Therese Halscheid walks us to the edge of a sea of emotions in Frozen Latitudes, a heart-wrenching collection of poems that focuses on a daughter’s flailing attempts to understand a father’s dementia, woven effortlessly with stories of an Alaskan landscape and its people.
Halscheid starts our journey with a quiet forcefulness that even in its modesty rises from the page and pulls us in. “I want to break through/mouth open,” she writes, “sentence after sentence moving words/over the winter earth/my father out of me.” The last line stands alone at the lowest point of the page, already leaving us with something to consider long after the story is over.
The author’s intimate descriptions of an early Alaska sky and the heavy words of the families living below it is evidence enough of her time spent there. Halscheid worked with an Inupiaq Eskimo tribe on White Mountain, and received a residency in Homer. In an aching piece entitled “Clan of the Owl – tale of an Inupiaq tribe”, Halscheid speaks of a man who lost his son when his snowmobile broke through the river’s ice. A white owl appeared in the sky at the time of his son’s death, a symbol of the tribe’s belief in the afterlife and the intimate connection between human and animal. “The way Rose tells it was like the spirit of his son/was in the form of an animal and there/was a strange light around and wind like/a slight brushing of feathers and feathers as/the sound of death passing through to/the other side of the world.” Stitching together this understanding of life and death through the eyes of the Eskimos with her own confusion at her father’s failing health creates a beautiful and undulating story of life from one culture to another.
As Halscheid moves us through more flashing moments of family, illness and those mutual emotions that connect us all as humans, she also interjects with fleeting tales of deep love, and in one poem describes the body as something readable, with “shoulder blades arched/like sides of an open book.” “Love, I want to say, I want to say, love/touches the body, the entire body, Let it be.” By the very end we are swooning, and the author is dancing in our wake. “The room is an open tale, let us say the ceiling has stars:/wishful, burning, exploding to earth.”
By the end of the book things have come full circle, and while there is a small bit of resolve there is also new darkness on the horizon that leaves us with tension in our shoulders, a pang in our hearts and a strange understanding of the sometimes grisly workings of the universe. Therese Halscheid’s collection is one to keep on your nightstand, with each page dog-eared in a continuing attempt to uncover every secret behind her words.
Purchase Frozen Latitudes here:
Get more from Therese Halscheid here: