THE ETYMOLOGY OF POLTERGEIST
“A noisy spirit who makes its presence known by noises or knockings”: My firstborn, 3 lbs. 17 oz., in a
hospital incubator with a strawberry birthmark over her right eye. I sat by her. I held her, saying, Come
home. Stay with me. She won’t remember my singing, my dead grandmother singing to her. Blackbirds
cackling in a witness tree. From German, literally a “noisy ghost,” from poltern, “to rattle”: The wine
bottles I hid under the bed clanking as I lay face down above, not unlike a snow angel. Sleepwalking. My
body emptied of a baby. Haunted rooms. She took more than 10 seconds to cry, like a fire in the rain.
The act of naming her: saint, stone, a sainted stone, a saint almost drowned by a stone tied around her
middle, but for stunning graces. So, Grace. Birthmarked. Descendent of angels. Birds rustling as thunder
in my nightmares. Mouthful of bones in lucid dreams. Of hens running from the hatchet. Men sailing
toward the edge of the earth where oceans drop off into eternity. This baby a tiny kite I barely hold,
disappearing up into spectral skies. Silverware clinking in a diner, crucifix lighting up my neck. While
she slept in the incubator, my father asked why I wouldn’t eat the turkey or mashed potatoes. Humming,
buzzing, tinny rattling a wishbone I can’t crack. A poltern crossing stepping stones in my gut. Dear baby,
dear stranger, I didn’t know how much I’d want your immensity. This noisy ghost of desire tying me
to this world. I knelt by the river rattling nightly. Your ship carried me.
A 2017 NJ Council on the Arts poetry fellow, Nicole Rollender is the author of the poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love (Five Oaks Press), and four poetry chapbooks. She has won poetry prizes from Palette Poetry, Gigantic Sequins, CALYX Journal, and Ruminate Magazine. Her work appears in Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, Nashville Poetry Review, The Journal, Ninth Letter, Puerto del Sol and West Branch, among many other journals. She is managing editor of THRUSH Poetry Journal. Nicole holds an MFA from the Pennsylvania State University. Visit her online: www.nicolemrollender.com.