Juliana Gray

First Ghost

Heaven hadn’t been invented yet.

I stood, or thought I stood, beside my brother,


who still clenched the bloody stone as if

he full expected the pile of meat and rags


to give him further argument.  Then

I recognized a broken sandal strap,


and knew myself the corpse.  I’d never seen

my own face.  Now it burbled up


a pulp like rancid pomegranate seeds.

My brother prayed — for himself, as ever–


and bent to gather fallen branches and stones

to conceal the animal thing.  I struck at him,


spat, kicked and howled; all passed over,

insubstantial as a dream of rain.


The carcass only half-buried, blood

seeping through the guilty sand, my brother


ran away, sobbing.  I remained.

For a time, the wind amused itself,


first covering and then revealing a hand,

a bit of hair, a bone.  The beetles came,


and flies; later, jackals.  An acacia

sprouted through my ribs, nourished by


my ruined heart.  I laughed, or thought I laughed–

my brother was a gardener, after all.


In this way passed the first few lonesome years.

My brothers spread their seed, and the innocent earth


grew thick with people, some of them murderers.

Since then, I have not lacked for company.


“First Ghost” is from Honeymoon Palsy (Measure Press, 2017).