A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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September 2005, vol 1 no 2

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Graham High

Table Turning

Revisiting the past is a dangerous pastime, even for old school friends, but we learn the rules quickly and catch up on each other's lives with questions - "How many children have you got?" "Oh, you were married twice then?" "Thirty years with the same company? Remarkable!" Soon after, we get to play the game "Do you remember when ... ?" One thing in particular we can each recall. It's the reason we have agreed to meet.

I haven't spoken to the dead for decades. We've all forgotten how it goes. Our first séance was thirty years ago and the tense anticipation of this evening spans the time between, making us adolescents again. We talk about old excitements while setting out the chairs. Memories, long unvisited, filter back, of a time when kisses and gravestones seemed a perfect mix. A remembered sense of teenage immortality pervades the room, mixed with the distant scent of barely defined romantic longings. We were all such close friends at school. And for a while back then, Sue was more than just a friend …

talking of the dead
my hand slips into
her unbuttoned blouse

The wine glasses are cleared away, and the circular walnut table, slippery with polish, spirited with lavender, shines like a sunflower. The perimeter petals of alphabet cards are played out around its circumference. I think of my long-dead grandmother playing clock patience in her declining years in a diminishing one-hander against time. All of us now have old parents; dead parents. We wonder who will speak to us through the glass. Five fingers touch the base of the crystal tumbler and the radii of our arms meet at the sparkling hub of cut glass. Under the light, it is the focus of rediscovered flames, of half-buried energies. It moves, and small flashes of fugitive light, like evanescent memories, flicker round the room.

All those years before, none of us had been closely touched by death. Our imaginations were fired with images of earnest Victorian spiritualists, gathering in the intimate and theatrical gloom of candlelight and dark satin drapes. We were so full of our own energies that we felt we could enlighten the darkest of metaphysical corners.

youthful séance—
a bowl of narcissus glows
white in the darkness

Now, once again, we are bridging history, with all its garbled dramas, talking through the moving glass, reviving memories, retrieving, letter by letter, the intervening years. Re-living talking to the dead. It all seems risky and illicit, the way it did when we were teenagers, but somehow the intensity, the belief, has gone out of our questions - "Are you a dead spirit?" Yes. ... "Have you a message for us?" Yes. ... And so it goes ...

says he's a plague victim—
a scent of lavender polish
in the upturned glass

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