sorry

but here you are moving through this crowd
I’m moving through, nothing to do here
but keep on dancing.

yeah girl, let your shirt ride up to show that scar
as if it still belongs to you.

ghost thing in the laugh of the girl you should have married

She is the light that can’t be overthought or angled off to glare
into the squinting eyes

of a stonefaced passerby, but your orbit orients you indirectly
to the dark, the void

so you’re never facing the right way, or not for long, before
you look away.

Happiness means… you start and there you’re stumped — meanwhile
she’s already at the beach

she’s been there all morning and you’re late but she’s not waiting
for you, or anyone —

she’ll sun, and swim, and take a nap, and if a sunny stranger wants
to chat, she’ll rake the sand

between them when she laughs — but you, you’re out there dishing
deathstare everywhere you want to fuck

out scanning the world for broken things — today: the broad dark
back of a butterfly

freshly torn but still alive. Can’t you see your ministrations
do no good?

You’re doing it wrong. If you even get there you might be the most
broken thing on the beach

and we’re talking Coney Island here, but she’s the one who loves you
anyway and not because.

DEAR ESCAPE ARTIST:

I was watching underwater
for your last big thing —
saw you pick the lock
with the same frayed rope
they tied you up with —
was there a they or do you
do it to yourself? I am
always imagining a they.
Perhaps this is something
we have in common. I wish
we could talk it over high
up on a ledge, feet dangling
just to pretend we’re not
holding on for dear life.

DEAR ESCAPE ARTIST:

My research tells me
there are at least three ways
to die in an escape-or-die
performance: drowning,
suffocation, falling (and
occasionally electrocution).
But this was something else.
Despair? The word calls up
a fainting couch, the word
is weak. There are times
the mind invents a rescue
helicopter and its ladder
flinging out like a tongue
just to get anywhere else.

DEAR ESCAPE ARTIST:

Tell me about the breath
I mean what you do to stop it.
No, not stop but quiet the need
for air in whatever box
you’re tucked into.

DEAR ESCAPE ARTIST:

I had a dream this morning I was you.
The trap was set, it was the kind of dream
that feels continued from another dream
mine or someone else’s bleeding through.
I was on a ferris wheel in black and white,
it was a famous movie, a theory of evil
at the highest point, everything so still
below, paused almost, except a single kite
whipping the gray air — it’s hard to watch
the struggle, as if its neck could break.
The dots move slow on the ground,
predictable, in circles. Why not squash
them
, a man says, who is also me. I had to exit
the conversation before we started coming down.

DEAR ESCAPE ARTIST:

Do you ever think about the body
itself as the bind?

Out at Coney Island

the meat flag is flying. An airplane
pulls across the blue field.

If this were a film, you’d hear generic engine whir
in the distance — not this plane —
some stock recording from the archives
(was it going anywhere? were there passengers?
were they thirsty too?) — maybe not a plane at all,
some other kind of engine at close range.

Instead, children screaming — it’s alive!
They dug up a crab, so the boys
stab it to death with a rock
or a shell — hard to see that far —
the girls squeal — it’s oozing —
when the creature is entirely torn
in half, they wonder
how its legs still work the sand.

It’s hot.
When I close my eyes, the plane comes back
yellow slapped against the sky
like a refrigerator magnet, the red flesh
banner rippling on its line —
light falling on some red body
of water.

Last summer we came here hungover and I wanted
out of my body but we couldn’t even swim
because a storm out there somewhere drowned
three people at Fort Tilden.
We tried walking on the beach but nothing fit
us into the heavy air. I tried not to treat you like a ghost,
told you all the things that didn’t really matter that year.

If it had been a film, this would have been the moment
of recognition that the past is past,
and wasn’t all terrible, flashback sequence —
you and me spinning drunk in the square,
almost happy — cut to me slumped down
the wall of some historic building (your line —
why do you let me treat you this way?)
to your attic apartment, your two hands
clasping air, holding it to my ear
(cue the sound effect, wings flapping, heavier
than expected) then let it out the window.
to us sitting side by side beneath the statue,
dawn coloring the square.

Now the girls are not impressed with the two squirming halves
the boys run to show them. A man’s voice says to bury it.

In another family everybody lies on someone else,
piled up like sea lions,
too hot to move, only barely lifting their heads
to curse each other out,
demand drinks.

The sun is against us again today.
It’s too hot to care about anything
but the promise the water makes
and keeps on making
to meet us here.

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