State Poet Matt Mason’s collection, I Have a Poem the Size of the Moon, presents the Midwest he loves, and the one forgotten by time. His poems are infused with humor and sadness at they way things were and how they are now. Equal parts longing for the simpler times and thumbing his nose at the nostalgic, Mason reflects on the advancement of society in a state where it is possible to see the modern and the simple abut.
In “Nebraska,” Mason briefly describes the juxtaposition of countryside and city, noting how the urban areas are constructed to keep out the wilderness, with all its unpleasant weather and wildlife. Residing in one of the cities causes a sort of amnesia that makes its denizens question the presence of a dead deer by the side of the road or the seemingly inexplicable onset of allergies.
In a similar manner, “Ode to Omaha” deconstructs the city to look at the land beneath it – the river it rests alongside and the hills that shape it. He travels back in time, inviting us to forget all of the cultural creations – “the zoo, the fort, the Reuben sandwich” – and geographical markers – ”Dodge, Center, Lake, 10th Street, 72nd, 208th, lines and landscaping” – of the city that we use to identify it. It is a call to reflect on the land that unites us all, even while we are separated and scattered across the city, a land that is ultimately welcoming.
Likewise, “Natural History” pokes fun at the inevitable longing for olden, golden days and lost places. He takes a Wal-Mart and thrusts it back in time to when it was a concert hall where a memory exists only in the mind, and is now a place of regret at the advancement of time and its abolishing nature. But just as the Wal-Mart replaced the concert hall, that venue replaced a farm, where there was certainly an old hand reminiscing about the birth of his son there, and before that the tribes who hunted buffalo, and even still further back to an ancient cephalopod remembering an annoying tortoise that bothered it millennia ago.
Mason slides between individual remembrances, dissections in class and crank calls, and the history of the land, some true -the “short-lived State Capitol” and “flung ropes over Harney Street lamp posts” – others invented – the story of a gun pawned at Sol’s – to display the state in a way that expands ones understanding of it beyond the present and the personal. He remembers historical events, some in the past, such as 9/11, others more recent, including an election night and a protest on Dodge Street. His poems range from the unique agony of high school to the universal feelings of the beauty found in a gust of leaves on a gravel road or imagining the Big Bang. These poems are for all, yet especially tailored to resonate with Nebraskans who can identify with the images of the state and the feelings they inspire if only we take the time to slow down and give them words worthy of their grandeur.
Image source: https://midverse.com/books/