Malevolent Spirit

This entry begins in prose in order to set the stage for three earlier poems, now presented en suite.

I shall begin to address some points which I consider germane to the subject matter. Here at the Ale 81 Inn we have developed followers from all over the world. None have volunteered and I have never asked the religious affiliation of any of our visitors. I might reasonably assume that our audience, by virtue of the real estate involved, represents the full spectrum of the world’s major religions. If not in practice then at least in a cultural sense. I address this here because the poems presented, and the back story which follows, concern matters of the spirit world. Whether by religious practice or simply cultural tradition, all have differing perceptions of what these things actually mean. I offer my deference to each reader’s own personal tradition in advance.

I was raised in a predominantly Christian tradition and have lived my entire life in that part of the globe which may be referred to as Christendom. I do not, however, call myself a Christian. If pressed to describe myself in terms of religion I might say that I am a recovering Catholic. It is only important to know this as it may color my perceptions. Despite every conscious effort I can not escape where I come from.

I believe that human beings across the globe share in an instinctive spirituality. In nearly every interpretation of this there exists the notion of a spirit realm that resides in a plane beyond our own physical world. It is only by religious doctrine (which is distinctly human; not spiritual) that these beliefs are rendered taboo or subjected to more orthodox interpretations. Not all share in the same capacity to sense or recognize a spirit presence. I think people are in three categories where it comes to this subject. They are completely oblivious to it, they are highly sensitive to it, or they are ever looking for it. The third of these to also find it where none exists. Belief is a powerful thing.

I had long counted myself of the first, oblivious as I am to so many things. I am no longer certain of this.

During the course of some research for a larger project I had occasion to spend some extended visits in a major Midwestern Capitol. Out of respect to my host and any who may yet live in the building I am about to describe, I will be no more specific as to names and places. The building I was in was imposing in it’s own right, as were most on the avenue, but none so like what I shall call the Western Arms. From my suite I enjoyed the vantage of a third level balcony to gaze over treetops and the alley beyond. After this the western horizon was dominated by that looming specter.

This was a neighborhood that was mapped out in the late nineteenth century and which had seen it’s heyday past with the end of the roaring twenties. Now undergoing one of numerous urban gentrification projects, the neighborhood is still visually dominated by gold, red and russet brick, all in combination. Virtually every structure in the block is so comprised, but one: the Western Arms. Dwarfing all of it’s neighbors the Western Arms fills all of one end of it’s block; homes to one side and a park to the other. In contrast to the homes this monolith stands in a uniform pale russet brick.

The building in which I was a guest was on the same side of the road, anchoring the opposite corner of the block. From that rear balcony there lay an alley below, a lane which would have extended the entire block were it not for the Western Arms barring the path. As an incurable insomniac I sat once in the very early hours of an October morning, where I was witness to a moving set of events in that alleyway.  The very initial impressions of this event were recorded just minutes after in the poem 2:30 AM (original post date 16 Oct. 2018). The grief of this young lady, from a distance of nearly one hundred yards, was palpable and as clear as if she had been sitting immediately under the balcony.

In subsequent days I was to learn further details surrounding those events. As my understanding of these evolved my perspectives of the experience also evolved. These are reflected in the subsequent poems, Witness and the next day (17/10) and Dead at 18 (18/10). Despite the emerging nature of the story the constant remained that visceral wave of anguish experienced in the moment. Piecing it all together I learned that the girl I heard weeping that morning was the girlfriend of the young man who had been slain. She lived with him in an apartment located in the Western Arms. The young man had been shot several blocks away. The driver of the car that had crept up that alley had meant to arrive at the Western Arms parking lot, likely at the behest of the girlfriend. Finding the way blocked and realizing that the young man would never make it inside, a call was made to 911 then the couple was left there in the alley. 

As I had observed this drama I became aware of something else. The Western Arms from this vantage point was bathed in the glaring light of a lone security lamp in that rear lot. At night it’s ruddy brown brick was transformed into a ghostly grey-white, it’s profile grew into an angry apparition frowning it’s malice upon the entire block. From that moment forward I saw this edifice as the host of some malevolent spirit. I later learned that it had once indeed served as a hospital, had been abandoned for some time and had since been developed as a rental building for subsidized housing. A long history of medical and mental trauma, beatings, stabbings, overdoses.  The place has long been marked with death and misery. I can rationalize that my vision of the building as a ghost is a projection. I do not believe that places can be physically “infected” by malign spirits, but I do believe that a place which has been marked by so much tragedy must act as host to the many unquiet spirits resulting from such events.

The malevolent spirits that inhabit the Western Arms were there to hear the grief, to magnify it and carry it upon the night air that all might know: here is a place of death. Your sorrows will ever be welcomed here.

2:30 AM

Voices carry in the dark

Sounds that seem urgent

may only be the mirth of youth

A man and a woman

another contentious exchange

until words find clarity

Call 911!

Then weeping, anguish

Her sobbing ends the night

In ten minutes the sirens wail

and cease amid flashing lights

The city’s wall of silence

subsumes her sorrow

And the sun will rise to shine

with Paul Simon’s Paraphenalia

When it’s all done and the police come

and they lay you down for dead

just remember what I said


Witness and the next day

Grey dawn arrives, a half light to shed

Softer yet less illuminating

No more glare, radios silent now

Only chalk outline and debris remain

This space I remember

Where the city’s cloud of menace

Swallowed her, tears and anguish whole

Lurking amid the lines above

I felt her sorrow, the emptiness left behind

Bang! fall down, not the needle

Some other agent this time

Eighteen years of blood cells

stain the pavement

Perhaps instead

She weeps for the error


Dead at 18

I heard her weep

Hear her still

Echoes over understanding

I had watched your building

Saw a light on

Top floor, never seen before

Was that you?

Was he a brother

or a lover

Lone car with parking lights

crawled up the alley

You were bringing him home

Tears for leaving

or pulling the trigger