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

no

ironically
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
obviously
because (theoretically)
much as I think a ghost might be fun
I’d end up never getting anything done

reunited

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
SO WHY NOW?
does being dead give you
special visiting rights somehow?)

what?
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
everywhere
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
which is LEARN TO TRUST YOUR HEART COMPLETELY

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
rapidly
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

dad comes back (I know, right – AGAIN?)

as usual he appears with fluorescent flair
yaahing & woo-hooing down the stairs
a halo of ghastly green worms for hair
waving his shroud emphatically
a little melodramatically
it seems to me
especially
as I know he was buried in a suit
but maybe he hired the shroud for the shoot
maybe there’s an undead outfitters
called Zombie & sons, or Just Jitters
I’ve really no idea
I’m getting off-point here
which is
witches
ghouls and vampires and such
none of that bothers me all that much
but ghosts have got my attention good
since dad landed back in the neighbourhood

‘Jiiiiiiiimmmmmmmmeeeeeeee’
he wails to me
waving his arms unconvincingly

Okay, okay
I say
Let’s just drop the LOOK AT ME I’M SO DEAD act
I think I can take it as a flatline fact
since I saw you unplugged in ITU
(the scariest thing I saw anyone do)
so you can save the sulphur
sit on that sofa
and rest your mouldy old bones a minute
as far as hauntings go I’ve reached my limit
rest, rest, perturbed spirit
maybe it’ll make for an easier visit

and to my surprise
he complies

so – tell me – dad
this may sound mad
but what’s it like being dead?

he scratches his shiny head
lovingly examines his
long white phalanges
then smiles at me
and carries on more conversationally

S’okay he says
it’s had a bad press
are the hours good? yes
there’s very little stress
so unless
you’re under some kinda spiritual duress
or feel the need to confess
or maybe impress
the need for vengeance on someone who’s transgressed
I’d have to say, for me at least, it’s been a success

hey!
I say
that’s nice to hear
but – to be clear
why are you here?
if death’s such a doozy
why d’ya treat the place like a goddamn jacuzzi?
jumping in and out
waving your arms and legs about
lots of steam
see what I mean?

well, the metaphor’s a mess
but I guess
I can see where you’re coming from
and judging from
your current demeanour
I think you’d be keener
if I dropped by a little less often?
but then – wouldn’t I be forgotten?

no – no, you wouldn’t
so I shouldn’t
take that as a reason for haunting
continued contact I’m fully supporting
just not with all this phonus balonus
maybe you could phone us?
or skype?
or a text if you can type?
alright?

alright! he says
yes!
you’ve made your case!
I was never any good at face-to-face
but promise me I can swing by soon
anytime there’s a blood red moon

so I say naturally dad, of course
when suddenly he rises with the force
of a Marvel special effects team
and roars off with a chilling banshee scream
and the ceiling rends and ripples
and the hissing cat’s hair bristles
and the lights all surge and pop
and dogs in the street all howl without stop
and the curtains snap and whip
and the carpets ruck and rip
and the chairs all flip
and I’m sitting trembling saying what the shit

then a moment of silence

the sound of distant sirens

then I hear dad whispering so low I almost miss it
sorry Jim – couldn’t resist it

adieu, adieu, mon dieu

The ghost of my father came back again last night
(I know, right?
it’s all so contrived
I see more of him dead then I did when he was alive)

Anyway, I’ve stopped being freaked by his spooky mug
the more something happens the more you shrug

Sup, dad? I said
as he hovered heavily overhead
pretending to do the front crawl
against the opposite wall
(the irony escaping him
that in life he couldn’t swim
although maybe he was trying to ease the chills
and prove you can always earn new skills)

The thing that really gets me
is why he can’t forget me?
I mean – you’d think he’d relish the chance
to swerve my bullshit badinage
but no – it’s just like Hamlet’s father, right?
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night
and by the way, whilst he’s at it
criticise the work we had done in the attic

So he does what he always does eventually
which is settle on the bed and talk endlessly
which sounds quite nice as these things go
but he can lie in and I’ve got work tomorrow

It was hot & heady stuff
right enough
exactly the kind of secrets and regrets
that would stop anyone getting a good aeon’s rest
the casual betrayals and sordid affairs
you’d only admit to in Cosmo questionnaires
(then immediately re-work to change your score
and get a result that suited you more)

Did someone murder you, father? I cried out, on edge
Cos I don’t think I’m really cut out for revenge
What? No! he said. What are you, CRAZY?
It was just when your mum was a dinner lady
she had an affair with that Iranian student
who was good at table tennis and liked Ted Nugent

How d’you know all this? I said
She told me later on in bed
and whilst I was turned on for a while
in the end it started to cramp my style
so I took up with that woman from accounts
who said it would work but I had my doubts

He carried on in this way for an eternity
and made me question the benefits of paternity
until suddenly he was struck dumb
My hour is almost come,
he said
rising portentously from the bed
When I to sulph’rous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself – erm – James
Adieu, adieu, adieu! Remember me
– and bailed through the curtains clumsily

So right that second I went on the Net
to buy the best ghost insulation I could get
(a wool & wafer mix from the Holy See
fifty pounds a metre, plus VAT)

dad came back (again)

I woke from dreams that were dark and troubled / the glass of water on the bedside table bubbled / the ceiling buckled / there was a roaring of resonant cursing & swearing / the sound of the spacetime continuum tearing / then dad dropped through in a ghastly heap / and struggled back up on his bony feet

Alright Jim? he said with fake insouciance
sorry to be such a ghostly nuisance
but these poems about me are highly dubious

Sorry Dad I said. Well, I do my best
I’m grateful for the feelings you’ve expressed
I was only exploring ideas of inheritance
I can leave you out if that’s your preference

He adjusted his shroud and scratched his pate
his ribs and hips in a terrible state
but twenty years’ buried and you never look great

Wait, he said. I don’t want to sound mean
I just don’t get this whole poetry scene
in fact any kinda writing I’ve never been keen

That’s true, I said, and reading between the lines
you hated fiction but trusted The Times
you always thought literature a bit suspicious
and only read gardening books we got you at Christmas

Come on, though, Jim, he said, I did you a favour
when I took those poems you wrote as a teenager
and got them typed up by a colleague or whatever

Yes! I said. I remember! It’s all coming back
I’d written a collection about insects and that
‘miniature dinosaurs of a macabre imagination’
or some such bullshit gothic creation

Dad suddenly looked a little bit guilty
he said (unironically) please don’t kill me
but I did it to impress a temp called Julie

I don’t mind, I said, I was thrilled all the same
to have something finished and bound in my name
I’ve been chasing that particular dream ever since
it’s just the publishers I’ve got to convince

Anyway, said Dad, rising to go
I just thought I’d drop by and let you know
you should give all those ghost dad poems the elbow

I’m not promising anything, Dad, I said
as he hovered prophetically over the bed
Fathers and sons are fertile topics
and ghosts are fun, so screw the optics