Book Review

Matthew Gellman’s Night Logic emerges at a time when states like Florida are going to great lengths to silence and censor LGBTQ+ voices. Brief yet exquisite, its poems portray a family riddled by loss and a young son questioning not only his family role but also his sexuality. Packed with coming-of-age awareness and a desire for acceptance and life, these poems utilize nature as a sanctuary, as a listener, and as a space to explore longing, selfhood, and loss.

“Replica,” the collection’s initial poem, is an emotional, imagistic poem reminding readers that they are often not so far removed from the people to whom they may not wish to remain close. In “Replica,” a simple gray sweater evokes an onslaught of imaginings and emotions for the speaker. The sweater represents a time when the speaker’s father was nineteen and a “sapling.” The concise enjambment contributes to the poem’s smooth structure, which mimics the speaker’s perceived innocence:

In this one life with its boundaries
set by snow, its laws cemented by air,
all we get is a moment to think
that we are permitted more than a moment.
I bought it, this cheap sweater the color
of sleep, a little worn at the shoulders.
It is not beautiful like the past
but like the past I wear it.

Natural forces act as the boundaries by which life is defined and determined. Meanwhile, the sweater acts as a weak tether to the speaker’s past as they attempt to understand their father.

In the context of the current censorship of LGBTQ+ rights and literature, the collection’s eponymous title poem carries significant emotional weight. It alludes to the murder of Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student beaten, tortured, and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming. Centering the poem is the powerful line “To be queer is to be questioned,” which opens the third stanza. The placement establishes the significance of queerness to both Matthew Shepard and the speaker. It also acts as a dramatic shift, transitioning the poem into the speaker’s recollection of being a boy, followed by a predatory man. Once again, nature becomes the boundary defining life:

A boy is a galaxy shoved underwater.
A moon with a fork in its sternum,
a boy is a star in the stratosphere
blinking like something that could be extinguished.

However, in an appropriately Whitman-esque fashion, nature also becomes an explanation for a self the young speaker cannot quite articulate.

“Smoke” bears a philosophical and imagistic similarity to “Night Logic.” Again, nature and environment take center stage and prove integral to the speaker’s identity. Queerness, and the speaker’s struggle with their identity too, center the poem. At first, the speaker shocks readers by relying on stereotypical, derogatory names and behavioral associations with homosexuality: “… Mother says if I curl / my knuckles inward I must not be a fag.” Again, in the third stanza, line placement creates emotional emphasis. In this stanza, the speaker asserts, “I’m the wrong kind of boy.” The speaker then segues into a discussion about how modifying behaviors might camouflage their true identity. The speaker suggests they “could trick each digit / achieve the posture / and freeze the questioning there.” Just as in the “Replica,” the speaker returns to the concept of clothing; in this poem, however, they make queerness synonymous with wearing clothes. They describe themselves as “ill- / fitting,” and their queerness becomes so overt that it becomes a discussion point for their parents.

One of the collection’s most memorable poems is “Watching the Heron with My Mother, I Remember Apertures.” A sleek poem divided into thirteen couplets, the form and imagery elicit Wallace Stevens vibes. In this poem, nature is a solace. A single moment transcends and dominates memory. Ultimately, it is a poem of acceptance, and the heron’s presence grants both the reader and the speaker this moment:

I’m remembering the better nights now,
watching alfalfa fields popping up

from my used Honda, the family
dissolved, my feminine traits

no longer a mockery, and how
nothing could make us drive back.

Thus, the poem develops a much-needed message not only about acceptance, but also about moving forward and remembering how the past culminates with the present to shape an individual.

Contemporary, yet rooted in forms and languages reminiscent of many of the great transcendentalists, Matthew Gellman’s Night Logic is filled with a rupturing and suturing necessary to finally finding one’s self. Its lyrical spaces gently balance personal engagement, self-reckoning, and acceptance with social spaces where queerness remains taboo. Most of all, it reminds readers about the ever-healing power of love.

About the Reviewer

Nicole Yurcaba (Ukrainian: Нікола Юрцаба) is a Ukrainian-American poet and essayist. Her poems and essays have appeared in the Atlanta Review, the Lindenwood Review, Whiskey Island, Raven Chronicles, Appalachian Heritage, North of Oxford, and many other online and print journals. Nicole holds an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University. Nicole teaches poetry workshops for Southern New Hampshire University and works as a career counselor for Blue Ridge Community College. She is a guest book reviewer for Sage Cigarettes, Tupelo Quarterly, Colorado Review, and The Southern Review of Books.Community College. She is a guest book reviewer for Sage Cigarettes, Tupelo Quarterly, Colorado Review, and The Southern Review of Books.