Heliopause by Heather Christle
Wesleyan Poetry Series, 2015
Connections between big discoveries and human thought thread a thought-provoking intimacy through the vastness of history and scientific exploration in Heather Christle’s Heliopause.
Much like a heliopause – the outer boundary of the heliosphere – these poems speak inside a large but contained space. Christle’s longer pieces wear this dichotomy well. “How Long Is the Heliopause” explores uncertainties and questions with no apparent answers, referencing Voyager, “perhaps having left our solar system / perhaps about to leave it very soon,” and the narrator’s husband, “whom I expect to come home / some time between now and the future,” on the same page. In its jumble of thoughts lies the notion that uncertainty is in actuality just a vague certainty – that an endpoint is a promised occurrence but an unknown deadline.
Christle wrote “Disintegration Loop 1.1” over several weeks while playing William Basinski’s video of lower Manhattan on the last hours of September 11, 2001, and the result is a thirteen-page poem that floats through spaces that are physical, like buildings (“If you are in the center it means / every edge you can imagine / is the very same distance away”), and philosophical (“To make nothing / draw a circle / around what isn’t there”). Christle’s fragments are hypotheses, observations, and conclusions on matters of life, time, and space, much in the way the terrorist attacks on that day are discussed and memorialized. The parts of this piece are fluid on the page, rolling like the loop of Basinski’s video itself.
In “Dear Seth,” her series of letter-poems to poet Seth Landman, Christle weaves intimate events – dinner parties, medical assessments of an unborn child – with thoughts that are bigger and ungraspable, “of us laughing at death / knowing / and not minding that death laughs back.” Astronomy is a central theme in Heliopause, appearing sometimes as a detail and other times as the entire basis of a poem, and another poem in the “Dear Seth” series shrinks down the Voyager mission:
Neil Armstrong died
the same day Voyager finally reached the limit
of our solar system
as you know
Thanks to him we better see
how to go about painting the moon
“Elegy for Neil Armstrong,” an erasure of the first moon landing communications transcript between mission control and Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, plays with space on the page as it talks about a major space exploration event. Sprawling over seven pages, commands and observances issued back and forth are transformed into a message to and from the public at large. Again, the smallness of big things is on display, as we say, “Neil, You’re / a picture / on the TV,” and the astronaut responds, “mankind is fine / and powdery, I can pick it up / loosely with my toe.” Christle’s tone is at once quiet and talkative, philosophical and emotional.
In Heliopause, Heather Christle grounds the vast unknown in the everyday unknown. She mixes the dust in the corners of our lives with the dust on the moon, speaking to the great mystery of the universe and human experience.
Samantha Duncan is the author of the chapbooks One Never Eats Four (ELJ Publications, 2014) and Moon Law (Wild Age Press, 2012), and her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Pinch, Menacing Hedge, and Posit. She serves as Executive Editor for ELJ Publications and reads for Gigantic Sequins, and she lives in Houston.