Heather Quinn

the poet

Heather Quinn is an artist and poet living in California. She was a finalist in House Mountain Review's Annual Broadside Contest (2019), a semi-finalist in both Cutthroat's Joy Harjo Poetry prize (2020) and Prometheus Dreaming's Unbound Competition (2019), and has featured in Palette Poetry's 'Poetry We Admire' column for Shroud with Lead Wing, published originally in Raw Art Review. Heather's work has appeared most recently in the New York Times42 Miles Press, Cathexis Northwest Press, Ghost City Review, High Shelf Press, Inkwell Press, Kissing Dynamite Poetry and Burning House Press.

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the poems

Kaddish for Grandma Irene

00:00 / 02:08

Her bony body is naked underneath a dress of translucent leaves. The knobs of her knees are burls of a willow tree. I place the paper cut-out of a blackbird on her left shoulder. In an open green field, we drink warm milk from cracked teacups painted with tiny yellow birds. She unknots the twine from a Rosenbloom’s cake box. I remember sugar cubes perfectly stacked in her silver caddy. Its delicate silver tongs. One lump or two, angelah? The way she would sing to me in Yiddish, Shlof, shlof, kindela. She was shaky, made of glass. I was a sparrow, terrified that even so small I might break her. Her heart pieced together with string saved from 1930s Pittsburgh, from that Hill District row house where seven children shared two bedrooms. All those socks and sweaters darned for her six younger siblings. All those beatings by her mother with a washboard or wooden spoon. Her father, the cantor, practicing for Shabbat service, Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu. At the Monroeville Mall she bought my first purse, flowered and pink with a gold clasp. Oy! It’s exquisite, kindela, she said. Tearing up, she pinched my blushed cheeks. In her leafy dress she is the green field, her white hair catching flecks of dusklight. From a phonograph, Billie Holiday’s voice scratches, I’ll be seeing you. Grandma closes her eyes and sings.

sparrow

00:00 / 01:40

i watched a fledgling sparrow fly 
from its nest to its mother
no, let me begin again

it did not fly but landed 
at my feet after it was propelled
from the tree in front of my childhood home

by a rock thrown by a gangly boy bigger older
the tree was painted with dry pigment 
& rabbit skin glue

no, it grew of bark 
& leaf but i reconstruct
the sparrow’s slippery skin

damp slickened feathers 
its seedling heart visible
through translucent membranes

beak snapping open & closed 
squawk with no sound
Munch’s Scream

i picked up the baby bird
held it like a damp lung in my hand
nursed it with water & seed

no, what really happened was dad
said we had to leave it or momma
sparrow would never return

we knew momma was off 
building a new nest
the O of the baby’s beak

an alarm, until feathers
wings flattened
in shallow grass

like a fried egg
yet the sparrow lives
pecking

at my sternum, sipping 
oxygen from my windpipe 
clawing for its perch

the history of light:

a burning haibun

after torrin a. greathouse

00:00 / 02:15

i examine the bones of an incandescent bulb, crystalline glass, base & socket, thin wiry v       relic of winged light    i remember being chased by a ghost from my  bed  to  the  landing  crying  out  to  dad    his face cast in television lowlights        he scooped me up, tucked me back in, kissed my forehead & clicked on the bedside lamp       ghosts  always  disappear  in  the  light, he said            dad died months before my wedding day   his wedding band bound to my wrist with satin ribbon            i imagined him as we wrapped his & her bulbs in black velvet   smashed the glass beneath our feet     later we picked up the broken shards, crushed metal    burned the remains in a fire pit  sealed them in a mason jar         tonight i shake the jar like a snow globe         watch the ashes bloom into embers, into dad’s image as it flickers, a reel of celluloid     lit   by one struck match

//

i examine the bones of an incandescent bulb, crystalline glass, base & socket, thin wiry v       relic of    winged light    i remember being chased by a ghost from my bed to the landing crying out to dad    his   face cast in television lowlights                           he scooped me up, tucked me back in, kissed my forehead & clicked on the bedside lamp            ghosts always disappear in the light, he said

          dad died months before my wedding day   his wedding band bound  to my wrist wi  tesatin ribbon         i imagined him as we wrapp    hed his & her bulbs in black velvet   smashed the glass beneath our feet     later we picked up wroken asha   s, crushed metal     burned the remains in a fire pit    sealed them in a mason jar      tonight i sha       r     like a snowobe               watch     ashes bloom into embers, into dad’s image as it flickers, a reel celluloid     lit       by  one struck match

 

//

            bones of an iof winged light      dad  s face ca      ghost

always   before bound to my   e d                                          like a  snow


            he   loom   ins              a s     a reel ofcelllits         c atch

Publishing credits

Kaddish for Grandma Irene (earlier version): Minnesota Review

sparrow: Prometheus Dreaming

the history of light: Cathexis Northwest Press

© original authors 2020

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