Therese Halscheid


The prose poem, “Under the Casuarina Tree” had its origins in a journal entry. I was involved in a program which led students to foreign lands each summer, and during this particular journey, we visited Magnetic Island, Australia. The poem has many truths in that I did spend a day journaling under a Casuarina tree: writing, wearing a straw hat, while the teenagers swam in the sea. I clearly remember spending a long day that way, and how thoughts came to me regarding the notion that I was both the observer and the observed. It was as if I was observing the outer world, very aware of it, detailing the scene in my entry, but at the same time going inward, deeper and deeper into a silenced self. The outer world reflected the playfulness of the swimmers, the beauty of the sea splashing against the side of a mountain, while the inner self was acknowledging the harsher realities of my own childhood and all the quieted stories about my father who was brain damaged. I had a sense that the children who were watching me as they swam, were seeing the outer me, their healthy adult leader, and had no sense of the stories I held within, my child self … which would have been for them, a completely different persona. The sun, the sea slowly scraping away the mountain, became emblematic in terms of light and water being the very elements from above and below, that would have enough power to slowly illuminate and erode the hard exterior, and so reveal the stories I so wanted to keep secret. There, under the tree, I questioned what it would be like to start speaking of my life. Since that time, I have been begun to write of my father.




Under the Casuarina Tree


Legs fold under me. My feet remain hidden. I am in a spot where the sun shines new every day. This place, Magnetic Island, Australia. Every hour, a seemingly different sun. A gold light, with varying intensity. I wear the dark glasses. And have a straw hat that shields from tropical rays. I place this hat on my head. This hat, hiding my eyes. I want that. Today, under the gold light forming … I find a spot under the casuarina. On the beach, is this tree with needle leaves that droop, they sway. Almost like a willow weeping is a casuarina tree and I am there, watching what sunlight might do; its next hushed aim. I watch intently. It takes all of me to do this. About the hat …. Did I mention the straw is loosely woven? So there are holes. The hat has a brim which turns up slightly. I’m wearing it beneath needle leaves, wearing dark glasses underneath the casuarina. These glasses -- hiding my eyes. I want that. These glasses -- hiding stories within me. Oh there she is! Looking around. See? I hear one child say. Did I mention? In the sea there are children. I know them. Their voices, and slim happy bodies. Today, their limbs are as fins rising and falling through laminated waves. There, where the sun is turning the sea to blue blue -- are the children. I must write of them. See her? Sitting under the tree. See? I hear one child say. While the bright sea continues unfolding, as they lift out of a muscled wave. There are children where the sun points to water. Blue. Blue. Exactly where the sun aims. I want to write of them. In the sea are the children I know. Their bodies arching and sinking while the bright sea is folding, draws back, unfolding, as the child who talks, lifts from a wave. There she is! Under that tree. See? I wear the dark glasses -- hiding my eyes, stories behind them, the tales within me. I want that. The way the sun is acting, it is important to watch what its light might do, the next hushed aim. It takes all of me to do this. To sit under a tree as an unrealized image…. Legs folded, feet hidden. As the gold light twists about, shining upon the exposed surface of a mountain. I must write of this. How the sun strikes down, sundering stories from the landscapes. Under that tree. See her! How the rock face extends above water. An illuminated sea wades to its base. Wherever the light aims is always a story, a sun story. Always a story wherever the sun. Like today, I notice, where light shows a mountain slowly erased. A scarred portion lowered down into the water. Washed and polished. There and there. The sun tells of a sea overtaking a mountain. There. Stone set in shimmering waves. As the sun moves. I wear the dark glasses. As the sun moves, the sun moves into the its last hour.

The last hour, there are checkered rays. I write of them, of square beams piercing through needle leaves, through the hat with the brim with the straw loosely woven. Then, of an entire red sun igniting my face. Burning…. How far I must go inside myself, the hard distance within, to hide the stories. While staked here, Magnetic Island. Where I wear the dark glasses. And the children pause and swim happy. They think they watch me watching the blue.


“Under the Casuarina Tree” appeared in The Iconoclast (Mohegan Lake, NY) and the author’s book, Without Home (Kells).



THERESEH.JPGTherese Halscheid's most recent book of poems, Uncommon Geography (Carpenter Gothic, 2006), received a Finalist Award for the Paterson Poetry Prize. Her other two collections are Without Home (Kells, 2001) and Powertalk (1995). Recently released is a collection of poems which spans a decade of writing, part of the Greatest Hits series, an award given by Pudding House Press. For more information, see website:

Her poetry has appeared in several literary magazines: Rhino, The Midwest Quarterly, New Millennium Writings, Cold Mountain Review, Spillway, Ellipsis, Faultline, Slant, Karamu, Kalliope, Fugue, Poet Lore, Sojourners, among others. Poems have won awards through Rhino, The Comstock Review, Exit 13, and other publications.

She received a 2003 Fellowship for Poetry from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and is a visiting writer in schools through their Artist in Education Program. She teaches at Atlantic Cape Community College and Rutgers University in NJ, and is listed with the Artist & Communities Project sponsored by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.