The house is in charge: Things seem to come back to it and grow inside of it and get left too long in it. In Ghosty Boo, which is the name of this poem and of Kate's Litterer's book, even when we leave the house to go to school or for a swim, we're thinking about the house and we wish we weren't.
In her academic life, Kate works with archives and oral history to prioritize in her writing the lived experiences of the communities she researches. She is always aware of the material, and the language in Ghosty Boo echoes this awareness.
So, what's in the house? An incomplete list:
tornadoes, barbies, eggs, two desks, butterfly bandage, Doritos & milk & mashed potatoes & melted chocolate, carpet, concrete, and kegs.
This stuff's unpredictability persists in the "memory game" Ghosty Boo plays. We're told, "There are no rules, only guidelines / you say out loud to pretense / order." Reading and listening to the poem, the only times I feel safe are those when Ghosty Boo is there to tell me how to act or what to think. It seems like Ghosty Boo is the one potential contender to take down the speaker's "terror house." And, although Ghosty Boo is the child and the speaker the adult, the former can be heard delivering sterile, blunt advice to the latter: "Fear/of sex and fear / of beating are equated in / your mind," and "but isn't pain regular / and to be expected?"
What kind of relationship exists between Ghosty Boo and the speaker? Where does Ghosty Boo's strength come from and who will win, she or the house?
Ghosty Boo/Ghosty Boo is instructive on the many different ways to say "okay," "almost," and "it's fine": In these moments of tense repetition, we are reminded of the ways in which people have spoken these words to us, and, maybe, worried about the ways in which we have spoken these words to people. The first reaction brings helplessness, and the second complicates/contradicts this helplessness with some sense of agency, and then some more shame. This is the PULL, I think, in Kate's poem – a chaotic tumbling between speaker, Ghosty Boo, house, and outside-the-house, in which the speaker, actually, is never not in the house, even when holding her breath in an elevator or sitting on glass in a creek. If we're paying attention, Kate tells us this right away so we can prepare. "I am sawing / inside trees down," she writes, introducing us to a labor-intensive place, a place where what's growing isn't good.
It's hard to prepare, though – we don't know what this means or why the speaker needs to do this because we haven't been in the house yet. Once we get there, we understand the desire: To take a nasty-toothed blade against the wood and push/pull, rhythmically, until the last thin piece of tree skin breaks and Ghosty Boo can rest for a second.
Sarah Mazun Stetson studies Rhetoric-Composition at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She received an MFA from Queens College, CUNY (2012) where she also taught composition and creative writing and was Editor of Ozone Park Journal.