The Ghosts of Objects

I think a lot about the ghosts of things living inside objects left behind by the dead, the small bits of soul memory inscribes on them. Last weekend I could hear my husband so clearly in those papers I spent an evening sorting, that set of collectible action figures he never unboxed, the way a boy’s simple joys were still held by a man. Here, a dog eared boy scout handbook, here a red knife, here a concert ticket stub worn from being carried in a wallet, here, a shirt the claws of our cats made small holes in.

Louise Gluck, in her poem “Departure,” writes “The night isn’t dark; the world is dark./Stay with me a little longer.//Your hands on the back of the chair—that’s what I’ll remember./Before that, lightly stroking my shoulders./Like a man training himself to avoid the heart,” and I cannot stop thinking about these lines. How he never avoided any of my heart—the line of his jaw, his easy laugh—the way they always hit straight into me, center mass, something beautiful and dangerous at the same time.

What does it mean now, to want something else, to say to all those small mouths talking from pages of books, from boxes of clothes, that the living are enough, that living itself is enough? Do I grieve moving on from grief, to admit that I feel happy most days, that somewhere, in this bright summer light, something inside me has eased?

Last week there was a rib out of place in my chest again. When I breathed deeply, I could feel it moving wrongly, something tight, almost constricting around the heart. Because I knew better, I did not mistake it for grief, though something about them moved the same way, a feeling of wrongness, of something misplaced. Only one healed with barely any bruising, but both are healing, and when I breathe now, it is deeply, surely.

In the animal kingdom there is something known as reverse stalking. Here, bolder members of some varieties of fish, birds, and even gazelles will follow the predators that feed on them for a time, employing a method of watchfulness not unlike that the predatory species uses when hunting its prey. Gazelle will stalk a lion for up to 70 minutes, as if to make them think twice about their actions, as if to say I will not let you stop me from living my life unencumbered by fear.

I think of this often lately, as if I am stalking that predator, grief, as if I am saying to it I will put you in boxes, I will put you on shelves, I will put you in the discard pile. As if I am saying you might be a lion, but today is enough, that the sun is enough, that the voice on the other end of the line is enough, and I am no longer listening to all those small mouths, all those small ghosts in objects. As if to say, they might still be speaking, but no longer do I want to hear.

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