Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Sign Language of Ghosts

When I heard my father had cancer I caught the train from London to my parents’ home in the country. During the journey a friend of mine called whose father had recently died. As I was talking to her, the train stopped and I noticed a young fox had stopped in its tracks on the siding and was looking at me. I mentioned it to my friend and then thought no more of it.
    A few weeks later (my father fast forwarded through cancer: he always liked to do things promptly) there was a phone call at five in the morning from the hospice. It was believed my father was “slipping away”. My mother told me she didn’t want to see him die. We therefore sat down at the kitchen table and ate some breakfast. There was a strange clarity to material objects. I was more aware of the boundary between one thing and another.
     As we were driving to the hospice I noticed a fox in a field. I turned my head to keep it in sight for as long as possible. The sun was coming up over the fields of grain and the fox was a luminous otherworldly gold colour. 
     When we reached the hospice we were told my father had passed away peacefully ten minutes ago. My mother broke down. She told me she didn’t want to see his corpse. I thus entered the room alone. Nothing quite prepares you for the sight of your dead father. Father love is ancient and elemental, like mountains. It’s difficult to accept the sudden disappearance of a mountain. His mouth was wide open. His eyes were open too. My father had passed through the moment of absolute terror. He had faced it with his eyes open. It’s said that people die in their sleep – but how is it possible to sleep through something as clamorous as the arrival of one’s own death? I put my hand on his forehead. It was still warm. I had never seen death before. Oddly I found I felt a sense of exhilarating calm. I had no desire to leave the room.
     We later had to wait for a doctor to arrive. I sat down in the sitting room and opened an old edition of Tatler which was lying on the table. I opened it at random and found myself looking at a photo of the friend who had called me on the train. She had been photographed wearing a fox mask at some ball. There had now been a trinity of foxes.
    These bizarre coincidences, these uncanny sequences of correlated images occur to everyone but what do they mean? What sustenance can we take from them? The poetry in synchronicities is a mystical and probably unknowable secret. It’s like the sign language of ghosts.  


  1. Wonderful. Definitely a message to you in that, Glenn.
    And it seems the more aware one becomes of synchronicity - the more it happens. I (like to) think it tells us that nothing is random; everything happens for a reason...and for me it confirms the inter-connectedness of the universe :)

  2. How wonderful that inanimate objects, too, are part of the dazzling light show of synchronicity. How can these lifeless, inorganic objects (Tatler, in this case) play into the poetry? It reassures me that our work and our society is part of the plan.

  3. Masterful description of a terrible moment, rendering it beautiful too. The juxtaposition of images, the foxes and the landscapes and the still warm body, had a heart-touching power, and then, then the direct hit: father love as a mountain. ‘It’s difficult to accept the sudden disappearance of a mountain.’ Elemental indeed.

    The final para was transcendental. The way you rose above the material to reflect on much bigger things. I loved it. But then I would, wouldn’t I?

    If this little post were fiction, it would win one of those flash thing comps hands-down. It has an integrity, a wholesome roundness, which most full-length stories can only dream of.

  4. Beautifully put and horribly familiar. I nod, like Pete, at the mountains.

  5. Absolutely fabulous writing. Immediately brought to mind my own father’s death and many of the attendant feelings. ‘Father love is ancient and elemental, like mountains.’ It is indeed. It can never be erased nor forgotten. And yet, as Mr. Shelly so succinctly states; a terrible moment, yet rendered beautiful, too.

    Yes, masterful strokes of the brush here, earth tones framed in golden light. Completing the picture; synchronicity intimating secrets transcending life and death.

    This piece is simply perfect.

  6. Joining in the applause for this brave piece, Glenn. Riveting, bittersweet, and, to salute/echo Mr Shelley's excellent summation, with "an integrity, a wholesome roundness, which most full-length stories can only dream of."


  7. yes, if stories could dream, they would dream of such elemental coherence.

    it is a grand yet foxy piece of writing.

  8. Thank you for that.

    You have foxes, I have coffee.