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.
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.
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.
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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