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Between Us by Margaret Hasse

(Nodin Press)

Finishing Margaret Hasse’s new poetry collec­tion, Between Us, made me feel that I had just sat down to coffee with a good friend—that same satis­fying sense of having a dozen new garden paths to mentally loiter down. The cover presents two stylized birds singing (in harmony, one feels), and the epigram, from Walt Whitman, is more like an invitation: “I might not tell every­body, but I will tell you.”

Hasse’s poetry has always been comfortably accessible, as well as intimate. As with her last collection, Earth’s Appetite, the poems in Between Us are filled with life updates, travel memories, the state of the world, holidays, the odd accoutre­ments and situations we gather about us, writing, and views of nature. Like old shoes, the poems are easy to slip into, walk around in. Yet they’re never trivially autobiographical; in fact, exact circumstances are hard to pin down. In “After His Diag­nosis”, for instance, we are not sure what the diagnosis was for, nor who “he” is (husband? son? friend?). And it doesn’t really matter, as the mood in the poem, evoked through natural imagery, is universal:


Weeks after the ice-out

last fall’s leaves

make a pathway

to the lake, radiant blue

and still deathly cold.


Hasse writes in a more personal tone than Whitman, but she speaks in the same wide-open language, free from enjamb­ment and unnecessary complexity, so plain that it might trick you into thinking it’s all that simple. Her “Waiting for the Night Train” recalls Whitman’s imagistic “Cavalry Crossing a Ford”:


My train is coming on a moonlit night.

From miles away I slowly hear it coming.

Over the old oily bridges,

past a house where all the shades are drawn.


Throughout the subtly interwoven tapestry of poems, Hasse seems to be standing at the point where she is being equally pulled back by memories of the past and pushed for­ward by the inexorable rush of time. Between the two are glimpses of sheer beauty. From “First Morning in the Moun­tains”, a poem that feels like it could have been written in China in 900 AD:


The sun moved on

from that small clearing

into thick forest drawn

by the song of invisible birds.


Current events venture into the conversation only rarely, as in “Come Home, Our Sons”, a poem about citizen-police tensions that references Philando Castile. But much of the col­lection has an end-of-pilgrimage feeling, from the opening poem, “Revelation”, to the curious “Dream Poem with Bat and the Buddha”, and the lovely, floating “Time Comes”:


It’s time to sail

an unencumbered life

in the boat of good-byes,

just you, just me

not even bothering

to row, drifting on water


This calls to mind the closing lines of the camping poem “Why Go To the Wilderness”:


All night the river pours

its heart out over the rocks.


And the penultimate poem, “Last Words”, returns to the same metaphor:


Have we done what we came here for?

We are dipped from a river.


Hasse leaves her question unanswered, the dialogue open. We do, after all, seem to be in a conversation. And so we leave, hoping that “Last Words” doesn’t mean last poem, and that Between Us is not a final meeting.

- Joel Van Valin