'In Accelerated Silence'

The past week brought me news of the passing of yet another valued friend — the entire past year, it seems, has been full of these unwelcome surprises. Grieving has become commonplace in my household.

Addressing that same terrible sense of loss, “In Accelerated Silence” is a new book of poetry by Spokane-based Brooke Matson.

“I haven’t been to mass since Death (capital d) entered the narrative and sent my heart palpitating with rage at nothing in particular,” she writes.

And in another poem: “When people ask, How are you? / my mouth fills with flannel.”

But Matson finds her voice through the written word. She used poetry to work through her grief after her husband’s death from cancer.

As finely crafted as these poems are, precise in their imagery and careful in their wording, they are also ragged with emotion. Whether it’s taking the teakettle off the heat when it begins to shriek on the stove or finding the energy to get out of bed and commence another day as a widow, Matson’s writing is keenly visceral.

A poem titled “The Day Before” actually describes the evening — now a wistful memory — before the doctor calls with bad news.

“Red Giant” describes the scorched-earth effect of chemotherapy — devastating, yet also the stuff of stars.

“Neurosurgery” is about the medical specialty but also much more.

If an abundant, meaningful life can so easily come to an end due to a mass of unruly cells, or the slice of a knife, Matson ponders, are we all just experiments in physics, chemistry and biology? What about dimensions beyond the three we’re aware of? How much can we actually know? Many of her poems deal with these ideas.

On another tangent, she muses about fruit – particularly apples and pomegranates — providing different takes on their symbolism and physical properties.

Fruit and physics may seem like an odd juxtaposition — although her poem called “Newton’s Apple” does connect the two themes.

A third element in many of these poems is the frequent invoking of color. Matson recollects a discussion about colors in kindergarten. Later on down the line, she remembers a science classroom where the teacher shone spotlights of blue and green and red on the wall to produce, magically, white light.

There are also poems that deal with the absence of color — the infinity of black. In her soul-racking poem, “Law of the Conservation of Mass,” Matson describes perhaps the most dispiriting color of all:

“Outside, the starlings sing

the afternoon to grey while lilacs

abandon their fragrance.”

This slim volume offers up odes, elegies,and sonnets that resemble no sonnets I have ever before been acquainted with, except that they present in 14 lines.

This may sound like a jumble, but “In Accelerated Silence” is actually a multifaceted way of grappling with mourning and coming into a new place where grief still abides but no longer prevails.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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