Book Review: Counting Sheep Till Doomsday

Counting Sheep Till Doomsday
Written by Carlo Matos
BlazeVOX [books], 2011
ISBN 9781938103544

Counting Sheep Till DoomsdayBefore we’ve caught our breath, BlazeVOX [books] announced it will publish Carlo Matos’ newest poetry collection, Big Bad Asterisk* in 2013. Perhaps the editors feel eerily compelled to do so—for at the end of his last BlazeVOX collection, Counting Sheep Till Doomsday (2012), the Azorean-American Matos lets us know those who fail even once to grab on for dear life inevitably risk the wrath of many dire something-or-others. “When it lands between open arms, a simple catch, a lesson not learned enough—no blast craters to blow it all away”(from the poem, “The Insomniac’s Cookbook”). Consider yourself warned.

Or at least, be grateful you’re let in on the joke. For the next questions become: Well what exactly is supposed to rain down from today’s sky on our heads? How can we protect ourselves from insidious forces if we can’t even call them out?

In 2010, Matos demanded we pay attention to the sensual aspects of existence in his first poetry collection, A School for Fishermen (Brickhouse Books). He also authored a scholarly book, Ibsen’s Foreign Contagion (Academica Press, 2012), that focused on that most famous chronicler of human vulnerabilities. Now in Counting Sheep, Matos points out the many footfalls we poor mortals face daily which, if avoided, might yet insure our long-term survival.

This genuinely funny book imagines many gulp-laden takes on a planet seeded by Nervous Nellies, fatalists and rioting pachyderms. In such a world, Mr. Potato Head does not turn out to be the best consigliere for confession (an ear might just be delivered to your door); nor can caste systems ever be bucked by normal reindeer over reindeer who fly.

Counting Sheep struts in at 86 pages. Yet measuring 4X6, it’s just a wee bit bigger than a pocket-sized Bible or U.S. Constitution. So it seems apt to point out that, like those other texts, Counting Sheep is similarly useful to readers looking to be guided from here to there and back again—as Matos does right from his opening salvos in nine “Fate” poems which opine on inadvertent trespasses.

Matos often shifts perspectives and points of view in his poems to topple modern readers off self-satisfied thrones. If not, we might never find ourselves cheering for the Job-like beetle as a piano sonata rains down on his head in “The Insect King”. Or after reading three different poems labeled “Design”, we might not somehow tumble in our minds to consider when we last explored the moral ambiguities of purists who see their contributions as indispensable—perhaps not since our flashlight-in-bed perusals of Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Yet if we give in to these surprising mind-burps and farts (see “In The Spider House”) and also have the sense to chew, not simply swallow, the popping hot-buttered verse Matos puts before us, we might just find no food taster need be hired. For there are enough sentries, friendly gargoyles, and third parties flanking us in the Counting Sheep poems that we’re practically insured safe passage in this roller rink world.

Review by Michele Merens
© 2012, All Rights Reserved
Michele Merens’ short stories have appeared inPlumHamptonsLilithThird WednesdayInkwellTherma, and Crawdad literary magazines and three anthologies. She is won of a Puffin grant for her full-length drama, The Lion’s Den, a DVD of which is now archived in Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum in Madison. Michele is a Barnard Senior Scholar in Creative Writing and a member of the Dramatist Guild.
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