An Engagement with Heather Christle's Heliopause

The Heliopause Between Life and Death

by Grace Hsieh

Heather Christle, Heliopause (Wesleyan University Press, 2015)










How do we know when we have entered death if no one has lived to experience it? Crossing the boundary between life and death can be daunting, but waiting for what may happen today or tomorrow can be even more frightening. Heather Christle explores this idea of accepting the uncertainty of life and death in her fourth collection of poems, Heliopause, to reveal the importance of living in the present. Heliopause is an arrangement of short poems about mundane daily life interrupted by long poems of tragic events, where the fear of death makes everyday happenings more valuable.  In one of her long poems, “Elegy for Neil Armstrong,” Christle analogizes Armstrong’s landing onto the moon with his landing into death with large gaps between lines, scattered ellipses, and fragmented stanzas. This visual sense of drifting and long pauses add a calmness to Armstrong’s last steps. Christle ends the poem with “There you go,” symbolizing the letting go of his fear to step into the unknown and his acceptance of death leading to inner peace. In another one of her long poems, “How Long is the Heliopause,” Christle emphasizes how we cannot predict the future, even for something as simple as an arrival time: “This is for my husband / whom I expect to come home / some time between now and the future.” We cannot always control the happenings in our life, “but […] / in this moment all the lights [can] go off at once and it is a bomb / or it is a daughter,” where we can quit worrying and celebrate death or life by enjoying the warmth of those around us. Christle subsequently ends the poem with “I can hear nothing but the brightness / of the field / where I am waiting for the warm chest / of my husband.” Through this ending and throughout Heliopause, Christle reveals that by accepting the uncertainty of death, one can fully appreciate what he or she has accomplished and value the time one has left with the people who matter.

Grace Hsieh is a first-year student of biology at Boston University and comes from California. Other than enigmatic quotes and attempts at typography on her Tumblr blog, her work has never been published. When she is not dodging cars on Commonwealth Avenue, she is scavenging for quarters to do laundry or practicing hip-hop with her dance troupe. Currently, she is anticipating the coming winter and storing up fuzzy socks.