A Review of Margaret Bashaar’s Stationed Near the Gateway

By James H Duncan

In Margaret Bashaar’s collection Stationed Near the Gateway, there is a beautiful, haunting interplay between the world of our human troubles and those in the thereafter, each poem serving to fade the line between the two; death is less a doorway as a line of sheer curtains billowing in the wind. Sunny days and sudden death are walking hand in hand in these almost otherworldly poems of home, far away. For example: Claire, an entity who appears in a number of poems, gaily returns to an old hotel she now calls home. She feels "like the sky" living there, and

When she tries to remember a name, the feeling
of sun on her neck, her throat is suddenly open.
Water spills out and it is the remembering
that loosens her joints, makes flowers bloom in her palms.  

It is a jarring yet beautiful sense of violence, something spiritual yet harrowing in the same moment. No wonder the poems are dedicated to “all the ghosts.” There are many explored in these poems. And don’t think for a second that just because lines like these appear

I will grow fields of strawberries
on my roof and in my back yard,
feed them to her two at a time
still warm from the sun.   

that the collection is all flowery poetry ready-made for frail sensibilities, because each sweet sensation and sun-dappled moment is followed by

Imagine she's kissed me,
tasting of ash.

a chilling reminder that we are talking about ghosts here, about demons, the dead, and those who wont go away just because we close our eyes. These poems play with a seductive sort of fear, one that hides behind soft moments, comforting memories, and then…the scent of sulfur and ash kisses from the dearly departed. At no point should you feel at ease reading these gorgeously-written poems. They unsettle in the most unexpected ways.

Each character roaming through these lines and stanzas feels ephemeral, each locale glowing in spectral light, each memory flickering while replayed over and over like a film projected against a cracked wall by an ancient projector. Moments in gardens and in hotel rooms are filled with “voices/like an undertow,” filled with the feeling that no one is alone, that this has happened before, that it will happen again. The collection itself feels supernatural in that sense; rereading the poem is a new experience, one relived from an old life, a poetic déjà vu.

There is so much depth here, so much more to say, but I encourage you to explore the rooms and inhabitants of this old hotel for yourself. This is a darkly beautiful collection of piercing, spectral poetry, well worth a prominent place in any collection.

Stationed Near the Gateway by Margaret Bashaar is now available from Sundress Publications.      

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