Ghost / Landscape by Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher
Everything's Haunted, Even the Flowers. Especially the Flowers.
by Chrissy Martin
The world is covered in a sheet of crisp, new snow; your driveway, the road, neighbors’ homes, and tree branches all blanketed in an eternal winter. A calmness. Gusts whip snow in the air, crash flakes into your eyes. You can only see a few feet into your front yard, and even that looks unfamiliar. That is the calm and fear painted into Ghost / Landscape (BlazeVOX, 2016), the opening poem announcing to the reader—the you—the landscape, “So the next few hours are going to be devastating, and you’re the one who has to drive us through the snow.”
As I child, I remember discovering the symmetry of paper. The way I could fold it in half, cut shapes in the folded edge, and open it up to find the shape doubled: a snowflake, a diamond, a heart—always lopsided. The magic of my shape being flipped and reflected. The magic of this doubling. But then, what happens when you make the first side lopsided, its shape reflecting back—when you open a card to find now two-poorly cut sides, wrong and staring you in the face?
Ghost / Landscape by Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher reaches for this messy notion of symmetry, unsure, slipping its hands into oversized scissors and opening the page to reveal something angular and jutting. When the collection grapples with a ringing phone, a yard, a sputtering lawn mower, it writes these objects on the left page, and allows them so spill—to cut—into the right page. The repetition forces the reader to pay attention to it—the phone is ringing, it’s still ringing, how long has this phone been ringing? “I tried to phone you, but the snow went on for miles.” and “By now the receiver feels cold in my hand.” By putting these two alongside one another, Gallaher and Darling enact, enchant, reject the notion of page symmetry, but reveal something new about what is being reflected.
For instance, “In This Best of All Possible Worlds” is presented on the left page obsessing over starting a fire in the barn:
First you convince the horse that the barn is safe. This is a necessary step. . . So you teach the horse to love the barn. It is not difficult. . . . So you’ve now convinced the horse that the barn is safe. The second step is that you must set fire to the barn. . . . You have to set fire to the ban just as the horse, once it sees the barn on fire, will panic, must panic, and then run into the barn.
This quiet, composed, tragic voice is what drives the collection. It is the everyday and it is a disaster. Echoing this fire, the right page poem following this, “I’m Kind of Glad I Didn’t Know Then What I Know Now” begins, “You talked for weeks about starting a fire, but somehow, I was always the one chopping wood.” This may be the conversation between the two poets, a sort of improvisational response been collaborators. In this way, the two authors of the book do not create two different, fighting aesthetics, but two voices in conversation—a conversation we want to shamelessly eavesdrop over.
The voices in Ghost / Landscape wander into notions so far reaching as as Satan in Western Literature, bomb shelters, and the unconvincing disguises of superheroes, but somehow, they always wander back to the home: the yard, the barn, the phone, the garden, the snow.
It's the kind of thought you have when you're out shopping with a friend at the mall, and you realize that the natural, chemical-free food and clothes are more expensive than the unnatural, chemical-laden ones, and sure, you realize, of course, it's always like that. The food court's full. We're talking about yardwork. Think of the yard like the brain of a teenager.
Ghost / Landscape sets and breaks its own rules: “In the book, everything’s haunted, even the flowers. Especially the flowers. And the chapters aren’t numbered, so you forget exactly where you are, and where you placed the key to the room that holds all of your things from childhood.” To say the chapters aren’t numbered is both true and untrue. There are four poems titled “Chapter Two,” two of “Chapter Three” and one poem—being the last—titled “Chapter One.” That’s not to mention the unnumbered “The Chapter on Miracles,” “The Chapter on Gardening,” “The Chapter on Etiquette,” and “The Chapter on Houseguests.” There are chapters and these chapters are often numbered, but do not expect this numbering to bring about order. Do not expect Ghost / Landscape to follow any tidy set of rules, even its own.
In one final gesture of sense-making and sense-breaking, the last poem, “Chapter One,” tells
You seem everything in this room adheres to principles, and changing the rules midway through the game can be dangerous. It’s like digging up all the flowers in a garden just to see what happens. Before you realize it, the freeway no longer leads to the grocery store. The mailbox isn’t where you remembered it. And even the dishes you left on the table will be gone.