The Most Natural Thing
New Issues Poetry & Prose: 2013
Review by Jenny Molberg
When I read David Keplinger’s poems, I find myself sharply aware of my own body’s place in the universe while simultaneously at ease—even, at times, comforted—by the beauty in its ephemerality. These poems are visceral and sentient; they are difficult and rewarding. They confront the frightening transience of the mortal body, but there is great hope in the power of empathy and metaphor. “I want some proof, I want to take a picture, I want to say things with authority. Which is to say, I want to be assured that I will live,” Keplinger writes in the poem sequence, “The Crown of Light at Assisi,” which bridges the book’s second and third sections. Later, in “Sleepwalking,” he writes, “[a]s I reveal myself to the world, the world will be revealed to me.” Keplinger is engaged in an inquisitive and profound conversation with his reader. When I arrived at the last poem in the book, I turned back to the beginning, because it is an impossible conversation to end.
The Most Natural Thing is Keplinger’s fourth collection of poems; it draws influence from his work in translation, especially World Cut Out with Crooked Scissors and House Inspections, collections of surreal prose poems by the Danish poet Carsten René Neilsen, which Keplinger translated with Neilsen into English. This collection, which in many ways can be read in conversation with Keplinger’s earlier The Prayers of Others (New Issues, 2006), asserts its essential place in the discourse of contemporary prose poetry. Keplinger’s poems are spiritual and surreal; each a world unto itself.
The book consists of three parts, “Incision,” “Manipulation,” and “Removal.” This Dantean nod reminds us of the collision between the scientific and the spiritual—life, death, afterlife; beginning, middle, end; the triple helix from which we are made. “When you set my life story to music,” Keplinger writes in “A Comedy in Three Acts,” “use triadic structures like the one four five. Every detail of the story should be set in threes. Three trees are split by lightning on my death day; the same trees that were planted at my birth…” Every poem is box, a fitting visual embodiment of the scientific, human eye shaping and collecting what is present in nature. The reader trusts Keplinger’s assured voice, but also marvels in the ways the poems transcend the limits of the mundane world. Keplinger has the keen eye of a scientist, who, in each poem, has discovered an anomaly, living proof of a dream world, spirituality in natural phenomenon.
Each poem’s anatomy, like the aspens’ tangled roots on the book’s cover, is woven into dialogue with the other poems in the collection. I am particularly stricken with what Keplinger does with the heart (I would suggest that the heart is this book’s “way of happening”—the image of the aspen grove on the cover even resembles the anatomical heart). The image of the heart appears in the book in many different forms—as a sound under water, a halved walnut filled with a candle and floating in milk, a “cup” confined within “the cell bars of the ribs.” But the poem “The Heart” is one that I was astonished by:
Jenny Molberg is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in North American Review, Mississippi Review, Louisville Review, The New Guard, Mudlark, and other journals. She was recently commended by the Hippocrates Initiative on Poetry and Medicine, and was the winner of the Third Coast poetry prize. Jenny is the managing editor of American Literary Review.