jimmy v the ghost

I think I was nine, maybe ten
going through a phase
especially on school days
of phantom stomach pains back then

I’d been prodded and probed
and Doctor Hornet (what can I say)
asked if everything at home was okay
I said yes so the case was closed

but all the troubles were hid
which of course I didn’t show because
the plain truth was
I was a vague and generally clueless kid

so one school day it was the usual scene
mum had gone out somewhere
leaving me alone in an armchair
flicking through my sister’s Jackie magazine

when suddenly I heard a sound
from up in the attic
sneaky and erratic
the noise a ghost would make coming down

I wedged chairs against the doors
then with a rising sense of doom
ran around the living room
tipping out all the drawers

there was so little it was frightening:
paperbacks, souvenirs, photos, plants
in desperation I took my chance
with an Airfix model of an Electric Lightning

(a fighter jet from the 60s and 70s
from my brother’s wargames kit
he was into all that military shit
planes being one of his specialties)

it was less of a weapon and more of a crutch
ghosts are dead and don’t feel pain
so hitting them with a model plane
probably wouldn’t bother them overmuch

I waited in the armchair
holding the plane by the cone like a club
waiting for the terrifying ghost to show up
and when Mum came home I was still there

what she said to me I’ve no idea
memories of that time have faded
but eventually the stomach pains abated
and I saw out the rest of the year

if I could skip time and visit
myself shivering in that armchair
I’d say put the plane down, Jimmy, don’t be scared
let the ghost in, talk to it


notoriously difficult to explain
funny-looking, spongy contraptions
buzzing with neuro-chemical interactions
like there’s something galactic
fizzing in the attic

quite what all this means I don’t know
I mean do YOU know where memories go?
when you’re alive it’s weird enough
your head filled with echoey stuff
but what about when you’re dead?
do the memories go somewhere else instead?

maybe they go into everything else
when you’re laid to rest and your brain slowly melts
it might explain the other day
when I went to visit dad’s grave
carnations singing invitingly
frank sinatra: come fly with me

calling time

There was derelict ground at the end of our street
where the print works social club used to be
its pavilion fallen in, everything decayed
all the best stuff robbed away
but we managed to salvage an umpire’s chair
for some reason still standing there
rusting by the tangled nets
like the last of the sunny afternoon sets
ended a hundred years ago
and now only rain passed to and fro
and the only umpiring left to make
was which kind of weed would be next to break
up through the broken tarmac surface
while the developers slowly completed their purchase

Dad put the chair at the back of our house
so when he was digging he could take time out
sit with a tea, survey his work
the vegetable kingdom of the printer’s clerk

twenty years later, mum’s gone, too
and there’s an awful lot of clearing to do
at the end of the garden I find the chair
the woodwork gone, the ironwork bare
and I see Dad sitting on it, sipping his tea
quietly scrutinising me
and I wondered whether he’d approve or not
all those years of digging – for what?
a realm of brambles, nettles, shrubs
his son in a hat with croppers and gloves

but all things pass – gardens, courts
the Fens were reed beds once of course
and before that – dinosaurs called to each other
across the shining river delta
and further back, before this world,
before the formless pattern of chaos unfurled

and in my mind Dad is there
watching it all from his umpire’s chair

I stand for a while, the garden stripped
then toss the bones of the chair in a skip

initiate fettuccine protocol

the hotel receptionist
is professionally bright
the plush corporate death
of his surroundings
he wears a large yellow badge
on his lapel
but I’m too scared
to lower my eyes
to read it

ask me anything he says
anything at all

is there somewhere nice to eat
I say
for some reason
putting one hand on my hip
then regretting it
but too self-conscious
to lower it again

depends what you mean by nice
he smiles
unnaturally still
like a chameleon
whose disguise
for the fly
is a suit and tie

I see a flicker of distraction
like his attention
is divided
50% to the smile
50% to the pushing of a button
beneath the desk

and that badge
that badge is probably
a camera
(admissible in court)

I don’t know,
he says
what do you normally eat
do you like fettuccine?
is that the kind of thing?
there are some italian places off the high street
do you like italian?

yeah I say so long as it’s easy

italian’s easy
he says
VERY easy
try the italian places he says
if you like fettuccine

he’s said fettuccine so many times now
I feel tangled

Oh my god
the sly dog

the return of the tripe stick kid

when I rattle the harness Stanley knows
it’s walkin’ time for the two amigos
amblin’ easy heading west
on the bluebell trail we love the best
but jes’ hang on a gosh darn second now
being as how they’s a mess a’cows
haulin’ hoof in yonder field
so I keep ‘em peeled
keep Stanley on the lead
sure not wantin’ me no stampede

I stay focused
and one thing I notice
thems ‘ain’t the usual friesian
thems a whole other other dairy demon
a couple dozen ‘ornery ayrshires
tho’ could be herefords to be fair t’ya
they look this way with a mean complexion
we head off quick in the other direction

maybe they think I’m the gosh darn’ farmer
or some other kinda cowboy charmer
either way I guess it mighty politic
to dodge into the other field double quick

‘course – they up hoof n’follow us
swing round suddenly and corrall us
between a hedge and a fallen tree
and lawsakes I think it’s the end o’me
hell – I’m no expert but even I know
if you’re cornered by cows you let yer dog go
so I unclip his lead and he dives thru’ a gap
to save himself and get help perhaps
then I turn to address the advancing beasts
and per’pare myself the good lor’ to meet

the next thing I know Stanley’s galloping back
shooting his gums at the dairy pack
like a gosh durn sheriff riding to my assistance
and the herd hauls off to the lush green distance

‘mighty obliged to you, pardner – that was neat’
as I hand him a plug from my bag of treats
and I straighten my hat, and I scraggle his head
‘I’m thru with cows; let’s see bluebells instead’

status update XXII

Tick tock tick tock / here comes the man that time forgot / back to front and hot to trot / but somehow also kinda not / missing the high notes, running on the spot / but wait – no, it’s gone / the end is over before it’s begun / the skeleton magician tapping his wand / waggling his phalanges to The Great Beyond / saying the magic words: Happy Cadaver! / the body disappearing and yeah, mate – whatever / smiling on cue to the flashing cameras

I think the The Three Musketeers put it best / All for one and fuck the rest / I don’t pay fines or speak to the press / it’s all so predictable, too distressing / treat ‘em mean and keep ‘em guessing / this democracy shit’s just goddamn depressing

But look! Here’s one of me in my diving suit / so tight it’s a fright but also kinda cute / hosepipe helmet and big lead boots / happy as can be / all at sea / sailing out to where the city used to be / singing / the bells are ringing / for me n’ my world

Sheesh! I really am some flat pack character / in need of a screwdriver / multivits and a criminal barrister / called Henry McAllister / whose dad was a bum and his mum was a minister / yeah – so what – I’m addicted to rhymes / add it to the list of my literary crimes

Reading the news on the travelator / A Stitch-up In Time Saves A Big Lie Later / Judge Gives Birth To An Alligator / Cesar Millan Lets Slip The Dogs Of War / NOW we know what all the training was for / singing hey diddle diddle / MPs on the fiddle / Musk flies over the moon / the little dog laughed to see such fun and because it was generally non-compliant with its antipsychotics

A butterfly flaps its wings and boom / that little change in pressure in the combat room / means the whole charade is over too soon / Extinction swirls her cloak and beckons / by means of fingers like nuclear weapons

Charlie Brown / spins around / his one hair straight as he hits the ground / stabbed in the back with a pen all gloopy / his dying words? Et tu, Snoopy?

Please make your way to the poetry exit / the lines are now closed (applause expected)

a whole new me

my nose
I chose
from the snouts on show
at www dot schnozz direct
absolutely perfect
100% no quibble
100% no dribble
don’t snore with it
adore it

my chest
I select
whilst logged on as guest
at www dot tits dot net
best you can get
natural heft
right and left
fills my T
totally me

my teeth
I believe
I’ll eventually receive
from www dot gnashers dot com
cost a bomb
clean n’white
chew alright
confident smile

my skeleton’s
by Peloton
guaranteed American
laser knit
snap fit
bye bye wheezies
hello PBs
lithe n’limber

my brain
I obtain
from the popular domain
www dot noggin dot biz
no fuss no fizz
a range of programmes
to maximise the I-Ams
plug n’go

Stanley the Lurcher shares a few comforting lines on Death

Isaac Newton, Cleopatra, Shakespeare – all died
No wonder I’m reluctant to go outside

Dying is as natural as scratching your ears
it just goes on a few more years

Death is the undiscovered country from whose bourn no lurcher returns
just a few less treats and a few more worms

I think I speak for most dogs
when I say there’s no such thing as ghost dogs

Verily did’st I meet Death waiting in the market
and ventur’d most bravely to tug its cloak and task it
What is Death? And lo! it did blow a wormy gasket
so loudly did it laugh-eth
and ghastly did gaspeth
embarrassed was I the joke not to graspeth
tempted to say forget my question – sorry I ask’d it
for I woulds’t feel bad if Death suddenly cark’d it
but Death doing its best its corpsing to mask it
sayeth Why! Death be but a snooze in an underground basket!
(and I came from that place thinking Death may be sick
but jes’ ‘cos you’re eternal why be a dick)

Stanley the Stoic

If you would wish to improve,
seek not to move
from the sofa and such
but be content
to be thought ignorant

Happiness consists
in being able to resist
the worming tablets
they hide in your dish

No lurcher is truly free
until they are unclipped from the lead 

Lurchers are not disturbed by things
excepting children with violins

There is only one way to happiness
and that is to cease
worrying about treats
that are unavailable to eat
beyond the power of our will
in a tupperware box on the windowsill

The key is to keep company
only with dogs who uplift you, 
whose presence calls forth your best
(I’m not great with collies, but I’m okay with the rest) 

We have two ears and one mouth
so we can listen twice as much as we speak
(also a tail
which is useful as well) 

It’s not what happens to you
but how you react to it that matters
(it wasn’t me that left the sofa in tatters)