The candle casts its light on every face
And holds each gathered spook in dim embrace,
Illuminating cohorts of the dead
Of whom most every mage has surely read.

In life this group confounded one and all
And now convenes about my crystal ball,
In death to replicate its former skills
The likes of which have given brave men chills.

Each present here established cause for pride
Communicating with the Other Side,
Hence now all gather at my table round
For spirit competition most profound.

We'll call upon this world beyond the grave
And vote a winner's name for us to save,
The medium whose name most makes us proud,
But no chicanery will be allowed!

The sisters Fox began it all, 'tis said,
With spooky raps transmitted from the dead.
So welcome siblings Leah, Mag, and Kate
Whose Hydesville psychic knocks we celebrate.

And later will all testify we heard
The tap tap tapping of a coded word?
"BELIEVE" the spirit rappings seem to say.
An underhanded trick? Or cause to pray?

Beside the Fox girls we find D.D. Home
Whose name despite the O rhymes with exhume,
Who's famous for his table tipping shows
And for that time into the air he rose.

The Ashley Levitation was its name.
"Behold," he says, "the basis for my fame."
Again he rises up (but in the dark).
A valid spirit stunt? Or just a lark?

What schoolboy would not own to be afraid
Of ghostly words from Dr. Henry Slade?
"Upon these boards we'll raise the dead, by chance,
As I descend into a dreamlike trance."

Then on his slates these chalked words now appear
In eerie scribbled writing : "I AM HERE."
A genuine post life communiqué?
Or just a secret trick shop flap at play?

But might we see a specter if we look?
Let's call on crystal gazer Florence Cook,
Whose reputation in the séance room
Arose from glowing phantoms in the gloom.

Now look! She conjures to our spirit ring
The ghost of pirate daughter Katie King.
Oh, should I now believe my frightened eyes?
Or could the shade be Florence in disguise?

And who here was more famous in her day
Than paranormal Anna Eva Fay?
Each scientific test confirmed her knack
For bringing loved and not so loved ones back.

We tie her up and yet despite our care
Some One or Thing cavorts in blackest air.
Perchance it's to her voice the ghost responds?
Or has she cleverly escaped her bonds?

Professor Eugene Burger is our last.
(He looks like someone Hollywood might cast.)
His beard suggests divine authority,
His words betray a dark philosophy:

"Like Slade I opt to utilize these slates
In my attempt to chatter with the fates.
This photo of a graveyard I include
Between two slates to set a proper mood."

I blow the candle out and all goes black.
I feel the table shift, my heart goes slack.
"Oh, something is amiss!" I cry and swear
The lights come up and Burger is not there.

I lift the top slate up for all to see
The chalked words "HELP ME" form his final plea,
And in the photo of this plot of bones
Stands Mr. Burger midst the marble stones!

And I, Houdini, thought you all were frauds,
Each one a fake no scientist applauds,
But scoundrels who were not to be believed
Who'd prey on friends most recently bereaved.

I thought that with my magic expertise
I could expose your con man tricks with ease.
Consider first the triple sisters Fox:
Could popping toes explain their spirit knocks?

Did D.D. Home above our table fly?
Or did fake legs support a blatant lie?
And Slade's words brought on by his spirit trance?
They possibly were written in advance!

Did Florence Cook's ghost warrant our applause?
Perhaps Flo's ghost was naught but treated gauze!
Did we experience a wraith at play?
Or were we fooled by Anna Eva Fay?

But when we come to Eugene Burger I
Admit to being baffled, by the bye,
And I opine upon my mother's eyes
That he is most deserving of our prize.

I don't know if his mystic powers are real
But do confess his feats have strange appeal.
I care not if his work is sham or true
Because his love for all comes shining through.

By far the most deserving of our prize.


©Copyright 2020 by Steve Bryant
Originally published in Genii, October 2020.

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