Kristina Marie Darling is the author of seventeen books, which include Melancholia, Petrarchan, & a forthcoming hybrid genre collection called Fortress. Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund & the Elizabeth George Foundation.
Brave and haunted, these poems burn down to ash and winter, daring to unlock the spell of memory’s silver flashings. The small remains, like distant stars, make a moving portrait.
The Sun & the Moon is rooted in the liminal, where the ghosts that populate these poems become more human than the couple whose house they inhabit, whose drawers they open, whose clothes they wear. Everything is simultaneously burning and freezing, brightening and dimming, so that the stagnancy of a relationship becomes eerily unsettling—claustrophobic and violent—a place for knives and locks and ash. “It’s the strangest things that keep me from leaving.” It’s the same devastatingly strange things that will make readers stay.
“From what I understood, the ghosts had always been volatile.” Kristina Marie Darling’s The Sun & the Moon is a homage to the mutability of consciousness and memory. These prose-poems and erasures achieve a kind of Victorian noir by turning the cluttered, dangerous spaces of desire and mourning into irreducible images. Smudged with ash, soot and dark red stars, The Sun & the Moon renders a universe of jagged, dazzling relics that haunt and captivate us long after the book is finished.
Sometimes an extraordinary book lands on your doorstep and you’re grateful to be astonished again. Kristina Maria Darling’s The Sun & the Moon is a beauty to behold. A surprising, masterfully written long prose poem that reads like a novel, it weaves a story of a marriage deconstructed in a fantastical, surreal setting, whose strangeness is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe: “I tore into the envelope & there was only winter inside, not even a card or a handwritten note.”
We’re invited into a mysterious, hypnotic, universe unfolding like a party: “You began as a small mark on the horizon. Then night & its endless train of ghosts. You led them in, one after the other. They took off their shoes, hung their coats & started looking through the drawers.” The reader can only fall in love with the ingenious writing as she/he falls under the spell of this haunted love story that reads like a long dream sequence.
Both modern and timeless, it echoes into past centuries, with eerie references to bouquets, lockets, and love notes: “I became aware of your voice calling me from the stairs, warning me about the silver lock on the door.” It reminded me of The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, with its tight writing, suspense, and destruction. Inhabited by ghosts, disquieting, The Sun & the Moon compels the reader to sort out the living from the dead:
“One by one the ghosts left for the ocean, dragging the cold dark stairs behind them.”
“You just stand there & stare, your suit covered in ash, the altar catching fire behind you.”
“Still you just stand there, light shimmering in your hair, the room catching fire all around you.”
We inhabit a dreamlike universe filled with fire and ice, where past and present mingle:
“Before I know it, we’ve started another fire.”
“I could already feel the sky burning through the ice on my dress.”
“Somehow you keep dreaming, heaving that frozen sky behind you.”
I love Darling’s alchemy of turning destruction and despair into something so exquisitely beautiful, painful, and seductive all at once. We’re reminded of the searing poetry of Djuna Barnes in Nightwood: “That’s what I loved about you. Somehow you just stand there, a handkerchief folded in your pocket, the room burning all around you.”
Through repetitions like mantras, incantations, iteration and reiteration, Darling weaves circles within circles, holding the reader captive and mesmerized:
“There was nothing I could do, so I kept trying to tell you good night.
“I could only stare.”
“By then I could hardly speak.”
“It’s the strangest things that keep me from leaving.”
“We stand there and watch…”
In their crumbling inner world, the two main characters are petrified and set afire at the same time, the narrator constantly on edge:
“It’s always the smallest things that put me on edge.”
“It’s always the strangest things that make me feel restless.”
She finds comforts in darkness and is unsettled by light: “and I was unsure if the light was a promise or a threat.” A very Jamesian sense of fatality is pervasive throughout the book. The narrator comes to terms with the implacable and finds a form of acceptance:
“By then I was sure there was nothing that could be done.”
“By then there wasn’t much that could be done.”
“I realized how little I knew about our house…”
“My desire to romanticize, I realized, had been a form of grief.”
A story of perseverance, testament to human stealth and endurance, mystery and ritual, The Sun & the Moon celebrates the redeeming power of beauty: “Still I wondered how you could ever leave, to live as a king without his court, without his crown.”