Little Dead Body Map – Jason Hamilton
February 24, 2023
My ghost looks at my to-do list. “What is the meaning of this?” it says. The list does not respond because no sound occurs to the list. The list is not a brain with ears or instrument of any kind. Neither is my ghost yet my ghost keeps talking.
It looks at my browser history: “What is the meaning of this?”
“I am the monkey-mind of Org,” my browser history says. “Well, a piece of it anyway.”
My ghost puts on a facemask. Then a Ghostface mask. Then a Scream mask.
“It is a useful way to think of me,” my browser history clarifies.
“Does Org ever meditate,” my ghost asks, “to quiet you?”
A series of emotionally dysregulated ghosts squirts from my browser history. It gish gallops my ghost under lose-lose ultimatums. The lose-lose ultimatums codify and automate. My ghost is forced to grovel even though it just apologized.
My ghost climbs in bed with my girl. It is still a little rattled by what happened on Chrome—asks, “What would body do?” looking outward for a data point. It notices my girl confining herself to half the bed even though I’m not coming back.
“For how long will his absence,” my ghost whispers in her hair, “leave these terrible holes in your days?”
My girl pulls her knees to her chest and tightens the cover around her. “Until the next qualifying life event,” she says.
My ghost finds my body down at the cemetery. “Get up,” it says, “I need you.” My body, deep in the soil, chuckles loud for my ghost to hear. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” my ghost says, ghost-hugging my headstone—the epitaph Beloved Systems Coordinator shone through like a back-tattoo.
“At least you hang together,” says my body. “Remember that appetite of ours?”
My ghost nods, confused.
“It’s no longer in our corner.”
“Oh,” my ghost says. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” says my body. “I’m its pension for decades’ service.”
“That’s a mature way to look at it.”
“To be honest,” says my body, “what else am I going to do? Gradually converting to a God awful smell, radical acceptance is my only menu option. But of the two of us I’m lucky. You’re up there in the day shine, spectral beyond repair, attempting to make sense of every dust mote floating through you.”
“It is overwhelming,” my ghost says.
“I remember,” says my body. “Only advice I have for you: turn outward at the world, take interest in the deadly boring, leave aside your soul.”
“This is something you read?”
“It’s how I coped when we were together.”
The cemetery acts upon an oak forest tidally. My ghost leaves the one, enters the other. Sectors of the forest have succumbed to eucalyptus but it is still an intact forest complete with charismatic predators a ghost need not fear. The reverse is also true, ghosts being unarmed.
The California Forest Ghost owes ancestry, mainly, to early serial killers, Mafiosi, and the Spanish, and co-evolves among the common rattlesnake and puma. Habitat loss for the shallow-graved remains a shaky statistic. Possibly due to ghosts have little trouble crossing freeways. I can say from observation the male puma whose territory my headstone falls within I’m pretty sure he’s both his own grandfather and uncle. The screaming rivers of concrete close valleys off around him. Around him and his mother. Possibly one or two aunts. Daughters die from fenders, undercarriages. Sons from the father.
My ghost pushes through oak-framed corridors that frighten it and birdsong so consistent it thickens heat, searching for what can only be thought of as home. Not an address or hallowed dirt—the gradual home one gains in a similar way to aging. The the arrow is the target home. The what stands in the way of home becomes the way home home.
It gives it its all, little ghost-o-mine, continues floating forward. Its jitters settle to a base layer paced with birds’ chirps in humidity; the lack of depth perception the forest forces on one, and prey-identity with it, knits a hysteria blanket around my ghost, and my ghost, warm, terrified, cracks up laughing.
“Shut up!” say the dead—missing children, miners, forty-niners, raiders, loan sharks, Volvon warriors, veritable giants, Ohlone men and women un-Catholicize-able. “Mind the imported dandruff!” they say. “And follow it out!”
Vined forest siding wind-fisted gives way to underbrush in which wrappers manufactured to compete with other wrappers, orange chicken bones, a unisex sneaker vibrate like minnows in mesh.
“That velveteen little ha-ha maker ain’t gonna save you or that chin of yours,” a dead prostitute says. “Bring that thing over here.”
“Bring it here!”
Her killers thought enough to quarter her but drank too much to do much more. They just kind of sprinkled her around.
My ghost rotates in place, shyly.
Forest canopy diminishes at the rate real estate arises for my ghost who stops briefly before a sign that reads Oakland 10 miles →. Upon traveling half that distance nearly all the trees are buildings. Upon traveling the full distance my ghost finds hives in niches where trees or buildings aren’t—caterpillar-esque, networked hives, pulsing with conspicuous life. My ghost ducks its head in one.
“Excuse me,” it says, “can you tell me how I might—”
The woman inside says, “Fuck you tom bout?” “Where Carlos at?” and “Gimme a charger.” A price tag links to her jeans.
My ghost forms a female port into which the woman plugs a cable. And unplugs a cable. And plugs it in all the way and sways circularly while pushing as though trying to tap the deepest juice inside my ghost.
Most of what made my ghost itself, that is, its it-ness more so than its ghostness, transfers to the woman’s device, that is, my ghost is now as the woman’s device was previously, and the woman is no more or less pleased and no more or less hostile than before.
My ghost, what’s left of it, wonders what the point of this power transfer was, and attempts to vocalize an interrogative but lacks the requisite energy. It instead lifts its arms into a faint, limp Y.
“We gotta do what we gotta do out here, babe,” she says. “Cut you in line. Hit you badging into your building with a performance that will make you leak,” she gestures a panorama, “or just make you my audience. Scream bloody murder in your ear on the train. Because not me, not you, not nobody chose, earned this, or flipped a coin.”
My ghost leaves to take a job it hates in order to replenish itself and comes back exactly twelve months later, clutching letters of recommendation. “Is there any way out?” it asks.
“Psychopathy,” the woman says.
“Monasticism!” a male voice says from the hive’s dark recess.
“Same thing!” the woman yells over her shoulder, her lower face opening out from center. Her teeth are straight and white.
All hives empty into a central civic plaza the centroid of which is a large, lone oak. Mature tree. My ghost puts two and two together.
“So, this is Oakland,” it says.
“Yeah,” says the tree, “you’ve been in Oakland for a minute.” It suddenly strikes my ghost that the tree and City Hall compete for sun. Gulls, crows and rats outfox pigeons for foil, chip bags, burger paper. Black people in differing states of fitness dominate benches lining grass-sidewalk divides. Domesticated commuters as walkway counter-currents stream diversity. Every now and then a non-binary person leaps from one of the surrounding rooftops. Officers on foot patrol look on as chutes are repacked and other buildings are boarded than the ones just leapt from. The square smells identical to penguins in a scrum if every penguin was a skunk.
“But what happened?” asks my ghost. “Surely you are not the—I mean the whole municipality—have you inspired the city planners to—”
“Planners?” says the tree, “No no, cities produce planners not the other way around. Imagine this. You stand in one place for two hundred years, the middle third of which you’re watching all your likeness cohort felled, literally axed, butchered, chained and dragged. The harvest creeps closer by the decade, bird and insect populations tank, meaning life becomes hassle free for you but also much less rich, tree houses and swing sets show as death traps in the Tribune—places children are decapitated, homoeroticized, you name it—and then somehow it all stops and it’s clear it’s stopped at you, that you’ve won the slaughter Powerball. And generations did it, see, no one’s really responsible. The last people to do it don’t even know the names of the first people to do it, and those who started it had no idea they’d fashion a world in which their babies would have no choice but to grow old and do it. These ones here, in the square right now, they stencil me on t-shirts and film themselves in front of me and get high under me and being that I am the plaza’s only living constant there’s no way for me not to understand that each generation’s goal of externalizing costs to the future stacks and stacks until it’s one compounded omnidirectional genocide just to form identity-cults around what little of us survive.”
“That would explain ruptures in the grid I noticed earlier, stark green interruptions.”
“Parks. Yeah, that’s nothing. Wander through the walls of one of these office buildings sometime. Every couple of meters some poor shrub’s been jammed into a fancy bucket.”
My ghost thinks hard under the umbrella-like oak, but the kind of hard thinking that stiffens.
“That’s enough,” the oak says. “Stop that.”
It proceeds to tell my ghost how it plays the hand it’s dealt. How there’s no York in Central Park, new or otherwise, no Saint Francis in Union Square, no eye in the center of my ghost’s eye and no you in the center of my ghost (“Just go ask your body.”)—how all proper nouns are non sequiturs except this town’s, and how because of it—the oak—the city tagline should be Literally.
It seems to speak by way of gusts hitting its branch system, so its timing in conversation is very different for my ghost, very delayed, and my ghost can’t be certain what it’s hearing from the tree is speech and not a band of rain-starved leaves applauding in the wind.