Poetry of Renee Carter Hall
At the Aquarium
The otters, all brothers,
curve and glide through the pool,
pushing off against the thick glass
and diving long and deep.
One plays a game with a sinking stone,
nosing it, batting it to keep it off the bottom,
as one might blow on a falling leaf.
The trainer finishes her talk and
calls for questions.
Little girl in the audience:
Why do they play with rocks?
Two answers come to mind--the scientific first,
describing how such a game would keep their skills honed,
thus helping them catch more fish, live longer, reproduce,
pass on their genes, ensure the species' survival.
But the second answer feels more like truth:
that there is joy, however simple, in the feeling
of every muscle working in turn, rudder of tail,
dexterous webbed paws, all responding perfectly
in the sweet resistance of water.
No purpose served but in the act itself--
the satisfaction of the well-played game,
the image in sand, the completed poem.
Why do they play with rocks?
The trainer fumbles for an answer,
then admits she doesn't know.
The Old Questions
He works as though he's revealing
what was imprisoned in wood:
the raised head, nostrils flared, ears alert,
the mane a tumble of turning curls.
Each muscle tenses under the grain,
tightening as he carves and shapes,
ready for an elegant leap.
Behind him, the lion's teeth are sanded sharp.
These animals will never circle a calliope--
the new carousels use fiberglass and plastic
for their hollow, unbreathing shells.
How many will mind
the loss of hands that rubbed
each inch to glossy perfection?
How many respect that he still carves?
And what's more worthy, all considered--
carving wooden horses to be admired
at art shows, to stand enshrined
in the homes of the wealthy,
or producing the cheap imitations
that, though artless,
carry children laughing and kicking
through the sun-bright music of summer?
And if those rich collectors stand
and gaze wistfully at the painted saddle
and remember long-passed summers--
what of that?
Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him
the den of lions"
Of course he was used to being
in the presence of power,
the kind with strength to quiet the fiercest cat.
But what a night that must have been,
surrounded by muscles of tawny flanks,
the occasional yawning pink mouth,
the claws all sheathed daggers, paws and noses velvet.
How safe he must have felt, sleeping all night, innocent,
to the rhythm of chuffing, rumbling breaths,
in a cradle of lions, solid, soft,
pillowed on the mane of the eldest king.
The chameleon, looking at us and
away from us at once, curls its lime-green
tail and clasps toes carefully
around the branch. In the next cage,
a young python twines
along another branch, elegant as
a tortoiseshell bracelet.
Saltwater fish glow in blue tanks,
colors like a tropical kaleidoscope;
a ferret, all fur and slink,
sniffs the air, its pink nose quivering.
Hermit crabs huddle under polished shells.
Tarantulas and milk snakes sunbathe under lamps;
hamsters tumble over each other, brother and sister and brother.
Nearby shelves hold exotic seed for cockatiels,
volcanic sand for chinchilla baths,
cat toys that might rival the paper bag,
drool-inducing delights for every dog.
And we buy
our little container
of goldfish flakes
and head back home.
Here by the pool, the women
untie their neon string bikini tops
so they won't get tan lines on their backs.
Every so often, at some appointed time,
they step into the pool and walk a bit,
gliding their fingertips across the water's surface,
cooling skin heated by sun and lustful glances.
The water never splashes,
barely ripples around them.
Everything poses for the camera of the eye.
I can't swim here. My body won't fit
into such artificial surroundings. I need
a lagoon warm and dim as a womb,
a place to duck under, splash and stroke
and lie on my back like an otter.
There I would bare myself
not to darken my skin but to rejoice in my body,
how it exists in spite of so many ideals,
as gently full as the moon that rises,
heavy and perfect with light, over the sea.
All poems by Renee Carter Hall
Music: The Farewell by Holborne
Photography of Sue Baker Wilson by Kit
(photographed in New Zealand)
Renee Carter Hall's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in
print and online publications, including Medicinal Purposes Literary
Review, The Cape Rock, The Adirondack Review, Poems Niederngasse, Nanny
Fanny, Small Brushes, and Newsletter Inago. In 2001,
honored with a Pushcart Prize nomination from The Paumanok Review
for her poem "Washington Suite." She is also known as
the former editor
of Limestone Circle, a poetry journal that ceased publication
in 2002 after four successful years and thirteen well-received issues.
About her writing, she says, "Most of my poems are based on my own
experiences, with the occasional secondhand family story or flight of
fancy thrown in. Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite authors, said
that 'we are here to be an audience to the miraculous.' I believe
that 'miraculous' can encompass all aspects of life--daily frustrations,
the natural world, death, sex, all the positive and negative of human
nature--and I try to write in that spirit."
Renee has two chapbooks currently available: The Way to Love
(1999) and Losing the Moon(2001). Also available is the
poem "fragments," written in response to the attacks of
2001. (For ordering information, please contact her directly at
addresses below.) She is currently compiling her first full-length
collection of poetry, which she hopes to release by the end of 2003.
Renee lives in northern Virginia with her husband and welcomes
correspondence at firstname.lastname@example.org
or P.O. Box 1537, Leesburg, VA
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