I Close My Eyes and I Almost Remember — Chapbook Review

by Patrice M. Wilson

As you read this work, you will find that its title is the last line of a poem called “Mary Remembers,” which appears toward the middle of the book. In this poem, the Mother of Christ speaks of scenes and events from her life on earth. Andrews not only echoes the scriptural passage, “she pondered these things in her heart,” but also imagines an example of her doing so, after these things occurred. Since time is no deterrent in this poem, and indeed in the entire chapbook, we can picture Mary remembering, and we can see what she had seen, through the poet’s imagination and sensitivity.

Throughout the book, Andrews effectively combines his own feelings about the Biblical characters in his collection, with believable deliveries of their thoughts, emotions and memories. He gives voice to each, whether he uses the first person “I” or third person “she” or “he.” The reader hears these voices with pleasant surprise and leaves the poem with insights into the poet’s own spiritual journey, as well as the possible inner feelings of the characters at the time of the events depicted. Often, this dimension is not revealed in the Bible itself.

The poet’s simple words and phrases and vivid images render lines like “we are a viscous mass of sap/oozing slowly down a tree. . .” in the poem “Egypt.” This metaphor focuses on a small thing that draws us into the larger picture of Israel’s exile in Egypt. The few words used to convey an image of this large and long-lasting event are skillfully put together; this is another technique Andrews uses throughout his chapbook.

Some of the poet’s imagery clearly critiques violence, such as in “Isaac at Twilight” and “Reflections from Peniel.” In the former, Abraham speaks of his almost killing his own son. This memory makes the surrounding mountains “look like daggers” to him, and he re-lives the “cold/clench of steel//in his own fingers” before he was told not to kill the boy. The chilling moment of nearly slaughtering his only son, and the memory of it, are combined to create a haunting experience for the reader as well. He does this very successfully in all the poems, including those with New Testament figures in the second half of the chapbook, such as the one about Jesus’s Gethsemane experience of the Apostles falling asleep (“Lord, Teach Us To Pray”), the poem about Peter just before his martyrdom, and “The Calling of Onesimus.”

Finally, the poems combine and connect problems of faith in Biblical times with those of modern/postmodern concerns in the area of belief in Christianity, the largest of which is the question of “How can a mere human being connect with God?” Similar questions follow: “How can the modern/postmodern human being possibly relate to the spiritual in a world so different from that of the Bible?” “Given our temporality, how do we relate to the eternal?” Though Andrews does not answer these questions, he suggests them as he subtly questions many stock images of Biblical characters, and presents his own view of them.

This poetry stands on a bridge between humankind and God. The poet is crossing that bridge in feeling out his own spiritual path. Each of the poems is a sort of tuning fork picking up the vibrations between the poet and the Spirit. I hope many people will read this short book and find something of themselves in it, as well as inspiration for their own lives.

Copies can be ordered at www.finishinglinepress.com/product/i-close-my-eyes-and-i-almost-remember-by-matthew-j-andrews/

Born Catholic in Newark NJ, raised in Catholic schools, Patrice M. Wilson has a PhD in English from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, having earned her MA there and her BA at the University of Maryland, College Park. She was editor of the very fine Hawaii Pacific Review for 16 years while teaching at Hawaii Pacific University. She has three chapbooks of poetry with Finishing Line Press, and one full-length poetry collection with Christian publisher eLectio Publishing. Dr. Wilson recently spent five years in the cloistered Carmelite monastery in Kaneohe, HI. She is now a retired professor living in Mililani, Oahu, HI.

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