In Prayer Book, Matt Mauch’s poems are prayers for the simple, everyday things. They are “Prayers to be prayed over French fries, green beans, sausages, the rest,” and “Prayers for those flying solo on jet plans ascending and descending through turbulence reminded of the ghost on a bicycle ghost-riding stairs.”
Mauch introduces the collection with “Livin’ on a Prayer,” a poem about the family dynamics of a young couple in a Laundromat, while the speaker observes. The “young mother” and “young father” of the poem carry on their small drama, an argument over using a half of a dryer sheet rather than a whole dryer sheet, which the listener, the speaker of the poem, elevates to mythic proportions, comparing the mother to the “daughter of Zeus” and the father to “Sisyphus.” The poem turns introspective at the end, as the speaker reflects:
I draw the last
of the warm change
from my pocket, feed the coins
into myself. I can’t remember the words to a song
I thought I had memorized. Washing
panties, I’m trying to become a better man.
Immortalizing and elevating the everyday is a theme in this book. In the poem “Prayer to that which accepts me in sacrifice,” the crawfish under a rock the speaker lifts up could be “the sleeping head of a god / all my up-the-ladder reincarnations.” This theme is seen again in “Prayer to the shape-shifting god, now goddess of motion, who more often than not appears to us in the form of a stone,” where something as simple and everyday as his breath “congeals” “in the shape of a Buddha.”
Mauch’s work is a reminder that ordinary objects and seemingly routine actions can contain an element of mystery, and a beauty that is only held by the spiritual and eternal.