Tyler Robert Sheldon
Review by Roy J. Beckemeyer
Can we grieve for what we have never known? Kansas poet Tyler Robert Sheldon’s latest chapbook, Traumas, simultaneously elegy and celebration, confirms we can, and establishes that such real, numbing grief can eventually be assuaged. Sheldon was unaware he was a twin who survived at birth until, at the age of six, he shared a dream of nearly drowning with his parents. The first poem, “Universal Solvent,” is wrenching:
“At six I dreamt of drowning,
sinking under black ocean,
a giant white shark pulling me
to surface air,
himself back to water…
At breakfast, my parents said
that shark had been a boy
who’d looked like me, didn’t
make it. Mom’s hand shook, broke
yolks in skillet…
…I see only
a white shark sinking,
or a small doomed skillet,
broken brain spilling
over tiny spoon of skull.”
This book illuminates the almost mystical bond established while the brothers shared their mother’s womb, how Sheldon has borne survivor’s grief through his childhood, how he is recovering from that grief as he matures. The arrangement of poems pulls us along on this journey; poems about brother Cody alternate with poems that do not mention him, but behind which the ghostly shark swims. Sheldon and his artist wife, Alex, move to Louisiana, and this relocation to the Gulf Coast provides other ties. In “Albatross,” Sheldon tells how a friend, lost to drugs…
“…falls out of rhythm
with himself, flies to his roost
to circle suspicious air,
waits for a safer place to land
than his own mind…”
Fragmentary reminders of Cody continually reappear. In “Walking After the Wreck,” a:
“Lady cop knocked
on cracked egg windshield…
Pried driver door open over
broken airbag yolk…”
In the final poem, “At the End of Graduate School,” we see a shimmer of healing in the offing. Alex, instrumental to that healing, is painting:
“Paint hangs to the surface, then sinks
quick out of sight, and I think
of the park at the end of our town
where we ran off last year, told no one,
arrived earlier than our minister and witnesses.
Where my parents scattered my brother
two dozen years before, when he didn’t
borrow over three hours from our world.
Alex asks me to help her finish the project.
I take the brush she holds out to me. We sit
together on the floor, and move our hands
across the old cotton still vibrant as a veil.”
Traumas is taut, cohesive, image-laden and transformative; it is also a well-constructed chapbook in saddle-stitched format, 26 heavy pages by Yellow Flag Press (2017, Lake Charles, LA).
Read Tyler’s thoughts about Traumas and his earlier chapbook, First Breaths of Arrival, at The Chapbook Interview.
To see his previous review held in the RCP Archive
Roy J. Beckemeyer is a retired engineer and scientific journal editor who lives in Wichita, Kansas. He currently studies the Paleozoic insect fossils of Alabama, Kansas, and Oklahoma, and writes poetry. His first book of poetry, Music I Once Could Dance To (Coal City Press, Lawrence, KS 2014) was selected as a 2015 Kansas Notable ook. He won the Beecher’s Magazine Poetry Contest in 2014, and the Kansas Voices Poetry Award in 2016. He recently co-edited (with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg) Kansas Time+Place: An Anthology of Heartland Poetry (Little Balkans Press, Pittsburg, KS 2017).