Jacob Hall on “Whistle”
“Whistle” was the first poem I wrote after moving to a new place. Having just moved the 570 miles from north Ohio to central Missouri, I was in that pocket of novelty and fear and unease that always seems to accompany major relocations. I was spending a lot of time alone and I was getting used to a demanding workload. I had a pretty consistent feeling that everything could fall apart at any moment.
During those first few months in Missouri, I found myself concerned with a lot of questions about circumstance: How did I end up here? Is there any use in plotting linear routes between two given points in time? Or does circumstance have to be more lyrical, more amorphous than that? I think these questions and that sense of unease in a new place both play a major role for the speaker and their actions in “Whistle.” It’s a poem where the present seems to short-circuit, leading to a meditation on the past, which in turn wraps back in with the present scene. Writing the poem was an exercise in weighing the events of the past against the present and interrogating how one thing might lead to another, or how two impressions or experiences can be tangled without an explicitly causal relationship.
The speaker in “Whistle” is knotted up in the present while attempting to reconcile that moment with various incarnations of the past – the neighbor’s lawn, the pasture behind the schoolhouse. Inside of that dynamic, I think landscape acts as a kind of axis between differing places and times. It’s the overgrown grass on the lawn and in the pasture that bridges those two spaces for the speaker. It collapses the distance between one time and another, and it opens up questions about the distance between other supposedly antithetical things (ability and inability, life and post-life, fallibility and godliness).
In the end, I think the poem questions the strictness of those kinds of divides; it favors a more complicated relationship between one and its other. It’s an important poem for me and I’m looking forward to returning to some of these ideas for future work.