Frozen Latitudes, Therése Halscheid
Press 53, 2014
Reviewed by Kayla Greenwell
It is the middle of a hot and humid Chicago summer, and yet I find myself snowed in. Stuck to my chair, the arctic north of Therése Halscheid’s Frozen Latitudes creeps into my bones, and it is only by her powerful familial narratives that my blood keeps from freezing in my veins.
A collection of dualities, Frozen Latitudes explores two stories: one of Halscheid’s father, suffering from post-operation aphasia, and that of the Alaskan White Mountain Inupiaq tribe. Halscheid’s words are those of beauty and compassion, and in tying these two seemingly uncommon strands together, she brings out a universal truth of humanity and the human condition—that love is something that lasts even beyond illness and death.
Perhaps the most central theme of Halscheid’s work is voice: Her own voice, lost in the sickness of her father; her father’s voice, 30-years missing after heart surgery gone wrong; and the voice of the native tribe of the Inupiaq, who have long been marginalized. In Frozen Latitudes, the silent and the forgotten are now center stage singing their stories. I can still feel the reverberations of their words, Halscheid’s words, in my chest.
It is not just the voice of those in her poems, but the voice of the poems themselves that bring life to this collection. Take, “Heart Bright,” a poem from the point of view of Halscheid’s father’s ailing heart.
Charles, too many years
You have continued
As I do
And easily ignored…
The short lines are purposeful, and a tone of frustration and aching develop within the poem. As the poem ends, you see the pattern of a short line followed by a shorter line, and creates a rhythm similar to a beating heart.
Yet I was where
All your compassion
And soft pity
Moved and I was
Where love always
The brightest flow
Before you became
It is not just the lyricality of Halscheid’s work that captures my attention, but the commanding imagery. Both of these characteristics make for incredibly moving poetry. We see this early on as we are introduced to the narrative of Halscheid and her father in “Trash Day,” where we once again see the theme of voice emerge:
“This is myself back in time, a girl
With sallow skin, dragging metal cans to the curb,
Notice how I stand for a while that far from our house
Watch how my lips, bright as scars, are parting…
See how my thoughts form the storms…”
Frozen Latitudes is a work of many dualities: hot and cold, life and death, voice and silence, narrative and lyric, and yet out of all these opposites comes a single truth of the human condition. That love is eternal. Finally, at the end, I thaw and pull myself from the chair, but as Halscheid herself states, “It’s not ever over.” There will always be a piece of Frozen Latitudes in me.