“What I cannot find in the morning is most myself.” Thus writes Matthew Henriksen in his new book, “Ordinary Sun,” a collection of poems that engage in self-exploration and the analysis of our internal existence in comparison to our outer world. With a violent delicacy, Henriksen writes the tactile, the vocal, the visual. He asks the reader to maintain a balance between the physical and metaphysical, to question the intensity of our lives and imagine our own agency in the afterlife: “We set our bodies in the grass. / Stones held our breath.”
The author of two chapbooks, “Another Word” (DoubleCross Press) and “Is Holy” (horse less press), Henriksen focuses on interaction and intimacy, the holiness of objects that create symbolic impressions on our minds from day-to-day. In “Afterlife on a Long, Shallow Hill,” he writes, “The soil opened its skin, hatching poppies.” Each image allows for multiple interpretations, each with a sensory reaction that evokes a personal memory, a moment of recognition. The fragile acknowledgment of the connection between an image and the reader’s experience with this image is something Henriksen seems to be particularly sensitive about.
“Ordinary Sun,” separated into nine sections, functions under Henriksen’s idea of a “dismantled catechism,” the breaking down of the ordinary and commonplace into extreme, surprising close-ups of perception. He writes:
Sometimes she’d touch
a body in her empty bed.
A stranger’s face, a dark
spot on the wall, watched
her as if from a mirror
and behind the face a hand
held a brush for her hair.
The rawness of imperfection in this portrait helps the reader to push past the veils of the physical world to enter into a painful but graceful emotional landscape. In the title section, which is also the final portion of “Ordinary Sun,” Henriksen motions for the reader to more actively re-experience with him: “The body moved above the water / and the water was cold. / It made the sirens roar.” His associations become stronger and assertive, though still surreal and immediate.
By the end of “Ordinary Sun,” the reader has comprehended the residual effects of a traumatic event, but without clarity or certainty on what this event actually was. In a quiet, shadowed narrative, Henriksen leads the reader in and out of violent situations: “Birds beyond the window cried glass,” but never gives them directions or helps them escape. Instead, the poems seem to build an experience of darkness using metaphors, allusions and sound-play, the end result being a multidimensional experience of the event.
“Ordinary Sun” uses language not to reflect on death or trauma or the afterlife, but to directly immerse the reader in death, trauma and the afterlife: “I do not dream. I just / watch fields burn, or ride.” His unrelenting commitment to images and our unconscious responsibility to perceive and interpret them emotionally easily makes “Ordinary Sun” one of the most sensitive and symbolically complicated books released thus far in 2011. (Kelly Forsythe)
By Matthew Henriksen
Black Ocean, 120 pages, $14.95