Sometime in our late 30s, perhaps our 40s, we become aware of time passing. Our 20s and early 30s are spent trying to hurry time; after that we try to slow it down, until in our 60s when we realize the train is hurtling ever faster. Time to stop and enjoy the ride.
With the slowing comes understanding, and occasionally wisdom. We understand a life, our life, to be an aggregation of people, events, places, decisions, choices made. And we grasp the vital importance of childhood.
It’s that sense of realization and understanding that permeates Lapse Americana, Benjamin Myers’ second volume of poetry. He’s assembled more than 70 poems ranging in subject from a farmer’s field and a tornado to a friend’s divorce and Good Friday at the Alamo, but they are all ultimately about the pieces of a life coalescing into a whole—and the understanding it is happening.
Consider one of the poems from the collection, “The Submerged Train”:
If a man lives
long enough, the world
he was born into becomes
a submerged town,
little places out west
where they build a lake
from a river, blocking
the stream’s long conversation
into the valley.
All the buildings go
I fell hard for this poem, because the metaphor Myers uses—a town submerged, usually in the name of progress—is about the things in life, the important things, we take for granted, until memory is jarred and we can see into the depths. The poem includes a church, the post office, the childhood—and all are there, below the surface, tantalizingly near, but still submerged, not to be experienced again except in memory, memory with all its biases and flaws. And yet these are the things critical for explaining to ourselves who we are, who we have come to be.
Myers, author of the previously published Elegy for Trains (which I reviewed for The Master’s Artist in 2011), received his Ph.D. in Literature from Washington University in St. Louis, and is currently an associate professor of literature and poetry writing at Oklahoma Baptist university. Elegy for Trains won the Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry, and his poems have been published in numerous journals.
In Lapse Americana, he’s created a landscape with poems, a landscape of childhood and youth merging into adulthood. It’s a landscape of reflection, of grappling with the meaning of the seasons of life, and cherishing each for what it’s created.
Myers has produced a fine volume of poetry, filled with memory, beauty and understanding.