★ ★ ★ ★


Image by Ihor Malytskyi

Disappearing by the Math by Matt Thomas

Review by Kusi Okamura

It’s hard to know which way is up these days. No matter where you are or how you look at it, there is so much in this world that is confounding and confusing at the moment. Whether it be the wars waged with so many women and children being bombed, the spiralling climate crisis, or just the indignity that is working all hours of the day but not being able to afford the rent. Sometimes it feels like we are all struggling to make sense of it all. 

Maybe it’s the constant information flow from the little device we all seem to have permanently in our hands that is keeping us befuddled. Or perhaps it’s just that we are exhausted from the hamster wheel of daily life. Regardless, this confusion about the world we live in and our place in it has made us frustrated and sad and feeling powerless all at the same time, even as external forces keep telling us to keep going, keep working, keep our heads down.

Which is why the humanities and the truths they have to offer are more important now more than ever, and why a collection of writing like Matt Thomas’s Disappearing by Math comes as both a relief and a joy. Thomas meets us in the experience of this struggle, and plainly and patiently voices what it means to be human right here, right now. As a farmer, an engineer and a poet he wields powerful tools in how to understand the world and ourselves, skillfully weaving together a scientific curiosity, a connection to the natural world, and a poetic sensibility. 

In his poem ‘Sensitive Boy’ he brings these modes of understanding together and speaks beautifully to this unsettled feeling, this collective anxiety that we so often feel is ours alone but so many of us carry:

“If ferns and horseshoe crabs
have existed 300 million years
then surely I can learn to sleep
while time watches, find peace
within the boundaries of my shape.
I don’t want to be awake, circling,
feeling the walls for the outline of a door
The human story should be enough:
money, Velcro, sneakers, espresso,
crosswalks, homeless encampments,
sunroofs, romance, Jesus but I’m tired
of looking at myself, of being the sensitive boy.
Is it just me that can’t coalesce?
Who will wake up at home in this place,
not wanting to build somewhere else
from the parts of it?”

Rather than seeing us victim to these feelings though, Thomas presents our disconnection as a choice made, a choice to stop engaging, to stop looking within, to stop “cutting ourselves/ with the razor of self-awareness.” In the poem ‘Loneliness’ he points to how we actively choose the easy numbness of consumerism, of:

“No language, just death swiped right, 
nothing serious, no commitment,
the only ask a shared glance, walk, 
on the sidewalk, in the Walmart.”

Thomas moves easily between questions and answers, thoughts and revelations. In poems like ‘Smoke Break, M Street, September’ he invites us to look at our everyday moments anew, at how our simple actions speak to us, and of us, of our inner feelings, our desires, our dreams. The act of a smoking a cigarette in ‘Smoke Break, M Street, September’ gets illuminated as an almost desperate gesture of of imagined alchemy, something that anyone who knows the daily grind can understand:

“Between each dripped note, an exhale at a time,
pyrolysis, everyday magic

Roughing lungs to take the paint

of the shape of our escape
Sketches in quick strokes
on grids of need, pale as the sky’s worn bluing”

Thomas searches for connection and understanding down to the molecules of things, “cell by cell”. In “Yellow Boy” the narrator lies in a river willing himself to become one with the river, “so that the water like hands cupped my shoulders palmed my head/ an element owning me as itself.’ In ‘Atlas’ the narrator look for that same connection in the stars in the sky through their bedroom window:

“When I close my eyes I see my atoms arrayed,
my own emitting light, my own distant sisters;
like me not burning but radiating effort,
shouldering the order of things.
Sometimes I wake in the memory of a long-gone intimacy
and that star and I are bound like that, coinciding for a while
and then separated by degrees,
following momentum through the matter
of the hundred billion souls scaffolding Atlas.”

As the math within the title of the collection suggests, Thomas’s approach to delving deep has rigour, is methodical and thought-out. He is at ease with the notions of science, using matter and elements in his process of thinking.  ‘In Which You Are Hit by a Rocket’ the narrator asks:
“But if a solid
can turn into a gas expanding
faster than a train
in the blink of an eye …
 if that’s possible what isn’t?”

This leads us to the idea, and again the question, of the knowability and unknowability of ourselves. Thomas doesn’t give us any hard or easy answers but there is a sense of an antidote to our collective unease. For there is a relief to be found in the raw and simple beauty in how Thomas writes about love, and death, through the people that populate his poems. This collection deserves to be read over and over, and perhaps you too will leave with the feeling that everything we need to know about life is in the simple acts of living and dying, that what we are all trying so hard to solve is just the theorem of human existence, proven true by love.


I didn’t want to change state.

I saw the shadow of your hand reaching and

I wanted my time.

I don’t understand chemistry,

how something can break down and become sweeter.

Only you guessed how I’d taste past the skin.

What was I before you caused me to ripen?

What do I call myself now that I have?


Matt Thomas is a smallholder farmer, engineer, and Pushcart nominated poet. His work has appeared recently in Hiram Review and Copihue Poetry and is upcoming in Halfway Down the Stairs, Dreich Magazine, and Pinhole Poetry. Disappearing by the Math, a full-length collection, was published by Silver Bow in 2024. He lives with his family in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. 

You can buy a copy either on the Silver Bow website or order at your local bookstore.

ISBN: 978-1-77403-288-6 paperback
ISBN: 978-1-77403-289-3 e- book


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