Ghost Gear by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum
The University of Arkansas Press, 2014; 65 pp
Reviewed by Michael Levan


Rather than portray light and dark as opposites, Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum’s poems in Ghost Gear thrive in the space where the two forces meet. Their speakers are not interested in looking at only one side to the detriment of the other, nor are they concerned with painting contradictions; they understand how much would be missed without seeing the whole of experience.

Throughout the collection, light and dark are yoked together. There’s the childhood wonder in the opening of “Constellations,” as children take home a summer night’s souvenirs: “Outside, children snag fireflies in the fallow field, / return home, cupped hands lighthouses of flight, / countless brilliant lantern-heads surrounded by bone.” Then, a few pages later in “Winters, We Watch Snow Descend Slowly”:

Children, night after night on the floodplain
fall backward in the drifts, arms spread wide
as the gull’s wings opened to the sea breeze

then fanning like moths, flashlights
tracing ellipticals as if to conjure spirits
from the haloed wash of earth.

The beauty of the fireflies’ light and the snowdrifts’ sense of comfort become sharper, more remarkable, more easily known when staged against night, which can be equally necessary and freeing when the situation is flipped.

In “Meditation on Balsam Mountain,” “the stars are so numerous tonight, I’ve nearly lost myself / connecting them.” In fact, it’s where these “loci of brilliant light” are not that gives the speaker peace: “Somewhere below… somewhere beyond the earth’s backward bow, there’s a certainty and silence / to be found, a purpose and answered prayer.”

Night also allows the thirteen-year-old boy in “Night Driving” to take his mother’s Toyota Corolla for a joyride periodically, which eventually he does feel some guilt over. However, even as he tells himself that every night “would be the last,” there is an insatiable pull at work:

But every night the night beckoned
and there was nothing quite like the luster
of first light, often copper or peach,
one time: scalp white.

Because that moment at dawn is where he desperately wants to escape to, that place and time where he feels lightest. 

Ghost Gear is full of similar juxtapositions. Nature and urban life—like in “Slag”—and father and son—consider “Lost Creek Cave” or the collection’s exceptional title poem—all grow in strength and meaning when combined, not pitted against each other. McFadyen-Ketchum’s poems are sprawling and controlled, objective and subjective, lonely and communal, traits that have led to a stunning debut.