Review: The Night Ghost by Susan Moorhead (Finishing Line Press, 2015)

A review by Linda Simone

The Night Ghost by Susan Moorhead
Finishing Line Press (2015)
ISBN 978-62229-922-5
Order at or

Parenthood, a Haunting Experience: Susan Moorhead’s The Night Ghost

The 29 poems that comprise Susan Moorhead’s late-2015-released chapbook, The Night Ghost, carefully navigate a life examined by exploring themes of motherhood, the comfort of dogs, aging, and death. Moorhead walks the reader through the heat of a July night clear through to “Frost Moon Season,” beautifully deciphering as she goes the seasons of human experience. Like the old white dog in the poem “July Twilight,” the speaker gazes “…as if she remembers / something beyond the first shadows.”

This journey leads the reader toward, as the poem “Midway” aptly describes: “…the horizon a fine line to stretch / out the tangled layers of years.”  At the same time, along with the speaker, we grow unafraid to venture into “a deeper place” and “the dark beneath.”

The title metaphor in “On a Passing Train” expresses the fleeting nature of life as the speaker witnesses hers–seen from the perspective of a bystander watching a night train go by:

“The water is boiling on the tiny stove and this self you know,

or might have known or been, is lost, and the next self

and the next window, and the next self, and the next window,

lost, in the successive snap-shots rushing past the glance

of your eye framed in the train window, riding on.”

A stand-out poem in this collection is “You Stepped Out for Some Air.” Moorhead masterfully peers through “a misfit eye without reflection” at the dichotomy of losing a beloved parent while the world continues on as if nothing extraordinary had occurred. The speaker addresses the deceased, offering a stunning list of images and language rich in assonance and internal rhyme. She taps into that feeling of being off-kilter after a great loss. She admits her inability to  right herself according to someone else’s timetable or expectations, and the long o sounds illustrated in the excerpt below, sound  like a moaning for what no longer is:

“and rising breaths of slumbering, mud-buried

frogs. They dream of egg yolk suns shimmering

through fogged water, twitch at memory of

the frenzied spin of tadpoles. Await the first kiss

of new green trailed onto the pond’s surface by

the perpetual bow of the tilted willow. So much

goes on an entire year after you have ceased.”

Despite the speaker’s regret at failing to fully express her love to her deceased father while he was alive—not even in a final brush of his face in the coffin—the poem still achieves a level of consolation:

“…you had already stepped

out from those staterooms, a freeman, cloud-born,

wind carried, able at last to make sense of the world.”

“Undertow,” which could be read as a companion to the above poem, nails the discombobulation that is the legacy of death:

“The whole day has been like this, a freewheeling

anxiety like moths fluttering in a jar. The dogs,

a cacophony of barking, need to go out, another

thing I must do on the endless daily list.”

But at the poem’s conclusion, despite loss, there is still a balance in  “…the dogs, the day…”:

“We pass the yard of the woman who nods reluctant

hellos, the old man’s hedge, and it breaks, this

rogue wave, taking the green and the light, and air

in its wake.  Three months since you died, and yet

here are the dogs, the day, and my feet stumbling

with the knowledge that I do not know how to navigate

my life without the constant of you being in it.”

The title night ghost first appears in the poem “Remembrance”:

“…in the hallway…

at the edges of things

tacks into the sharp

corners, tense and angular with old fevers

and ribs of grief, darkening the motes of the air.”

In “Dusk,” the ghost reappears to wander the basement—no surprise to the family dog “not raising his head.”  As the speaker is older and wiser, she now recognizes the ghost as “nearly a fond thing.”  In the darkening skies, she finds signs of  acceptance and moving on..

“…The autumn sky is a heartache, deep blue

backlit as if some external flashlight was searching for something

with its last rays, the shy apology of pinking clouds.”

With these poems come feelings of understanding and being understood. Moorhead not only looks back with longing, but also casts a hopeful eye ahead to create a “…dream collage / ambient, lambent, so startling, this gold in the pitch sky.”

I have followed Moorhead’s work online for years—her poems, fiction and her engaging blog, “Sun Pours Down Like Honey.” If this chapbook has one flaw, it is that the collection could benefit from more modulation in tone and form. That said, the payoff for immersion into The Night Ghost? Genuine wisdom, language so round and musical it soothes the ear, and image after startling and beautiful image.  Read The Night Ghost and you’ll walk away with what Moorhead calls in her poem, “Release,” “some / fantastic incomprehensible.”

* * * * * * *

Linda Simone is the author of two chapbooks, Archeology (Flutter Press, 2014) and the award-winning Cow Tippers (Shadow Poetry, 2006). Her debut full-length collection, The River Will Save Us, is due out in early 2019 from Kelsay Book’s Aldrich Press imprint. Her poems have appeared in more than 100 journals and anthologies and have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her reviews have appeared in First Literary Review – East, Valparaiso Review, Woven Tale Press, and on Born and raised in New York, she now lives in San Antonio, Texas, where she is honored to be a part of the city’s vibrant poetry community.

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