Ballad Of The Lonely Ghost

She said she travelled
(In her eloquent way)
To see a Medium,
Frequented only yesterday,
Apropos of non-sequiturs
Over our morning tea.
Not the travelling kind,
She said, caravan-bound,
Deep brown eyes beneath
An unwashed shawl –
Beadily watching as one gold coin
Then two would fall, into
Her grisly and well-wizened palm;
No, not that kind you see, she said,
As she tapped her date-stamped
Hard-boiled egg –
Three, four, five times,
Nor the kind of folklore-hag
Whose ghastly attention would demand
Something greater and so much closer
To rapture, and which disarmed
Most ardent former lovers
And battle-hardened
Heavily moustached lieutenants.
No, this particular Haruspex of Time
Conducted her sight-seeing business
From an everyday house
Not far from my innards
On an everyday estate nearby;
An advertisement on the internet,
A card in the window,
And introductory laminated sets
Of terms and conditions,
Frayed at the edge, which she said
Stated very professionally
In legalese vernacular that
You can pay by direct debits,
And she tapped with a quite
Ordinary finger, no boils,
No snake-charm tattoos
At a text which succinctly read:
No refund for mistakes.
Life-affirming posters adorned
Her anaglypta office walls;
Pithy quotes, images in pastels
Of votive candles and petals,
Yoga practitioners
Posturing in lycra, all of which
When relayed to me
I mistook unintentionally
For reliably post-modern
Oracular irony.

I knew without being told
As to who she had enquired about;
It was, after all,
A significant anniversary.
I recalled a funeral,
A sister-in-law in tears,
Readings from a book
Nobody had leafed through
For many, many years.
Aptly black umbrellas,
Except – an aunt who
Refused to where black
Because she said she could not stand
Morbid traditions and so
Brought along a
Parasol in pink.
The vicar uttered appropriate words.
The family stood with patience
And thoughts elsewhere
About football results
And affairs of the heart
And pub opening times
And penitence.
A newspaper article later announced
That he had not meant
To do what he did,
Yet it happened, all the same,
And consequences remain
Instead of what he could have been.

A jolt, a rise in temperature;
Suddenly he was wheeled
Through an ether
Like the beret-wearing grandmother
Of that corner-shop owner
Who used to emerge from a storeroom
And berate their hesitant customers –
Not that corner shops exist these days –
He outlasted, in his own way,
So much, come to think of it.
Wheeled then, yes,
On his upright gurney
Designed for just such
Inter-dimensional bumpy journeys.
He was somewhat philosophical
Despite his condition, whereby
Without choice or say or any form
Of mortal pauses or tenures
Or even dereliction
He is moved from pasture
To pillar to post and
Back to pasture again.
He said that he no longer
Has any arteries or
Heart or veins.
He said the realm he’d entered
Has recently given him a cold,
Possibly influenza although
He is just about coping with
Shivering in his inherently
Discrete and indiscernible
Ghetto for the Soul.
It should be said, I rejoindered
As she slurped on molten yolk
That, in his previous actual life,
He was minded to many an illness;
A hypochondriac, I said.

He did not divulge any mysteries
Of the abundantly divine
To my wife on a Friday,
Nor differential margins
If only just above the earthly plain
Which may make a singular difference
Between the right and the just and the holy.
He said that he had been feeling shaky
A little lately, and he was not one
For sushi and sake from a
Lacquered masu-box,
Yet here he was resigned to
These formalities
And ceremonies
In places we could not tread
On boards or with any maps to plot.
He was worried for the future,
He was worried for what he had lost.
And then, as if to typify
All absolute control foregone,
He was manoeuvred silently,
Slowly, unbearably slowly,
Away from where moments ago
His unwieldy, unworldly form
Had briefly merged with ours.

And since that day
I feel a certain constancy,
Permanency, too,
In loss and life-long being abandoned.
Sometimes, I waywardly strive
To divert my waking mind from it,
Often unsuccessfully,
Sometimes I find
These bald and wailing perinatal
Conditions comforting,
Because I am used to it,
Because in the storm-tossed
Concussions and contusions
You confirmed for me
That I did once exist,

Even if for now
I knock at the glass windows
Just as he once did, and yet
Which showcase your successes
While I persist only
As a living ghost
Palms open,
No tokens,
You will never find
A camaraderie, a troupe of ghosts –
It is just not how we were made,
Drifting through all others’ hopes
And into our open graves.


Outside, An Ocean

Outside,
An ocean
Of constant motions,
Lush tropical abundance,
Yet all I cradle are ashes
Charred from bark
And burnt rubber plants,
Unusable coconut
And a poisoned palm –
The bark itself carved from
A mythical phoenix-tree
They discovered
Accidentally
And nonetheless marked
And later diseased –
This would have been
My self-sufficiency.

If no man is an island
Mr John Donne
And Mr John Dryden,
Then why does my lonely abode
Align with the limits of
My aspirations so comfortably?
I have seen in deep reposes
Those ghosts who come and go
For whom there’s no repelling;
Sometimes they stayed a while
Perhaps from curiosity,
Or perhaps their own
Uncertain form of loneliness,
Yet never so long
As to find me compelling –
This writer without hands,
This tongueless orator.
They always stole something
Out of nothing, or would
Confiscate our materiality
In the end –
Glass from oriels,
Tiles from steeples
And church-roof lead.
This is why, to hold the pen,
I maintain my right to an island
With hopes and invocations
For better times ahead.

Searchlight

It was your birthday
Twenty years or so ago;
We descended into a city
Of ghost re-rendered
Restaurateurs
Mostly only known to us.
Strange how
None of this exists right now,
Except perhaps
Within my pillow-bounded head.
(Can dreams be transferred
From my subconscious mind
Through or even then from yours?
Do you also walk these dead
Pedestrianised streets
Of the deeply-raised interred?
)
It is with a distinct sense of dread
That I am always falling asleep,
From fear of these cities
And people who are
No longer the same,
For they all emerged without me,
A subliminal sequence
Of years long ago.

You hadn’t changed,
Still good-humoured,
Still talkative,
You walked into an establishment
Named the Ho-Ho for
Whatever unknown reason,
And you told a silent joke
To a new waitress and her
Two dumbfounded customers.
And so it was your birthday,
And that Chinese eatery
We searched for
Where your coterie
Of twentysomething
Student
Aficionados
Had slipped, shifted
Away from its mooring
Adjacent to l’office du tourisme
Located by the river
Where eleven vessels
Ride the rip
In the seams of my dreams.
I am denim to a somnambulant
Nocturnal god’s demesne.

Inexplicably, my role
Suddenly evolves to carry your
Curry-coloured shoes,
And then also later a
Stuffed blue bear, a child’s toy,
(Still holding your shoes),
An armful of regalia
And vintage paraphernalia.
I held the door for your peers
But was not invited
To the benches where
The glitterati sipped
On bamboo juice
And green tea hips.

Your German teacher made a tarte,
The Chinese menu à la carte;
I wonder when my heart
Restarts.

I have had this awful
Gnawing sense my whole
Long life that I was born
For arduous tasks,
While with something inside me brewed,
Malformed to fail,
How the audience laughed
And now, half-formed,
I replay it all each night,
A searchlight from my
Buzzard soul above
A pre-dawn gorse,
Hovering over those very fields,
Hedgerows, lanes, old roads still,
For the fugitive source.

Visitations

In this weary adulthood
I cannot imagine
If those events actually happened
And if so, interred,
Misunderstood?

I am not one for turning over stones,
The hot stones of my youth
As impenetrable as the basalt eyes
Of the terrifying basilisk
Of myth, reputed to
Induce death with a single blink.
All these ghosts with their
High-level dependencies,
Their egos and their
Aggravating needs continuing
Long beyond our diaspora,
Long beyond death,
Remorselessly they approach,
Ceaselessly, a man once kindred,
A disappeared friend,
Their arms are tangled and
Darkly entwined like
Night-wire ivy in my dreams,
In the gloaming dream of the
Gloaming dream of the
Gloam of my stones.
They are heated,
Placed with skilled deliberation
On my back, my spine,
And I retreat, a shadow-fact,
Into a station, into a flat,
Into diminishing time.

And then you are there, living.
Will I be forgiven
For what I used to do?

The Ghosts Of Ishinomaki

Tsunami alarm,
Taxi drivers disarmed,
Higher ground atoning.
I reached a surface
Of realities alone,
Snow falls
Unexpectedly
In the gall
Of bamboo forests
And bodies,
Multiple unnamed bodies
Disposed
Without ceremony,
Candles rammed
In hope,
Aren’t we all passengers
Somewhere?
Husbands
Who had to go,
Puzzles, low light
Over old tables,
A coercive approach,
A lonely widow;
Monk’s robe,
Three to go;
Rain harbour,
A taxi again
To whenever,
Facial masks
Will not last
In heaven.
A meal, a bead,
It doesn’t matter
So much to me.
Harbour wall
Or nothing at all,
Drive me to where
I need to be.
A dozen hungry
Gangrenous ghosts
And I’m the host;
A child’s toy,
Dragon’s mouth
On temple gutters in red,
There is no distinction here;
Yes, sometimes I cannot
Distinguish
Between the living and
The dead.

The Coast Of Shrouds

I prefer heavy rain
As rain keeps me grounded;
A shipwreck submerged,
A ghost keeps its counsel.
Crowds too kept at bay,
A drowning skiff is confounded.

I lost all I loved back then,
And all I would love forever,
Is it surprising to know
I could not imagine life
And thoughts within it.
Thoughts like skittish clouds
On the coast of shrouds
As unseen suns diminish.

Alicia Also

Twenty years slipped
Since I last stretched
These pavements,
Hairs are the same
With less width
In the aching.
Four families moved
Through a house over there,
Its neatly squared garden
Where a fair woman fainted
And needed a sutre;
She relocated to Lincoln
And give birth to the ancient
Ways of the future.

The ghost house is there
On Precariousness Corner,
Windows all boarded,
Hoardings corroded,
The grass as grown over
As dreams of the homeless.
The children are children
Of those I grew up with,
But a good local ghost story
Is peerless and opened.
Schools expanded,
Red squirrels survived,
Ethnographic adoptions
But pine trees are always
The same and how they thrive.
The old lady who played an oboe
All through one winter
Is buried in our municipal way
Over the river, yet the oboe
Still has tunes to deliver.
Branches quivering in the breeze
Have unseen opposable fingertips
On musicians six feet deep.

Everyone here has new extensions,
Smartly paved driveways
And alfresco dimensions
In wicker and rattan;
The future transfused,
Indifferent, oblivious,
Anxieties gifted and brewed
As traits for the atheists
Whose numbers are swelling,
And bruised the religious
Whose numbers are telling.
Everyone has a disease we
Cannot see, which is that
Everyone steadfastly
Refuses to talk
To each other.

And there is the window
Where every weekend I’d rush
To see my neighbour Alicia,
Schoolboy crush,
Heartbeat in crisis,
Sufficient hormones to fill
The silver Cup of Dionysus;
Alicia also relocated,
This time to Bristol
Or Bournemouth or Weymouth,
And so I never took that one chance
To say something teenage and
Wishful. Alicia got married
And her children are older
Than I was back then,
Shy and less bold,
More innocent, yes.

Tuesdays, you can still inhale
The scent of soup drifting
From the east side factory,
Tomato or beef or oxtail tides;
Thursdays, winds change
And fish trawler residues blow
Over the town far and wide.
We drove there once to lay flowers
Where a nameless prostitute died.

All fixtures and fittings remain
Of memories kept for twenty years
Inside my mind’s shallow grave,
Yet while the world flew through
The universe delightful and bright,
I was left here, two decades behind.

Surfaces

I walked towards my own ghost,
Floating only as ghosts can float;
Like a drifting bouy, slow
On surfaces strange and remote,
Where no sounds exist, no
Harbour alarms, no tired boats.
As certain, yes, as infinite
As armadillo scutes wrapped
Round a universe’s components,
Defending flesh, soft underbellies
And then bones, shrew-like thoughts,
Or the scent in my kitchen
I left behind of burnt toast.
He beckoned me into the folds
And fabrics of his being as
He smoked new fogs through his nose,
Billowing over a greying coast.
We were the same shape, for
Sadness bloats the lonely minds
And comforts like a winter coat.
I stepped inside his fashion,
Morassy cold moments, bitterly
Cold, where he stood and told me
About his life, such unrecouperable
Losses as though he had gambled
At the great southern casinos
Where everyday players lose
Their chips and notes, he wagered
His soul, and now pays
For his choice, which was not
A choice, by taking listless nightly
Walks along the seawalls draped
With grieving molluscs, barnacles
In grim mourning costumes,
Along the shores
Of consciousness.

My pillow drenched with sweat,
I moved to reduce the clammy sense
When my hands fell through
Where the pillow had been, and
I remembered then, with unending
Awe and horror mixed at the
Contemplative designs of
Suffering, there was no kitchen,
No burnt toast, no rendezvous,
For looking back I realised again
That I was the ghost
And he was the man.