Equipoise, Kathleen Halme's second book of poems. Based in fact on the North Carolina coastline, the climate of these poems is one abundant with sun, salt water, and the paradoxical shore. Equally at home in formal meter and free verse, Halme explores the balancing pull of forces and discovers a refreshing version of mindfulness in daily life. Despite contemporary trends of cynicism and despair, Halme braves happiness. Even as she acknowledges that "We all live in fear/of shoreless feelings," such anxiety succumbs to her inclusive vision: "We are in the soup, singular/and swimming, roiling/with the isopods and copepods./ . . . We are delicious, surrendered to shells and jellies,/ every one soaking in sun."
For readers eager to experience "the ache of paradise," these poems chart consciousness with obvious pleasure: "Are you not a lucky one/you who hear your own mind think." But here is an intellect made lyrical. To celebrate the sensual core of experience, Halme's seemingly spare language is lush with assonance. In these poems, vowels have a cumulative effect, resounding, finally, in a grandiose vocative o of astonishment and joy.
Kathleen Halme's first book of poetry, Every Substance Clothed, winner of the 1995 University of Georgia Press Contemporary Poetry Series competition, was awarded the Balcones Poetry Prize. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan, where her work was awarded the Hopwood Creative Writing Award. Halme is a 1997-98 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship. She is associate professor of English at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
"Here is a volcanically poised and deliciously balanced book of meditative graces, of provisional lyric holdings, of sumptuous meditations shored against the ruins."-Edward Hirsch
"Most prominent is Halme's sensual commitment to language; her poems resonate with a phonetic lushness illuminating her intelligent imagery. These poems are enjoyable most notably for the pleasure of pure sound. . . . Gently peppered into her poems are flavors of mysticism, portrayed by an efficient and clever selection of words, which result in a pleasurable and unexpected unfolding. Overall, these poems
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Read an Excerpt
We Grow Accustomed to the Dark
would know of this.
Two boys idling
an aqua speedboat
did not say no
to the simple question from the dock;
we stepped off,
and shot down
the black sash of river
past the tourist battleship
and the alligator circus,
past the raw bar's open
ears of oysters,
past the ladyghost in the library,
past five high church spires,
past the cotton shop
where we bought summer
floating on our bodies,
past her street, Orange, and
past my street, Ann,
past the live oaks dangling Spanish moss,
past the girl under the live oaks
now relieved of the burden of her virginity,
past the stone wall's fondled holes for cannons,
past the square where slaves in chains were sold,
past the peanut stand and beaded pigeons,
past the scrapyard's parts
of redbrown merchant ships,
past the swampside's hulls of wooden boats,
past the fresh babies, and sound sleepers,
the glubbing clay pipes of plumbing,
and cloth-covered wiring,
past the slack lights
of all the last houses,
down the black sash of river,
back down, all the way to ocean.
Where the Cape Fear Empties into Ocean
In last week's big weather the ocean ate
the gazebo at the fat beach.
Sunday again, they're back:
the fast-food families, staking
claims in swimsuits big as sails.
Plant that cooler of salt snacks and fizz.
Stick that watermelon umbrella
on your little edge of ocean. In the shifting
continental drift of cellulose
we all want the primal dip.
Already a boy has found a baby shark.
He walks it like a clarinet, its jaw
a squeaking reed. The little primate
sneaks behind beached sleepers,
and plays the shark at their butts.
It's too soon to make a fuss:
we're a bit crabby this morning.
I grow nails and teeth,
unroll below the sea oats, and run
with my real husband into ocean.
Can you still touch? Yes, can you?
we ask until everyone in water
has dissolved below the shoulders.
Above us all, a whalish blimp chubs by
to tell us where to eat tonight.
Below us all,
the bottom dips
down in drift and
we're afloat with
plankton in the neap tide.
Bolted into hunger
we can't fight,
the current floats
us soaked with water.
We can't see
the larval mollusks,
the small sea cucumbers,
invisible to the naked
eye, drifting in
our extraneous suits.
We are in the soup, singular
and swimming, roiling
with the isopods and copepods.
We are motile, every one
of us buoyant
in the tidal cycle. Who can see
our feet kicking
over a great heart
cockle pumping water
into gills, over bulging
ark shells straining
plankton? We are delicious,
surrendered to shells and jellies,
every one soaking in sun.
Lilies Showering Down
On that island, I was learning what I loved:
a little life for an animal with eggs.
Clean as a peppermint, I gave off light!
I was slow as soap, my simplicity astounding.
Consider how infinite I was,
walking every inch of that orchid-shaped island:
no jangled thoughts, I knew only elegances:
a storm's wash pinks the beach with jellyfish;
in the salt marsh, visible in water,
a seahorse, small as a baby's finger,
wraps its tail around a reed to stay in place,
or possibly, for pleasure.
From way out in the ocean, he came
like a rower, pulling himself in wood
all the way to me.
He loved salt: three-hundred-year-
old meat, the block, the fingertip.
My lips were salt air sea.
I thought: hummingbird.
Miraculous verb, one could be
drawn to land on his salted palm.
Am I at all mysterious to you? he asked.
The blue notion fumed
until it flickered open utterly.
He gave and gave,
then led me close to trumpets
thread on devil's green;
I went under as the open sun
vined up the old snake shack
high at the rim of the sea.
Below the fathers drape their mended nets to dry,
the mothers hang bleached
white by white and blue by blue.
I eat provisions I've collected for confinement:
jewel box of fish, a fist of soda bread,
some licorice pipes--black and undeniable.
I sleep alone on the circumference.
These lighthouse walls are five feet thick.
In hurricanes, a town could hide inside,
but this storm abides with me.
I have seen a king snake whip and twist itself around
a longer rattlesnake, and when the other's
gorgeous hiss and length went limp,
as the moment spread itself out holy,
and the sea grass bristled a scraping lisp,
I have seen the king make straight
the long black wand of rattler and take her in headfirst:
a gradual assumption of saintly concentration,
until I have seen the very tip, the crenellated rattle
--black cowrie tossed back into the only ocean--
disappear inside the waves of snake.
The black fish undressed easily on their blue plates.
Smug in love, they went ahead and ordered
chocolate layer cake to celebrate the Red.
Outside the picture window, February blew and bounced
the sun across a beach. Saint Valentine.
She thought about the things she'd like to buy.
Below, three boys in black wet suits were stretching in new skins.
They looped and tossed each other closer to the surf; two coupled
while the other watched, then they recoupled and were watched.
What is there to fear in men? All seed and sullen play, she thought.
And then she saw a crowd of dolphins loop and toss,
fins circling like saws through the sea of possible thought.
Next, there was a moment, not much farther out into the ocean,
when she saw the sea do something strange.
Not much farther out, where water came to water,
she saw the waves turn over and open an old caesura in the sea.
On the meniscus of the moment she was alive in,
a black cut fissured into form.
Is anyone here not innocent? she asked herself, and glasses
cloth folded, and a fish left its skeleton on a blue plate,
as the slipknot pulled again around the ache of paradise.
Betwixt the Flames and Waves
A line of brown pelicans
like folding chairs
their love corpuscular.
The couple looked awkward
as if sex were in it
and they were scared.
On the undeveloped beach
they sidestepped jellyfish,
clear and small
as babies' brains.
Shell scrack, shellfish,
everything said big.
Soon they would come to touch.
Another moment and
turn to one and other.
Around their feet,
under ocean, water
licked ten thousand
reps of fleurs-de-lys,
in an old design.
The couple felt
ridiculous and clean.
Waves slapped a ring
between them in the sand.
No one made a move.
How had it happened
that they had lost
What People are Saying About This
Can heartlessness harbor anything besides itself, you ask? Then as you read these poems you discover what a great, despairing compassion underlies Cathleen Calberts view of our rotten world. These are truly extraordinary poems.
Here is a volvanically poised and delicately balanced book of meditative graces. . .of sumptuous meditations shored against ruins.