In System of Ghosts, Lindsay Tigue details the way landscape speaks to isolation and personhood, how virtual and lived networks alter experience. She questions how built environments structure lives, how we seek out information within these spaces, and, most fundamentally, how we love. Rooted in the personal, the speaker of this collection moves through society and history, with the aim of firmly placing herself within her own life and loss. Facts become an essential bridge between spatial and historical boundaries. She connects us to the disappearance of species, abandoned structures, and heartbreak—abandoned spaces that tap into the searing grief woven into society’s public places. There is solace in research, one system this collection uses to examine the isolation of contemporary life alongside personal, historical, and ecological loss. While her poems are intimate and personal, Tigue never turns away from the larger contexts within which we all live.System of Ghosts is, at its core, an act of reaching out—across time, space, history, and across the room.
About the Author
Lindsay Tigue grew up in Michigan. Her poems and stories have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Indiana Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among other literary journals. She lives in Athens, Georgia, where she is a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Georgia.
Read an Excerpt
System of Ghosts
By Lindsay Tigue
University of Iowa PressCopyright © 2016 Lindsay Tigue
All rights reserved.
There were uncounted millions of the beasts — hundreds of millions, we forced ourselves to believe.
— Frank H. Mayer, The Buffalo Harvest
I can't force myself to believe in any old
almanac, that the best days for fishing
will come mid-March, that fog in January
brings a wet spring.
Most of my knowledge gets turned, or upset. Even chickens
aren't completely flightless — they can make it
over a fence, into the low branches
of trees. In China, a man built his own dialysis machine, kept
himself alive for thirteen years.
Wolverines will rescue people from snowbanks, dragging them
by their shirtsleeves to safety.
At the Maeklong Railway Market in Thailand, tourists marvel
eight times a day
at produce stalls set right on the tracks,
whole shops removed as a train barges through.
Like clockwork, the market reassembles. I always question
the most rigid convictions. I can't trust a person
who plays the lottery, believes in planning
for luck. I think someone evil once said, a single death
is a tragedy, a million a statistic. I don't buy into
the claptrap of despots. I want to say the word miracle somehow
without cringing, believe
types of goodness exist. Oh. It's too easy
to trust —
the future arrives; the honeymoon happens.
The baby is born with ten fingers, ten toes.
Call it knowledge —
wanting to see
how the world is made.
My new roommate goes to the store,
buys crystals, practices archery
in the backyard. The arrows fly
toward our house, a still-new
place. Sometimes I forget
how to recycle batteries,
to not undress
in front of open windows at night. One
summer, when I worked at a park,
visitors brought ashes. They carried
urns, wanting to leave people
in the mountains. One man walked
along the road, tipped out
his canister right on the guardrail.
Ashes sat there for days, so bone-white
in the rain. I wouldn't clear them away.
I can be energy and wait.
Is this a particular missing? I am
no longer by the mountains. No
longer by plains. The other day I
dreamed of the person I might
miss most. He was dressed like
a cell-phone salesman. He put his nose
to my cheek. The other day, I asked
my phone for directions to a place.
I didn't go. All day, a voice called out: Turn left.
At our new house, empty scrap
framed weedy earth, but my mother said:
a perfect sandbox.
The sand came from a store, but I still hoped
to find a shell, the smell of sea,
some smooth-edged bottle glass sifted
I'd drag lines in the mineral grain
with my plastic rake. I'd dream
summer on Hampton Beach, New Hampshire's
thin eyelash of coast.
I'd remember burying my limbs,
how I splashed steps into waves. How I
called my imaginary plans:
I'll chase the water out until it's gone.
These days, I live alone
and sit near a computer. All day,
I stare. And when the electricity goes out
with its slapped silence,
I act like I'm not thrilled, that I don't love
to meet neighbors in the street. Do you
have power? I ask. Do you have light?
HOW TO ADJUST TO TIME ZONES
When the Union Pacific
and the Central Pacific
formed one railroad, more
than 8,000 towns
used local time.
Before the railroad,
people based time
on the natural
movement of the sun.
Now, my sister lives
two hours behind me.
My brother one hour
In the 1870s, railroads
created bureaus, sent agents
east, to Europe, attracting
settlers to this land.
Hold your eyelids
wide open with your fingers. Go
outdoors as much as possible.
Natural light will reset
your body's clock. Retire to sleep
at the local bedtime.
CITY OF LIGHT
Everything — houses, churches, bridges, walls — is the
same sandy gray so that the city seems like a single
construction of inconceivable complexity.
— Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
Do you remember the front door
painted blue? How it even rained,
but we stayed in the Hotel Perfect.
At the tower, they wouldn't let us go up
to the top, only the near-top. And you
patted the beams, joked about structural
integrity. I've never seen a place like this,
you said. Do you still remember
my terrible French? Coming back
from Versailles, we couldn't wait to peel
those rain-soaked clothes. I can't be sure —
all my you-memories become one
sprawling city. Was it on that trip
you mimicked the poses of statues
we saw in the park? On a different trip,
(that night it snowed), we stopped
at an Indiana motel, drank a bottle
of wine naked, dripping on sheets.
I stayed there again once, alone.
Out the window, cars rumbled away.
It rained and the power went out.
The building noises silenced
with drawn-out whirs like breaths.
THE TRAJECTORY OF ORANGES
All night, in the train car to Valencia, the young couple speaks
Italian, propped on elbows in their bunks. Their whispered
joy hovers like a tent. They are a skylight above me. I catch words,
snatches of sense. I am teenaged and thrilled
by history. Now, the couple peels oranges — one, then another,
another. They citrus-fill the compartment with noise
and snack. They hand slices near the ceiling; they drop rinds
like shed chrysalis, like discarded drafts, like we may
all become new before long. I may never think beyond
oranges again — their smell sharpens the air. Perhaps
we are like explorers bringing fruit to Iberia, we travelers,
like royalty. We are Europe in the 17th century. Citriculture
is for kings. Or, we speak Middle English, rename this color
after crop. There is no longer yellow-red. Let us navigate,
crating seedlings across an ocean from Spain. In Bahia, we'll celebrate
the birth of navel oranges. It looks like umbigo, we'll say. The button
of my belly. Who ate the first orange? The new hybrid of mandarin
and pummelo, in that corner confluence of India, China, Burma,
whatever land was there then. This taste for new food — maybe
I carry memories in my tongue. I am young, too, I could tell them
and can I be like you? I will speak citrus. I will claw at the peels.
The train roars across track and I want orange dust near this skin.
A motor vehicle carries us to our graves.
— Clay McShane, The Automobile: A Chronology of Its
Antecedents, Development, and Impact
You know, they had traffic
in ancient Rome and in 1769,
Nicolas Cugnot built a steam-powered
gun carriage. He ran it into a wall.
In 1899, in New York City, Arthur Smith
hit H. H. Bliss, the first American pedestrian
killed by car. I don't like to pilot,
steer. And I don't want to drive
you home. Did you know
the word cab comes from
cabriolet? My grandmother
made me sit in the backseat.
Precious cargo, she called me,
rolling slowly over dirt roads.
Each pothole borne in my bones.
In 1817, streets were still
meeting places. I want to remember
the first streetlights, the ideas for green
and red borrowed from passing ships.
I see us entering the earliest crosswalk,
the semaphore arm raised. And later —
illuminated at night — those fog-edged
boxes glowing instruction. We can't even
trust ourselves to look both ways.
The house on sinking Holland Island —
an old Victorian, shingles-crumbling,
the isle's last structure falling into
the Chesapeake Bay.
Before it collapsed in 2010,
one couple rowed out there.
I click through their photos —
the house's interior full of dusty
bottles, broken furniture. Their shots
of gulls in flight. A rusty tub. Their GPS
to guide them. They walked through
the island's old cemetery, from its days
as village, where watermen lived
and dredged oysters in the bay.
The land has been sinking
for thousands of years. The water
rising ever more quickly. In
2003, hurricane waves rushed
through the kitchen. This place
of silt and clay knows how
to disappear. In 1995, one man
bought the island and wanted
to save it himself. The experts said
he never had a chance. He tried
building breakwaters out of wood.
He put down hundreds of sandbags,
lined large rocks against the shoreline.
Before it fell, that house appeared
to sit directly on the waves. The man
gave up the island after he turned
eighty, underwent chemotherapy.
The couple's photos online show
his favorite grown-over headstone,
a girl's grave that reads: Forget me not
is all I ask.
The Blackfoot of the Plains had over
a hundred words for the colors
of horses, their many varied,
running shades. If only we could all
be as reliable as the horses we rode in on.
I want many words for you. I want
something as far as I can throw it. No,
farther. You say, I throw like a girl. I do
everything that way. I ask, is the flue
open and you look up the chimney. I ask,
can you see the sky? Can we have
heat? Before you walk away, try to find it.
Fix the dripping radiator. Don't travel
too far — walk, or ride out on some
journey alone. Our brains too big
for our bodies, too big for the cage
of our skeleton. Even our bipedal
nature changed everything. The bones
in our feet rearranged. This whole house
smells of body. Damp shower and sheet.
I show you my socks that are starting to thin
and you say, here come the toes. I point to our
curtains falling from window. You won't
fix it all before you go.
LITTLE GRAND CANYON IN YELLOW
— at the Georgia Museum of Art
The teenagers stare at the canvas.
At the art museum, I watch them
squirm with body-newness, struggle
with attention. The curator shows
a Howard Thomas painting. Providence
Canyon in color. Orange. Red. Yellow.
Anything, but everything warm. Thomas
used earth pigments. Grinding up soil,
mixing for color. Quaker-born, from Ohio,
during his first trip to the South, he
gathered red clay outside Asheville.
In the museum, in a Lucite case,
I see the baby food jars of his color
collection. Labeled — detailed records,
natural materials. The jar lids instruct,
Twist. When I first arrived in the South,
I stayed in the very same mountains.
I spent the summer in a camper
with a man who understood newness,
who once buried his documents, his identity
in the ground, changed his name. Spent
time in jail for it, hidden, staring I suppose
at some wall blankness. He told me, I think
I might love you. I didn't say anything
back. At the museum, the curator explains
Thomas's process. She says it was like dancing.
That he placed the canvas on the floor. He
played music in the background. Bach,
Vivaldi, Haydn. She closes her eyes to what
she might hear. She begins to hop about
the gallery, she dabs invisible paint
across the floor. The teenagers
stare. One boy asks, What does it mean?
After they leave, I approach
the jars. I imagine someone asks, have you
The other day, a new friend walked
along the river, uncovered an old homestead.
She found clouded milk
glass, dusty vessels, broken cans.
A few hours south, the ground.
I've learned it gapes open. I didn't know
there were canyons. Here. And somewhere:
caves. Somehow: a way to read
colors. The rows of jars that
have to mean something.
Excerpted from System of Ghosts by Lindsay Tigue. Copyright © 2016 Lindsay Tigue. Excerpted by permission of University of Iowa Press.
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Table of Contents
How to Adjust to Time Zones,
City of Light,
The Trajectory of Oranges,
Little Grand Canyon in Yellow,
We are a System of Ghosts,
How to Care for Buffalo Horns,
History of Rooms,
Michigan Central Station Has Been Closed Since 1988,
For the Ghost You Might Become,
To Disappear in Michigan,
My Dad's Brother Called Every Year for Five Years Then Disappeared,
The Center of the Earth is a Little Off Kilter,
How to Measure the Weight of Snow,
The Body Travels,
Linear Foreign Bodies,
Progress Without End,
Alms for the Birds,