Earth's Appetite by Margaret Hasse

Nodin Press

In the poem “Shouting from the Rooftop” Margaret Hasse recalls roofing her own house at the age of 22:

Those August evenings, when I had to come back
to earth again, I sat on the front stoop
flushed with exhaustion and a cold beer

I’d recommend a porch and a beer as reading companions for her fourth poetry collection, Earth’s Appetite. If poetry was categorized like music, this book would be found in the Easy Listening section, next to Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, and Hasse’s friend Sharon Chmielarz; the poems are laid back and down to earth, with only traces of angst surfacing in the political ”I Get Help from Allen Ginsberg with What to Say about the News in 2003”. Beyond that Hasse’s collection stays pretty close to home.

The first section, “Wayward”, is filled with nostalgia for youth, mixed with images of the picturesque South Dakota prairie. In “Truant”, Hasse recalls skipping school with her boyfriend:

Beyond leaning fence posts and barbwire,
a tractor drew straight lines across the field
unfurling its cape of blackbirds.

She writes about a handkerchief her father gave her (“Handkerchief ”), and the first time she got drunk (“Snow Globe”) when “Snow settled / on and around me, feathers from a broken pillow.” This lovely reverie comes to a close in “Grave”, with its somber beginning: “At fifty, I wake in the orphanage / of my life”.

The middle section, “Household”, is as domestic as its heading would suggest, word painting with Vermeer-like detail scenes of ironing, newspaper delivery, home repair, gardening and raising teenagers. In “Just Yesterday”, perhaps the most touching poem in the book, Hasse imagines her son growing up in a single day:

at breakfast, I was asking
my little boy in his highchair
if he wanted his banana
monkey or moon style?

By noon, it seems, he was spending
his days in grade school sharpening
his number 2 lead pencils
and learning to read.

The third section, “Fortune”, contains a more contemporary and heterogeneous set of poems. One moment we are ice fishing, the next in the physical therapist’s office. The book ends with the cryptic “Questions of Appetite”, a sort of verse key to opening the book:

Does the kiss of lipstick on this glass
say the drinker is sorry?
What does the snowball hold of a boy’s anger?

Ordinary objects and sensations, Hasse seems to suggest, can stir memory, and summon a whole lifetime from the past.

Earth’s Appetite is, to quote the title of one of its poems, a “Mason Jar of Household Odds and Ends.” But there are some surprises along the way, though nothing so daring as rhyme & meter. “April humming, humming April”, a palindrome poem, hums with “the electricity of / someone in love.” And the rest of the book hums with the same quiet energy, occasionally sparking with lines like “She smiles with a candle’s flame that doesn’t fade” (“Blood Oranges”), “bandits in black masks / ride the silver zippers / of their snowmobiles” (“Lake Watch in Winter”) and “an island where lilac bushes / gather / like fugitive rain clouds” (“Summit Avenue, Saint Paul”). As Hasse is a resident of Saint Paul, you might find her not far from Summit Avenue—possibly drinking a cold beer on her porch.

- Joel Van Valin