Ghost/Landscape by Kristina Marie Darling
and John Gallaher
Blazevox, 2016; 102 pp
Reviewed by Anne champion
On the back cover of Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher’s Ghost/Landscape, Allison Benis White says, “One measure of the potency of literature is that its strangeness forces the reader to change her world to incorporate it, or to leave her world and join the one the writer has created.” This perfectly encapsulates the experience of entering Darling and Gallaher’s prose poems.
I admit that the form of prose poetry often makes me expect narrative, and it’s the denial of that expectation that makes Ghost/Landscape a compelling, reader-centric experience. The collection begins on “Chapter Two,” trumping expectations by placing the reader on the sideline of a battle whose beginning or cause you can’t place, making the ensuing conflict as dizzying as a maze. The details render a domestic setting, but with apocalyptic imagery: “Now our train leaving the platform, another dead pigeon near the tracks” and “Not one painting on the walls, and not a single photograph in any of those boxes.” The absence of photos or art signal that there’s no past in tact in these poems, and the dead bird along the tracks gestures towards a decomposing future weighted down by terror.
This tone follows through the collection of prose poems, which are often marked by evocative beginnings that detail stark, visceral imagery peppered by grand philosophical statements like “Forgetfulness is a kind of pardon or fresh innocence” or “We all think we’re having different lives, when really there’s only one life and we’re sharing it.” Details of narrative emerge like sharks flaring their teeth momentarily and submerging just as quickly as they appeared: There’s a bank robbery, an affair, jail time, deaths, unanswered phone calls. Yet, the story of the narrative is never finely woven; in fact, the readers find themselves thrust in the midst of its unraveling, undone past the point of restoration.
Nevertheless, there are themes that thread through the work, leaving lasting emotional impressions: dying, withering, the ephemeral, emptiness, lack of perfection, unfulfilled promises, or, even more haunting, fulfilled promises but the guarantee was always pain. The images in the poems serve as auspices to read the future and the past: There’s a tension between two people in a partnership. “It wasn’t long before an entire winter had been buried in that odd foliage. By then I could hardly picture the splintered glass, the thistle plants.” The repeated nature imagery in the poems serve as metaphors reflecting the emotional cadence between the two characters: Even when the nature is in tact and beautiful, the future of the two people is in peril, threatened to be buried, iced over, utterly transformed. Yet, the images are still awe inspiring—hauntingly so—but they pulse with an undertone of impending doom.
“It turns out that there are only three anxiety dreams in the psychoanalyst’s lexicon, and this is one of them. Would it help if I reminisced about childhood? Watch, if I clasp my hands in such a way, it looks like a little house. It looks like a house that’s burning.” The whole collection feels like this: hand shadow puppets cast on a wall, ghosts parading your periphery, stories you pieced together in your head. Fans of Kristina Marie Darling’s past work will be excited to see the way collaboration, with John Gallaher, has created something entirely new and unfamiliar, but the experience for the reader is no less engaging—a wonderland littered with ruination, fear, and longing.