One of the eeriest poems to appear in children's anthologies is "Antigonish," by Hughes Mearns. For many years I thought it was by A.A. Milne, confusing it with a clever poem he wrote about his favorite stair for sitting.
The most famous stanza of the creepy Mearns poem reads:
Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away...
It reminds me of a tale my mother once told me: about how, in her childhood home, she heard something bumping down the attic stairs and then crashing into the door. When she opened the door, there was nothing there. She later learned that a little boy, as a child, had perished on those steep attic stairs, falling down them and breaking his neck.
Turns out Mearns had written the poem about a ghost that haunted a stairwell in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Even though I didn't know this, I always found this poem eerie. Why is it that that the absence of something is often scarier than its presence? Is it because, in the absence of anything to view, the most horrible fantasies creep into the imagination? Is it because we are ancient hunters who are more intimidated by not being able to see the creature who might turn from hunted into hunter and pounce?
Haven't you ever felt your skin crawl, alone in the house? Or fancied, like me, that you once heard someone in an upstairs hallway call your name? Do objects get misplaced or damaged, and you have no memory of it? Haven't you felt eyes on you when no one was there?
What if the non-entity, the man who wasn't there, got a chance to speak his piece? I imagine it might sound like this:
I am the man who wasn't there.
I wasn't sitting on the stair.
I wasn't the naughty devil who
filled your shoes with Elmer's glue.
I didn't overturn your mush;
didn't sneeze on your toothbrush.
I may be bad, but I am not
the one who sprayed your scarf with snot.
I did not break your favorite truck
nor cover Dolly's face with muck.
I did not tangle all your strings
or do a hundred other things
the household may accuse me of,
done below stairs or above.
When you're asleep I do not creep
into your room to steal a peep.
I do not stalk you through the park
or tap your shoulder in the dark.
Despite your nightly bedtime dread,
I do not hide beneath your bed.
I do not lurk behind your seat
or look for ways to grab your feet.
No matter all your icy fear,
I'm not to blame; I am not here.