by: Livia Meneghin
Two Bolts by Matt Broaddus
Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021
Pulling equally from reality and imagination, Two Bolts offers phenomenally lively poems while simultaneously challenging readers’ minds. Within twenty-eight pages, Matt Broaddus calls to the stage the likes of Darwin, Gaudí, and CLR James; his speakers wander from Barcelona to the Benguela Current to “the underworld’s little library” (16) in search of wonderment. Because of Broaddus’ close attention to lexicon and the blank space on the page, he in fact opens up a world of possibilities in terms of allusion and image.
Broaddus is a master of the poetic line, boldly creating what I’d otherwise call harsh enjambments every which way—within Two Bolts, they don’t seem dramatic at all. Instead, these playfully and delicately chosen line-breaks create intriguing stand-alone lines, as well as new understandings of language outside of their grammatically-determined sentences. “Pamphlet for Lightning” offers a few marvelous lines as example:
to touch, to cut,
and liquefy. Coworkers
offer mysterious hugs
when I say I’m leaving. I’m leaving
the surface, scooped into sky. (13)
The language itself already presents fabulous images. The idea of awkward half-joyful, half-sad embraces from colleagues reminded me of all-too-familiar scenarios I’ve experienced myself. The thought of being scooped into the sky takes my mind to specific places: ice cream, summertime, my mother’s arms. But this selection also includes imagery that defies syntax. The speaker suggests liquefying coworkers and emphatically announces, “when I say I’m leaving, I’m leaving” (13).
There are moments, however, in which Broaddus leans on short sentences for a similar effect; here, few words can pack a big punch. In “And You Get a Liar!,” Broaddus travels miles in a matter of a few lines by letting associations between short sentences carry the reader. He starts the poem by describing, in longer lines, a group of tourists and their flaking, sunburnt skin. These people aren’t familiar with such weather, so much so that “Folding chairs from the sky / fall onto them” as some sort of attack, or test at best. The speaker then shifts abruptly, mid-line, by announcing he is imagining himself as the crowd, and the lines immediately shrink. He writes:
next. You cover my eyes
with your body. I am happy.
Afterwards I sleep. Dreamless.
I must have mental illness.
I have ice. I’m doing ok.
The polar bears are coming, the news (5)
The language in this section of short sentences acts as a wandering, with the speaker drifting off as if into a dream. Readers start in a very personal and corporeal space. The tone can even be considered romantic when taken out of context, and perhaps this is the point. “I am happy. Afterwards I sleep,” sounds straight out of an intimate love poem, whereas in the scene of foreigners walking clueless on a beach, one person’s body creates a comforting shadow by blocking a sunbather’s eyes from the sun. Broaddus then incorporates a slant rhyme by ending consecutive lines with “dreamless” and “illness,” heightening the poetic effect of the couplet. Although the speaker has a moment of self-doubt, saying, “I must have mental illness,” he quickly finds comfort in remembering a remedy. Ice then reminds him of creatures far from his body, polar bears, who also have a common enemy in the sun.
Repeated nine times throughout Two Bolts, the sky acts as a frequent muse. What’s lovely about Broaddus’ sky is that it belongs to everyone and everything, in whatever way they need. In the first poem, “Paul Loves Beautiful Equations,” a “ginkgo lifts a sky for itself” (3). The second poem, “Appointment with the Personalized Sky,” starts with the vague yet exciting synesthetic image of a “Collection of sounds” (4). As I continued reading, this became quite special; the only one-word line in the first twenty pages of the chapbook is “noise” (6), calling attention to my sense of hearing. For Broaddus, the sky holds all. It isn’t the silent vacuum many readers think about from watching movies about outer space; instead it’s sound and spark and ruckus. Not only folding chairs, but “lottery numbers / fall from the sky like Bolaño” (18).
The symbiosis between the sky and all earth’s creatures feels mutual other times yet is still energized. In “Pilgrim,” Broaddus describes a sky gondola going up “the hill where two bolts / hold up the sky” (23). This poem is arguably the heart of Two Bolts, not only for visually placing the chapbook’s title in a specific environment, but also for indirectly asking the reader to confront a fundamental question. In the middle of the poem, Broaddus’ speaker interacts with another figure:
I ask the tour guide for an explanation.
She says: I’m doing my part
for the production of this reality,
that’s all I’m at liberty to say.
I shuffle-off politely. My feet spark.
Cairns break open. (23)
The word choice is deliberate here, and the guide at the top of the hill admits to the speaker that their shared present reality is constructed, and, more so, that she’s involved. The guide’s words also imply that the speaker is not a part of his world’s production. By saying, “this reality,” she quite clearly indicates that there are other realities in which the speaker could have more power, or at least that she could say more. More than any other poem, “Pilgrim” made me pause. I had to start the chapbook again from the beginning. Broaddus, a member of the Black diaspora, is undoubtedly speaking to a world that doesn’t include certain voices in the conversation, certain folks whose lives for so many years have been fragmented, interrupted, and lost. The multitudes within the sky, therefore, represent hope and freedom. Two Bolts itself is a journey for pilgrims on the run from systemic injustices to allow themselves to discover and rediscover, to invent and reinvent. “Pilgrim” charges these pages, and the speaker even begins to spark, alight—a brilliant moment that flooded my mind with excitement.
Broaddus enthusiastically encourages readers to dive headfirst into Two Bolts, with the hopes of seeking their own associations, passions, and selves along the journey. This chapbook is meant to be read again and again, as a reminder to be bold and inspired no matter what. In the poem “Nupital Pads,” Broaddus begs readers to dream: “Some of us have / key cards. Some of us wonder” (7). The reality is, some have more access to live a fulfilled life than others. But in this same reality, the sky isn’t the limit. Rather, it’s the start of what could be great.
Livia Meneghin is the author of the chapbook Honey in My Hair and a Review Writer for GASHER. Her writing has found homes in The Academy of American Poets, BOAAT Journal, tenderness lit, Entropy Magazine, Tinderbox, So to Speak, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA at Emerson College, where she is now affiliated faculty and Program Coordinator for EmersonWRITES.