The power a poem has over me is its power to make me a part of it and change me. As I read a poem I am physically altered by its language. Sometimes that alteration is subtle, gentle; at other times it is violent and disruptive, like all forms of meaningful change. When I begin to read “you have felt the world shrinking / all this time you / feel yourself growing into it you / let yourself be the shape of it yes / you are in the graveyard yes”—I find myself practically unable to stop quoting the poem, to stop reading it, catapulted as I am downward by its inexorable clear original intimate physical drawing inward. I feel myself changing.
Kate Hall is a powerful poet. Always direct and confident in her syntax, she is able to whirl from an ironic, everyday humor to fabulously invented worlds. Often she speaks directly as a companion we would recognize and be grateful for in our lives: confused, friendly, funny, sympathetic, changeable. Her observations are naturally strange and always accurate. She is unafraid to follow something utterly peculiar with something downright ordinary: Hall’s agenda is so far beyond the unctuous, tedious need to appear ‘creative’ or ‘new’ that she will use whatever combination of familiar language and ideas, deliberately imaginative made-up moments or scenarios, observations, philosophizing, personal revelations, and direct statements she needs to capture her and our experience as it unfolds. Reading Hall’s poems I feel I am not so much reading about something that already happened to someone else as I am having along with the speaker an actual experience in real time, now, in my life. This is a terrifying and powerful generosity.
Dream in Which I Am Separated from Myself
I don’t want to see the city through
myself anymore. I imagine an open body
stuck with pins and flags ready
for labeling. The city is a city of continual
sidewalk repairs and household renovations.
If I could lay my hands on the interior walls
I would know enough to miss myself.
The city is a city of streets named
after saints and explorers. On the dock
I am cold. I imagine myself
at an art gallery looking at installations
and not pretending there is
any sort of understanding.
But somewhere the water
may meet the unseen shore
and someone like you believes
it happens. There
is a line where they touch and
I would like to speak
to that line and have it speak
to me in return.
Quick Tour of the Cathedral
In dark churches, certain boxes
are locked. I’m one of those tourists
who, when held back from the incorruptible
by an iron railing, jostles
for a peek at the small window
you can’t really see through.
There’s no one at the prayer candle place.
We’ve lit all our wishes on fire
and they give off too much light.
On a commercial break I start wishing
the blue volleyball team will win.
When they do, the final point
is scored like this: the ball is a white streak
right down the line and no one
moves to receive it.
If they play again, it will not be today.
Today I have a lot to answer for.
Fifteen people are jumping but fifteen people are crying
and only a fine webbing separates them.
I hope that something in the locked box
will make up for this. Is it a real heart?
Because a real heart would stink
and rot and fall apart. Behind us, fire
is sucking up wishes. It’s melting
the pillars they’re standing on.
I Invented the Birdcall
I invented it with my hands, on the red-eye flight
by the light of the laptop screen.
I invented chatter then alarm,
At times I only managed three syllables instead of four.
In the air, everything came in tiny packages
even the dinner napkin. The man beside me
used his and let it fall on the floor.
It rested there inadvertently bird-shaped.
I made a logical fallacy and felt sorry for it.
So this was life now;
we were no longer grounded.
Mid-flight, I lost a piece of my sight.
It was jagged-edged but not dark inside.
Let the white places represent nothing,
just blindness. The world was broken then
and fleeing. I was left with a series of chirps
that were mine but too small to carry anything.
I meant for them to say help
but then, uttered, they meant
Little Essay on Genetics
It’s possible to love your mother
even though you’re genetically deficient
and she’s genetically deficient
and our deficiencies make a big hole
in the ground. Eventually we’ll come to a place
where each of us will have to decide
whether to get cremated or buried in a fancy casket.
Richard Dawkins said evolution is about the genes
manipulating the bodies they ride in.
Little girls wish for ponies
without realizing that their parents
have already turned them into genetic horses.
We are encoded but we have not yet
completely broken ourselves.
Genes can suddenly turn on
like a light bulb. This is a cause of
cancer. God we are amazing
biological gadgets. They cross-bred
two strains of mice. The genes
are an instruction book, an identity
machine. The rats are right; I am frighteningly
like my mother. We are hardly here.
The Shipping Container
There must be a method of transport
because there are regulations about the movement
of dangerous goods. You made me
a photocopy. I’ve started worrying about getting
the proper transportation certificate
which requires the inspector’s signature,
which requires believing there is
an inspector with the authority to okay me.
There are moments when a dog will hear
what you cannot. The bark is a warning
at 92 decibels. Because you hear nothing
moving out there, fear is vague and continuous.
Quiet is a command that registers only 7 decibels when
spoken aloud. I read your note about the beauty
of the immune system and the mathematics of the brain.
How would you like me to interpret
this love letter? It weighs next to nothing
and ends abruptly. It’s true, the container
has great aesthetic value but I was really hoping
for a free watch with a rechargeable battery or
at least a better kind of nothingness.
There is an antelope in the dream Sarah.
When the spy nailed him in the drive-by-shooting,
we placed him here and he still stood for himself.
Sarah I’m at our house that never was our house.
The antelope have multiplied in the backyard
while we played cards decorated with photos of antelope.
Sarah the spy has fooled me. In the house,
antelope stink and snort but turn transparent.
They look like whatever they stand in front of.
The sky is falling Sarah. Cluck, cluck, cluck.
Our antelope are gone. You see chickens coming
out of the black forest where we wanted a herd.
Meaning something is missing Sarah.
The house is empty and echoes.
Antelope eat the yellow siding mistaking it for grass.
I laid the only quilt I had on the stripped bed Sarah.
I left it to protect the mattress where the antelope died.
The spy was only my shadow behind me all this time.
Sarah there is a priest in this dream of the empty house.
If it is not empty by the time you arrive, there will be a bed
and a quilt. The antelope are just sewn in.
Sarah the priest is holding the book over your head.
If he is the antelope, he will have to wear horns.
If you are the antelope, there might be an exception.
Meaning Sarah, we are waiting for the horsemen and the fire;
we are waiting for the antelope to speak.
Dream in Which the Dream Is Scaled to Size
you have felt the world shrinking
all this time you
feel yourself growing into it you
let yourself be the shape of it yes
you are in the graveyard yes
it has gone too far the sky
into a replica of your mouth
and you are about to swallow
the whole world with you
in it you know
it was meant for you
when you dance with it
in the street you let it
lead and it takes your wrist
your hip ever so delicately your hip
you gather your small things
you have felt it coming
all this time you
have nothing to call it yes
you are in the bus station with
everything spread against the cold floor
yes you are scratching against the place
where no thing is yes you are