Mark Twain’s Ghost

appears in the attic—suited, unshaven—
and waits until I’ve finished
hand-sanding floors (original 1890 pine, stained, lacquered),
waits until the room is ready to reveal himself.
Bed made, blanket chest heaving our wedding quilt,
reading lamp, extra pillows for the new guest room,
which Mark Twain claims, his face now
in the oval mirror neither my brother nor I want
from the discard pile of what parents offer.
I take pictures of him, send them instantly to my brother,
point out mustache, jaunty tilt of cravat, matted hair.
See if you can get someone else to show up,
he texts back. Maybe if I angle the mirror.
Maybe if the light hits just so.
Maybe if I find a rug. Maybe if I move
the luggage or tend to piles of old papers—
great grandparents I never met, term papers carried
for years, state to state, crisp-edged and graded,
photos of people I can’t name
from trips I cannot even recall taking—
here, an easier, earlier version of me,
banana palms loose and flapping in the background.
Here, all the boyfriends, their letters, a baby
I did not have. Maybe if I get a window shade
or have a stakeout. How long to wait for someone else
before accepting it’s just Mark Twain, here to live
in the small guestroom at the top of the house
with no heat, no bathroom, not even a closet
from which to burst out and scare me.
There is no one else. We do not get to choose
which ghosts come to stay.

Emily Franklin

EMILY FRANKLIN’s work has been published or is forthcoming in the New York Times, The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, New Ohio Review, Blackbird, The Journal, Shenandoah, DIAGRAM, Mississippi Review, Lunch Ticket, Passages North, North Dakota Review, Qu, Juked, and The Chattahoochee Review among other places as well as featured on National Public Radio, and named notable by the Association of Jewish Libraries. Her first poetry collection is forthcoming from Terrapin Books.

Contributions by Emily Franklin