I admit that lately I have been very slow to read and review books these past two to three years and I can assure you I am working on ways to get back to doing these reviews more often. It will take a bit longer to achieve some of the goals I have set for myself in order to accommodate more reading, writing, and creating. I thank all of my loyal readers for sticking by. In the meantime, I will post as often as I can:
Today I review one of my favorite writers for a Double Feature. Kristina Marie Darling’s work continues to inspire me and sets my imagination spinning.
First is The Arctic Circle, published by BlazeVox books in 2015, is a haunting collection where the ghost of the first wife lingers over the current couple’s lives. The current wife begins slipping into the first wife’s character, alarmingly the husband voices approval. The environment surrounding them grows cold, frosted over in ice. Below I am happy to share a few pieces:
The name I was given at birth was no longer my name. When I arrived at the reception hall, I was mistaken for another bride. Laced into the wrong dress, wearing the wrong shoes.
My husband would later confuse me with his last wife. He thought I was supposed to bring him cigarettes, and for a moment that seemed right. He mumbled as I handed him a purple lighter, and I left behind the only life I’d ever known.
But we were so good together. I never argued with him, afraid for years he’d remember his first wife was dead.
This poem describes our main character slipping into an expected persona and losing her individuality to make her partner happy. I fear the number of women who do this daily. I wish they would fight to keep themselves intact. Here, the bride succumbs to what is “expected” of her.
From the start you made me promise not to ask questions about your first wife. You’d leave for weeks and wouldn’t tell me why.
When you finally came home, dinner always began the same way. I’d catch a glimpse of something in the window while warming soup or vegetables. Then I looked out into the yard and saw her face. Sometimes she stood at the door, straightening her dress, about to knock. Most of the time she was out of breath, as though she’d walked a long way in the cold.
No matter what you told me, I was afraid to open the door. She carried no purse, and no luggage, because everything she needed was already here.
This is when the ghost of the first wife makes her appearance. It is telling when the new wife says “because everything she needed was already here.” It leads us readers to believe that the husband never cleaned out any of his previous wife’s things. The new bride is simply there to become the former bride. Haunting, isn’t it?
When I woke in the middle of the night, I saw another woman in the glass. She looked the way I had always imagined your first wife: white blonde, pink lipstick with a hint of sparkle.
I climbed back into bed and you asked me why I was shivering. I told you I was cold, but really i wasn’t. I knew I could never sleep in the same house as her. That was when I noticed something glittering on the side of your mouth. I told myself I was imagining things, but even I didn’t believe it.
After we’d been married a few years, things started to make sense. You never told me the house was haunted because you hoped it wasn’t. Every night, when you thought I was sleeping, you kissed the woman on the other side of the mirror.
Quite disconcerting, this piece. Not only is their home haunted by the first wife but the bride’s husband continues to carry on a relationship with the ghost in the mirror. It turns your heart for the current wife and you wonder why she stays.
The garden was all thistle and frost.
I had been living in her house,
wearing her clothes, answering
to her name.
This is where I leave you, dear reader. To learn more about the life of the current wife in this haunting tale, you will have to pick up a copy for yourself. The bride’s transformation, the husband’s acceptance of this transformation, and then ultimately… The rest is for you to find out in the pages of this indelible tale.
If you enjoyed this review and are curious to learn the rest of the tale, please purchase a copy of Arctic Circle by Kristina Marie Darling for $16.00 at:
Failure Lyric, published in 2014 by BlazeVox books, is a collection of unexpected heart aches, failures as the title implies, and a couple’s relationship at the center. As always, Darling uses vivid, beautiful language to create scenes that etch into our minds. It is nearly impossible for me to narrow down which pieces to share, so please forgive me for sharing so many, and there are many more for those of you who wish to read more:
My sister looked at me and said, You choose the love you think you deserve. She poured another cup of herbal tea. Out the window, I see birds burying their dead.
This is one of the first poems in this collection and sets the tone for what follows. “You choose the love you think you deserve” is relatable to so many of us and it pushes the reader’s curiosity forward.
At first, you didn’t quite understand. How I carried all that grief from city to city, until it turned into an enormous white halo around my head.
And the stars. The way they followed my sadness, rising and falling like an ocean. Before long, even the cities where we lived began to circle around my melancholy, each one a thread spinning through the eye of a needle.
One morning, you woke and noticed that the world around you moved differently. The freeway no longer led to the subway station. And the flower stand wasn’t where you remembered it.
You cried, but neither one of us could change it back.
This piece hits me personally. Growing up our family moved many times and there was culture shock as we yo-yoed between the Midwest and the Texas Border on Mexico. My dreams are vivid and filled with scenes from both, there was heartache from being such an obvious outsider each move. So this piece allows me to relate to both the wife and the husband, feeling grief that grows with each change, then tears when you return to a place only to find it has changed drastically. This piece I feature for personal reasons, I hope you can relate to it and love it as much as I do.
At first I thought the gift was for me. A little box, wrapped in green paper and tied with a silver ribbon, sparkled on the kitchen table. Each of the corners had been taped shut so I couldn’t see what was inside.
That was when he walked in the door with a bag full of wrapping paper. Ribbons in every color. Roll after roll of sticky tape.
He told me that he was going to an anniversary party. I didn’t hesitate when he asked me to help wrap the gifts.
Before long, I realized the presents were meant for his last wife, waiting at the restaurant. I couldn’t help but recognize her favorite chocolates, that ungodly perfume he always dragged with him on his suit. Now the gifts shimmered in their boxes. All that ribbon curled at my feet.
You see, when we married, memory fell asleep in the chapel. We left her in the pew, wearing her best dress.
Somehow she never found her way back to the door.
This piece makes my heart ache for the current wife. How does a woman wrap gifts for the former love of her lover’s life? The mention of losing the memory in the pew is poignant. The wife conveniently forgot the husband’s previous life when she married only to stare it in the face now while wrapping up gifts for the last wife. Strange that the husband would do something so elaborate for an ex and ask his current wife for help, there are layers upon layers in this couple’s story in such a short piece.
There is a room where grief doesn’t sleep.
She tosses and turns beneath a white blanket, that silk canopy draped around her. When I open the door, she asks for a glass of water. Anything but the orchid on her dressing table, the shriek gathering in its perfect mouth.
Because when she closes her eyes, she can feel the same burning in her own throat. That smoldering beneath a violet nightdress. A fire in every eyelash.
The first line caught my attention, didn’t it for you? We all know that room, whether it is in our minds or a place that brings back tearful memories. I love that grief is a woman, just like La Llorona (The Crying Woman). Not only does she toss and turn, she burns with fire, just as we all feel inside during our own grief. It’s a beautiful piece.
I walk between two rooms, but somehow the furniture is the same: a torn envelope, a lifeless clock, the armoire smoldering beneath a beveled mirror.
I unwrap relics one at a time. The room aches with light. You are the patron saint of lost causes, of silent vows and a scorched altar. We are the windows of a chapel shattering as it burns.
Now the plaster angel speaks his final benediction. In my hand, a bouquet of paper flowers, aflame. Still these attempts to catalogue, this desire to preserver.
I had always imagined the mind as a museum of memorable objects. Those endless rows of dried butterflies pinned under glass.
When asked, the docent told me that the placard couldn’t be trusted: The colors have been known to shift with the light. You see, at the time the glass case was built, the specimen wasn’t quite dead.
This is where I feel Darling excels. These moments, these vignettes, they speak worlds to me. I see a museum filled with relics and glass cases and the idea that the butterflies weren’t “quite dead” when they were placed in their case is frightening to me. The idea that all of our beloved keepsakes may have some sort of life and then be left for dead in their “display cases” is what makes me look at my own things in a different light. I feel that Darling is well versed in turning the beautiful and sacred onto its side and holding a prism up to give us a new and unexpected perspective.
If you enjoy this feature, please purchase a copy of Kristina Marie Darling’s Failure Lyric for $12.00 here:
Thanks always for reading and please drop by again soon…