From My Library

Bob Bickford | Dear Ghost, 2022

Bob Bickford | Dear Ghost, 2022

M: When I was little and we used to move all the time, I’d write these notes and I would fold them up really small. And I would hide them.
C: What’d they say?
M: They’re just things I wanted to remember so that if I ever wanted to go back, there’d be a piece of me there waiting.1 

Sometimes I wonder if phantoms wander the place, laughing and crying. Our memories, the echoes of us little, more vivid than we were in life. (Bob Bickford)

Bob Bickford’s novella Dear Ghost (subtitled Fragments and Letters) is a series of small gems of memory and mythology, filled with an honesty and erudite use of language that seduces you, with moments of sadness and joy that leave you wanting more. The chapters – or letters, more exactly – can be read in order, or out of sequence. They tell a story that is both intensely personal but also resonates with your own experiences. There is nostalgia, here, perhaps, but it’s not cloying or maudlin: “I am not sentimental about anything. But I have sentiment about many things. That’s an English-language difference that is very useful. Not to have sentiment is to be almost dead.”2 

There are so many ‘fragments’ that I found myself noting, writing down for later use (as primarily an arts writer, I have often pilfered better writers than I to respond to visual arts), that seem to speak directly to you, and that in their simplicity cut right to your being. 

Alluding to the autobiographical but not confined to it, Bickford’s letters are as much about feeling as ‘factual’ memory. His use of ‘ghost’ is about those things we know to be real, not requiring any substantiation beyond our own certainty. His final missive in the book asserts this: “Dear Ghost, They say no such thing as ghosts. I say it too, just to make you laugh… There are no endings, and everything that matters is invisible, or nearly so.”

“Dear Ghost, They say no such thing as ghosts. I say it too, just to make you laugh… There are no endings, and everything that matters is invisible, or nearly so.”

There are elements here that evoke Kerouac’s On The Road, with ideas of travel or the fluidity of place (as places exist more so in our minds than in reality, perhaps), or William Burroughs’ My Education: A Book of Dreams, as some of Bickford’s epistles treat dreams as a deeper truth, more valid than anything which we experience when ‘awake.’ But Bickford seems less… pretentious, less interested in making a larger ‘statement’ than simply sharing with us, as though these dispatches are sent out into the world for us, and not Ghost.

You can enjoy excerpts from Dear Ghost here, as Bickford has been publishing these with Galaxy Brain (a fine online magazine, at the intersection of art, literature and other uncanny manifestations of cultural discourse). But I cannot resist offering some of the finer – in my opinion – moments he shares with us, as a teaser, if you will, to encourage you to have the entire narrative.

“I’m so tired my eyes hurt, but sleep hurts worse and there’s nowhere to sleep, anyway. Tonight the street will take me somewhere if I can find it before daylight traps. Miles to the south, the rides at the lakefront are still spinning colored light and popcorn noise and last year I was there, but now those days are gone and I’m glad I don’t know I’ll never be there again. Some things happen only once.”

From one of his stories, about accidentally being left behind at a Mississippi gas station at midnight:

“I don’t remember my mom and dad even being mad or saying much. Get in. I curled safe in the back seat, asleep almost before my dad wheeled us back on the highway. Sometimes I hope when I die, I see 1967 Buick Wildcat headlights getting bigger, and my mom rolls down the passenger window as it coasts up. 

Get in.”

“We both like lost things – you’ve been a dancing ghost and I’ve hitchhiked in the middle of the night, and we know what lost is.”

Another, speaking to that which is discarded (something that interests me, deeply, as well):

“I rescued a photo from the trash,or rather caught it on the bounce after somebody else did. It was once a gift, opened. There are tiny bits of tape and orange wrapping paper on the back. It never had the plastic film removed, and it never got hung on anyone’s wall. A moment caught, memorialized, gifted, and then discarded. 

I wonder if it was too unimportant to keep, or too painful. I picked it up, mostly because you would have. We both like lost things – you’ve been a dancing ghost and I’ve hitchhiked in the middle of the night, and we know what lost is.”

With Dear Ghost I also found I could enjoy the ‘letters’ out of order, as the ‘fragments’ create a lucid and engaging whole – like a deconstructed memoir, assembled like any life, in a messy mass of sundry recollections. Ursula K. Leguin has compared storytelling to the hoop snake – a snake that takes its tale in its mouth to roll forward – and thus create a circle as it moves forward. It’s not without its dangers, but in creating a circle, we have no ending, and the stories live forever – like a ghost that never leaves us…. 

I cannot resist sharing more of his words with you, before this review comes to an end. “When we leave, the people who remember us, who remember our laugh and our favourite ice cream, gradually vanish. They disappear too, one by one. It comforts me that this business is now between my dad and Smokey, so it doesn’t matter if their story leaves with me (and now you). It gives me the idea that love doesn’t depend on knowing where the bones are.”

You can enjoy more of Bob Bickford’s writings here, at the aforementioned Galaxy Brain site. His own site offers more about his past books and writings. 

~ Bart Gazzola


  1. A Ghost Story, 2017
  2. Robertson Davies, The Lyre of Orpheus, 1988