cover image Map to the Stars

Map to the Stars

Adrian Matejka. Penguin, $18 (128p) ISBN 978-0-14-313057-4

In his stellar fourth collection, Matejka (The Big Smoke) evokes an Indianapolis boyhood in which economic and educational privations starkly contrast with the inspiring expanses of outer space. Newly identified planets, space shuttle launches, Star Trek, and Voyager probes encountered via radio, TV, and newspaper here become poignant emblems of escape (“I bought the star map shirt for 15¢ at the Value Village/ next to the Piccadilly”) or hallucinatory imaginings (“the rusting coils under the top bunk/ curling like unexplored galaxies”). While such popular figures as Prince, Richard Pryor, and Sun Ra make appearances, celebrities are dwarfed by the rich personalities of neighborhood folks, such as the friend’s mother who “tried to run her boyfriend over/ while he was stretched out near half court.” Matejka eschews philosophical rhetoric for a firm grounding in the organic rhythms of hip-hop and trash talk, offering surprising juxtapositions, as in “Emily Dickinson feat. Basketball & EPMD,” where “the laces of my suede// kicks come undone like the best-laid plans.” Capturing the associative energy of the Internet age, he leaves readers “bird-dogging the rhythms of the universe as you orbit/ the center of the skate floor like a B Side’s stepson.” Matejka’s witty tour de force achieves the rare feat of making a narrative centered in memory feel bracingly urgent and fresh. (Apr.)