Magnetic Girl; Illuminated Manuscript; Ground Cherry Pods

Heather Derr-Smith

Magnetic Girl


I was a wonder. Propelling mountains like carp

Into the sea, no match for me, all men trembled.


I was a willow tree. Ask the Baptist minister,

How I hurled the professor and the doctor


Like jumping jacks around the room

And the audience flocked and cheered.


The men, the men, in twos and threes,
Burly and stocked, braced their stance, tensed


Their muscles against a pole pressed

To my dainty hand, fulcrum and lever,


Invisible, redirecting the force until they staggered.


The electrical storm floats on the horizon.

I watch it pass. I quit the shows, that life


Of great feats. Nothing much to it, a shrug

Of the shoulder, sleight of hand. But how


They all believed, wanting to believe,
The ideomotor effect, lay your neck in my lap


Lay your neck in my lap.



Illuminated Manuscript


It smelled like Kafka’s handwriting on the body of a bird

My mother’s room, fusarium on barley.


The leather gloves worn by King George IV.

This book was painted with angels


Their golden trumpets blowing Gott and bewundert.


I hid in a boxwood on a property that burnt to the ground

One Christmas in 1785. That’s what the book smelled like,


Virginia, the coon dogs howled in packs and a woman’s body

was found stripped of its sloughing skin, missing for weeks


In the cold rain of autumn. The leaves twirled
As they fell, scent of fresh vomit or the mushrooms


Between a man’s legs, dainty pubic hairs curling like ballerinas.

I fell asleep that afternoon in the maze of the hedges


And my mother called me until she screamed. I hated

Her, she said. I always was a cold child, she said.


She smelled like a thousand sharp-knived perfumes

And I memorized them, White Linen, Youth Dew,


Le rouge. I woke up just as she passed, the ghost

Of her scent trailing by the ruins.




Ground Cherry Pods

Delicate and fragile, the flesh decomposed
And all that was left was a latticework of veins,

The whole thing held into its tear drop shape

By interlocking threads, stiff and brown,

Dessicated and perfect. I love beautiful

Discarded things you find in the dirt.


My youngest daughter recoiled at them,

Collected in a white porcelain bowl,

They resemble dead eyes, only faintly

Or some organ diseased and husked.

Something about the pattern of death,

Something about it’s repetition frightens


Us, like trypophobia, our minds know
This means something inevitable, a warning

Signal embedded deep in our history
And this is our resistance. Violence
is embodiment too. But not everyone
On this earth flails like we do, think of monks

Meditating with the decomposing bodies
Of the nameless dead. Know what I mean?

But here we are, American, Suburban, clinging

desperately to our lawns, while


all over the world, hands ungrasp
And the fire licks at your braided hair
And you no longer need to struggle.
And you are able to say once and for all

With your last breath sucked out into flame,

I’m grateful. it was more than enough.




These three poems are from my fifth manuscript, Himmelsbrief. I am the author of four books of poetry, Each End of the World (Main Street Rag Press, 2005), The Bride Minaret (University of Akron Press, 2008), Tongue Screw (Spark Wheel Press, 2016) and Thrust (Lexi Rudnitsky Editor's Prize, Persea Books, 2017). I am also director of Cuvaj se a literary human rights non-profit supporting writers in conflict zones and post-conflict zones.