David Ebenbach

Two Poems

Ghost Stories

I’m going to write a Jewish one, a ghost story
without equilibrium. Because let’s face it:
most of those tales believe in a God who keeps
a tally. The equations always balance—
possession only in stolen homes, chains
on the stairs of people who can’t stop grasping.
If you lust, you die in your panties. In those stories,
sin is a paranormal boomerang, and no room for
the accident, the coincidence, or for the people
who know to expect the worst regardless.
So in my story there will be the haunting
of the innocent. Floorboards will creak their way
to people just eating breakfast. Doing laundry.
Some of the victims will deserve it, sure,
but by accident. When the chandelier falls they’ll
stand underneath like anyone else, in a circle
of wonder like a bull’s-eye, or passing ripples
in a pond of no opinions. The lights tremble,
but in your house, too.



They surface like a judgment, these ugliest fish
anyone has ever seen. Almost B-movie, the way they
roll up from the murk, scales the waxy yellow
of the embalmed, to suck wide-mouthed at the bread
chunks we’ve scattered across the water, now froth
and churn. And we, B-movie characters ourselves,
came here because we are not innocent. It’s fall,
the pond still unfrozen, our hands ready to cast off
old uses. The bread meant to float off toward
vanishing. Instead this frenzy, these grotesques,
heavy bodies clashing for purpose, to feed on what
we’re giving them.


“Monsters” first appeared in Poet Lore. Reprinted with permission of the author.



David Ebenbach is the author of the poetry collections We Were the People Who Moved (Tebot Bach, 2015, winner of the Patricia Bibby Prize) and Some Unimaginable Animal (Orison Books, 2019), as well as a non-fiction guide to the creative process, The Artist's Torah (Wipf & Stock, 2012), three short story collections, and a novel (winners of the Drue Heinz Prize, Juniper Prize, Orison Fiction Prize, and the Washington Writers’ Publishing House Fiction Prize). He has a PhD in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA in writing from Vermont College, and teaches creative writing at Georgetown University. His website: davidebenbach.com/