Ghost Train
on the Möbius Strip

It all begins here, folks! Roll up! Roll up
for the darkest ride! The tale of this train
will shunt your dreams into spooling black scenes.

Take a seat - madam, sir - keep hands and feet
inside the car. Do not stand, whatever
you see. Do not run. Our boy has begun. ...

About the poem

This poem was published in BFS Horizons #8, the journal of the British Fantasy Society.

I don't know where to start when explaining how or why I wrote this poem. I started writing it shortly after my Dad had died and I think the poem - all 279 lines of it - came from the madness of grief.

Soon after my Dad died, I went away to Arran for a week. In the autumn, there are few visitors and the island felt remote, isolated and just what I needed. Whilst I was there, I listened to an audiobook of Frankenstein while I walked around in the sparse landscape. In the evening, I read the excellent novel in verse by Glyn Maxwell, Time's Fool. To get to Arran and later, across the country to visit a friend in the Highlands, I had to travel long hours on the train. I think all those things - my grief, Frankenstein's monster, the rhythm of Maxwell's poem and the trains - fused together to become this piece.

The poem is about a lot of things - loss, rage, frustration - and I am wary of pinning it down too much. However, I do want to note that it is, alongside an expression of my grief, a celebration of some of the things my Dad loved, and in particular his love of fantasy fiction. My Dad read a lot and he loved a good story. The poem has very deliberate shades of Ray Bradbury's classic Something Wicked This Way Comes and was influenced by everything from Neil Gaiman's dark gothic stories and poems to the incredible Locke and Key graphic novel series by Joe Hill. It also has some of the style and cadence of the strange and wonderful Roger McGough story Mr Noselighter, which I used to ask my Dad to read to me over and over when I was little - it is the first poem I really loved and still my favourite book.

I didn't know what I was starting when I began this poem - I didn't set out for it to be as long as it was and at the time I saw it as an escape from my grief into a fantasy world. It was written for my MA course and there was a point where I was afraid I would never finish it. Sometimes, those absolute deadlines are a godsend. In hindsight, although it was a tough piece to edit, it was partly because I felt safe in the world I had created. The real world wasn't a place I wanted to return to if it didn't have my Dad in it. It was only when I finally finished that I saw that the poem had never been an escape. It is an expression of all that I lost and a celebration of what can never be lost even in the darkest of times.

When the journal arrived through the post, I felt again that pang of loss that I couldn’t share this with my Dad - of all my poems and publications, he would have loved this one the most - but he’s never really gone. I read all the other wonderful work in the issue thinking of him, I know he would have been proud to see my work alongside such brilliant writers and I’d imagine he’d try to sneak away with my copy so he could read it all. Perhaps bookworms never truly die, they just slip away into the pages of wonderful stories.

By Mary Shelley
Smoke and Mirrors
By Neil Gaiman
Locke And Key: Welcome to Lovecraft
By Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez
By Roger McGough