A boy breaks into the abandoned hospital
bag of spray paint against his thigh,
stereo balanced on one shoulder,
hip hop filling empty rooms.
He chooses the third floor
for his masterpiece, his mark,
his way of saying I was here,
I was here and I was glorious.

       We didn’t just die here,
we lived, and loud,

the evidence is somewhere in town,
look underneath our spirit skin.

He sets to work, the music
giving him a rhythm his mother hates,
music she says will land him in a bad crowd,
the crank of bolt cutters, the flight
from chain link fence to mildew grass below.

He knows she loves him but he can’t stay
away from these forgotten buildings
and blank walls screaming for color
and something to say.

            We have years of things to say.

Years of drinking coffee and tuning cars,
                            of early mornings and cheap thrills.

Tonight his mind is full of skeletons
and clouds of smoke, night sky
strangled by angry stars.

The cassette tape unravels
and the stereo chokes out a jazz song,
one the boy does not know but lets ride,
because it makes him feel cool,
like he’s at the bar in a speakeasy
where the drinks are cold and laced
with women’s red lipstick.

       Do you know the boogie woogie?
                  Do you know how to blow smoke out your nose
                            like a mad bull?
It makes all the ladies go crazy.

The ghosts come out of their corners,
their dark sleeping places
to watch the boy paint with his mists,
his cans of rainbows.

       Mary used to write on the wall when the nurses weren’t looking.
       She wrote love letters to a man we couldn’t see—a ghost.

Ghost children lie on their stomachs,
chins propped up on open palms, legs
swinging to the saxophones,
while the adults begin to dance
around the room like pockets
of paper twisting in the wind.

          Tea for two and two for tea,
                 just me for you and you for me,
          Never alone.

The boy finishes his graffiti tag,
name scrawled across an entire wall.
Letters like a language all his own.

The music ends and the ghosts clap their hands.

         Spin that record one more time. Kick off your shoes.
We’re staying up all night long.

The boy turns around, frightened,
but sees no one. He shuffles fast down the stairs,
and their dance begins again —his heartbeat
the only song taking him home.


~  ~  ~

GaffneyM. Brett Gaffney, born in Houston, Texas, holds an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is an associate editor of Gingerbread House literary magazine. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Stone Highway Review, Slipstream, Wind, Penduline, Cactus Heart, Exit 7, Still: the Journal, Permafrost, Scapegoat Review, Rogue Agent, and Zone 3, among others.