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Pascha Brown United States (4/13/2013 12:14:00 AM)

I read Eric Burger's " The Design" in the Indiana Review, and I want help interpreting the exact meaning of his poem. I pasted the poem and some thoughts I on what I think it means:

a poem from Issue 34.1

The Design
by Eric Burger

We treated the ghost like a member of the family—fed her cookies and left the video game console on for her at night—but still she proceeded to haunt us. Not with chains and moans but with small, disturbing things. Two of Molly’s socks grew rat heads. A speck on a carrot stick, on inspection, turned out to be a nearly microscopic severed finger. All my unemployment forms were filled out in Dutch. And, as if she had thrown some kind of filter over the whole property, stars were no longer visible from our yard at night. Then nothing was visible from our yard. Just black nothing. That was it. I was fed up. I went upstairs to the attic and sat on the old chest. The ghost appeared in a Victorian-era dress and a pair of stylish, contemporary sandals. Her eyes seemed greyer than before. She sat on a box. “What I want, ” she said, “you can’t give me. No one can.” “Then why all the haunting?” I fired at her. “It isn’t haunting, ” she explained. “I’m a ghost, a rupture, a non-thing. Everywhere I go I destabilize the material world.” I blinked and was suddenly looking out of her eyes. It wasn’t scary, just a shock. A double-take moment. There was a cheap oil painting on the floor by the chest that I hadn’t thought of in ages. A palm tree in a purple and pink sunset. We couldn’t take our eyes off that sunset and felt an airy sadness in our chest, a fidelity.

My interpretation: The Design is a reference to the main character's strategy to convince an old woman that she is dead, in order for him to come back to life. I think its classic irony. The ghost is actually a member of the family- an artistic type who likes to paint (the cheap, oil painting on the floor) . The family locked her away in the attic thinking she was insane. Throughout the poem, they try to convince themselves that she's dead, when its actually Molly who decays (the rats in her socks) and the dead main character loses his mind (he gets fired- unemployment forms and ends up writing in another language) . The so-called ghost, or Dutch ancestor has a conversation with the dead main character, in which she shows the errors in his logic and makes him accept that he no longer has a place in the world.

The parts I sense have meaning but can't figure out are: " her eyes seemed grayer than before" - so he's seen her, but where?
The " fed her cookies" line makes me think she represents Santa Claus to them, but I don't know how that fits into my theory. " The video game console reminds me of the movie Poltergeist, as if they wanted her to come through in the television, but that could be too far-fetched. I think it's connected to her " stylish contemporary sandals, " and ability to function in the modern world (use technology / gaming equipment) . I think the Victorian era dress is just evidence of her unusual taste, which could have gotten her called crazy and locked up in the attic. Lastly, why does the main character sit on an antique chest while the so-called ghost sits on a box (probably cardboard) ? " Somebody please help me with this!

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  • Bronze Star - 2,059 Points Bull Hawking (4/13/2013 11:36:00 AM) Post reply | Read 1 reply
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    Ok, I'll try to help....thought the poem may interpret me more than I do it. The ghost is his former lover who lives in the attic of his mind. She by haunting him is destroying him his mind his wife his job everything.. The rats in the sox means that there are holes in Molly's way of walking...especially their intimacy sexual or otherwise..The video game is their replaying of the affair and subsequent events. The cookies are good thoughts he tries to pay the ghost with...memories of the affair or of her specifically... but ghosts are never appeased with such trifles. The eyes are grayer due to the fact that she is also sad and knows the love can't be revived....a far cry from the lively lovely eyes she had when they were in the affair. the chest contains his heart which he the pirate must sit on now as then due to the fact he stole her heart and their love by deciding to stay with Molly. The box is the paradox or conundrum they were in trying to resolve the unresolvable....the ghost sits there because it is over she keeps the lid on it so to speak. The Victorian dress is the old notions of protocol that he saw and maybe she saw that caused them to decided to stay married rather than split with the spouse. Allow that I could be far off due to the ghost in MY attic.Hope some of this helps.

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    • Bronze Star - 2,059 Points Pascha Brown (4/13/2013 7:24:00 PM) Post reply | Read 1 reply

      Wow, I didn't realize how powerful the poem is over other people b/c I discussed it with someone who just read it on a surface level. The strange circumstances and beautiful language made me envision ... more

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