ghost therapy

I dreamt
I was in hospital, sent
to see a patient
admitted that evening
a screaming
scared of
I said it was certainly the lesser of two evils
because it’s either a jab or a silver bullet
so he grabbed the emergency cord to pull it…

but then I opened my eyes
and to my surprise
saw my dead dad
ludicrously clad
in the big black cloak he always had
stagily wreathed in thick grey smoke
waving with boney bonhomie
from the foot of the bed in front of me

Alright son? he said
nodding his head
grinning so broadly
I was inordinately
worried his lower jaw
would pop right out on the bedroom floor
‘We’ve got to stop meeting like this!
but it’s another full moon so I couldn’t resist…’

I sat up
plumped the pillows and backed up
as he worked his cloak and flapped up

‘DAD!’ I said
as he hovered next to the bed
‘I thought when you were dead
schtum – that was it
not all this ghostly shemozzle instead’

‘I know!’ he grinned
‘but turns out when the ol’ body’s binned
the essence carries on regardless
don’t be so heartless
you can hardly
blame me
anyway I’m still a trainee.’

‘It’s been nineteen years!’ I said

‘That’s nothing when you’re dead,’
he shrugged
‘But hey – it’s hard for me to judge’

I sighed
smoothed the duvet over my thighs
‘Sorry I was snippy
but it’s just a bit tricky
when you were alive you were so
I don’t know
buttoned up?
now you’re dead there’s no shutting you up.’

‘It’s true’ he said
‘I never felt so alive now I’m dead
but you see
the family meant a lot to me
I’m sorry I didn’t get to say how I really felt
but I guess that’s the hand your ol’man was dealt
my dad was a drunk who gave us the belt
so we grew up quiet and self-contained
which maybe explains
the strange restraint
but who knows? a psychotherapist I ain’t’

We chatted awhile about this and that
metaphysics; whether there are cats
and dogs
in the afterlife – or not;
what he thought about climate change;
whether he could arrange
to smuggle me over
so I could look around and get some closure
‘It’s not me it’s the paperwork,’ he said
‘It’s more straightforward when you’re actually dead.’

Just then we heard
a chorus of birds
raucously squawking just outside
a certain sign that dawn had arrived
and I reached out and shook his metacarpals
cold as a hand of wire-strung marbles
and despite all the smoke
the skeleton chic and the bullshit cloak
I have to admit I felt quite choked
when he finally twirled and quickly left
unexpectedly just as bereft
as nineteen years ago this June
when they switched him off in ITU

the king my father

Dad appeared again last night
he said
waving goofily from the bottom of the bed
I sat up
drank a cup
of water straight off
‘Take the weight off’
I said
patting the bed
Dad shrugged the hood off his head
then sat
fussily folding his hands in his lap
Whaddya know?’
‘Not much.’
‘Hey – I appreciate you keeping in touch
what with being dead n’all
I didn’t put money on that at all’
‘Me either’ he said
‘I wanted a nice long lie-in instead
but them’s the breaks I guess
doomed forever more or less
to walk the earth in fancy dress…’

I don’t know if this is particularly relevant
but even though Dad was basically a skeletont
I knew at once it was really him
just quite a bit slimmer
the same ol’ glimmer
playing round his sockets
a packet of wine gums poking out his pocket

‘How d’you eat those things with your jaw?
You’d have to think it defies all laws
Wouldn’t they just fall straight on the floor?’
‘Uh-huh’ he said, waggling his mandible
‘Your concerns are understandable
But – see – these are Time Gums
Specially confected for spectral tongues
You feel like you’re chewing
but there’s nothing much doing
The flavours are crude
Your teeth come unscrewed
and the goddamn packet’s endlessly renewed
but it helps you concentrate
which is really quite helpful for a guy in my state

He sighed
flexed his glowing phalanges wide
then delicately hooked my curtains aside
and for the longest while we stared outside
the moon shining silvery, round and sweet
he said
‘And great you get this straight from your bed’

I said
sitting more upright on the bed
‘Tell me what it’s like being dead’

He turned his sockets sadly on me
and we held that connection wordlessly
until eventually
he yawned
and said ‘Well – it’s just like the time before you were born
THAT but without the cord n’stuff
I could tell you more but that’s enough
My hour is almost come,
When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself
yaddah yaddah something else’

I gave him one of my probing looks
How’d he know Shakespeare when he never read books?

‘So what are you saying? Hell is REAL?
None of this sounds ideal
You’re making me queasy
sulphurous & tormenting sounds a bit sleazy’

‘Don’t take it literally
he said
suddenly leaping up off the bed
his black cloak cracking
snapping and flapping
like some dreadful, stressful, dad-sized bat
engaged in supernatural combat
screaming and crying
then finally raising his arms and flying
straight through the ceiling without even trying
pointy and quick
like he only lacked a stick
to qualify as a rocket
the Time Gums falling out of his pocket

‘Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!’
I said after I’d managed to calm myself down a bit
and got up to disarm
the dreadful clamour from the smoke alarm
then picked up the Time Gums, gave one a chew
because – be honest – wouldn’t you, too?

sunday bonfires

I opened my eyes
and to my surprise
there stood Dad
nodding and smiling in that way he had
plus a few added extra spectral moans
cos he was twenty years dead and mostly bones

‘Ere we are again! he said. Happy days!
scratching his pate with a coupla phalanges
How are you doin’ Jim? Tell me – how’s tricks?
Anything a stiff like me can fix?

I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes
‘Well – Dad – I said – what a lovely surprise
but I’d be lying
if I said your visit wasn’t trying
I mean it’s hard with you flying
around the place
it hardly makes
for a restful scenario
but that being said – how the hell are you?

I’ve been worse
dying’s the curse
of the living classes
lately I’d be hard put to tell you where my arse is
added to which I’ve lost my glasses
but even if I found ‘em
I haven’t got ears to hook the frames round ‘em
[but then he turned sharply;
looked at me darkly]
Mark me!
Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing
To what I shall unfold…

whoa! just a goddamn minute I said
quickly sitting up in bed
Why the dramatic shift in gear?
Why’ve you suddenly gone all Shakespeare?
You’ve got to wonder how it looks
You only ever read gardening books

Mark me!
My hour is almost come,
When I to sulph’rous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself
and you know that’s bad for my mental health

Dad – I hate to say this
but you know I’m an atheist?
which is awks
all this talk
of purgatory and damnation
well – it’s an interesting situation
and not that I’m calling you a liar
but …c’mon… really? … HELLFIRE?
What did YOU do that was so terrible?
your only crime was overcooking vegetables

You’re right, Jim!
This is way too grim
I’ve been hoodwinked! Hypnotised! Taken in!
This is what happens
when you die and time slackens
and you’re prey to religion and gothic fashions
Just imagine!
Surrounded forever by ghouls and ghosts
with apocalyptic monotheistic guff to promote

So – what’s it REALLY like then, I said
Tell me what it’s like being dead.

Well, Jim – d’you remember as a toddler, kneeling
quietly by the window on a Sunday evening
as I worked in the garden, shadows deepening
threads of smoke through the darkness weaving
invoking a sharp and poignant feeling?
well THAT’S what it’s like, but 24/7
and whether that’s hell or whether that’s heaven
is a completely different kinda question

And with that he vanished in a cackle of smoke
And I fell back asleep and when I awoke
completely forgot the words he spoke
(mental note: keep a pad by the bed
or shit like this goes out of your head)

mall ghosts

it’s not that you never see ghostly faces
nodding to you over piles of melons
in Walmart or other fruity places
their mournful expressions
making you blanch
quickening your heart
till you rush from that branch
with an empty cart

and it’s not that you never smell them there
in quiet, soulless shoe stores
idly waving their feet in the air
smiling as you wander in through the doors
making you stop
and say yikes
and hurry past the shop
without any Nikes

or ever see them yawn and flip
through the medical practice magazines
while you patiently sit and wait for your scrip
for next week’s benzodiazepines
making you squawk
and sprint from the surgery
unable to talk
about your emergency


for creatures of low to no gravity
they gravitate to much older joints
with cellars, attics and other cliche spooky points
which is absolutely 100% fine by me
because (theoretically)
much as I think a ghost might be fun
I’d end up never getting anything done


mum visited last night
with dad
both dead
both standing staring from the bottom of the bed
(which was weird
because they wouldn’t have done that
even when I was a kid
does being dead give you
special visiting rights somehow?)

I said
quickly sitting up
taking a trembly swig
from my water cup

they stood side by side
eyes wide
linked at the elbow
which as these things go
was pretty freaky
resonating unspeakably
with an old wedding photo
they used to have on show
on the mantelpiece
dad in a two piece
mum in skirt and lippy
lurching outta church about 1950

mum cleared her throat
(which is odd for a ghost)
in that unmistakable way she’d got
after years of drinking coffee too hot

‘I just wanted to drop by and say hello’
she said
‘being dead
means you can’t just ring for a chat
and I’m feeling a little bit cross about that
I miss our gossip about dogs
and the odd
patients you’d met
and whether you have or haven’t finished that book yet…’

Dad looked restless
like a punter unexpectedly on the guest list
and not sure what to say
whether to stand or just fly away
I got the feeling she was stealing his thunder
(a cliche you hear a lot and no wonder)

‘Anyway – can’t stay long
Just wanted to drop by and see how you were getting on
We’ll be back again soon to see you, Jim…’

(Which is why I ended up googling ‘exorcism’)

ghosts are contractually obliged to be mysterious

ghosts are contractually obliged to be mysterious
I’m serious
they can’t just sit down
politely ask you to gather round
a family table at Burger King
or something
and after making a lame joke about onion rings
(it’s not easy being a ghost, it’s true
you tend to slip right through your food)
then segueing neatly
into the thing they discreetly
want to communicate to you
which is the tragic murder of you-know-who
and what they’d like you to do
about that
roughing out a crude but informative map
on the back of a napkin
that kind of thing

no – uh-uh – I’m sorry
they haven’t just lost their corporal body
but every last shred of common sense
they gotta draw things out and make it tense
like steam writing on mirrors
or giving you the shivers
by blowing out a candle
or swiping a picture from a mantel
or playing the piano
when you and I KNOW
there’s no one in the music room
in atmospheres of gloomy doom
jump scares
until you just can’t bear it
and you dig out a crucifix and wear it
and you go see a priest
who’s sympathetic at least
even though they only see you at Christmas
but this must
be forgiven
if you’re not to be driven
completely insane
by the ghost that’s dropping hints again
that a great injustice has been wrought
and a certain murderer must be caught
(my money’s on the priest;
he seems quite sweet
but think of the havoc
you can cause in a cassock)

rather than calmly & sensibly
with a sharpie, quite legibly
writing down everything that happened that night
with all the details you need to indict

ghosts are the most annoying thing
into just about everything
and if you’ve got a problem – my advice?
sell the house and don’t think twice

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

ghost dad’s good advice

so there I was
relaxing in my crocs
wondering if there were biscuits in the box
when someone knocks

I thought it was Amazon
but when I opened the door
who d’ya think I saw
come to visit me once more

that’s right – GHOST DAD!
he said: how’s it going Jim
as I stood aside to let him in
accompanied by demonic violins

he said: sorry about that
I can’t do nothin’ about the music
it gets me right in the whatsit pubic
and to think they think it’s therapeutic

I have to say he looked the same
which given he’s been dead a while
is a triumph of spirit over style
but he was nothing if not versatile

he hovered in the kitchen
and said – how are tricks
his smile the fragile side of fixed
you’d expect from essentially a pile of sticks

not bad – thanks for asking
I said as he drifted
and every jar and box lid lifted
and all the contents critically snifted

and once again
I thought as I watched
our relationship had gone up quite a notch
ever since his operation was botched

so – Dad – is this a social?
an other-worldly good morning?
or are you performing
some vibey, beyond-the-grave kinda warning?

always with the drama!
he said – then suddenly twirled
screaming like a demon from the underworld
his cloak embarrassingly unfurled

impressive I said
as he slowed and stopped
and his lower jaw dropped
and I had to bend down to pick it up

I helped him slot it back
he said I’ve been working on some killer moves
but I still haven’t really found my groove
I s’pose I’ve got eternity to improve

I said no no I thought it was great
really dynamic, quite impressive
surprisingly expressive
the screaming maybe a touch excessive

thanks he said that means a lot
I remember you used to study drama
rolling around in fancy pyjamas
off yer nuts on marijuana

guilty I said that was totally me
but it’s been a few years
I never managed an acting career
it’s an awful lot harder than it first appears

he said everyone’s got regrets
(lidless wink, lipless smirk)
particularly when it comes to work
I mean – look at me – office clerk

I shoulda really been a builder
that would’ve definitely suited me better
righting ladders not writing letters
but often life brings other pressures

you’re not wrong I said
well, he said, that leads me neatly
to the message I’m to give you discreetly

nice I said that’s really sweet
(to be honest, this was all a surprise
previously the closest we’d gotten as guys
was crying with laughter at Morecambe & Wise)

now he said my time is up
he held out a hand for me to take
and even though it was a gentle shake
the arm came off with a dusty break

don’t sweat it he said
using the arm to point at the ceiling
no hard feelings
these phantom limbs are all self-healing

and with that he was gone
in a cloud of fog and screech of strings
and though the visit was interesting
it didn’t help with anything

the other side of the flash

so world war three
ends fairly
the planet is toast
and every last human being suddenly a ghost

benefits are as follows:

carbon footprint = zero
(ghosts don’t need heat, lighting or food, are essentially nude, don’t so much travel places as drift a little when they’re in the mood, so…)

inequality = zero
(ghosts are basically and identically dead, don’t lust after money & power but look vaguely lost instead, everybody draped in a sheet off the bed, so…)

environmental harm = zero
(admittedly starting from a crispy base, but nature slowly reasserts dominion over the place, so…)

risk of infecting other planets = zero
(even if they could build a rocket, they couldn’t ride it, guide it or carry tools in their pocket, and if they landed somewhere they couldn’t lock it, so…)

basically what you’ve got
is a shell-shocked planet that’s smokin’ hot
8 billion ghosts haunting the spot
at least until their guilt’s forgot
which is when, I guess
they’ll all coalesce
into one, long, rapturously heartfelt sigh
and lift like mist to the clearing sky

twenty twenty whoo-hoo

about half past three
there was a buzz on the buzzer
I thought it was the postie
or someone or other

so imagine my surprise
when I found instead
my dad outside
after many years dead

the biggest shock to me
wasn’t the ghostly visitation
it’s just that normally
it’s a showier presentation

‘I know! I know!’ he said
shaking out his cloak
picking a hair-like worm from his head
(he was an image conscious bloke)

‘I’m done with all that theatrical shit
it gets a spirit down
when all you want is to get out for a bit
you go CRAZY underground’

he carefully wiped his calcaneum
on the welcome mat
then stomped across the linoleum
to sit and have a chat

‘How are things?’ I said
and gave a wincy grimace
c’mon! the guy was ten years dead
I should probably act more serious

he shrugged a little
which was quite a relief
‘better than in hospital’
and smiled with all his teeth

‘Jim? This is the last of my spectral visits
sorry to sound so doomy
but I need to know why the hell is it
you’ve been acting glum and gloomy’

‘It’s true’ I said, ‘I can’t deny it
I’m struggling to see my way clear
and it’s always a job to hide it
around this time of year’

‘I totally understand,’ he said
‘The Winter months can be hard
especially when the earth’s your bed
and you lie there counting stars’

‘The thing is, Jim, you worry too much
live a little before you die
and try not to use your phone as a crutch
you’re getting RSI’

‘I wish we could chat in reality’
I said – cradling his cold phalanges
‘instead of in dumb ass poetry
that’s longer than the Ganges’

‘C’mon!’ he said. ‘It’s never too late
to talk to your dear old pappy
– although having said that now’s not great
the connection’s pretty crappy’

and suddenly he rose up
made a farewell pass with his wrist
and I sat there numb and froze up
as he vanished in a swirl of mist

I worried a while about the visit
but really I shouldn’t have thought twice
he was always good with the jokey shit
and not so hot with advice