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Book Review: Ordinary Reflections by Brian Wayne Maki

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Although Brian Wayne Maki has titled this new volume of poetry Ordinary Reflections, I find many of the poems to be quite poignant. I appreciate that he follows William Wordsworth’s dictate that a poet should be a “man speaking to men,” perhaps with more sensitivity and joy for life than others, but nevertheless, speaking in their language. In other words, Maki writes what might be considered, even by him, ordinary poems—they are not filled with images that act like puzzles that distract the reader from the meaning. His words and subjects are straightforward and reflect those special, far from ordinary, moments when we most reflect on life. In fact, he makes us realize that our lives are filled with meaningful and poetic moments, even if we do not turn them into poetry ourselves.

Everyone will find something in this volume to relate to since Maki’s poems are diverse in their subjects. Because I am a resident of Upper Michigan like Maki, the poems about that area and nature especially resonate with me, but Maki also writes about dying pets, basketball games, growing older, and the puzzles and meaning of life.

It is impossible to describe these poems without quoting from them. I most enjoy the nostalgia Maki finds in looking back to his past and drawing from it, remembering what Wordsworth called the “spots of time” that give us strength and glow for us later in life, helping us to get through life’s rougher moments. Like Maki, I have found that nostalgia and strength in my childhood and in Upper Michigan’s past. I appreciate Maki’s own escapes into the past, as he writes in “Upper Michigan Wild”: “For the Upper Michigan wild never seems to age / You go back to those roads and find it the same.”

His other poems, “Aging Roadway” and “Old Dirt Roads” similarly resonate with me, making me want to jump in the car and drive down the old dirt roads to be alone with the past, a simpler and quieter time. Like his narrator in “The Last Ride,” I’m sure I’ll someday be saying:

Drive me out toward the lakeshore road today
Back to the street where I grew up and played
Around a sharp corner that made me nervous
This is my secret wish for my last ride home.

While Maki’s poems in his previous books have been filled with nostalgia and even longing for the past, this book is the first where he seems to be aware of his aging:

Now, I am an aging man with stars and stripes to fulfill
I can still touch the moment of my youth in the game
The image of myself playing under the bright lights
And taking that one shot to win against the big foe.

Similarly, he feels age and a new urgency to enjoy life as a result in “Lifetime of Lessons”:

Now, the clock ticks as your life starts to fade
The time is your challenge to find even more
Another good feeling and a memory to gather

A lifetime of lessons you are willing to share.

While these nostalgic poems have a bittersweet taste to them, Maki is also one who believes in the human spirit and the importance of being positive. In “Nagging Thoughts,” he advocates for overcoming negativity in our lives, thereby, “Pushing worthiness into an ordinary life.” In “Noble Future” we are told to “Travel hard and travel far—hold back no limits…./ Your journey holds the promise of a noble future.” And finally, in probably my favorite poem in the book, “Step Forward,” he asks us in our darkest moments to consider that good might still exist in the world and in our lives:

You say that the world has no meaning
Life is a bitter trail of tears and emptiness
That luck does not come your way in life
Maybe, just maybe, you could be wrong.

Just outside your door there is beauty
Just around the next corner is possibility
Just the next thought could be happiness
And you miss everything with an attitude.

Maki admits in his poems that he does not have all the answers to life. I suspect that is why he has humbly titled this book Ordinary Reflections. He is okay with not having the answers, as he reveals in “Reasons”:

For all questions are not worthy of answers
Some mystery and intrigue surrounds living
This ever-glow feeling, ever-glow existence
The reasons define themselves along the way.

Readers may not find the answers to all of life’s mysteries in this book, but I suspect they will find someone who speaks to them in a way that will brighten their days a little, and maybe they will now pause more often to look around and see all the good that life has to offer.

Brian Wayne Maki is the author of two other volumes of poetry, Ordinary Reflections and One Innocent and Ordinary Life, as well as two computer help books, Little Annoying Updates: Windows Update Guide and Little Black Book: Protecting Your Digital Life. For more information about Maki and his books, visit his website.

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