1. My mother leans in to tell me that ghosts are harmless but unequivocally real. Insignificant mysteries add up to a more systemic experience of haunting: family photographs turned on their faces, a mess of shoes rearranged in the shut-up closet, the occasional slammed door. We aren’t old-house people, and the place hasn’t existed for long enough to accumulate a logic for the eeriness that I feel in the bursting back garden, in its aggressive, bright peonies and hydrangeas. Still, someone has a message for us and at times we joke about its contents, our heads bobbing cheerfully, until one day to me it isn’t funny anymore. Then I am no longer five years old. Then my mother retreats to her bedroom, where she clacks away at the loom as though pursuing a kind of domestic exorcism. I pick at the borders of my fingernails, bite gently at my upper lip. The shuttle glides toward home and back again, moving as gracefully over the blue yarn as the boats it’s been shaped to resemble. Otherwise the house is noiseless and I want to sit again in the belly of the fireplace at the front of the minute approximation of a parlor, like I did before it was ours.


2. The woods around Mashamoquet are full of excuses for feeling spooked. Drive the thickly forested roads, which are narrow and curve and dip and open out to brief scraps of lake before plunging again into pine shade, and you begin to understand the narratives of disappeared hikers and eerie bridges and consumptive girls converted by death to ghostly flânerie. It is a gorgeous and a thieved place, this land. Stealing it required fabricated stories of wildness and peril. The mills and factories and fields are where the real history of danger is, the legacy of coveting and stripping bare and building back up in grotesque forms.


3. My first published poem is about a laughing phantom child and is written in 1994, during a year when my mother keeps me away from the small elementary school. I write each line on a clunky desktop computer as an exercise, the keys clicking awkwardly, and save the file to a floppy disk. Submitting the poem to a children’s magazine means printing it out on paper whose perforated edges have to be ripped from the single sheet by hand. Separating the sheet from a piece of itself proves as darkly satisfying as composing the poem in the first place. It ends with a girl my own age falling to the ground in the night, the phantom child close behind her.


4. Homespun ghosts don’t turn out to be at odds with quaint family ritual. My mother hauls me into the yawning box pew, whose panels are dusty in the unfinished light. There seems to be no heat in the bare room, and next time she outfits her one child in a plaid flannel dress with an economical ruffle. The dress is unusual, having been purchased from a store or catalog and not made at home. The size tag reads 6X or 7 or 8. Later we switch to the white Congregational church with a sprawling graveyard, which we attend only sporadically. My mother recalls the denunciations and massacres that propelled our ascetic relations into their two mountain towns. She reminds me that her father’s fifth great-grandfather was a minister. I read and reread Canadian novels about children who recline in pinafores on gravestones and throw stones between them, who unapologetically trample the long uncut weeds, their braids swinging through the warm air. Across the street, someone’s misplaced idea of a cottage looms. Its pink paint is due for a refresh, but even now the colored frontispiece belies what’s inside: the thick, dust-tinted carpets and papered walls. They take preteen students once a year to see it all, pretending for a moment that we’re only tourists and can leave at any time.


5. The Puritans who ran the first homes along the town green refused the prospect of communion with their ancestral spirits. Now Halloween in the stolen colonial village is a singularly fantastic exercise. Like all events that take place at night at the old school, this one requires a trip through unlit and bumpy terrain, the spaced-out houses blinking yellow in the mostly uninterrupted dark. Unlike the other events it calls for a shivering, coatless exit from the warm interior and down the short walk to the little car, the thin excuse for a disguise stretched across your shoulder blades. You are an angel or a witch or a gnome; maybe you are wearing slippers and feel each individual stone in the gravel turnaround beneath the balls of your feet. You hug another child in the shadow of the school doorway, squealing, and your excitement echoes against the trees. You feel charmed, regal – delighted to be somebody else.


6. Our cassette deck is melting hot and plays Nova Scotian folk songs about women submerged in ocean weeds and reborn as spirits in seaside towns. Their daughters run away or choose the wrong lover and see him killed at the hands of a male relative with a penchant for violence. We fall asleep listening to the ballads, which wind and unwind their way through the motionless rooms of the house. That July amid the beach blossoms and the tides my mother becomes nearly childless, my unsuspecting body swept under too large a wave. I am half a ghost in the stale heat of the car on the hour’s drive back from the coast. My mother remembers the sensation of digging her own small belly into the sand. The songs become a sad-sweet refrain on days’ ends that never cool down despite the window thrown open and the fan it swallows up, its cheap plastic still rattling when the sun reappears.


7. I am living in New York City during my mother’s first attempt at suicide. I speak sharply into the phone from underneath the scaffolding that prefaces the door of the donut shop. The street’s exuberant noises compete with the unsubstantial voice of my mother as she describes to me a god who desires that she remain alive. I am not on the next train or the next train or the next. I sit balled in the cramped ceramic tub, lean my kneecaps into the too-warm flow of the tap. In the living room after my mother dies, the evening lights flicker without explanation.


8. The doors in this tiny canal-side apartment are always creaking open and shut. I have already discovered that I am writing about hauntings when it emerges that my three-year-old’s animated television program is also about ghosts. Het is een spook! the voiceover artist shrieks in Dutch as an army of emergency responder vehicles tears down the cartoon street through an exaggerated twilight. I find my sandals carefully stacked, one sitting atop the other, as though waiting for me to notice. My son sits placid, unflappable in the face of our shared myths. The difference between us is that I need them.