Hungry Ghosts and other poems


by  Claudia Grinnell


A Constant Hum


Night drapes the bayou where cats raise a ruckus over bone

Meal. Fresh fish preferred over vegetable alternatives. What a cat does

Out of sight remains a secret to those who prefer to think

They exercise power connected to ownership. Ownership valued above all

Other forms of control. The point of the pyramid is control: the all-seeing

Eye. The eye reaches up your skirt, over your hose, fondles your secret

Benchmark. Just us blind people may be held back at certain primary levels

(It’s for your own good.) or in diapers at any age. One, two, three


Steps too late to any event, in any event. The lowest common element:

Bodily fluids against which we must be pure, vaccinate for and against,

And march with vigor and commitment. The alternative is less desirable. Location

Matters, totters at the brink of all major fault lines. Fault lining is what we do

Well. Expensive machinery dragged to the edge, inserted to earthen core, measured,

Analyzed and recorded. The numbers avalanche, one after another, snow job

After snow job until we’re buried deep. Blow by blow, they say—dig yourself out,

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Great idea if you got boots.

Nine inch heels doom you to pole dancing, a benchmark if it points true north.


It’s a cushy job, a union job. The machine hums in tune with a bigger

Machine which roars from time to time. It never breaks, never

Needs oiling, repair, or time off to tote a fallen relative. The heel,

If you still have it, clacks in rhythm with the hum. The eye blinks from time

To time—still here, still here--not going anywhere. Not leaving scorn

For burnt offerings, just keeping the joint tidy for the superiors. Those who left

On the first bus, the last flight out to a ranch in South America. They paid dear

To hold a slot on the manifest. The hum got a bum leg thrumming, a crippling,


Debilitating injury as a result of too much rhythm and blues. We have

Reasonable emulations of legs—some with shoes attached, every nail sacred,

Every hammer a tool in the hands of the greatest passion. The eye blinks at first

Light, when the question of sun and son and sin leavens itself with someone

Else’s blood. Bread will have to do for now, the circus comes later, hard

On its heels another alliance with wolves. They come by air. They come by sea.

They come in cars dripping oil. Who wouldn’t be bullish, given such

Circumstance. Watch the leaving self, rising above the most optimistic

Benchmark, the highest shelf holding the best cookies, just out of reach.




                                    That Woman


Drives too close to the curb, children play here.

A squirrel sits at attention.  Young sparrows pick

Seeds from my lawn. Later, the jogger, this time with wife.

If I kept paying attention to the cicadas, I’d go insane.

God Bless America, this most Christian of Christian nations.


God Bless America, this most Christian of Christian nations.

Let me tell you about this man.

Or better not.

You wouldn’t believe it.

But listen: there must be millions of them.


I’ve counted them: exactly 47 trees on the right side of this street.

If I wanted to, I mean if I really wanted to do: this.

Taken into python, sliding, waving in and out, no

Edges here. No.  I drive the rotting chicken to the gas station.

God Bless America, this most Christian of Christian nations.


God Bless America, this most Christian of Christian nations.

In dumpsters we trust.  This one has a lock: only certain garbage

Admitted—whoever gets there first—and flies.  Fat, sluggish

Flies.  Something for every man: meat.  We eat.  We eat.

The neighbor’s leaves are burning.


Short, stubby calves.  Peasant calves.  Calves that dance

The flamenco.  Portents of demographic inevitability, say

Hola to the new Mommy. Virgins come and go.

We appreciate the sacrifice.  We sure do.

God Bless America, this most Christian of Christian nations.


God Bless America, this most Christian of Christian nations.

It’s dark now. And late into the night, I sit here, counting

Cars, estimating their speed.  Too fast, the lot of them.

That woman is home now. She tells her husband about nearly

Ditching the car.  About starting over.  About getting it together.

The Ex-Planer




For reasons known only to me and a handful of others




I have the answers: common

Screams. Pistols at dawn, if you disagree




Men with cats.  Men who refer to themselves

As we. Men strangling dragons

On their forearms.   The people, women two by two,

Have been invited to shop

Large selections of bombs, context-specific
Rockets (surface-to-air, 
Surface-to-surface) and other weaponry

Available at reduced price




All that.





And let’s call it a miracle then: all that

Which happens only once.

Which straightens the way

For everyone.

Which smacks of posing

For the perfect picture—dog in lap.

Competitive mode: to be

The fastest in a race of one. Each

Story has its own truth—the power

Of imagination briefly suspends

Reason, and Billy commits the first act.

It’s probably

Murder.  It’s a tool, of sorts, which can be written

Off as opportunity cost.

                         Unqualified Success


Men, vicious men, kept apart by at least two islands

and separated by an uncertain body of water. Uncertain

about lives lost more than once. There


these men invent games of strength involving posts and heaving

after periods of excessive drinking and fucking. Posts

necessitated sticks what with the unfortunate loss of life. Carrots


came later. Certain paradigms shifted poor voice habits to good ones:

she sells sea shells by the seashore to seven silly seamen sailing

south.  Slumping strictly discouraged.  The leads,


the leads, and the self-reflexive jealousy coupled

with just enough room to sketch the barest outlines of the vessel. Not that

it mattered.  By then, the tectonic plates forged a fortunate


alliance.  Identity forced everything physical modestly draped. Certain

exaggerations preceded The Hero, who deep in sub-conversation—

so the story goes, but don’t believe a word of it—accidentally disclosed


his tool-making abilities. He knew the background, the everything

about before, the first thin layer, the last turning leaf. Sentiment

became his bag of tricks.  His complete


collapse came when new voices conjured a new clan,

a terrible miracle of truth from the further hill country.  Say what you will,

there must be limits. These people never understood. These people.



                                          About the Cat


The cat’s on its own and has been for years, distant, unavailable. Feeble

attempts at familiarity or family—lack of children will drive you

to that place, to serve nothing. She’s been coming ‘round late afternoons to snooze


under the oak by the shed. Those are familiar points in the fenced off space:

the tree, the building, some bushes--boxed in by slatted wire and wood. The oak

dominates. Squirrels avoid it and the shed is empty now, empty of all


gardening tools even the most pessimistic gardener might want. Not ready

for gardening, rapidly descending into chaos. And it comes with a biscuit. Channel

Seven runs late night money schemes: call in, get the offer, you’ll be on


the way to the first million. It’s total quality management from the belly up, in

pursuit of all power for the sake of same. The biscuit smeared with jam if

you’ve been good--a form of bonus in lieu of pay. We must trademark the biscuit


because we are running out, so they say. No better necessity than invention,

so they say. The great biscuit die-off, so they say. When the biscuit train ends

nobody’s tide will rise. Never mind the boat. Send it back to the bank. The tree


loses out every September. But it too gets a biscuit. Try not to act surprised,

be of good cheer. Check the positive metal in your pockets. Everybody

wants to scale the highest, the most difficult mountain, not some puny little mound.


Show your work. Pound your plan. Work: the doing of one thing, action,

always action never a rest. Items of motivational interest: gold, diamonds,

vintage clocks stuck at the 11th hour, slightly before twelve, of course.



                                          Hungry Ghosts

                  putting away childish things

…the emergence from snow, sludge, to find the sky finally

empty of everything but gray. Some things work in gray that don’t work

in any other color: ideas and impulse.  Silver contemplates desertion

from precious metal to make the trip to gray.  I encourage such foolishness,

such deviation from the norm. In gray we trust, in gray we truest. 

Because all else is foolishness, fiddle-dee-dee, Ms. Scarlett,

and just not proper. And o my! My gallant Hero dressed in gray: I will hound him

for the rest of his living years and beyond for having lost this war. 

It is not acceptable to lose, certainly not a war, most certainly

nothing this epic, this clash of civilizations--if you are given to hyperbole—

which I trust you are, else you wouldn’t be here.  Tell me, friend,

how do we extricate ourselves from this trap, this place of high drinks and low music,

soft women and sweaty sleepless nights and cotton so dry you swear

the harvest will fail.  The invitation to the island still stands.  You are packed.

The plane can be here in ½ hour, fueled, ready.   Are you ready

to pull your toe from the brown backwaters, the occasional rattlesnake,

water turtle, horsefly and hornet.  They built their nests close to your houses

as if to commit you to something, a long term tenancy agreement.  Defaulted into it

on my part and assumed from then to entropy; on their way to replenish

the dinosaur juice for some future world of roads to nowhere. It takes a lot of gas

to drive to a destination that cannot be reached by any highway. Well, like they say,

it's the journey that's important. I suppose that even if you never get anywhere

you know where you've been. What you've been is had. Sometimes there's nothing

you can do. Of course you do what you can.  Perversion  arrives

at virtue by way of persistence by way of horse.  Trojan, his claw foot tub, swishing

water across a fine mesh. The church ladies pass, wondering of the signs

and wonder. They are certain he is drunk or used to be. Crazy at best.

Some days he makes minimum, others he does better. Considering the nature

of war and fleeting alliances between good and bad and right and wrong

or evil or post-evil, in other words, good or bad,

we leapt at the new-born panda baby Habbibu in Stuttgart’s Stadtischen Zoo.  

A get one might say, in the rough newspaper biz the age demands. 

But zoos, being zoos, had caged animals

for sale, and we, being us, the reading public, ate that up.  Elizabeth Taylor’s horse,

Black Beauty, and NASAs sleepy monkey came--came to in 1000 thread count cloth,

silk, most likely and cuffed with ivory, not pearl—pearl being a whore’s

accoutrement.  But they came too. They all came true. In Nashville

church bells ring.  Pay Attention.  Remember last time. Remember the whole

bloody mess of it, the thoughts and the things, and the thoughts about the things

and the things about thoughts:  all  brought here by land and by sea. To text,

meaning (verb) an action, an ongoing process, not a text, a destination,

a Key West for exhausted language processors, every lounge,

in every beer joint jostling past Fire Marshall Fred’s specific instructions.  

The people enjoy the last gasp, then the relentless drive home.

Yusuf farted again, you said.  I know, I said, and I did. Next year,

when nothing has changed again except the narrative describing

limitless passages of time, next year then: bodies stacked in the streets.

Next year, we spring into action…


                         Theory of Ordinary Things


An explanation of revealed fact proved unsatisfactory: workers, used to

Long hours and unpaid wages, simply failed to attach authorized labels

To items mass created. The surplus, whispered and speculated,


Rampaged through the muck, hitched rides from on-ramps

Beside spray-painted viaducts: why not a chicken in every pan. Previously

Grave matter flipped in the Court’s last session. It was cold


Most of the time except when we agreed on warmth. For sentimental reason,

This was understood, never written in the record, the women

Of these times grew skinny and furtive, drained after centuries of accusation


And allegation. Big-bellied men belched noises, seeking interpretation

Of formulae that no longer mattered. The birds toward the end, stopped,

Briefly near the West Coast for new lids, all the better to see


Power lines stretched across the flood. East, past the range,

Some touched down on various lakes and tarns. Certain

Speckled fish greeted them glaring at the sun. Appeasement


Cried the rest.  Authenticity: all agreed. Pictures

And books with pictures not plated for lack of ink and paper.

Everything truncated to A. A is for tree, and anything else


Ever conjured. The body conformed, fashion followed, here and there

Hurry Back stores pandered clabbered Carnation—considered a delicacy

After Master transferred the last A: as always, the arc of A not accountable.



Claudia Kreuzig Grinnell was born and raised in Germany. She now teaches at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Twice a finalist for the Pushcart Prize for poetry, her poems, fiction, and essays have appeared in publications such as The Kenyon Review, Exquisite CorpseHayden's Ferry ReviewNew Orleans ReviewReview AmericanaTriplopia, LogosMinnesota ReviewDinerUrban SpaghettiFine MadnessGreensboro Review, Public Culture and others. Her first full-length book of poetry, Conditions Horizontal, was published by Missing Consonant Press in the fall of 2001. Grinnell was the recipient of the 2000 Southern Women Writers Emerging Poets Award. In 2003, she was a finalist in the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize Competition, and in 2005, she received the Louisiana Division of the Arts Fellowship in poetry. Her second book of poems All Roads...but This One was published in 2005.