An aptly-named poet, Zooey Ghostly’s chapbook, & blue beds held, is a hauntingly reflective artifact. Part stark minimalism, part rich detail, much of Ghostly’s chapbook functions via the masterful manipulation of counterweights & -balances. Available from indie-publisher C.A. Mullins’ Bottlecap Press, & blue beds held combines the juxtapositional power of the haiku with the creative word/sentence/punctuation-play of e e cummings. Into their unique artistic style Ghostly infuses the trials & tribulations of romance, sex, & love; the desire to find someone to love & the desire to be a strong individual. & so here, too, in the chapbook’s emotional & descriptive content is the presence of Ghostly’s checks-&-balances artistry, where togetherness meets alienation & memories meet reality. Zooey Ghostly’s & blue beds held uses the nuts-&-bolts of the English language to document the persona’s recalling of attempting to find love & then recalling happy memories in an effort to escape the reality of present loneliness. Ghostly’s poetry is beautiful for its aloof earthiness. When happy & of love, their poems are alive with colors, plants, & specters, with the appealing allure of quiet nights & volatile seas. The first poem of the chapbook, & included in the first issue of Bottlecap Press’ zine, Bottlec[r]ap, “to frank” pops true with colors & imagery, the poem itself brimming with hard truth & nuanced eroticism.
Ghostly’s next poem, “night at sea,” heightens the poet’s minimal, somewhat spooky approach; added to this is the fact that this poem is continued for several pages, but segmented so that each segment begins on a new page & denoted by a pair of slashes. Given the title’s frightening circumstances, this poem’s first segment evokes feelings of banishment & abandonment, of loss. Upon a first reading, it may be unclear that the following poems marked off by “/ /” are, in fact, meant to be a continuation of the section titled “night at sea,” but that is the point, for each new segment could stand alone as its own poem; taken as a whole, therefore, the entirety of the poem takes shape: like a saga, “night at sea” documents feelings of love between the persona & a potential lifelong lover. This segment, which begins “let’s not go walking,” conveys the awareness of love’s near impossibility, of happiness against the realities of pain, of no love. Ghostly’s masterful use of punctuation & line/stanza/segment breaks, as well as their occasional creative use of grammar & spelling, breathes life throughout & blue beds held, a life which is informed by adventurous implications, such as allowing oneself to fall in love & enter a relationship (no matter how brief or how long), like the one studied & analyzed in “night at sea;” see, for example, the poem’s title & the line “tides unclenched / & unanchored.” The next segment, which begins “there’s an atlas,” is one of the first & finest example of Ghostly’s creative counterbalance artistry. Like a haiku, the two opposing ideas, represented jointly as geography & “your voice” against a grinning pulse & illuminated wind, meet at the crossroads of fear & desire, of anticipation & longing. The pulse imagery, mostly likely an allusion to a love-infused adrenaline-spiked heartbeat, causes sparks & fireworks to set the evening air alight. The atlas could be, if the previous segment is recalled, the geography of “eachother’s palms,” which are themselves capable of being walked, though the persona suggests against this. & if the atlas is, in fact, meant to imply the palms, then the roads leading elsewhere are numerous & secretive.
In the latter three segments of “night at sea,” the persona frets over the heartbreak & unhappiness of the other person with whom they are sailing through the night. This segment, which begins “seawater bulbs,” contains the finest example of Zooey Ghostly’s masterful handling of punctuation, grammar, & spelling. Being a poet who understands the merits of punctuation (& who, for that, is the sole possessor of my heart), Ghostly’s lines “& goddamnit / your drowning—” would, to those less knowledgeable, seem like a mistake, but two clues prove Ghostly’s skill. First, a preceding line in that stanza reads “& your godforsaken ears,” which implies that not so much a “you” is drowning, but rather that “your drowning [something]” is being soaked (probably by tears, both physical & implicationally emotional), just as the aforementioned “seawater bulbs” are being soaked. The second clue is the fact that the line ends in a dash, indicating a sudden stop, which means that there is a “[something]” that is drowning, not a person. So then, the key to Ghostly’s brilliance is the use of “your” instead of “you’re” combined with the dash, a combination which heightens the sentiment of this segment; that is, as an auditory experience, this segment’s theme is stated directly as being the other person drowning emotionally (“your drowning—”), but the visible text & clever use of punctuation prove that there is, in actuality, something of the person’s which is drowning, not the actual person. It is clever language play reminiscent of e e cummings’ poetry, but then Ghostly allows for a mystery to remain: “your drowning—”…what? The reader is left to decide because the segment ends on a note of uncertainty before the next one begins. Marked by feelings of separateness from the other person, the segment beginning “there were” leads the saga of “nights at sea” toward a finish of the relationship between these two people & of the journey they have had together, which could be read as a long-term relationship or the briefness of an intoxicated one-night stand. Regardless of which scenario the reader chooses, it is clear that the journey the poem’s speaker had with this other person is far from forgotten, since the six-page “night at sea” is a critical analysis of the time they spent together. The final segment, which begins “our bedroom lives,” sees the fulfillment of that journey’s end. The speaker’s point-by-point analysis of their relationship ends on a bittersweet note: while their relationship is over (“broken rabbits are piled / in the yard”), there is hope for the speaker, for “it’s morning now,” which signifies the fresh, new beginning of, hopefully, something happier & more fulfilling.
The next poem is “516910th avenue north,” which continues the haiku-esque technique of counterpoints squaring off, here facilitated by the use of a dash. There is sadness associated with this address, given the content of the poem, as well as feelings of pent up frustration, both of which are emotions that readily come to mind during visits to the hospital; during this particular visit, the persona likens the hospital walls to unkempt, “unpainted fingernails.” While Ghostly uses a great deal of body imagery throughout the chapbook, fingernails & the painting of them are again referenced in the next poem, “x,” which continues the haiku-esque style. A poem that, like “night at sea,” is segmented into two halves by a pair of slashes, “x” concretely likens the visible condition of one’s fingernails (whether painted or not, whether clean or not) with the invisible condition of one’s feelings for another person, which is represented by a red umbrella in a large empty house, which are themselves symbols for the heart & the body, respectively, & the heart being, of course, often thought of as red & the storehouse of the emotions, especially those concerned with love, the lack of which plagues Ghostly’s speaker. The beautiful poem “bodies” is filled with love for another person, but a love which is saddled with feelings of inadequacy, thereby yielding a willingness within the persona to comply even to the point where they “wore everything / you told me to.” It is this inadequacy which goads those who desire to be loved into lowering themselves so as to try to overly please the ones they love, which can often lead to physical/emotional/sexual/etc. problems. Therefore, at the mention of this simpe fact, the poem is counterbalanced stylistically at the dash, at which point the persona continues the inadequate theme by describing their heart as a jellyfish, as a thing which is seemingly unintelligent, delicate, & (most of all) dangerous. Nonetheless, there is yet a desire to give love, a grateful love, from which “there is / a ringing / in this / skin” & the earnestness with which the speaker wishes to give that love is represented by the quick two-word lines & the lack of punctuation in the final stanza. The next poem is again segmented by a pair of slashes, but this time each of the two haiku-esque segments of “ghosts of the city” gets its own page. In the first segment, there is nothing but happiness & love, life & contentment to be two creatures of the city having an afternoon in the park, out in nature. The final stanza is so softly tender, so quietly calm & filled with love. Then, in the countering second segment of “ghosts of the city,” there is nothing but the cold, hard truth; namely, the speaker realizes that this person is not “soul-mate” matter, as was previously believed during the picnic the two shared from the first segment, but there is a sentiment of gratefulness despite this fact.
Using the sobering revelation discovered at the end of “ghosts of the city,” Zooey Ghostly opens the concluding third act of & blue beds held with “*,” a tightly crafted poem celebrating one’s exuberance for life, for happiness! The persona has overcome pain, as evidenced in the preceding poems, but Ghostly merges together the knowledge from the revelation with the promise of a new dawn hinted at the end of “night at sea” to craft the desire for a better, optimistic future. The impressionistic “ok” blends colors, images, settings, & emotions into a heartfelt & surreal mixture, the consumption of which could be likened to the intoxication of love. The idea of love-intoxication might not be far off, given the slurred-seeming & delightfully Carroll-esque nonsensical sensibility found in the poem’s closing stanza. The sweet “goodnight” is enlivened by an ingredient of nostalgia while the cutely surreal poem “ “” ” evokes images of witchcraft & flying carpets. That is, the persona’s desire to be with another is so strong that it could be wielded by one’s will to command the forces of Nature to manifest positively for the fulfillment of the persona’s desire. After all, desire is a powerful force, as are attraction & feelings of love. Perhaps the feelings of love lost are most sharply felt in the second-to-last poem, “to jules.” The lovelorn persona is devastated to have lost someone who they felt dearly about, presumably the titular Jules. This poem aches with the realization that, given the attention to detail, these fondly cherished memories are just that: memories documenting a past; as the persona concludes, “I didn’t know / that it would be / the last time.” The concluding poem, “chorus,” showcases Ghostly’s skillful employment of line & stanza breaks, the apt handling of which renders this final poem fluidly melancholy, a mood driven home by the counterbalanced content of blue horses in the night against the poem’s “you,” who is “remembered…best” “in that famous blue bedding.”
At which point, the fluidly-written “chorus” ties up & together the entirety of Zooey Ghostly’s & blue beds held, as well as providing the reader with a key to the chapbook’s title. Recalling to mind the power of desire & love implied within “ “”,” Ghostly’s appropriately named closing poem is a chant, a plea, a wish; “chorus” is an incantation seeking to reclaim & keep intact the relationship shared between the persona & “you.” But despite the desire, the plea, that “blue beds held,” the reality remains that those beds did not hold & their relationship has come to an end. The wish to keep love has been denied & so the person is left haunted by memories of horses & bedding, both of which were the same color of loss, sadness, & fear. It’s a tragic note upon which to end, but Ghostly’s entire chapbook is haunted by this theme, only fully blossoming in the mind of the reader by this final poem. Expanded, this theme is the over-arching theme of love gained & cherished before souring & dissipating. Rife with sentiments of abandonment, hesitancy, love, & heartache, Zooey Ghostly’s & blue beds held (available from C.A. Mullins’ Bottlecap Press) delves into the mind of someone painfully aware of melancholic outcomes.
AUTHOR BIO:: dom schwab is a reader/writer of poetry/prose. dom is gay, GQ w/ no pronoun preference, a vegetarian, and lives in Chicago. dom’s most recent work has appeared in Zoomoozophone Review’s female/non-gender-conforming Issue 5, Boscombe Revolution Issue 3: Revolution & Gender, and JunkYard Kool, an anthology presented by Kool Kids Press.