Ghouls are an interesting entity. They are neither ghost, zombies, vampire, nor spirits, but seem to fall into a category all their own. The earliest folklore concerning ghouls can be found in the annals of One Thousand and One Nights, and is indeed how they came to be introduced to western culture. The stories in which they feature describe them as creatures who feed on the bodies of the dead, as well as children. Strange mix of preferred diet to my mind, rather like paring fresh spring greens with stinky tofu, but; to each, their own, I suppose.

No one knows for sure what a Ghoul looks like, as they enjoy the ability to take on the form of whoever they last ate.  Illustrations of Ghouls depict them as roughly human in shape, with bald heads, and mottled grayish skin. A standing crouch seems to be their default posture and there is something putty like and malleable about their musculature.

As a child, I was certain this was the creature living under my bed; nested under there, cleverly camouflaging as one of my stuffed animals, or perhaps even a shadow taking up the farthest corner. I’d wake in the middle of the night, certain I could hear him gnawing on partially decomposed bits of people. I imagined him listening intently to my restless attempts to ignore my full bladder, yearning for the moment he could wrap his fingers around my tender young ankle. The worst part, to me anyway, was that this thing, I believed, followed me everywhere. He was at my house, my grandparents house across town, and even at my Dad’s in an entirely different state.

He even tagged along to my first apartment. It was there that I decided, since he followed me everywhere, and had not eaten me yet; he must be some sort of guardian, or preternatural companion, relegated to the world of shadows, only able to interact with me in a peripheral way.

The poem that follows is dedicated to not only my ghoul’s selfless and unrecognized life of service, but to all the companion ghouls out there, benevolent, malevolent, or benign. Thank you for everything; my under the bed paladin.

 

A Ghoul’s Life

 

Some Ghouls live at odds with the humans they’ve been assigned,

Not me,

Not with mine.

 

Some Ghouls cultivate a relationship of tension and dis-ease with those in their charge,

Preferring daily little victories; over a healthy partnership, by and large.

 

Not me,

Not with mine

 

I never scratched on her window, or moaned from under her bed,

Never made the shower curtain billow, or brushed a cold hand across the back of her head.

 

From the first time I pushed her favorite Teddy through the bars of her cot,

To the last time I helped her find the hair tie that she’d dropped

 

I was a part of her life,

And she was all of mine

 

Her slippers were always lined up straight; I never let her wake up late

Her keys were always on the hook, and into her purse, I’d slip her favorite book.

 

My only reward, her composure; with your person there must be no face to face exposure.

In the shadows we must stay, twilight, noon, night and day

 

That is the law, that is the rule; for each and every single Ghoul,

Not just for me,

Not just with mine.

 

From behind the drapes, before nine, I would watch her catch the bus just in time.

Each morning just the same, till the day, into our lives you came.

 

Jumping the curb; then speeding away. On the pavement her body lay,

No witness but me; saw you flee. Punishment you thought you’d kept at bay.

 

Three nights it took, to find your home, and though my presence will remain unknown;

From the moment that you wake, till your life I decide to take.

 

You are with me,

You

Are mine.

 

 

 

 

The Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919 hit hard and it hit fast, infecting an estimated “500 million, and killing approximately 50 million people worldwide, claiming 675,000 lives in the United States alone.” (www.cdc.gov )

At the peak of the illness’s third and final wave over 1,800 cases and 101 deaths were reported in San Francisco, in the first five days of January 1919. The virus targeted the most vulnerable segments of the population, as usual; those under 5 and over 65. Alarmingly however this virus took just was many individuals between the ages of 20-40. This lent the disease a particularly insidious and sinister air. People of the time waged a mostly impotent war against an illness that struck vehemently and successfully against, both the weak and vulnerable and the strong and healthy.

This inescapable helplessness created an aura of macabre celebrity around the disease and those areas stuck hardest by it. The palpable presence of indiscriminate death is an impossible situation for the human psyche to contend with, we search for reasons, ways to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and construct coping mechanisms designed to dilute our fear. People began to anthropomorphize the Spanish Flu, much as they did the Black Plague centuries before, immortalizing the phenomenon with the macabre nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosy”.

In the case of the Spanish Flu this sort of mechanism took the form of the following poem.

“I knew little bird,

His name was Enza,

I opened the window

And In-Flew-Enza”

 

This image has always intrigued me. A waif-like presence, seemingly harmless, wandering the cold world, seeking someone who will let it in. Only instead of a bird I always pictured Enza as a disembodied spirit, on a quest to find his lady love. Visiting home after home, person after person, unable to rest until he finds her. The following poem is inspired by that image.

 

For more information about the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919 please visit; https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/pandemic-timeline-1918.htm

 

In-Flew Enza

 

 

With rosy cheeks and eyes so bright,

She opened the window,

 On a balmy night.

Turning to take her husband’s hand,

To dance,

One last stanza,

 

 

She did not see,

When through the casement,

In flew Enza

 

 

From bridal gown to widow’s weeds,

From merry meet to anguish;

It took just shy of a week,

For the bridegroom to be vanquished.

 

 

A slight malaise, a soreness of the throat,

Put down to an excess of hilarity,

Progressed so quickly,

To shortness of breath,

Fever, chills,

And finally;

To his mortality.

 

 

Though I knew her heart to me,

Could never cleave,

I could not bring myself to leave,

Rather I watched from the shadows as she grieved.

 

 

In the parlor, where his body was laid,

On the carriage ride to his grave,

At the funeral reception,

My hand upon her shoulder stayed,

Her constant,

Invisible,

Companion.

 

 

When the mourners left,

Telling her to rest,

“You are too young to look so sallow,”

She suppressed a cough,

Graciously waved them off,

And surrendered to sentimentality. 

 

 

Alone at last,

She indulged in a repast,

Of bitter tears and deep regret,

Not fit for company.

 

 

Having sated her sorrow,

She resoled to do better tomorrow,

And putting her weakness down to exhaustion,

She ascended the stair,

First one set,

Then its pair,

Leaning heavily upon me.

 

 

With burning cheeks and eyes too bright,

She opened the window,

On a cool starry night,

 

 

And through the casement,

 Her soul took flight,

 In the arms,

Of Influenza