Many of the poems in Calenday, Lauren Haldeman’s debut collection, have dates as titles, and the book functions, at various times, as a list, a diary, and a calendar. It centers around a pregnancy and a birth, periods when the passage of time and its marking take on a dramatic importance. Early in the collection, in “Criminals,” one of the few titled poems, Haldeman sets the tone for the giddy delight that drives much of the book: “I cried because your head came out of my body. // Your whole body came out of my body & it / was nuts. It was absolutely insane…”
Haldeman’s colloquial reaction to sublime experience both resists sentimentality and embraces it. Similarly, many warm moments are punctuated with concrete objects, which root the poems in the lived life and then take flight into the surreal:
On the beach we applied meat tenderizer
to a person’s jellyfish sting. My human, it helped. My human,
there were sentences in the sky. My human, there were popcorn-
tins flying through the air. Glow necklaces. Grandmothers.
There’s humor here: Haldeman suggests that a new life is impossible to process without it, and this take on birth and motherhood sets the book apart from others with the same theme. But two-thirds through the book, the tone changes. There is a pause: a blank page. Then: “No. Not a representation. No. This is / your brother. / Your brother has been stabbed.”
In the next several poems, the line “You were stabbed three times” is repeated. In the final poem, the baby is at last named. The tragic event becomes something that the mother and daughter share:
Even Ellie, my
daughter, two years old,
wanting so badly to
participate in the world—the whole
this world where brothers
die, suddenly. Ellie took the
ashes and threw them
into the air. Ashes in her hair.
Haldeman’s short lines seem to insist on the truth that we never know what comes next. When a child is born, when a loved one is murdered, the universe is changed forever. Typical of the poems in Calenday, these lines clearsightedly evoke the sensations of experiencing the world for the first time.