Consolation Prize by Tyler Robert Sheldon
Finishing Line Press, August 2018
Finishing Line Press
I have a somewhat irrational fear of car accidents. Whenever there’s a car scene in a movie or on television, I flinch even if nothing happens. I’ve never been in a serious car crash, but when I was young my brother crashed his motorcycle. He was racing a train in the early hours of the night, and somehow I knew that something was wrong because I awoke from a dead sleep and found my entire family gone, my parents having left to go to the hospital. The details of that night are burned into my memory, even though my brother survived.
Reading Consolation Prize by Tyler Sheldon was a bit like that, waking from a dream in an empty house and not being able to remember what happened exactly, but knowing that something terrible was there in your consciousness and that thing reached out and touched you. Trauma leaves its traces, “The invisible hands that lace tight our nerves” (“Post-Trauma”).
These poems explore the dark part of the self that is inextricably linked to loss. From the beginning with the subtle and somewhat nostalgic “Consolation Prize,” which processes the cancer of a grandmother through the lens of the enduring love of a grandchild and the love of her partner, to the somewhat speculative “With Full Intent of Distraction,” the collection begins in a place that feels familiar.
And aren’t these all natural and yet unnatural human experiences? Haven’t we all known the dark space between existence, whether in illness when our bodies, meant to house an everlasting and unbreakable soul, fail us? Or else when in sleep and we drift into that sacred realm of the in-between, where our minds are capable of both nightmare and dream, both truth and untruth? And the real question is, “How does one deal with that sort / of heavy knowing . . .?” (“In Which You Wake Up”)
Perhaps the most powerful thread among these poems for me, personally, was how Sheldon writes about the experience of losing a twin brother at birth with an exacting gentleness, “You, whose spinal fluid broke all rules / and made its own cranial walls” (“Brother”) Aren’t all siblings something we have the potential to lose? This book prays at the altar of human fears, feeding them, letting us linger in their shadowy presence, as expressed in the metaphor of a haunting shark in “Discovering a Lost Twin.”
Consolation Prize is a powerful book in a compact package from a writer who I hope will continue to explore these themes. It feels in places like Sheldon is dipping into the river Styx, only to pull us back out again. Perhaps I want the comfort of knowing that grief changes in some way or perhaps I am just hesitant to admit that “. . . memories / don’t fade with age, / and some stretch to fit / the holes we make / in our hearts” (“Scar”).
Holly Lyn Walrath’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Luna Station Quarterly, Liminality, and elsewhere. Her chapbook of words and images, Glimmerglass Girl, will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. She is a freelance editor and host of The Weird Circular, an e-newsletter for writers containing submission calls and writing prompts. You can find her canoeing the bayou in Seabrook, Texas, on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath, or at www.hlwalrath.com.