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Heather Derr-Smith

Heather Derr-Smith was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1971 and spent most of her childhood in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She received a BA from the University of Virginia and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of Thrust (Persea Books, 2017), winner of the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky Editor's Choice Award, Tongue Screw (Sparkwheel Press, 2016), The Bride Minaret (University of Akron Press, 2008), and Each End of the World (Main Street Rag Press, 2005).

By This Poet

4

Heathens

The hunters drove through town doing eighty,
the bodies of wolves tied in cruciform
to the hoods of their trucks.

The Pink Lady Slippers in the woods
hung like carcasses on hooks and the lights of ranches
twinkled in the valley below. We could hear,
with a kind of clairaudience, the stars clicking their pistols.

I stood at the edge of the world, tongue screwed shut.
But words came from all four corners—
even speechless, that power was unstoppable.

A red fox, like a blood smear
in the wild lilac of my mother’s abandoned homestead,
and black-blotch shadows of hawks and ravens,
                                                               sweeping rorschachs—

The bird-like leaps of the heart’s wonder.

Advent

Birds pulse above the blood-black line of horizon.
I walk out through the sliding glass door into the backyard,

hoarfrost on the fallen leaves like thrush on a baby’s tongue.

Over the chain-link fence, three bald eagles fight for their kill
on the train tracks. My brother writes a postcard

from someplace near Bagram, fog veiling and unveiling
the Hindu Kush. In a dream he lifts his arm to cover his eyes

and I kiss the top-stitch scars along his mended wound.

In the middle of the night, a child screams awake.
But it’s only the engine of the refrigerator, faintly.

The neighbor is a mystery, a stranger to us. He lives alone,
blinds shut at all times. I suspect what we all suspect.

Sometimes I stand in the dark of my window, facing the dark of his.

May We Meet No Line a Boundary

Sometimes I return to my mother’s childhood home, believing
I can reclaim it.

Mists rise up off the frozen creek
and the red star of Betelgeuse blinks out.

Pools of snowmelt glitter
violet as the Wyoming iolite. This is her territory, not mine,
her mother’s grave and her father’s.

I track it, the old paths of a past life.
The martin’s pad foot prints the mud,
claws curled into slivers of an unspoken language.

It’s mine now. I’ve nearly caught up with it,
right at the hem of the garment.

The red wing blackbird pivots
and shifts on its tall switch.
At first bright re-ignition of morning light,
the snake hushes in the saltbush
and lifts its rattle to astonish us.