|About the Book|
The comma in the book title “Dear Ghosts,” establishes the context for this collection of narrative poetry. That comma implies letters. This is a collection, however, in which the sum is much greater than the individual poems. It is not a morose book of letters to deceased loved ones, but a testament to living. Letters connect people, bridging geographical as well as metaphorical gaps. The ghosts are personal and universal- Gallagher’s father and mother, her husband, the writer Raymond Carver, as well as victims of the Holocaust and other wars.Gallagher also addresses her own mortality with poems about her experience with cancer. In “The Women of Auschwitz,” Gallagher compares having her hair cut during treatment for cancer to the “shorn heads” of the women in the camp.Before she cuts the braidTeresa twines the red ribbonbordered with gold into my hair.The scissors stutter against the thickblack hank of it, though for its part,the hair is mute.When it was doneto them they stood next to each other.Maybe they leanedinto each other’s necks afterward. Orsimply gazed back with the incredulityof their night-blooming souls.Note the powerful line breaks in the first and third line of this stanza.Most of the poems in this collection are long, two to three pages. The writing is dense, heavy with descriptions and meaning.Some nights go on in an afterwards so securethey don’t need us, though sometimes one exactlycorresponds to its own powers of elemental tirelessness.A prodigious heaviness comes over it that upswings itinto taking us, like the seizure knowing is,back into its mouth. One blue-violet night in Hawaii duringthe Vietnam War pinions me against(Sugarcane)Some images appear throughout the collection. Doorways come to mind- the passage between life and death, the transition from one phase of living-a daughter, a wife-to another-an orphan, a widow.“Sixteenth Anniversary” is an elegy to the anniversary of Carver’s death. It starts with Gallagher “observing the anniversary/alone in a cabin at La Push.” She encounters a Quileute carver-interesting metaphor there.Before heading to the cemeteryI made them leave the lid upwhile I ran out to the gardenand picked one more bouquetof sweet peas to fan onto yourchest, remembering how youbeamed when I placed themon your writing desk inthe mornings. You’d drawthe scent in deeply,then I’d kiss you on the brow,go out, and quietly closethe door.We survive on ritual, onsweet peas in August, lettingthe scent carry us, so at last the doorswings open and we’re bothon the same side of itfor a while.The first two stanzas of “Oil Spill” give a taste of Gallagher’s powers of description, and her skilllful use of imagery.A blue-black planet, it falls fromthe chainsaw into rainwaterpuddled where the earthquakeleft its shoulders in the driveway,the depression in gravelreminding us we walk on waves.The droplet flings itself down, radiateslike a jellyfish unfurling itsmantle-filtrating, rippling.At its core, a violet eye,magenta-lashed, its milky skirtingbuoyant.