Janice Lee

Hungry Ghosts

I fall through a black hole, a black world. I fall through an ether of nothing, nothing, nothing. where am I where am I. mommy I want to go home. I’m sitting on the branch of a red tree. the tree is red. coated with red paint, red juice, red blood between my thighs seeps in to the pores of red leaves. curling threads of red wrap around my limbs, the tree’s limbs. I take my hands, scoop up blood and rub it into my face hard. my face is bleeding, my cunt is bleeding. the blood is my mask and it is here on the branch of this red tree that I am hiding from the colorless trees, the other half of the world.

in the Buddhist Wheel of Life there are hungry ghosts which are called PRETAS. these pretas, these phantom-like creatures with withered limbs, bloated bellies, needle-like necks, these hungry ghosts search for gratification for old unfulfilled needs whose time has passed. they are ghosts because they are attached to the past. they live in past wants and desires. they demand impossible satisfactions and so they have stretched necks- forever hungry and demanding the impossible.

my mother tells me she loves me.
I believe her but don’t care.
I say to her i love you too.
I lie, but she is satisfied.

later my mom calls me again and her voice is sad.
she is lonely. she contemplates leaving my dad.

I say nothing just uh huh.
I hang up and I start crying uncontrollably.
I lied when I said I lied.

paranormal lights, many of which are described as “little balls” of energy, have often been seen and recorded whizzing around the living. some claim that these balls of plasma energy are the negatively charged manifestations of hungry ghosts who are wandering around the earth trying to feed off the living in order to sustain their own existence and presence.

one enters the world as a flower child. I looked into the mirror and I did not see eyes but body and more body and I looked at myself and there were no eyeballs where the eyes should have been but when I looked into the mirror and why when I looked into the mirror couldn’t I see those body parts that I used to see myself with
because it is all scientific it is simply a scientific process that I had go through once in awhile and always.
why am I hungry.

my walls: covered with yellow wallpaper.

pretas are invisible to the human eye but some believe they can be discerned by humans in certain mental states. if you can make them out, they would look human-like, but with sunken, mummified skin, narrow limbs, enormously distended bellies, and long, thin necks. they have enormous appetites so their bellies are bloated but the slender necks prevent them from satisfying their appetites. their stomachs like mountains and their necks as thin as a hair from a horse’s tail, their bodies resemble teardrops. their mouths are like the eye of a needle, and some are known to have two or three knots in their throats. these ghosts are hungry but can not eat. these ghosts are thirsty but they can not drink.

the skin of the hungry ghosts is as dry as tinder. when their limbs rub together, there are sparks. a hungry ghost may see food in the distance but will probably not be able to reach it. it is difficult to move and even if the destination is reached, the food may suddenly disappear or transform into something undesirable. hungry ghosts see their desires manifest everywhere, but these desires can not be reached or they are simply illusions.

I’m trying out this apathy and rebelling against love.
I am only just giving in to my sentiments.

sometimes I pretend I am crazier than I really am.
my biggest fear is being normal.

I am greedy I am impatient I am mistaken I make mistakes I look into shadows and see nothing just symbols of restlessness I do not relent I am not free I imagine being taken for a moon ride by moonlight marked by the night the black from the black canvas from that place that I can not go I have been touched by the night turning its back on me only after the day told me I had too much pride because I mix love and pity and anger and lust and restlessness into the oceans as my heart pounds with the tide and a broken pot shows my reflection, cracked from the morning sun.

after undergoing unbelievable hardships to come all the way to where in the distance they have seen clear blue water, the hungry ghost arrives to find that the water has been filled with pus, blood, hair, garbage. there is nothing there to drink. some pretas find food and try to swallow it fast only finding that the food they eat bursts into flames as they swallow it.

in addition to hunger, pretas suffer from immoderate heat and cold. the moon scorches them in the summer and the sun freezes them in the winter. pretas may vomit fire that turns them to ash and some slash at their own flesh with their fingernails. because their mouths are as small as the eye of a needle, they are able only to emit but the weakest and eeriest of whistling sounds. silent and hungry, pretas are condemned to suffer perpetual thirst, starvation, and invisibility.

I wanted to know if I could be so clever as that girl with the big eyes and if I could strap myself into the chair and who are you to say that you can take my lightning my thunder and I have my eyes closed so that I can feel the words fall out of my fingers consciousness is not my friend and I want to smell the carpet where I walk and then I want to fall through the earth my hands reached upward reaching for the ground that would be above me and I want the emotions to follow me afterward and I wonder if there is something more under me as I fall and as the ground is further and further away it becomes closer at the same time I know the way I feel is not the way I fell because the carpet is not even the same color in certain spots and can I fall faster can I reach faster something more throw the rocks upward and downward and make it seem like I know what it is where it is I’m falling and its hard to say what is real and I love the way I’m falling and the music reaches an end and I know that the little bumps will trickle away and can I extract from things in extreme cases.

I continue to make the gestures out of habit.
do I continue to live out of habit?

some pretas are visible only at night.

Janice Lee is a writer, artist, editor, and curator. She is interested in the relationships between metaphors of consciousness and theoretical neuroscience, and experimental narrative. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Big Toe Review, Zafusy, antennae, sidebrow, Action, Yes, Joyland, Luvina, and Black Warrior Review. She is the author of KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press, 2010), a multidisciplinary exploration of cyborgs, brains, and the stakes of consciousness, and Daughter (Jaded Ibis, Forthcoming). She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from CalArts and currently lives in Los Angeles where she is a co-curator for the feminist reading series Mommy, Mommy!, co-editor of the online journal [out of nothing], and co-founder of the interdisciplinary arts organization Strophe. She can be found online at

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