Halpern’s somber debut collection of poetry and vignettes centers on the impediments of life, from fleeting time to death.
In the opening entry, “The Man Who Stands in Line,” a man abides by the rules and waits in a slow-moving line only to be disappointed at the end. It immediately stamps this work with a sense of hopelessness and futility that never goes away. The passage of time, for example, is generally unpleasant. “Time is to be endured, not treasured” for the individual walking with no apparent destination in “Rendezvous,” while “Tock” assures readers that time will surely outlive humans. Halpern himself wastes no time; his short pieces are rarely more than two or three pages each and get right to the point in lambasting religion, health care, and politics (deciding to run for office in “Mayoral” quickly changes to abstaining from voting altogether). Sometimes the approach is subtle: “List” debates whether someone would want the burden of immortality. In other instances, it’s more pointed: “Hippocrat” spotlights a doctor’s hypocrisy, faulting a patient’s own body and lack of adequate insurance for subpar health. There are occasional bouts of humor, though they tend to be layered in stark cynicism. Two standouts are “Child,” which indexes fears of child-rearing (kidnapping, choking, or even developing acne), and “Lost Art,” which talks about a new trend in which hidden art may soon be replacing the outmoded found variety. Much of the collection, however, is relentlessly bleak, evidenced by Halpern’s frank, unembellished style: “You may not believe in pain, but pain believes in you”; “I knew this in my heart, / but no more deceitful / organ defiles”; “The absence of absence is not presence.” Reading the book in one sitting may not be ideal, but the lasting impression of the writing within is without question.
Don’t let their brevity fool you; these works are tenacious, earnest, and overflowing with gloom.