The Halo Rule

by Teresa Leo
Elixir Press 2008
Reviewed by Ken L. Walker


It’s Good!

leo_coverIt would be a peculiar endeavor to think of a punt returner as hermetic.  But in the sense of airtight alchemy, it’s not that distant a metaphoric evaluation: in a football-only universe he is, however briefly or strangely, quarantined. Sealing things airtight may not let even the slightest, chattered molecule out—but it does offer a presentation of the fastenings the alchemist makes.

Teresa Leo fastens hermetic jars in her debut collection, The Halo Rule.  We only find out what exactly she means from her representative (the punt returner).  The opening epigraph, by Ivan Maisel of Sports Illustrated, gives the book’s overarching stratum:  “The halo rule is the two-yard circle of life given to punt returners.  Any defender who encroaches upon that circle is guilty of interference. . .”

This is the sort-of Hegelian dichotomy Leo sets up for us from the kickoff.  And the poetry is the synthesis of returner-defender.  And this may, in fact, play into her unruffled notion that love – as contact sport – is slyer than passive love or love-as-chess or love as pom-poms. This may also be the reason for the hermetic nature and vicariousness of some of the pieces.  In “To The Next In Line,” we get “the not-quite-there of the not-quite-thereness behind you,” and in “Bellissimo,” letting go is “the opposite of exile, that other life.”  In “Lingual” (the collection’s strongest poem), an undefined He “closes in then,/folds between synapse and seizure/to squeeze out the narration but not the story:”

Where Leo gets every cranny correct is her layers – she’s making a sweet, sweet cake out of the contents of all these alchemy jars; we get to drink the saccharine emotion that battered, kicked and bruised.  We are parcel witnesses to: fucking, NASCAR, poppy fields, sex addicts, “coffee without kryptonite,” gearheads, buzz saws and phantoms.  Leo has done an amazing thing of making everyday romantic/anti-romantic interactions into contact sports while also traumatizing them with her subtle brand of feminism, and conquering mythological gods to nearly become a deity herself – a deity that traps itself in a gorgeous stained-glass jar.