Two: The Ghost Woman
Why you hangin’ ’round here, woman?
Ain’t nobody taught you how to stay gone?
They will say you are a story
Nobody has business believing in
What with Jesus and integration.
How the midnight caterwauling
Is some far off whistling train
They couldn’t catch if they wanted to . . .
And they don’t want to.
They would rather watch the sun
Be swallowed up by God
Than to imagine you back
And creeping low ’round the basement
Shooing birds out the attic.
You are an unwanted visitor
A locked door that won’t stay closed.
The hinges creak and
We are an abandoned church.
A faithless vacancy
Knocks in our chests.
We don’t like a good-bye.
We are scared of resurrection.
Ghost Woman, if you can come back . . .
In your dirt-bitten don’t nobody want you
If you can come back hissin’ through the floor boards
Grindin’ your teeth,
If you can come back
Bringing the cold dead air . . .
Who can’t? Oh lord . . .
The Ghost Woman does not know that she is supposed to be a finished thing. To borrow from Maya Angelou, the Ghost Woman understands that “every good-bye ain’t gone.” She is the waymaker. She knows how not to leave. This is different from not knowing how to leave. The Ghost Woman is an “in spite of” not a “because of.” For all intents and purposes, she should, in fact, be gone. There have been things that could have authored her destruction. But she did not make space for that conclusion. Consider this: she is the woman who was the flat line. The one who hovers betwixt and between here and wherever “there” is.
My grandfather used to talk about “haints” as folk who could not agree to leave, despite being pushed out of their bodies. Despite circumstances that snatched and tore at them, they stayed. The Ghost Woman is still here. Something was set up to keep her from enduring, but she is not constructed in a way that will allow her to exit. She is often baffled by the idea that she does not belong. It doesn’t make sense to her that she should leave.
I experience this energy pattern as having big seismic connections to key people in her world. She cannot abandon her post. She doesn’t need to feel connected to her own body so much as she needs to feel connected to others. She is, in fact, so unattached to her body at times that she cannot recognize shifts within it. She is spirit without the necessity of form. She is the woman who never really feels like her body gives her much useful data with respect to her identity or her relationships. Her spirit is where she goes to get that information. She is better than most at ignoring the sensory-based world in favor of a more spiritual one.
One of the dangers here of being so unattached to the body is that you are not in receipt of the information the body is giving you. Disease and dis-ease can fester and run within this archetypal energy. Your throat can be cut, and you will not resolve yourself to the outcome. Your lungs can collapse, and you will find some other way to breathe. You have been poisoned, but you do not care about the arsenic. Your principle concern is the people you feel intensely connected to, whether that connection is deep, abiding love or resentment. The Ghost Woman obligates herself entirely to those feelings. Those feelings tell her to stay.
If this is the energy pattern you are existing in or trying to create from, the thing at the front of it is obligation—massive, all-encompassing obligation. The Ghost Woman is unwilling to let anything pull her away from her post, her responsibilities. And my truth is that those responsibilities are governed by deep love for another (or others) or the polar opposite, which can show up as deep resentment/anger/hatred. When you try to create something with obligation informing the view, what you produce may not be entirely your own. It may be a borrowed thing.
For me, this was a space I occupied right after I gave birth to my children. I felt it most profoundly after the birth of my twins. I could not recognize my body as my own for more than a year. I felt so disengaged from it. That’s extraordinary, considering how there are so many women who talk about feeling more connected to their bodies during pregnancy and after, if they are breastfeeding. I had the opposite experience. I felt this grand severing when I was pregnant. It felt like a hostile takeover for me. I couldn’t recognize when I had to go to the bathroom sometimes. It was difficult to distinguish pain from other sensations. I was clumsy and uninvolved with my body. She was doing things I simply did not understand.
What I did understand was that I felt incredibly connected to my mother. I needed her, and it felt like I needed her all the time. I had dreams of her being taken from me somehow, and I would wake up feeling terrible sadness and fear. When I went into labor with the twins, my grandfather was still alive at the time, and he stood in the room watching me have these back-busting contractions. I just kept watching Young and the Restless. Pain was difficult to record. I was disconnected from my body. I did not know my body. It was not my body.
When those babies burst through me, though, they were mine. I felt a roar go up my back. I knew I would never leave them—not for any reason. I bled a lot. I had to get patched up. I remember vomiting right after delivery. I remember my breasts were leaking. And I remember not being able to plug into any of it in a real way.
It would take more than a year before my body and I started speaking to each other again. I remember that time being a period of real stagnation for me in terms of writing. A woman’s body is an ever-changing continent of possibilities. She is our most persistent friend, and yet she changes so radically that at times she can be unrecognizable. I had bled and stretched and died just to get my children here. Once they were, my body had to reimagine herself as something more substantive, more sturdy, and, ironically, more tender too. After labor and delivery, my body had to figure out what this new awareness was and how it was going to function from it. I remember trying hard to write in my journal and being unable to consider language as important when there was a sink full of dishes or onesies I needed to wash or diapers I needed to change or a breast pump I needed to attach myself to. I didn’t have consciousness enough to write a poem. My creation stories in this holding pattern were very literally my children. I created them. That was all I could manage at the time.
That is my connection to the Ghost Woman archetype, but there are so many versions of this experience. The Ghost Woman can be unattached to her own body but entirely attached to another. She does not let pain or science stop her. Even though logic says she should be gone, her reality is different. She is insistent on the being and the staying, in spite of whatever challenges them.
The Ghost Woman has to be careful. She can experience things that make her feel like the unwanted one. People are not always in celebration of this particular kind of resilience. This kind of resilience is frightening. It doesn’t know how to expire or cease. In the West we so need a beginning, a middle, and an end. Our linear processing tells us that a good-bye is, in fact, gone. But sometimes we love bigger than logic. Sometimes we feel things way past reason. Sometimes we keep coming back. Over and over again we come back. We move whatever bramble out of the way. We intend to be with those connections. We intend to stay. For the Ghost Woman, exit doors look much like trapdoors, and she does not have a relationship with departures.
This could also be the woman who is in a relationship that does not honor her. She may, in fact, be perpetually harmed by it. But my God, she loves hard. She doesn’t know how to do it any other way. If she tells you she loves you, she means it all her life. She will not leave you just because her flesh has expired. She will dig her heels into this life. She may not even keep any muscle memory of what physical pain feels like. She is uninterested in that anyway. But for her, emotional pain is the razor’s edge. She cannot leave the people she loves. Not even if where they reside is a crime scene. Not even if her own beat up body is buried there. She stays. Or she returns. She always returns. She never really leaves. Her body is not her home. She loves the same way she loathes—like a brushfire, burning.
Exercise for the Ghost Woman
Get somewhere quiet. You will need to spend some time getting into your body. For the Ghost Woman, this is neither easy nor convenient. Take twenty minutes just to sit still. Keep both feet flat on the floor. Take deep cleansing breaths until you can hear what that wind sounds like in your chest.
Think about your hands. Think about them until you feel them—really feel them. If you are really connecting with your body, you will begin to feel them tingle because you are acknowledging them. They respond to that acknowledgment by becoming familiar to you. Think about your hands until you start to feel their stories. The babies they held or did not hold. Their ability to carry, to comfort, to express.
Next think about your feet. Think about them until they tingle in acknowledgment of you. Then think about how they’ve served you. Where they took you. What they kept you from.
Continue thinking about each part of your body until you are actively engaging your whole body in conversation. Feel everything. Even the things that hurt. Perhaps especially the things that hurt. Pain is instructive. You are far away from your body because you have stopped listening to her.
Tell her thank you. Say it over and over again. Say it until you feel her receive the applause. Say it until she believes you. To borrow from poet Sierra DeMulder, “Your body is the house you grew up in.” This is necessary housework. You are sweeping the cobwebs out. You are opening the curtains.
When you are done, write a letter to your most ignored part. This can literally be anything—your feet, your heart, your eyes, your head. Just write a letter to the part of you that has gone most unknown, the part you feel furthest from. It is a love letter. An opus. A way to say thank you. A way to reconnect. To ask for forgiveness. And if necessary, Ghost Woman, a way to introduce your body to your spirit. They should at least be on speaking terms.
Examples of This Archetype
In the literary world, the best example is the character Beloved in Toni Morrison’s novel of the same name. Beloved is absolutely a ghost woman. She could not commit to leaving. She is, in essence, a child whose need for the mother was so great that even after her mother cut her throat to keep her from experiencing chattel slavery, this child’s clamoring was so significant that it allowed her to re-inhabit a body in order to be joined again with her mother.
Nothing about our world readily supports such a notion. And yet, in the Christian tradition, the centralizing figure is himself a man who defies death more than once. Even if you read the Bible as literature and not scripture, you have to reckon with Lazarus’s resurrection (as facilitated by Jesus) and Jesus’s transmogrifying one.
Maya Angelou has it right: every good-bye ain’t gone. Popular films like the movie Ghost also present the idea that, despite what we may believe, a person can exit their body and be unaware of that experience. They can still identify with their right now life. They can operate in defiance of reason or science if their attachments or obligations are big enough. The Ghost Woman is willing to haunt every room. And she probably does not even recognize it as a haunting.
"'A woman’s work is to define herself,' writes award-winning slam poet Dominique Christina. While this task is important for everybody, Dominique says, 'There is an urgency for women. When you have inherited a construct that names, describes, and practices an ideology that women are somehow less important, less necessary, then the work of defining yourself carries with it a kind of fury.'
Dominique Christina is a mother, published author of three books, licensed educator, 2x Women of the World Slam Champion, 2011 National Poetry Slam Champion, 2013 National Underground Poetry Individual Slam Champion, social agitator, and intersectional feminist. She is the only person to win the Women of the World Championship twice. Her work is influenced by her family's legacy during the Civil Rights Movement. Her grandfather is in the baseball hall of fame and her Aunt Carlotta is a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for being one of nine students to desegregate Central High School. Dominique is sought after to teach and perform at colleges and universities nationally and internationally every year. Her work appears in numerous literary journals and anthologies, the Huffington Post, IBTimes, Upworthy, Cosmo, and Teen Vogue.