‘Ghost Work’ by Peter Didsbury


Ghost Work

An assonance of intercepted voices


Hieratic postures,
in and around the house.
In and out of darkening rooms, balletic, jerky,
every kind of
arm and hand movement.
And in the moonlight, too,
in the garden’s anointed
timelessness.  Do not stop me now.
I am practising being a ghost,
the kind of shade I know I must become.
Or stop me with a glance, should you wish.
But no more words. Not at this late stage.
Why would I want
To have truck with words again?
It is only these actions
Which may help me now to remember
my forgotten future states.
Remember and predict.  Predict.  Predict them.


A ghost threw me down the stairs last night.
He did.  Oh yes he did.
It was in the spill from the skylight
As I stood on the silvery landing.

He threw me heavily down and hurt me.
He did.  Oh yes he did.
He threw me down the stairs last night
And all because I was singing.


There were many secrets,
all of them now forgotten.
Many questions,
none of them ever answered.

It doesn’t matter.
In the annals of ghost-work
all that ever gets recorded
is that walking unseen in daylight,
at last successfully mastered,
has been irrevocably learned.


White smoke hanging a little above the lawn,
like a drape of gauze protecting apple blossom.
Rather strange at midsummer.

Frost on a low outhouse roof
where some cats lie asleep in the sun,
and it isn’t even autumn.

Other cats, which were never mine own,
in stately slowness stepping behind each other
down green colonnades,
as if to a musick
of faery lutanists

and now, at last, myself found watching them,
idly watching the garden through them,
in hazy sunlight,
for seconds that seem
to have been turning into years


Sometimes I almost think I can remember
birds hanging up outside a poulterer’s window,
in a nearby town, naked, necks awry,
inviting themselves to be drawn …

… inviting themselves to be drawn
as if enclosed inside perfect tears,
pendulous, just about to fall
down from downcast eyes,
the downcast eyes
of one seated at this table,
a very long time ago,
down through the centuries
onto this loaf of bread.


Ghosts make other ghosts,
Augment their nation,
Don’t know why, but they do.

Don’t know how they do it,
Or even if they mean to
But do it, you know, they most certainly do do.

Is it by biting, perhaps?
Or by showing of chains
Intended to terrify?
Or is it by some other method?

I’ve said I don’t know, and if I did
I certainly wouldn’t tell you, or try to explain.

The facts are clear.  Ghosts make other ghosts.
Their silent voices, borne behind the wind,
Command our attention,
Will school us both in obedient listening,
Will see us both through eternity, wouldn’t you say?


Peter Didsbury was born in 1946 in Fleetwood, Lancashire. He moved to Hull at the age of six, and read English and Hebrew at Oxford. He taught English in a large Hull Comprehensive for some years, but has spent most of his working life as a professional archaeologist. He holds the degree of M.Phil. from Durham University and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He has published four collections with Bloodaxe. The Butchers of Hull (1982), The Classical Farm (1987) and That Old-Time Religion (1994) are discrete volumes, while the fourth, A Natural History, forms part of Scenes from a Long Sleep: New & Collected Poems (2003). He was given a Cholmondeley Award in 1987 and both The Classical Farm and That Old-Time Religion were Poetry Book Society Recommendations.