If anyone here can talk to the dead,
please tell my Dad the news of his daughters
that would bring him the most peace.
Tell him of the dreams we made real,
and the grandchildren who laugh in his image.
Tell him we miss him and we know
he always loved us. List the achievements
he would most want to brag about to whoever
his pals are in the afterlife. Tell him
we’re happy, please – or if you must
catalogue the trials we’ve faced since he left us,
tell him we conquered every one
or tell him that we’re going to
if he doesn’t beat you to it. He always was fast
to find faith in us, I imagine he still is.
You’d better not tell him about all the books
he’s missed out on, or the way the world is going –
anger is bad for his heart and you can’t
be too careful. Who knows if we take
our weaknesses with us when we go? I think so
because in my version of heaven
he’d be wearing his glasses; his face
wouldn’t be his own without those constant frames.
Tell him I know I wasted this page,
I don’t believe anyone talks to the dead,
or at least I don’t believe they can listen. He’s gone.
There are no more updates or back tracks;
I have to lean close to my heart to hear
what his answers might be. He would advise
telling it all to the living, while you can.
About the poem
This poem appeared on ...And Other Poems in December 2016
My Dad died over two years ago and I miss him. I wrote this after attending Winchester Poetry Festival and meeting the poet Roger McGough, whose work was such a feature of my childhood because Dad used to read his poems to me. As I said in my blog about the event, the pleasure of meeting a genuine writing hero was tempered by the fact that Dad wasn’t with me. If he couldn’t be there, I wanted to be able to at least tell him what had happened. Years before, whilst on a trip to Edinburgh, I visited the Oxford Bar immortalised in the Ian Rankin novels we had both enjoyed and sent him photos that we later discussed for their relation to the fictional version. If I couldn’t have him with me, then, I wanted him to know, to share the experience in some way.
My Dad was an atheist; he believed that you have one life and you had best make the most of it. I feel the same way and yet I had such an intense need to tell him about this one thing – in some ways a minor thing, I didn’t feel the same level of sadness after my recent graduation, for example – that I felt great empathy with people who believe in the afterlife and wish to talk to people they have lost. This poem indulges me in that sense, it puts my Dad somewhere I can talk to him, but in bringing him back I could almost hear his voice and with that, his beliefs. I know this poem seems sad on the surface but something much more positive is bubbling underneath. Whether or not you believe in the next life, there are people you love who are in your life right now and if you treasure the time you have, if you make sure you say what needs to be said, then your loved ones stay with you, even after death. I know that sounds like a cliche but I also know from painful experience that it is true; any peace or reconciliation with death has to start with how you live your life.
This poem, then, is not only about a séance but also is a séance because in writing it, I found that my Dad did have something to say to me, after all. And what did he say?
“Don’t be so daft, Zoe, I’m dead. Why don’t you ring your Mum?”