Tower Of Babel
The scientific theory of ghosts
Isn’t what you think it is
It’s much more simple actually
To make a house haunted
You just repeatedly say, that it’s haunted
It’s a kind of measurement, not too complicated if you make sure not too look too closely
Like the iron bars in France they kept in a vault to make sure there was no question about how big a meter was
Only one true measurement, it stayed like that for a while, after an attempt at standardization
How far do you think it is though? If you were to squint…
Can you see the land on the other side of this vast water?
How many, hand over foot, rods of iron would it take to cross the landscape?
Iron and salt in a circle around one’s bed to keep out witches
When revolutionary French scientists decided this was the measurement, their answer to, “how do we know?” was, “because this is the measurement and we only had to question it once.”
Or, while we’re engaging in classical mathematics, how much iron do you think resides in the bloodstream?
Not enough, not enough
The function of spirit in time, all magic being stage magic if you’re not careful
It’s Clarke’s third law in reverse,
How we’re trained to pray in the archaic familiar, thy kingdom come, never you or yours
I’ve whispered the attempt into the architecture, into the foundation of the structure, this is what you do, to make a ghost, you speak its name
And then you let the world encase it, the eggshell grown over soft yolk
This is a birth-story, like the kind the women humblebrag while tallying one other’s wounds by hand
How we’re trained to ask without expecting an answer:
What came first?
The world or the stone?
Hale-Bopp Comet, 1997
The comet was visible in the sky for about 18 months but I only remember seeing it one time
It was the same night our dog had killed a pregnant rabbit in the back yard, its half formed kittens spun across the concrete driveway, black objects in the suburban blue glow, my mother put her hands over my eyes but I’d already seen, among other things, the sky
It’s so quiet during astrological phenomena, the eclipse of 2017 was the same way, the birds
think it’s the night time and stop their singing
How quiet things were for a while there
I think about that, a lot now
Some trick of nostalgia, an optical illusion
The result of being so young
The pause between centuries, like how the sunsets following the eruption of Krakatoa were
especially vivid for years afterwards, for the whole gilded age and the fin de siècle, even
appearing in such works of art as Munch’s “The Scream” and the landscapes of William Turner,
orange fires on the horizon
The pre modern quiet
The primitive peace, whole empires of boredom and irony
Those born into it think such a stillness of wind will last forever
If anyone ever asks me what the days between days were like
If I can still remember
The blinking surprise of walking out of a movie theater into a daylight that seems sharp enough to cut,
And those places in the mountains where the snow doesn’t melt
It’s like this: I’m eight years old and being thrown into the swimming pool, hoisted by a shadowy, sunblock scented figure
Into the air, the terror I feel in that moment before I hit the water is my first taste of reality since being born
In such moments something flashes like a thunderstorm before the eyes
What do you see when you’re falling?
Does it let you see it at the end?
Maybe like so?
Picture Napoleon writing his own version of the Koran by candlelight in a tent somewhere inside the Russian winter
A violet he took from the Ukrainian Wild Fields when he passed through is pressed between the pages of an earlier draft
I hear him pushing the quill, tattoo deep, into the fat of my back
The common night terror of a man sitting on your chest
Time stretched like a rubber band, all potential energy
I am in an arsenic-wallpapered room far underground, the aftermath of a burial-quake
There are mud dauber wasps in the walls, I can tell from the hum
They are building me
A palace without light
For when my life begins
It’s the unremarkable fünf that comes of lighting a gas stove with a match, the German word for five like the fingers on a hand
Someone told me I’m still falling
Towards the chlorine blue
The band snapping back forever
Is one time
In one time
When it’s too late
This object in my hands
A clock I’m trying to wind without having the key
So one thinks of cutting open the mechanism,
Thinks of leaving,
Bare into the wood
Is this what you call
A celestial body?
Letters burnt in Arabic and French
Still holding my breath
The water rushing in like a human shipwreck
Nate Maxson is a writer and performance artist. The author of several collections of poetry, he lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.