There are memories, pieces of the self that subconsciously hide, tucked away in the roll-top desk of the mind. Sometimes we have an experience that shakes loose a memory, rolling back the top to find what we forgot: the archives of senses and emotion that quickly turn into doves, fluttering just above our fingertips. These are the memories—whether personal or historical—that Matthew Brennan’s collection, The House with the Mansard Roof (Backwaters Press 2009), conjure up. Through poems like “Downtown at Dusk,” where “twilight erodes the bony/Branches of trees,” the reader is brought into a world of familiar mystery. “Downtown at Dusk,” though a short poem at only 8 lines, is full of spark and wonder. In it Brennan describes the dusk as “filling in the open spaces/Between buildings shut to the coming/dark,” and in many ways, this description applies just as much to dusk as it does to Brennan’s poetry. These are poems of mortar and solder—poems on what joins the human life together.
While each of Brennan’s poems come from an innately personal perspective, many of them draw from historical or artistic sources. One such poem is “Drought: A Farm Wife’s Diary” which is based on a lithograph by Jakob Kainen. The poem focuses on the stressors of farmer and his wife facing their livelihood stripped from them by forces entirely out of their control. These stressors manifest themselves in a dream the wife has where she sees “the blood-brown cloud/Drive down the hill.” This vision of the drought comes to invade their home. With this poem Matthew Brennan connects his art to the lithograph that inspired it, comments on the power of the human sub-conscious, and links it all together with the common thread of striving for survival.
It is this idea of survival that brings to mind another of Brennan’s poems, the title poem of the collection, “The House with the Mansard Roof.” The poem addresses the one abandoned, haunted house that ought to be in every child’s neighborhood. In the poem Brennan describes the mysterious structure’s deteriorating roof saying “The western walls/wear shingles too—but in the shade, they’re jagged,/ nubby meth teeth.” This house, which Brennan writes had eight different residents in ten years, looms above the rest of the neighborhood. But it is in this shrouded, gloomy structure, this death-infested house, that Brennan stages a natural coup d’état, closing the poem with the inner rooms where “weeds with bride-white lace have taken root.” “The House with the Mansard Roof” ties the collection together—effectively lacing in the book’s major theme of the interconnectivity of our world with the mystery of our own memories.
Matthew Brennan’s poems cling to the reader much like the memories and experiences they invoke. They are poems to meditate on, to uncover and dive into. Fortunately for us they don’t just exist in our minds, but on the page, so they can be read over, ingested again, as they deserve to be.