Brushes With by Kristina Marie Darling

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Kristina Marie Darling’s latest collection of writing —her tenth!—takes as its premise the notion that every love story is, to quote David Foster Wallace, a ghost story; what we know and understand about our lovers is inevitably comprised of wispy half-truths and sensations, ones not so much acknowledged as intuited, felt.

At its core Brushes With depicts a romantic unraveling; “Cartography,” the first poem in the collection, begins, “We were no longer in love. The sky, too, was beginning to show its wear. A silk lining could be seen through every slit in the dark green fabric ” (13). From that opening, then, the details and figurations of the speaker’s relationship with her former paramour slowly shape into focus, maneuver into place. What was once idyllic and ideal is now tarnished beyond repair; all that is left of the speaker’s relationship with her lover is a perplexing sense of foreboding. In the poem “Feminism” Darling asks, “What is love but a parade of memorable objects, a row of dead butterflies pinned under glass?” (20). Elsewhere, in “Martyrdom,” she writes, “I never imagined love as a cause for suicide. But there we were, surrounded by all of the tell-tale signs: a breadknife, a withered corsage, a white dress with some ruffles along the bottom (30). Simultaneously sorrowful and beatific, ponderings of the aforementioned nature pervade throughout the entire collection.

Love is a disappearing act in Brushes With and Darling’s often minimal language usage thus furthers that notion. What’s not in the book—specific situational details, a linear, beginning-to-end sense of the relationship’s scope –is as important as what is. And this linguistic lack thereby forces the reader to come to terms with the fact that, in the end, our conception of love and romance is often one-sided. Even after they’ve ended, our relationships live within us, but that’s not to say that we ever truly understand their (exact or inexact) causality. In love what’s to be trusted is what’s also to be feared. And ghosts, of course, come and go as they please; their whims and caprices are theirs and theirs alone.

Put to great use by Darling in Brushes With are footnotes; 63 of them are used in the collection, many of them only tenuously connected to the linguistic content—syntactically/conceptually/imagistically—in the poems that they ostensibly purport to edify the reader on. Instead, via many of the volume’s footnotes Darling provides her reader with a series of definitions, ones (again) often unacknowledged in any romantic endeavor yet nevertheless still firmly in place. Although none of their corresponding numbers actually appear in the body of the text, situated on their own, on the bottom of page 21, footnotes 19-21 read:

19. Violence
¥ 1. The use of physical coercion.
¥ 2. The relative strength or duration of an emotion.
20. She began referring to the affair as a “benevolent guillotine.” The silver blades poised to kill.
21. Beginning with Pre-Enlightenment philosophy, one is taught to view the world as a piece of well-designed machinery.

Kristina Marie DarlingThe effect of this subversion is alluringly passive-aggressive. Darling’s speaker takes revenge on her ex-lover by essentially writing him out of the narrative; he is necessary not as a person but as a memory. And the reader’s perception of his presence is complicated by his disappearance as well; the speaker’s unreliability distorts our sense of what did or did not happen in the relationship, who was at fault and who wasn’t. This dualistic strategy—both of and not of, ghostly vs. granite— ultimately signals Brushes With‘s success as a cohesive work. In just 37 short pages, Darling is able to render for the reader an experience that is alternately immersive and mystifying. That is to say, she supplies the reader with a love story, one that ends the same way it began—in smoke and tatters, nuance and oblique declaration. And “[b]ecause day after day, you demand the same perfectly timed applause47—

47. This praise has been interpreted as an elaborate façade, beneath which nearly everyone sensed the beginnings of a revolution (37).

So it goes—every love story is a ghost story and every ghost story tells its own particular tale of revolution. With Brushes With Kristina Marie Darling roundly makes this clear.


Jeff Alessandrelli is the author of the full-length collection THIS LAST TIME WILL BE THE FIRST. Other work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Gulf Coast, Boston Review and five chapbooks. The name of Jeff’s dog is Beckett Long Snout. The name of his micro-press is Dikembe Press. More from this author →