To Brother-Ghost on Halloween | Pell Williams
The last time we trick o’ treated
you were 14 and 6’2, too tall
for your skeleton costume. Remember?
The leg bones didn’t quite reach.
I was still a kid, so you humored me,
donned the black cloak (now calf length),
elongated mask with black eye holes,
plastic fake-blood chest piece.
I loved that it pumped pink dye
with a squeeze of the trigger hidden
in your sleeve. No one gave you candy,
just gawked at your height. “Aren’t
you a little old —” so I took extras.
You never let me hold your hand
but patted me thrice on the noggin.
We had just moved to Mt Pleasant.
The rich neighbors, so protective of
their sour patch kids, never did take off
their fancy costumes. Not after Halloween,
not even when we began to melt
into the scenery. I babysat their fat
toddlers, you mowed their perfect lawns.
We played man-hunt with their teens,
who you outran. I hid until they forgot
I was playing. You’d pluck me
from an oak or crawl-space around 1 am,
walk me home in the yellow streetlight
your shadow swallowing mine.
They stopped inviting us.
Little ironies. With lawn mower gasoline,
at 16, you lit yourself on fire
in the parking lot of Academic Magnet:
you’d worked so hard to get in.
Magnet accepted me too, your char mark
fresh on the sidewalk. I said no.
You’d just bought our mother oven mitts.
The note you left in your beater car,
the car I drove the next ten years,
I still haven’t read. But I’ve kept
the scraps of paper you used
to teach me the Pythagorean theorem.
In the Augusta Burn Center,
your final costume was a mummy suit.
I couldn’t even pat your head.
I said goodbye to one unwrapped finger.
It was my idea to cremate you.
Wasn’t that the obvious choice?
Now I ask your unhoused soul:
do you wish sometimes we’d kept
your bones? They were so very long.
About the Author:
Hailey “Pell” Williams earned her MFA in Poetry at the College of Charleston, received her BA in Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University, and served as the 2019 Artist in Residence for the Dry Tortugas National Park. She is the Creative Writing Editor for Surge: The Lowcountry Climate Magazine. Her work has been published by Birmingham Poetry Review, Grim & Gilded, The Ekphrastic Review, and Free Verse Press among others.