growing pains

I wanted to grow a beard / something distinctive but not too weird / stylish / not outlandish / man-about-townish / clipped, pristine / easy to clean / nothing droopy / something that wouldn’t get too soupy

I spent a lot of time / online / swiping through the chins on show / so what should I grow? / a balbo? / terminal? / chic imperial? / woodsman? / trendy urban? / but then – on a scary hairy forum / I saw something awesome / a beard called the ouija / an oddly unsettling procedure / full of twists and curls / elegant strands that delicately unfurled / like antic letters from another world

I made a resolution to do it /
took me six months, but I grew it

I had no idea / when the beard / finally appeared / it would look so sinisterly sheared / honestly – it was horrible / diabolical / twitching and witchy / scratchy / unbearably itchy / but with one particular feature I hesitate to mention / a superfast, facial connection / straight through to another dimension

because / there I was / twiddling my curls / thinking of anything but parallel worlds / when suddenly I had a spasm / my lips flecked with ectoplasm / a terrifying feeling of reeling and falling / then: ‘oh my goodness – is that Jimmy calling?’

Grandma? I said / but I thought you were dead / as her words tumbled round and round in my head / like scrabble tiles jangling in a bottomless green bag / scented by an eternity of peter stuyvesant fags / spectral clouds of talcum powder / top notes of incontinent chihuahua /

it was just so completely shocking / my teeth were clacking, my knees were knocking / I mean – I was totally unprepared / it was only grandma, but damn was I scared

I tried to be brave and lighten the scene / Hi there, grandma! I said – how’ve you been?
what d’you mean? / how’ve I been? she said / I’ve been DEAD! / believe me there are plenty of things I’d rather be doing instead
oh, I said / slapping my head / but …. no ….really….how’s it all going?
well – to be honest with you, Jim – it’s an awful lot of toing and froing / depending on which way the psychic wind’s blowing

now – you probably think this was a great opportunity / to engage with the ex-life, ex-pat community / and ask all the questions you’re dying to know / like how’s it all organised and where do you go? / is it harps and clouds? / are pets allowed? / do you flap around singing all day? / or is that just so much angelic cosplay? / you’d want to know if there’s a god or not / and whether hell is actually hot / and how many chances has the average spirit got / to turn things around and improve its lot / and whether the heavenly congregation / increases exponentially with the earthly population / so, if heaven was emptier round the time of moses / are they now suffering spatial anxiety neuroses / and if so, what are the solutions god proposes?

but actually? – I totally lost my nerve

I think I left something on the stove / I mumbled / stumbling / backwards into the kitchen / scrabbling & stretching / over to the sink / praying grandma wouldn’t think / to hover over and check / why I was so hurriedly lathering my neck / but she seemed happy just to glow their innocently / up by the pelmet incandescently / and in a few bloody strokes the beard was gone / I dabbed at my face and slowly turned around

grandma had vanished, just an echo on the air / and a scattering of crumbs on the rocking chair

a couple of months later I grew a goatee / easy to clean & guaranteed ghost free

beards