It’s in the blood.
Simple as that.
Passed down in the genes
like blue eyes or haemophilia.
A family heirloom. You can trace it
right back to the first ancestor
that slumped onto dry land,
gulping down oxygen through their gills.
There’s something in us.
We’re set to a different frequency.
We’re lightning conductors.
In a certain light, the family tree is a gallows.
My great-great-grandmother had the gift.
In side-shows, proud
of her mastery of accents, she’d
impersonate departed loved ones
for a fistful of guineas.
Between lifting her skirts.
Then her daughter holding hands
in Victorian parlours, making the gaslights flicker
and books fly from the walls
and men with waxed moustaches and top hats
squeal like schoolgirls and vacate their bowels.
My mother ran a psychic hotline from the house.
It’s no mystery, just like being able to hear
a dog-whistle. Our eyes can only see
a miniscule part of the spectrum. 5% of all light.
You imagine what’s hidden?
Ghosts are as they lived.
Some are snobs.
Some wish to be celebrities.
Some are intolerable bores
who only want to speak about themselves,
weaving vastly inflated accounts
of their lives and their deaths.
Most just function, spend their eternity
in a state of quiet desperation,
not doing much. Some are accountants.
Some still stampede into sales and gaze
longingly in the reflections of shop windows.
Some have lingering nicotine addictions
and float around ceilings in smoke riptides.
On rare occasions, they can still surprise.
A railway conductor, with his jaw missing seeking tickets.
A blood-spattered drunk shrieking for a drink in a crowded bar.
The ghosts of cavemen running petrified from motorways.
The only sure way to end it, once it begins,
is to point out to them that they’re dead.
They don’t tend to come back after that.
Maybe they’re different elsewhere.
Narrow-necked teardrop ghosts
taunting snow-blind Sherpas,
the Brahmadaitya scurrying around Indian treetops,
the foul-tempered Duppy who reside in the roots
of silk cotton trees and can be lured out to wreak havoc
with the merest sound of a rum bottle cork,
La Llorona drowning her children in the Rio Grande.
Not far from here, they talk about Blue Cap
somewhere down in the night-maze of the mines,
Jenny Greenteeth who drags children
into lakes and thorn-rivers,
Jack-In-Irons who roams deserted highways clad
in chains and decapitated heads.
Hag of the Dribble, Ocean-Born Mary, Lorelei.
Dick Turpin galloping down the runway
of Heathrow airport as planes come in to land,
James Dean speeding his Porsche 550 Spyder down
Highway 46. Robert Kennedy’s still out there
on the campaign trail trying to pick up votes.
James Joyce constructing a gargantuan riddle
to dumbfound and outwit God, documenting
every labyrinthine detail of Dublin, mapping
streets that are no longer there and hiding
from lightning storms inside wardrobes.
Someday they will begin to unravel
death’s dark mysteries.
That luminescence people see
when they’ve stepped out in front of a bus or ran the lights too late
or fallen from windows is down to oxygen-starved optic nerves
or injuries to the right temporal lobe
or the body tripping out on endorphins.
Unease at night is an inherited subconscious memory,
a fear for what stalked us when the Neolithic sun set
or the effect of infrasonics in the walls.
In India, those who awake from comas
claim heaven takes the form of a limitless office
filled with clerks filing reports on reincarnations.
Maybe that’s why some ghosts are still here?
A bureaucracy failing to meet its processing targets,
afterlife civil servants who do not like their jobs.
Heaven and hell are full.
A red neon light blinking: No Vacancies.
The only place to find any peace is by the sea,
slip off to some deserted cove and for hours
just hide amidst the rocks and listen to nothing
but the ebb and flow of the waves.
They still intrude from time to time. You can hear them singing
sometimes. Not a graceful siren song but the bellows of sailors
bawling sea shanties or a drowned one, washed up and weeping,
or the lonesome voice of a U-boat captain
lilting, “Lili Marlene” from brine-filled lungs.
I drink myself to sleep. And my dreams
are of emptiness, wide wheat fields, open seas,
silence and solitude, those rarest of things.
Most nights, I struggle to slip away,
wrestling with the sheets, making shapes.
I lie in bed and watch squares and rectangles
of light climb the wall and move across the ceiling.
And leaving the window ajar, I listen.
You can peel away each layer of sound, strip away
the wavelengths one by one; the cars, the sirens,
the drunken shouts, the hum of the helicopters,
the tides of the rain, peel away even the silence.
And then you hear them, the whispering ghosts…
being blown about by the winds.