Puttering Around a Haunted House

by Emily G. Bjustrom

Ghosts gather under the refrigerator
Behind the dresser
And on the coat closet floor

In the milky daylight
The ghosts hunt for memories
To dance with
-a 12th birthday party-
-that day at the beach-
-a girl alone, left on the front steps-

In the day it’s plain
The past stalks the present
In shadows and from the corners of eyes.

A cold home.
A woman unburdened.
But haunted still by the weight
Of a dirty faced child
A demanding desk
The heavy gaze of a girl waiting on the steps.

Picket Fence Dream

Emily Bjustrom

Freedom is a freshly scrubbed bear trap,
new and waiting.
An ugly dream,
the kindest lie.

There are abandoned houses dotted coast to coast,
hand to hand across America.

Each one festers.
The homes they had been burn.

Rolling through the mountains,
on a backroad in New Mexico- A house!

Rough sawn boards
Slouch and wait
for me,
a defiant little light,
to replant the flower beds
in salted earth.

Wait for me to grow myself
like lavender.
Delicate fat limbs,
like the heavy heads of hollyhock.

I grow to haunt a house I cannot own.
I envy the seeds the future of their roots.

My body,
a graceful sore,
the most elegant plight,
to grow sons greater than their fathers.

A future not perched on a lie,
but cradled in its own graveyard.

Plague Ship

Emily Bjustrom

Chafed and cherished
Burned and blessed
Irritated and honored

I feel like a sausage stuffed into a dress
I feel like no one is listening

when beauties can’t sleep it’s a tragedy,
when I can’t sleep it’s indigestion.

Why do empty parking lots
feel like ghost towns?

What makes one
lone streetlight more romantic than any other?
Burning through the night-

No one will ever
hold these memories
and love them.

No one will ever
curl exactly
like you do-

You are an abandoned
boat house
on a wide lazy river.

I climbed
the magnolia tree
even though I am
too fat and too old.

You are my plague
and we plague each other.

The days yawn and snap shut

joints shift
in and out of place.

What does it mean
when little chamomile flowers
grow next to the front porch?

What does it mean when the worst thing you can do to a stranger is kiss?

My body is a ouija board.
My body is a play pen.
My body is a plague ship.

I’m a river.
I’m a house.
I’m halfway there.

Children with milk
smooth faces
smoke and fuck
call me cunt
nobody listens.

Half in and half out
which foot will you use
to step in this mess?

My body creaks
yours does too.

People are the plague
and we plague each other.


Being is inside and out of any person.
Therefore, inside ourselves we find both reflection and external expression.
It is one’s duty to consider both in equal esteem.
Can one be both internal and external and live within the empirical world?
The empirical world is created though both experience and consideration.
To be is to consider and experience.


Halfway to absolution
My body is a tether to this house
Which is a second skin
This city, the third- crawling as it is

I am heavy twice
Once for the hands that slide into my dreams
Once for the hands that stop short of my waking skin

Something for your Hands

I want to give you something for your hands:
all the jokes I made
at 17 when the world was young
and I was old
enough to know the difference
between lust and survival.

I want you to take it-
my cynicism-
and rub it against your palm
for the friction.

I want something for my hands:
your mouth and ears and the places they meet.
I want to hold them
like candles.

Morning Bell

Emily Bjustrom

Exposed in cruel white light
The hours crash into each other
A bully’s restless hands
Tighten into apologies

The hours crash into me,
My best wishes, thoughts and prayers
Tighten into apologies
I threw myself onto this stage.

Best wishes thoughts and prayers
For the magnet in the door frame- it’ll save our lives someday
I threw myself into this
130 papercuts-for-eyes

It’ll save my life someday.
Gentle hands in soft white light
130 papercuts-for-eyes
Begging me to still the careening clock.


Fear sits in the back seat of my car-
I saw him in my rearview mirror.
His name is the pit of my stomach.

He is the face of a boy
Who tells me his father
Will beat him
If he fails.

Fear is the father.

My skin is a sack
Carrying the raw red meat of me.

He is closing the distance between us.
This is what I dread most.
The space and taught wire
Of the moment before a kiss
And a trap is sprung.

I know him.
He turned away from me
As the wind blew dust into my eyes
My mouth

My hands open and close against themselves
I flutter like a moth at the window against the panes.
I’m lying on the floor again;
Watching the tile as I walk;
Holding my head as I sleep.

If I didn’t look back I wouldn’t see him.
But there he is-
Pressed into pills on my bedside table
Squeezing my stomach with a cold hand

A familiar love
Cold tongues of water lapping
at my feet.


Emily Bjustrom

After Joy Harjo

Remember the sky you were born under-
The light and how it shadowed
Your mother’s face

How she howled and screeched-
The two of you were Human then

Remember your feet
How they carried you
Up mountains and trees

You clung to them
Remember the breeze
How it kissed you
And blessed you with its touch

You knew then what animal you were

Noon & Sunset

Emily Bjustrom

When I was a toothy girl,
Stumbling through the bosque,
I found a white cross among the reeds.

It was someone’s drowned brother.

I am pulled into the silt.

I remember this and want to smoke
a cigarette
like I did with my sister on the beach
of the river while it was wide and shallow.

But I won’t. I will love carefully,
only bum cigarettes when I am three drinks deep and happy,

because I’m alive on someone’s back porch.
Alive in someone’s hands and mouth.
Safe with the knowledge
that in the morning I will spit the opulent guilt into the sink
and breathe away the swill.


Emily Bjustrom

After Natalie Diaz

While she sleeps, I paint
the windows shut.
To trap the cold wet light of evening.

After a summer thunderstorm,

I am pacing and strange.
My bones- a girl.
Soft and still,
as the air sneaks
to wake her.

She is my spine.
The hollow points in me
The cave in my belly

I paint the spaces between
the clouds and the backs of my knees

Dust gathers on the sill
scent of passing rain- starched cotton.

An empty hand unfurls.