Sunday, April 10, 2016

Country of Ghost - Gaylord Brewer (Red Hen Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Country of Ghost.  Gaylord Brewer.  Red Hen Press.  Pasadena, California.  2015.

"The earth is mostly just a boneyard.  But pretty in the sunlight."
     - Larry McMurtry

And so begins Gaylord Brewer's hypnotic litany Country of Ghost.  It is not  a small accident that Brewer begins with a quote from one of America's least appreciated boneyard specialists.  McMurtry has put down his own trail of ghosts in his fine body of work.  Showed some pretty fine sunlight as well.

Brewer follows suit.

Becoming Ghost

As you withdraw from the beloved ones,
first in mind, then abused beast of the body
following, you will find speech no longer
plausible. Suggestive turns of hip or shoulder

suffice. The night as long surmised
requires no further recompense. The sweat
of your face, your wetted hair nothing more
than a fevered baptism of exchange.

Fly, wraith. Your secrets mean nothing
to anyone now. Fly to a moon-washed city
of dust and stone. To the cemetery
locked to you, the church undiscovered,

shuttered houses murmuring as you pass.
Ghost breathes on for awhile, sorry nostalgia--
so breathe. If the heart still struggles,
you may share too that fading urgency.

Where were you going? Where you have
arrived of course. Recognize this place
and, perhaps, weep or smile at the knowledge
you pursued. The loneliness found instead,

its barbarism and solace. There, seeker--
crevasse, mountain, flickering shore.
Dark turn of wing. The bridge where you
pause, a last bittersweet time, as you cross.


Death does not come easy, not even to a Ghost.  

Ghost is like the rest of us, longing for love, wanting to be able to play jazz piano, wanting to absolve grief.  It's all in here, the aching human need to belong, the bittersweet tragedy of loss.

Brewer knocks 'em down like pins at the end of an alley where he know all the grooves.

Ghost Considers the Altered Nature
of His Sleep and a Consummation to Be Wished

But not sleep as you may recall suspended hours,
not dream as dream per se, pitiless collage
of exactly what you deserved--deserved or not.
Any bed a benign bed now, good enough for Ghost.
The clocks count, wind rises, again it's late.

Lay the burden of thy body down, close eyes
to a story of forgetting, what passed, what never was.
Inhale the night and its useless truth,
no harm now. Here, say, a red canvas, a staircase
descending. There, a piano in a library of babel once

revered as wisdom, the slight hands of a woman
raising a dead man's song from the keys,
lamentation and joy learned by rote. Too,
a bridge, thighs of brick and steel impassive
in the river's filthy, freezing current, body toll rising.

And there: Your wife in her soft coat, waiting
and anxious in the new snow that hides the road.
In other words, Ghost, same ole razzmatazz
of mortal coil, nightly nonsense. What else
distracts during the long darkness that has returned?

Look; She steps forward, the mark of her boots
a white trail announcing her closer, closer still.
Hair wild in her eyes and her face flush and cold. But
she is smiling, she is glowing, ice bows bare limbs
where she passes and the morning light dazzles.


Country of Ghost is every country.  It's where you live.  It's where I live.  Ghosts are everywhere.   This particular ghost is a Rahsaan Roland Kirk ghost.  Always more than one instrument at hand, although sometimes he will play two just for the hell of it, sometimes three, absolutely for the hellish joy of it.  Brewer is singing in the dark corners.  Sometimes illuminations comes from the most unlikely sources.

We here at the Today's book of poetry offices almost expected a return of the ghost of John Steinbeck,
or perhaps another ghost.  No such luck.  Gaylord Brewer had the center of the floor today for the morning read.  Milo, our head tech, did his usual excellent job.  Kathryn, our new intern, read them like she owned them, and so on.  As we worked around the room Today's book of poetry realized how sturdy Brewer had built his Ghost, all haunting and hardy.

Ghost Reconsiders the Romance
of the Piano Player

During your life, Ghost, you longed
for the skill, cool and unannounced:
at evening's end, when that moment
arrived, or as surprise life-of-the-party
to those who'd known you forever,

Ghost nonchalantly on the stool, without
preamble tickling a jazzy improv
or just pounding out three blunt-force
minutes of unbridled rock'n'roll
'til you bust the damn thing or burn it.

But now, as you've surrendered
beloved biblioteque where you passed
so many peaceful hours, reclined
on cushions beneath enormous beams
centuries old in their silence, or touching

frayed volumes, opening a cover,
turning a yellowed page to inhale
the musk of its quiet history, as you've
surrendered these pleasures to the pasty
young man arrived without request

as the Bechstein in the window, who taps on
morning and night--a tortured Chopin,
lurching Beethoven to make you glad
for the master's deafness, worst of all
the droning tinker, tinker, tinker

of the mule at the wheel, round and round--
your only recompense, Ghost, is pride
you never took a lesson, practiced only
the muted score of the earth, only,
say, an art of listening, rather than

shitting one's endless noise into every
passing ear that didn't ask for it. Sorry,
all this racket makes a ghost testy,
who just wanted to step out of the rain
without assault of genius--blank-eyed,

slack-jawed, idiot savant light on the savant.


Today's book of poetry has always been an admirer of the good Ghost story.  We often think of poems as short movies and with Gaylord Brewer's Country of Ghost we get the range, Ghost memoir to Ghost romance, Ghost history and Ghost comedy.  A poetic film festival.

Country of Ghost can be haunting as a bad dream in search mode, it is constantly perceptive and ultimately we discover we need a Ghost to tell us what it means to be human.

Gaylord Brewer
Gaylord Brewer

Gaylord Brewer, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, earned a PhD from Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Middle Tennessee State University, where he founded and for twenty-one years edited the journal Poems & Plays. His most recent publication is a cookbook/memoir, The Poet's Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire (Stephen F. Austin UP, Spring 2015). He has published 900 poems in journals and anthologies, such as Best American Poetry and The Bedford Introduction to Literature.
- See more at:

Brewer writes as if a sly old god, wounded, lost and yet to renounce his magic. Ghost is a tour de force, part Caliban, part Ariel. Revenant, bored, hungry and amazed, Ghost will be with us ever hereafter.”
     - —Robert Olmstead

In this work of haunting, the possibilities for fruitful speculation and reflection are great. Gaylord Brewer’s poems in Country of Ghost are, at once, whimsical and deeply affecting in their pathos. The many ghosts that inhabit these poems contend with the conundrum of regret, and desire. It takes precise, well-modulated poetry that is alive with metaphor, wicked puns, image, and acutely observed detail to achieve what Brewer does in Country of Ghost.”
     - —Kwame Dawes

The world of feeling that Brewer so urgently describes is complicated and dynamic.”
     - —Asheville Poetry Review

“The poems are eerie, achingly honest, conversational, and beautifully, darkly funny. Even if we are tempted to turn away from the rotting, breaking, bruised, and bleeding body, we are drawn in by the human need, the fragility, the nostalgia, the bittersweet longing of the speaker and his Ghost.”
    - —Prick of the Spindle

Brewer manages to masterfully balance the ordinary and extraordinary. The consequent contrasts and juxtapositions elevate both conditions of ‘ordinariness’ into a kind of equilibrium of the sublime. A trademark Brewer poem: craft, precision, self-analysis, humor, endurance, and a razor-sharp epiphany.”
     - —The Evansville Review

Gaylord Brewer
Meacham Conversations, 22.3.2013
Gaylord Brewer talks with Meacham director Richard Jackson about his experiences with "Ghost," how travel has influenced his writing, his work with fiction and editing, and his growth as a poet.
video: Meacham Writer's Workshop



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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