Ghosts Chats

October 31, 2009 § Leave a comment


Photo and caption by John Diehl. The statue is of our brother, Jimmy Diehl, who was killed when he was 14.

Very soon the souls of the dead will be able to cross over for a little while. Is it for a minute or an hour? I always think of the dead in February and June. That was once true. But the calendar fills up.

When we think of ghosts, it’s always what they want: revenge or a body or someone to listen. The ancients thought they wanted food and wine; also revenge, a body and someone to listen.

Of course some think the dead want to let us know they’re doing fine, but I doubt, if they persist, they’re all that concerned. More likely, they’re chatting up the gang in the Whatever, testing out the new persona. Those of us left here are forgotten, except as parts of self-definition, as a person might forget to write home when she moves to a strange city, yet still finds it important and deeply moving to say to the new friend: I come from a large family. I’ve been married four times, though I’m only 32. I love my dog more than my parents. My brother eats cars.

Do we dress up in costumes to scare the dead? To mock them? To let them know that not only are we still alive, we can change whenever we want? We can imagine being them while they can only remember being us.

No, it’s to remind ourselves that someday we’ll be ghouls and zombies, too, and so why be frightened? Like you say to the five-year-old when you visit the nursing home and the elderly resident’s head rolls on her neck like an egg on the counter deciding whether to fall, eyes unfocused—she’s almost not there except the veiny hand is tenacious, questing out, grasping and holding— “It’s only your great-grandma, sweetpea. There’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ll show you the pictures: she looked just like you.”

Television Medium

Chronically ill with a disease that won’t
kill me, I watch afternoon TV.
Sprung sofa embroidered with
cookie crumbs and laundry quarters
I rest on the hip that doesn’t hurt
yet and click the remote.

Here’s Oprah hosting a man
who chats with the dead.
Blunt chunk smoothed
into a light blue suit,
voice like a mouse’s soul refurbished.

I inch backward on the sofa,
adorned with pillows my mother gave me,
fringed, Turkey red,
to make the room look new,
and grab one for my lap.

The bereaved testify:
A mom and dad, spruce as show dogs,
A chipper widow.
They’ve heard the words,
odd detail of a solitary act
or common memory returned
that compel belief. There is no death!
No death! Life

Everlasting; and the dead care
where we’ve placed the photo,
who’s got the diamond earrings.

I glance up. I’ve got you at thirty
putting my brother’s infant foot
into your mouth.
He flails baby limbs—
he who will also die young—
grins to wring a parent’s sweetest juices.

The Evangelical in the audience
objects. “How do you talk to those in Hell?”
She teeters on her heels.
The medium sits calm as a stuffed Buddha.
He’s too rich to care what she thinks
The dead stick to him like lint
the money washes in

though his work is no picnic
the spirits vibrate at a pitch so high
and rush forward in spurts of feeling
like excited teenagers–Mom, it’s me!
And some won’t talk at all.

That would be you.


Thirty years I’ve seen you
trapped in a cube
of polished stone or ice, motionless
in black space, knotted
into straitjacket package.

I long to snag you from that darkness,
set you down
on my desk like something I can fix
carve out the blight
insert what’s missing.

The image fades
the TV chatters. O my father,
who lived once and kept it brief–
help thou my unbelief.

–Margaret Diehl


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