The Biology of Consciousness by Thomas J. Erickson. Pebblebrook Press, 2016.
Reviewed by Mary Riley
Thomas J. Erickson’s most recent collection examines the riddle of existence from the perspectives of diverse speakers within his poems. The speaker in Prologue encourages the reader to do the same:
So much depends on a white sheet of paper,
the small boats of letters
floating on a rectangular ocean,
a sea of time
You swim to shoals,
dive to the wreck, drift back to your youth …
The reader is invited to engage in the process of recollection and discovery using our minds and muscle memories.
The poems of the first section depict scenes from a childhood the way a flash-back tends to render it. Erickson’s imagery shows the reader several worlds as they plainly were, without sentimentality or judgment, and hints at mortality in ordinary places and acts as in the poems “Picking Up Garbage on Tuesday Morning in the Summer” and “Trout Fishing.” In “Two Crows, the Hawk, and a Snow Shovel,” the adult speaker recalls:
Truth be told, I like
to shovel these miles of concrete.
‘Offer it up,’ my mother would have said …
My confirmation name was Mathias
because I liked the character in The Omega Man
who wanted to kill Charlton Heston.
The second section of poems presents a series of speakers:a young college student, a lawyer, a father, and a guy sitting at the bar. These separate speakers each offer different takes on life. In “Last Call,” the speaker recounts his bar crawl days with friends in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Erickson also draws on his experience as a criminal defense lawyer to provide voice to the speaker in several poems, including “Reasonable Doubt” when he writes:
I like telling the jury that if you put
a cat and a mouse in a box and the mouse
disappears, the cat is guilty of murder.
Unless there is a hole in the box.
The voice of the father speaking is a bit melancholier as he muses in “Ghazal for a Crow,” “And my son is gone. Gone. He left a memory stick / in his room. Nothing is heavier than a dusty guitar.”
The third section of poems kaleidoscopes between past and present reflections while also acknowledging the continual march of time. The speaker in “The River” states playfully after a day of fossil-hunting: “When I get home, I’ll soak the fossils in / vinegar overnight … [T]he remains of my life.”
The Biology of Consciousness presents reflections on life as gleaned from ordinary events which, unbeknownst to people, becomes part of one’s long-term memories. This book is an enjoyable read which will inspire the reader to take similar inventory and think about why certain events have become part of the larger story of their own life and life in general.