Having thoroughly enjoyed Kristina Marie Darling’s The Sun & the Moon, I was eager to read Ghost / Landscape, a collaborative narrative book of prose poems Darling cowrote with John Gallaher. They did not disappoint. Ghost / Landscape follows in the footsteps of Darling’s previous books and her ongoing attempt to recapture and rebuild fractured lives. The collection revisits themes dear to Darling such as ghosts, locks and keys, ice and fire, dreams and memories, which she shares with John Gallaher. In an interview with Matthew Thorburn in Ploughshares, Gallaher says: “As In a Landscape was something of a reaction to writing the collaborative book, Your Father on the Train of Ghosts, with G.C. Waldrep, so this new book, called Ghost / Landscape, with Kristina Marie Darling, is a reaction to writing the very personal, conversational In a Landscape. Also, Ghost / Landscape is in prose, which is something I’ve also long wanted to do.” Darling and Gallaher are very well suited to each other, their voices perfectly synchronized, in unison, as if they shared one life and story: “It matters who your friends are. This is true for a wide variety of species, because we all think we’re having different lives, when really there’s only one life and we’re sharing it.” One blends into the other, becomes the other. “We knew the house was haunted, but at first, we were unsure which one of us was the ghost. Because you were always talking about role reversals . . . It’s like looking in a mirror.”
Ghost / Landscape reads like a puzzle or mystery to be solved, elucidated. The collection starts with “Chapter Two” and ends with “Chapter One,” and presents several versions of “Chapter Two,” or perhaps the same one examined through different lenses and angles.
The reader walks a labyrinth, searching for clues, each chapter relinquishing a few while simultaneously adding to the mystery. Miscommunication, false starts, and missed encounters abound, often with failed telephone calls and remembered conversations: “No matter what number I dial, you never seem to answer . . . I tried to phone you, but we’d reached the very edge of the meadow.”
Adding to the mystery are the recurring locks and keys. “And there’s a reason the rooms were locked . . . Still, the doors are locked and no one answers when we ring the little bell.” Margaret Atwood recently shared in an interview with Grant Munroe for Lit Hub: “It’s all about locks and keys, and it always has been about locks and keys.” Secrets are fascinating and beg to tell a story; they stimulate the imagination. The speaker is unable to escape. “Are you still in Omaha and is there any way you can come unlock the door?” The locks and keys by turns suppress information—little is ultimately revealed—and guard secrets, for good or evil. They fuel the curious kind of haunting that plagues and enlivens the book—nothing quite fits or opens in the way it should.
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