By: Heather Derr-Smith
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.
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.