(CakeTrain Press, 2010)
It is impossible to talk about any one piece in Ben Mirov’s Ghost Machine—due for its second printing this November by CakeTrain Press—without talking about this impressive collection as a whole. The poetry paints a portrait of the artist at a hyper-specific moment in his life.
The first piece, “Ghost of a Morning After You Left Me,” is a thesis-statement for the rest of the book; a warning sign of the kind of shit you’re about to get into. It’s one of those poems you read five or six times in a row, the kind that you don’t really want to turn the page on, you’re worried you’ll offend it by leaving it like that. This is true of most of the collection. While not entirely cheerless, the most hopeful the poetry in Ghost Machine gets is fairly. But it is with such accomplishment that you arrive at this emotive state that you feel ecstatic to have made it. Like getting a hug after coming in from a torrential downpour—it’s something at least—but then, right when you’re really feeling that bliss of being fairly cheerful, Mirov basically just up and punches you in the face. And we’re right back where we started. Wet and miserable.
All of this is way more fun than it sounds.
To reduce the book to its surface, Ghost Machine is nothing more than a series of well-described moments. Each moment is constructed by a series of details presented almost as a list. The elegance of the work, of each poem and the collection as a whole, lies in the absences and the withholdings. Much as in jazz, the moments that are omitted bear the weight. In other contemporary works, the omitted (and therefore weighted) moments are the climaxes of realization, the grand epiphanies. Mirov, however, gives us these in spades and the moments that we notice for their whited-out nature are the most uninteresting and banal. They are the times spent staring at ceilings and wandering intentionally lost through city blocks. All the boring minutia of life ignored, and therefore intentionally trumpeted. We dwell on these, become soured on them.
Mirov frequents the second person throughout much of Ghost Machine. But rather than his object of address being a generic everyman reader, or even the object of the heartbreak the book charts the course of, more and more, the “you” in Mirov’s work seems to be Mirov, himself. Some concurrent, or just off-phase version that is at times surviving better than the author, and at times failing greater. Ghost Machine, then, is a portrait of an artist intended for the artist himself. The privacy and self-intimacy of each line speaks to this. And we are just lucky to be along for the ride.