Conversations with Ghosts: Sarah Hannah and Stacey Levine

by on Aug.17, 2010


This: Sarah Hannah

“There are two sides to everything:/The ring and its ghost, the one/calling and the one called.”

–Sarah Hannah, “Elegy for a Bell”

Two sides to everything, but was she always calling from the other side? Is she talking now? Whose elegy is this? There were games we used to play that never were games. The ghosts who really were there. In tenth grade we spent hours up in the attic of her mother’s cottage—under her spell—though she was below us, downstairs, always smoking.  Upstairs we watched reruns of The Twilight Zone and wrote poems with a Ouija Board, and we talked, over and over again, about “Harold and Maude.” About how Maude treated Harold so kindly, believing in his suicides, that they were real and not fakes. One dark and leafy suburban afternoon, we even made our own “Odorifics” machine: fashioned it from a miniature trunk, like a pirate’s chest, but with a crank on the back. It was a music box, perhaps it belonged to her mother and we had snuck it up there; whether it belonged to her mother or not everything we did in the house was very furtive. We crept. Inside there was always a fog. Through the keyhole we threaded a bendy straw, striped; it was too fat for the hole and bent nearly closed, but it fit. To the straw, we attached a sock with a rubber band, and then we cut off the heel. One of us would hold the sock over the mouth with closed eyes; the other would put items inside the pirate trunk music box and crank. “Cigarette butt, perfume, and acorn.” “Diet pill, vodka, and bubble gum.” (We always chewed a particular brand.) I can’t remember the song the box played. In the movie, Maude tells Harold, when he compliments the amazing experience of Odorifics, “Thank you. I thought of continuing – graduating to the abstract and free-smelling – but then I decided to switch to the tactile.” There are two sides to everything she herself said. But—switch to the tactile. One time, Sarah and I did a strange sort of duet. We did a tap dance and, as we hop-shuffle-stepped in a circle, we recited together the monologue from Hamlet; this was to audition for a school play. (It was Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle and we got parts as extras, as peasants. I remember only stage fright and dread and that we wore kerchiefs and that I completely forgot my only line.) Sarah had said in planning the audition, “Let’s make something happen!” And she did.

That: Stacey Levine

Author Kate Bernheimer asked author Stacey Levine for an interview with a ghost. Uncannily, a ghost interrogated Stacey Levine that very afternoon, outside her home, in the rain. She recorded the conversation via phone call to her mother’s voicemail. The following is a transcript of the interview.

GHOST (sitting motionless in a rocking lawn chair):  Why have you endeavored to read and write about ghosts? What has been particularly challenging about that?

STACEY L:  You come all the way back from the dead, and it’s literature that’s on your mind? You’re breaking all stereotypes. All right: Illuminating authors come to mind. Recently reading *Ghosts* by Cesar Aira was terrific. I loved the section about architecture, and the mindfulness to socioeconomic class. Writing about ghosts–I’ve done that only once, in a short story called “Believing It Was George Harrison.” I wrote this because I dreamed of a ghost. Dreams feed fiction well. They bypass the personality and tap into the universal pipeline.

GHOST:   When a human being dreams of a ghost, he or she is actually receiving a visitation from a ghost.

STACEY L.:  No. That is not what happened.

GHOST:  Yes, it is. There are things you have no idea about. You might bear in mind, too, that ghosts are very different than their once-living correlatives. The two entities scarcely have a thing in common, in fact.

STACEY L.:  Then what is a ghost?

GHOST:  Among other things, a state of mind. 

STACEY L.:  You contradict yourself. How can a ghost visit a human being if ghosts are a state of mind?

GHOST:  Don’t get pantsy. Ghosts are dust-laden. We can’t communicate by touching. We’re fields of frustration englobed by the divine. Now go on with your answers.

STACEY L.:  Okay…it wasn’t quick and easy to write about George Harrison’s ghost, but it wasn’t too difficult, either.

GHOST:  Let’s skip the self-praise. Why write about a Beatle’s ghost? 

STACEY L.:  His ghost is a representation of the all the characters’ longings. Isn’t that what ghosts and demons really are?

GHOST:  I tire quickly and fall sideways. Generally, I don’t dwell on anything. We ghosts mostly like jokes, parties, and pratfalls.

STACEY L.:  See, I was never a fan of pratfalls.

GHOST:  Because you’re not buoyant. And I’m done with you now.

STACEY L.:  But I have a question for you. Do you have an awareness of who you are, who you once were?

GHOST:  Psychoanalytic, sentimental nonsense. I really hate that. (Ghost no longer in the chair.)

Stacey Levine is the author of My Horse and Other Stories and other books. A new edition of her romance novel spoof, Frances Johnson, was recently published by Verse Chorus Press. Her short story collection The Girl with Brown Fur, including “Believing It Was George Harrison,”  is scheduled for publication in April 2011 by Starcherone/Dzanc.

2 comments for this entry:
  1. Joyelle McSweeney

    Thanks Kate for this continued very porous meditation on porousness. It has my head swimming!

  2. Author Updates | Significant Objects

    […] and Jim Shepard. Phew! Plus, Bernheimer is editing and publishing a new series, called “Conversations with Ghosts“; and she’s producing Songs for Fairy Tales, a limited-edition CD compilation of […]