“My father's ghost watches TV in the living room.” This was the first time a ghost appeared in one of my poems, was with this opening line of The Jesus in the Garden.*

Ghosts have been a literary device for thousands of years.** Poets have successfully called upon them time and time again. Shakespeare more successfully leaned on ghosts in his plays than in his poems. The urge to compile an anthology of ghost poems is overwhelming but I’ll leave that to you.

The word ghost, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, didn’t really work its way into the language until about 1590. Back then it meant something else. To ghost was to breathe one’s last, expire, die. Today’s use of the word came later.

Staying on topic, some important facts about ghosts. These are things you must consider to successfully write about them. A man must be dead fifteen years before he is eligible to be a ghost, eighteen are required for a woman. No explanation as to the difference.*** The biology of the dead have yet to be studied with the necessary rigor. Ghosts cannot talk. Ghosts simply watch. If you want someone to return as a ghost bury them with an umbrella. This increases the chances by thirty-two percent. Researchers working independently of each in three different countries came to this same conclusion. “Haunting” is a construct of the living and something never practiced by a ghost. That noise you heard the other night was mostly likely a burglar or a cat knocking something over.

Identity thief is rampant among ghosts. Nothing to do with monetary gain. Somewhere in the transition from living to dead to ghost a giant confusion takes place. The ghost of a thirty-seven year old taxi driver from Buffalo, New York, who was murdered could take on the history and consciousness of a twenty-two year old Japanese from Tokyo who died of cancer. Imagine the dismay of a young Japanese man when the ghost of the taxi driver recounts their moments of intimacy. It would be impossible to convince the taxi driver he isn’t the Japanese girl. Ghosts don’t do this on purpose. I was attempting humor when I called this identity thief. Things like this happen all the time. Consider the imagistic nature of poetry and this could be a problem in a narrative poem that insists on an authentic confessional point of view.

A noise in the hall woke me. This was many years ago. I lived alone in an apartment in North Hollywood, California. The sound resembled that of a stick hitting a wall, was coming from the hallway leading to the bedroom. Just as I lifted my head from the pillow Rocky ran in. My father’s Great Dane. Rocky was large, even for a Great Dane. When his tail hit the wall it always sound like someone was banging on the wall with a stick. Rocky died of a heart attack years earlier, around the time my father was first diagnosed with cancer. I was so happy to see him I began to cry. He squirmed in my arms and climbed on the bed as I hugged him. His wildly wagging tail swept things from the table beside the bed. A minute later he turned, ran down the hall and disappeared.

The next night. I don’t remember what woke me, but I lay in the dark with my eyes close. Someone sat beside me on the bed. I could feel that persons weight push the side of the bed lower. I didn’t move. I didn’t look. I didn’t have to. Intuitively I knew. My father. My father’s ghost was sitting on the side of the bed looking at me.

When my father died of cancer six years earlier I lived in a different apartment, but in the same building. Four years after he died I moved into a two bedroom. The night before this he sent Rocky to find me.

The part of this that confuses me is that this was about six years after his death. Since than I have come to learn a man must be dead fifteen years before he could become a ghost. There is still so much we don’t know about ghosts.

Now, tell me a ghost story.

*The Jesus in the Garden
My father's ghost watches TV in the living room.
My mother's in the bathroom, busy cutting her throat.
Supper will be late. In the garden, my brother practices
the violin next to a statue of Jesus. Concrete robe, arms
outstretched for stain. I imagine Jesus standing
for the sculptor. Arms heavy without wood
to lift them. Boredom closes my eyes. There's a crucifix
above my bedroom door. At night, the tiny Jesus
struggles nails from his hands and falls. He reads the bible
and complains. By morning he's back on the cross.
There's hammering in the basement. My grandfather
builds oak tables for his daughters, makes them round
as a heavy moon, too large to fit through the door;
then smoothes the wood with his palms,
rubs blood into its pores. My brother plays
a few notes of hysteria, the garden's favorite music.

** The International Poetry Registry and Administration, Geneva, Switzerland, indicates that the first poem with a ghost in it was written in 1343 B.C. Only two fragments of the poem remain, “return to where / and prayer” followed by what seems to be nine lines later “the ghost of that daughter/ loved, yes and”

***Domesticated animals, dogs and cats, have been proven to become ghosts, and there is no waiting period for them. There are documented cases of wild animals becoming ghosts.