Literary Arts | READ LOCAL First

Heidi Hart: Four Poems

READ LOCAL First represents Utah’s most comprehensive collection of celebrated and promising writers of fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, and memoir. This month we bring you Heidi Hart. Hart teaches German and English at Weber State University. She is a Pushcart Prize-winning poet with an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and a Ph.D. in German Studies from Duke University.

Hart’s scholarly work combines politically inflected music, literature, and film, with a growing focus on environmental media. Her books include a literary memoir, Grace Notes, and poetry collection, Edge by Edge. More recently, she published a book about Hanns Eisler’s activist art songs and another on music in climate-crisis narrative.

 

 

Three Short Poems 

& “Hearing Voices” 

 

For Lizzie McKay

 

In the book of wisdom for young ladies

my great-grandmother tucked

her photograph of a black bear.

She packed a doctorate from Barnard and a gun.

The bear had come just close enough to smell her

and she hadn’t shot.

Black-and-white pine trunks, a tent,

that lifted snout

between the page that showed a Gibson-girl bride

and the one that quoted Proverbs

on virtuous womanhood.

 

On the highway blood is running

from a mass too large to be a dog

or deer.  I swerve to pass it.

Last July a black bear wandered out of

our pine woods and almost

reached the hospital. This one hit

the human world at rush hour.

I am shaking at the wheel.  And I know

that mountain girl who shook, too,

pistol in her pocket,

Kodak shutter clicking, anything to find an image

to stand in her book, to stand for her

when it closed in.

 

Salt Lick

 

I bathe in salt bought in the market square

in Nürnberg, city of jackboots and peppermint tea,

 

of red-brick memory, my own drawn up out of my skin,

my body a wet tear/tear in the membrane, screen

 

in the cathedral showing Coventry in flames,

mirrors within mirrors, broken marriage-

 

spell, all my left-hand fingers burned, salt in the wound.

They say it purifies.  I haven’t wept like this since

 

I was ten, in Frankfurt, postwar cranes agleam

still, from the window of the hospital.

 

My mother had just lost the baby. I believed it was

my fault.  Now, in a rough towel, I lie down next to the cat,

 

who licks the salt from me. Essential element.

My own almost-lost life.

 

Precarity Song

and Counter-song

 

 Now we wear our houses, scarf

and piercing, perfect bag, this charm

or chain, passport, tattoo,

grit from the last city on our shoes.

 

Does this mean that we’ve outgrown that house

of cards, two-car garage and throttled wish,

trimmed parking strip, the tuned-out sound

of electricity that tuned us all to the same pitch?

 

We schlep our loss and light as if

we could forget the privilege

we carry, too.  We’re out of work.

We freelance. Dream a little plot of dirt.

 

So have we “evolved” or are these comfort-words

like sanded wooden birds to stroke and keep

in hotel room, short-term apartment, circles

of affection stretched across the sea?

 

Downstairs in the corner store,

the Turkish mother cries over

her daughter’s head wound. She

is here. The girl is miles away.

 

Best to clasp what hands we can. Protest

what will not release our eyes.

Forget building a comfortable nest.

Make the world like home, but never quite.

 

Hearing Voices

 

Don’t sing my son says on the North Sea shore

wedged in granite as wind stops my throat

whitecaps and sand raging in

bunker and “German teeth” still here to keep

U-boats and ships and tanks at bay

I couldn’t sing in this wind anyway but he’s afraid

of what might come for me

again this time

Nykkjen-of-the-water who hears farmgirl Heiemo’s voice

her brothers sleeping too late

he sculls her out in open water

no this is no Lorelei who drives men rockward to their deaths

how to tell my son my life has come for me instead

no spell but something answered

and a kind of rest

somehow we’re both still here

Heiemo sleeps in Nykkjen’s arms

the sea slaps wood no song no song no song

***

I’m reading Anne Carson’s “Swimming in Circles in Copenhagen”

I’m reading postcards by Tanny LeClerq barely breathing in circles

in Copenhagen ballerina in the iron lung

Between grief and nothing writes Carson

Waiting for a letter bubbles LeClerq’s little mermaid voiceless

Legs alas. writes Carson Legs die.

 

like a filet of sole trying to balance on its tail LeClerq writes

body voiceless in circles

siren singing as the body the impossible extension

made flesh little muse she turned down the vaccine

her body dancing to the death with polio in Balanchine’s ballet

is this the only way to get free

from the choreography to unbind waist feet this rhyme at last

some ballet term for it writes Carson

fragment of foil, little

 

overgrown girl in mermaid bridal gown

my dance with death all I wanted was to cut free to go out

breathing in circles those stitches blown loose all the beads undone

I go walking in circles in Copenhagen

where years ago as a bride as a pretty young singer with mermaid hair

I curled on the floor in the airport

too sick to move my life calling out there on the water

all the old songs falling out

of my lungs all the coloratura ballet

all my silence in all the wrong places locked up in the bathroom

little wife always in trouble for crumbs on the table

 

leave me here I would say now

leave me out here with water and light

wash me out in the Sound

let me listen to no song but this let me learn it

a whole year of vowels before

I start singing it back

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