Rust Belt Jessie’s Taxonomy of Ghosts—Jessie Lynn McMains

Trying to classify inherently unknown entities whose very existence and nature remains unproven is a fool’s errand: How many types of ghosts are there? As many as you want there to be.

—Benjamin Bradford, The Curious Question of Ghost Taxonomy

6660 Ghosts

—6660.1 Ghosts that haunt a location
—6660.111 Those that came with the place
—6660.112 The amorphous black mist with a feeling of knives
—6660.113 The traveling salesman who hung himself when his wife left him for another man
—6660.114 The small boy pressing his face to the lighthouse window, his ghost-breath leaving no fog on the glass, always just about to fall
—6660.12 Those that are just passing through, the travelers
—6660.121 The little-girl ghosts in the kitchen that one sleepless night, chattering slumber party giggle-speak, clattering the spoons and jam jars
—6660.122 The sad ghost with no shoes who perched on the edge of your bed, told you of how he watched his little sister die
—6660.13 Those that haunt the places you pass through
—6660.131 The tipsy ghosts in bars that sleep curled up like mezcal worms in bottles of whiskey, tequila, and gin
—6660.132 The lonely ghosts in motel rooms that lurk like shadows behind the shower curtains, fall in love with every traveler who stays for a night or two
—6660.133 The ghosts in the woods and wetlands: floating bog fire, wisps of fog, flashes of shadow-black between the trees, the ones who speak as a chorus of bullfrog moan, mosquito whine, redwing blackbird chatter
—6660.134 Ghosts that live in graveyards
—6660.1342 Those that wear white and wander, moaning, between the headstones
—6660.1343 Those that burrow behind your eyeballs like tiny bees and drink from your tear ducts
—6660.135 The ghosts on the highways and byways: truck stop spirits who stand in piss-soaked bathrooms and dream of coffee, hobo ghosts who roam the railroads, the steel ley-lines stitching the stolen country together, hitchhiking ghosts who stand by the side of the road at night, their deer-eyes glowing yellow in the headlights’ high beam

—6660.2 Ghosts that haunt objects
—6660.21 Ghosts that live inside maps and atlases, who drift up from the creases and the inky blue scrawls of rivers with a rustle and a sigh
—6660.22 Ghosts that live inside the old photographs you find in antique stores: the hardtack women in long dresses and bonnets squinting, unsmiling, in the hard prairie sunshine; the dapper young man who looks so much like the grandfather who died before you were born you want to cry
—6660.222 Ghosts that haunt all the secondhand curiosities in antique stores and thrift shops: musty ghosts in the vintage dresses, moth-ghosts in the tailcoats, ghosts that haunt the cracked teacups, the worn-soled boots, the rusted skeleton keys
—6660.223 Those that live in your own old clothes, that hide in the fibers no matter how many times you’ve tried to wash them out: the ghost of a lover’s sweat, of a smoky cafe, of the stale yeast of the beer that lead singer sprayed onto the crowd, of dumpster juice
—6660.23 Ghosts that haunt the air
—6660.231 The ones that live in earl gray-scented candles, spirits made of wax and essence of bergamot, with fuchsia hair and junkie veins and typewriter teeth
—6660.232 The ones that live in a vial of Rain, specters smelling of wet cedar, wearing black hoodies, bearing gifts of mix tapes
—6660.24 Ghosts that haunt the ear
—6660.242 Those that hide inside the magnetic reels of audio cassettes, that hiss faintly behind the music, a distant spectral static
—6660.243 Those that lurk between the dusty grooves of old records, that come out with a pop and click as soon as the needle hits

—6660.3 Ghosts that haunt the head
—6660.31 The swarms of your best-beloved dead: friends, family, old flames, anyone you’ve cared for deeply
—6660.312 Those whose profiles you can still find on social media, scroll through their final selfies, read the last thing they ever said to you, digital monuments floating forever in the Cloud
—6660.313 Those whose internet presence is gone, who you no longer have any physical reminders of, so you place pictures of them in the altar you’ve carved inside your head, offer them your own tin heart, your silver lungs, your haunted bones as milagros, as though any miracle of blood and metal can bring them back from where they’ve gone
—6660.314 The ghosts of the children you couldn’t have, who on long nights when you can’t sleep cradle themselves into your arms, invisible stones smelling of sun-baked moss, warmer and heavier than anything un-alive should be
—6660.32 The ghosts of people who aren’t dead but who departed from your life just the same: old friends and ex-lovers you think about at 2 a.m. when you’re half-drunk and listening to songs that act as auditory Ouija boards, summoning the past and its cast of breath, and yes, there they all are, waltzing ghosts, slam-dancing ghosts, ghosts sulking coolly in the back of the room
—6660.322 The ghosts who come out from the walls, who crawl up in your skin if you let them
—6660.33 The ghosts you want to haunt you, who can’t be lured with old songs or drams of Irish whiskey, no matter how your throat cracks from the vanilla smoke-burn, cracks on the feeling of fifties tunes, I only have eyes for you (oooh, ooh-hoo), they will only visit you when they want to, and it’s usually only when you’re asleep
—6660.34 The ghosts you wish to banish, the ones that follow you around, stray dogs starving, snarling and snapping at your ankles, that can’t be kept away no matter how many salt circles you cast, how many electric fences you erect around your heart
—6660.35 The ghost of your younger self that you glimpse sometimes in your peripheral vision, that you see sometimes standing beside you when you stop to check your reflection in the dirt-streaked glass windows of the shut-down souvenir shop, this ghost looks different every time you see it, cycling as it does through ages, haircuts and colors, subcultural styles
—6660.36 Ghosts that can be confused with symptoms of mental illness, that flit around your skull and hover near the ceiling, shadow-bats that you’re never sure if they’re real or hallucinated; sometimes hallucinations are mistaken for real things, but sometimes real things can look like hallucinations

—6660.4 Ghost oddities, miscellaneous spirits which don’t fit into any of the other categories, or fit into more than one
—6660.42 Ghosts that hide in the wind, that blow through you like wind through the tall tick-salted grass
—6660.43 Ghosts that stand out in your yard at dusk, dark silhouettes never moving, but you can tell they’re looking back at you, and you realize that backlit as you are by the living room light from their vantage point you must also appear as only a black smudge in the vague shape of a person and you start to wonder which one of you is the ghost after all
—6660.44 Ghosts that look and smell like old leather jackets, hanging on the coat rack in the back hall
—6660.441 Ghosts you carry in your coat pockets like charms, that you take out occasionally and rub for good luck
—6660.45 Ghosts that shoot smack and ride skateboards
—6660.46 Ghosts that are small fires
—6660.47 Ghosts that hang out under railroad bridges in Richmond, Virginia, wearing magnolia blossoms in their hair
—6660.472 Ghosts that hang out at the edges of quarry lakes in Racine, Wisconsin, dipping their ghost-toes in the murky water
—6660.48 Ghosts which can be summoned with a mullein torch, the wooly grey-green leaves and five-petaled yellow flowers of Our Lady’s Flannel set burning
—6660.482 Ghosts which can be summoned with a sprig of rosemary worn in your boutonnière
—6660.483 Ghosts which can be summoned with a dish of stale candy corn
—6660.485 Ghosts that taste of salted watermelon
—6660.49 Ghosts you feel like lumps in your throat, shards of rock candy or chunks of apple blocking your windpipe, but when you try to cough them out there’s nothing there
—6660.492 The ghost of the best kiss you ever had, that brushes against your lips when you’re standing in the kitchen slicing garlic or sautéing zucchini

—6660.5 Ghosts that come to me and ask: don’t you think you write too many poems about ghosts?
—6660.51 And I tell them no, no, there’s no such thing as too many ghost-poems, all poems are about ghosts
—6660.52 Everything I write is an elegy, decaying
—6660.521 Decaying like the bodies of my dead in their graves, turning into dark earth to feed the cemetery trees, the flowering dogwood and the white pine, to feed my poems
—6660.522 And every elegy has a half-life, half its potency disintegrated yet always leaving just enough of a trace to poison the landscape
—6660.53 Okay, okay, the ghosts say, so all poems are about us. But why, they wonder, do I speak only of summoning? Why don’t I describe the ways I’ve banished them?
—6660.531 The kinds of ghosts I know can’t be banished, not really. The only form of banishment that’s ever worked for me is this:
—6660.6 Hold your ghosts so close they become part of you, flesh of your flesh, keep them so close they build their hives, their homes, down among your haunted bones

You can listen Jessie Lynn McMains performing this poem on the Hello America Stereo Cassette bandcamp

photo by Leeroy Agency (via unsplash)