“A wound is a place of burial. . . Call the wound a language.” At one level, Sneha Subramanian Kanta’s Ghost Tracks may be described as a chapbook concerned with vanishing, elegy, wound—what is gone and how wound and mouth are intimately connected. The third line of the opening poem “Fifteen Ways of Saying Hunger” describes “wounds stitched into the synapses of our mouth,” and in Ghost Tracks, the speaker’s mouth is a source of wound: language describing what is dead, what is buried, what is becoming absent. And yet, the decay and the death in Kanta’s poems are rendered with lush vivacity, tended by ghosts as though each thing’s absence outlives it. If the wound is a language, it is a wound and language that gives way to bloom and bud—the wound of describing the natural cycles of birth and death and regeneration. In the speaker’s mouth, these phenomena are languaged with delicacy and tenderness, as the poems describe ghosts moving through the world and bodies decomposing into the forest floor. The frailty of animal bodies—our animal bodies included—and the tenderness of ghosts carrying flowers for them are depicted in powerful, gorgeous images. Kanta stuns in line after line as the speaker of her poems writes of antlers and carcasses that vanish into forests. Both the speaker and the ghosts memorialize and hold space for these small frail bodies, suggesting that the crisis of the Ghost Tracks is both remembering and letting go of them.
In this way, the ghosts of Ghost Tracks present almost a kind of phenomenology of care. In the poem “Mythmaking,” for example, ghosts remember and bless bodies whose deaths otherwise go unmarked in the world:
Ghosts bless the assemblage
of bones over dry grass. For every body
without an urn to place its remains
ghosts offer rituals to reconcile the suffering.
I see a fawn near a citadel beside
the corpse of a deer. The silence between them
. . .
. . . birdsongs for
lost bodies in the rain.
That which is lost, unmarked, unacknowledged by anyone else is tended to by ghosts who “remove fishhooks from animal bodies” (in “Ghosts in Empty Houses”) and honor the dead with flowers. Indeed, Ghost Tracks is a chapbook of teem and blossom. In the poem “Among burials, the bracken yields,” the ghosts “rise in silence from the topsoil sediment. / Hepaticas emerge with pollen & nectar, & bees / appear to satiate their hunger. . . .” Hunger, ghosts, and burials are all part of the way life teems and fills the world. Nothing is forgotten or truly gone, either by the ghosts who move with their own hungers or the language of the speaker of these poems. If the mouth is a wound, then the wound is tender—it is a sensitive spot, a place of vulnerability. We as readers are sensitized to the speaker’s care and attention, as well as the care and attention of the ghosts and the vulnerable “animal sheltering the body of an / animal in the downpour.” Ghost Tracks reminds us of the crisis of the frailty and memory of being in the world, alive or not. It also, in the title of such poems as “Among burials, the bracken yields,” suggests a phenomenology of yielding—of life and death as a giving way; of softness; of one thing making space for another, even as creatures hunt one another, and each ghost and animal’s hunger is sharp and relentless.
Ghost Tracks is also just stunning in its language. Kanta’s imagery is lush and rich, full of gorgeous juxtaposition where “grief is fasting into thickening blood” and “membranes of the sky crackle / into a cold sunset.” Fingerprints, tracks, and fish corpses are all depicted with delicacy and sharp attention, and bone and blood are blessed as “Sky turns into more sky.” Everything lives, even the dead, and Kanta reminds us of this in her vivid language and particular use of verbs. In the poem “Syntaxes of Conversion,” the speaker says “I carry ghosts on my backbone,” and “crows gather & devour a dead rat, with its intestine / risen like a carbuncle.” Each thing is active, even the dead; to devour is to participate in the ceremony of living, and to exist is to be a home for ghosts and carry them in the body. The mouth of the speaker describing these things participates in that kind of devouring by rendering and making vivid even at the level of syntax how “the land eschews parameters & ghosts find firmament.” The speaker’s “I” becomes almost a sort of ghost too, a lens of hungry attention to each thing in the poems. If Ghost Tracks is an elegy, then the act of being in the world—hungering and dying—is always an elegy too, just as putting something into language is also an act of elegy at some level.
Ghost Tracks is a gorgeous chapbook of interconnection, where “the bare rib of an animal corpse / is cast in a forest of evergreen trees.” Kanta’s work richly engages a phenomenology of yield and frailty. Her poems suggest that language is itself—like living—a wound, but a necessary one, a sensitization to the natural cycles we are a part of as our bodies become “hunger in another form for eagles.” In the poem “For Bodies Gone Missing,” the speaker states, “We bless what we cannot forgive.” Ghost Tracks blesses us without forgiveness, rendering viscera and forest and ghost with a lyric intensity that is beautiful and merciful in equal measure.
About the Reviewer
Kelly Weber (she/they) is the author of the debut poetry collection We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place (Tupelo Press, 2022) and the chapbook The Dodo Heart Museum (dancing girl press, 2021). Her/their work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Laurel Review, Brevity, The Missouri Review, The Journal, Palette Poetry, Southeast Review, Passages North, and elsewhere. She/they holds an MFA from Colorado State University and lives with two rescue cats. More of Weber’s work can be found at kellymweber.com.