“If you don’t believe in ghosts, you don’t believe in your own interstices,” says Dennis James Sweeney in his latest chapbook GHOST/HOME: A Beginner’s Guide to Being Haunted. Sweeney gifts us a formalistic yet pleasurable read that points out how we don’t have to go far to find the ghost(s) haunting all of us. Providing both a literal and metaphorical representation of ghosts, Sweeney shows us diagrams and photographs as a functional way to understand our complicated ghosts.
The initial title of GHOST/HOME prefaced me with a cursory thought that somehow the story was going to contain literal elements of the supernatural. In this regard, Sweeney delivers some measure of ethereal components. However, when Sweeney enters the metaphorical realms of what kinds of ghosts haunt us—all of which are present within and among us—this is when the story begins to take on a much richer and personal meaning.
Ghosts are often thought about as the unearthly spectres that pass in and out of our world. Sometimes they haunt us. Sometimes they even possess us, such as the confederate soldier that inhabits Sweeney’s sister early on. Or the dead grandfather that pays frequent visits to the narrator’s grandmother. The ghosts may be the angry spirits of the dead who were exhumed from a cemetery so a park could be built. Others appear only in photographs and are invisible to the naked eye. These are the ghosts that most of us are familiar with. Sweeney knows all too well these are not the only ghosts. In fact, he details ghosts we might all be familiar with, ghosts that inhabit some, if not all, of us.
Yet Sweeney takes it further by also explaining to us how we can learn to cohabitate with ghosts in return. As the old saying goes, if you cannot beat them you might as well join them. In some instances, according to Sweeney, the ghost can exist between people in words not spoken or feelings that are repressed. Ghosts may also be feelings of nostalgia such as returning home to where you grew up to see photographs displayed, family photos all that is left of you having once lived sometime else, somewhere. These phenomena raise the question “do I still haunt here?” Many of these ghosts are within us and it is difficult to come to terms with them when we don’t fully comprehend them or how they came to exist in the first place. In a manner of speaking, this type of ghost can exist within the mind’s own manifest. But we can be very thankful that Sweeney has gone through the trouble to dazzle us with figures, diagrams, and photographs to help us chart the myriad ways we encounter the different types of ghosts and their relationships to us.
Sweeney tells us about a personal ghost he and his girlfriend share. A ghost that goes back and forth haunting the other ever since his girlfriend tried Buddhism to “excise” it. A particularly unfriendly ghost that also gets between them at times. This particular ghost seems to be the most feared ghost for the narrator, because no matter where they move, no matter what they do, it follows them everywhere.
In the essay, a ghost can also come in the form of diseases in which many people have. This is one of the worst types of ghosts because this type of ghost is out of our control. Some of the worst ghosts arrive in forms such as Crohn’s disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other debilitating sicknesses. And the ghost count is only rising with the recent pandemic of COVID-19.
Such are the ghosts of the story. But of course, it is the manner in which Sweeney comes to recognize the various ghosts that makes this chapbook such an interesting read. The author’s style seems simplistic at first glance, perhaps even an overindulgence of diagrams, but the essay does not unfold this way. The diagrams follow directly along with the narrative, giving an explanation to what kind of ghost we might be dealing with at any turn. Besides that, they are fun and entertaining too. Sweeney employs short, punchy sentences that are rife with metaphors along with compelling subplots interwoven between formal flairs. The second side story is arguably even more eerie than its main counterpart. These contrasting elements give the story a more versatile and aesthetic appeal.
Sweeney also inserts some photographs of ghosts at work. Quite similar to the diagrams he provides us for additional entertainment. Caution, you may find yourself looking at them for a while you interrogate them like I did.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Sweeney’s latest chapbook. It is a book that causes us to look inside ourselves, in our homes, and in other people for the ghosts we all share. Ghosts are all around us. Ghosts are also in us. It is how we learn to live with them and cope with the pandemonium they sometimes bring that helps us to survive these ghosts. The narrative is well-choreographed with great descriptive prose that delivers such an entertaining read. There are ghosts in and among us, so I am compelled to ask you: what is your ghost? Whether that ghost is supernatural, such as the ones in the cemetery outside Sweeney’s home, or the ghost of a disease that inhabits the body, I guarantee you that this slim offering is worth exploring.
GHOST/HOME: A Beginner’s Guide to Being Haunted, by Dennis James Sweeney. Los Angeles, California: Ricochet Editions, March 2020. 25 pages. $10.00, paper.
Frank J. Crone is a retired police officer and veteran of the U.S. Army. A grad student now working towards his second career teaching College English and Creative Writing, he loves reading, writing, and saltwater reef keeping.