59º ~ in the grips of a cold spell not natural for the middle of May, all is gray, yesterday only up to 61º, today they foretell 73º, but I am doubting
Ghost Gear (University of Arkansas Press, 2014) is a book drenched in water, the water of oceans, lakes, rivers, creeks, and rain. Within that water a body might be buoyed or swept away, and therein lies the promise and the threat at the heart of Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum's re-visioning of his own coming of age. A master of the lyric narrative, McFadyen-Ketchum takes us back, back, back, sometimes to the time of his father before the son's birth, sometimes as far back as the origin of the universe, but mostly back to the time of his own youth as he grew into manhood and tested the boundaries of geography and emotion.
In one of the opening poems in the book, "Tonight," the poet murmurs,
If only I could drop into sediment and murk, so much lost
of the heart's heave through amnion and the liquid wake
and sleep, so much forgotten of the ocean's collapse
and the skull cap's crowning.
The rest of the book is an attempt to reclaim the memory of those key moments in childhood and to examine how those moments helped create the current "I" of the poet-speaker. In doing this, McFadyen-Ketchum allows that not all memory is accurate, but through a deep concentration on authentic details (that trait of the best poets among us), he gets as close as possible.
As example, here is the beginning of "Slag":
I remember sweat, three pennies pressed wide
by the twin track of the train
barely a cinder's heat in my pocket, shirt slicked
to my back like the last bit of flesh on a picked-clean bone.
The train in this poem echoes other trains, along with cars and planes, that appear throughout the book. The speaker on the cusp of adulthood seems always intent on speed, on getting out and getting away, as indeed "Slag" ends with just such a longing:
I wished for the galloping forth of the Minotaur,
and instead it was the Tennessee Southern barreling forth
the coal economy as I crouched just inches
from the flashing-past boxcars,
envisioning the day I'd take off at a sprint
and hurl myself into another land.
This need to test the limits, to move out and away (with some great speed!) from childhood weaves in and out of nearly every poem in the book. Ultimately, though, the poet recognizes what many of us recognize about our family and our childhoods: "I never left that place. I never / returned to that place."