Oyster Boy Review 14  
  Winter 2001
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Ford Swetnam's Ghostholders Know

Kevin Bezner

Ford Swetnam's Ghostholders Know captures the dusty world of an Idaho only the true inhabitants know, the loneliness of mountain towns hours out of big cities, railroad towns where the trains pass through carrying the waste of others and goods going elsewhere. Swetnam's poems of moose, mountains, lightning, fighting fires, and making a life out of the dust are told in a language that could only emerge out of a relationship with the landscape of the American West.

Included in this collection is a small masterpiece called "301," a poem about a dart game, written as if Ben Jonson might have been the poet. The opening lines explode: "'Motherfucker, / Double in / Double fuckin' out' // Said trouble, two old / Snipers pitching darts / As if the board // Could still shoot back, / Vietnam a long way aft / But getting closer // With each shot and a draft . . ." The narrator is academic Ford, reader of Jonson, who can drink and dart with men like him who have out of necessity made the choices that suit them best: "Well maybe / Like the sniper said it's Hemingway / Or Bukowski or nothing, 'These are // My guys,' he said, 'these are / My guys,' claiming cock of the dunghill / Rights for the twentieth century . . ." The sniper's claim, and the assertions of this poem, go far beyond ordinary poetry.