Poems by Heather Derr-Smith

Long Branch Series, Joe Lugara

Black Bread

I buried my childhood self in the field, dropped my garments

under a wooden pallet, underwear stained with blood. Forgive

God his violence, like a child. Waves crash in the hidden cove

of the Black Sea, hapless like that, doomed, outcast from the grove,

all the apple trees cut down in wave upon wave of terror. After

Odessa, cursed with a single shot on the steps of Potemkin sprawled

on the asphalt, looking up at what? mouth opened in an “O” painted

black, cracked spectacles dangling from our ears mercury pooling

under the back of all our heads. During the ceasefire I called your name.

I can’t explain why and anyways, isn’t that a question a child asks right

on the cusp of loss? Next memorizing the names of guns and tanks, year,

make, and model. On the front line we ate bread stained with cuttlefish ink,

and I couldn’t wait to tell you how it faintly faintly smelled like the sea.

Instruction Manual Baltic

I’ll hamstring you
cut your tendons

(these are the things I know)

sensory flight instruments of insects
whirring in the summer heat
above the scythed fields

Her eyes, hepatic-dark

orchids with their barbed hooks

Rain in its orneriness
child’s play of war

smell of oil tar from the furnaces
drifts through the forests.

little teeth of pinion,
gears of language
spinning in your mouth

pink root Nux vomica

I’ve got all the curses
all the healing balms

deep cry of a wild animal is her call

Oh the arrogance of endings
And the men who try to write them

Here is the Saaremaa yellow rattle
in wet meadows and spring fens

rare, very rare and it hides itself in nature

a soldier’s helmet half-buried
in the peat and saphrage,
It’s painted red star brilliant
as mercury in the mud

This island, providence of women
and a thousand overlooked creatures

pen this psalter open your book to me

I will open my book to you

Iftar (with the Stooges) Sarajevo

Light of the lamps on the red geraniums, we leaned
from the balcony into the night above the grass alley
below, faint lines under the street lamps of old graves
where the dead were first buried, the only place safe
from snipers in this neighborhood on the front lines.
Five years since the war’s end and iftar again, bullet
holes in the door and down the hall. Never fill them.
Rain fell over our hair, into the garden at peace, a peace
Both ordinary and miraculous even now… The canon
blast still made me leap and Goran laughed, War is over,
Heather! Long live the war! It was iftar
and we could hear singing from the next building,
scarred with shrapnel the tenants vowed never to erase.
What is that song? You asked and I couldn’t remember
or who it was singing: your pretty face is going to hell
because five years after the war, neither one of us
could remember things well, even things we knew by heart.
Maybe if you asked me now after so much history
I would speak the truth out loud, in an instant of reckoning,
like Man in Instant Death! by Capa! After all, history
reveals the truth of ourselves in action, doesn’t it? I swear
I would shout the answers to every question from the rooftops.
But I’m wrong. That was not the correct name of the photograph
in question. It was The Falling Soldier and some say it was staged.
Also, the man shot was the enemy, so hardly worth the pathos.
I don’t understand anything at all, even after all this time.
I still lap doglike at the viscera of what lies between us, shell
blasts like bear claws where the water pools in the sidewalk,
It’s not prayers I say so much as Tell me the truth. I cannot conceive
of a harder fast than you. All I want is to eat.

In the First Hour of the War We Didn’t Believe it was a War

Caesura of breath when she saw him slumped
over the circuitry of downed power lines,
water pooling around his mouth.

Reboant, resounding, reverberation of the armies
gathering over the hill. Trying to find the etymology
Of God’s name something seems out of joints.

Pain clusters in around my heart,
like a throbbing in the eardrum after the soldier’s first shout.

Sequins of the dead in the clouds.


IMG_9366Heather Derr-Smith is the author of four books, 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 (Persea Books, 2017). Her fifth book, Outskirts is forthcoming from University of Akron Press. She is the founder and director of Cuvaj se/Take Care, a nonprofit supporting writers in conflict and post-conflict recovery zones.

Joe Lugara Headshot.jpgJoe Lugara began creating digital paintings in the 2010s, debuting in a 2018 solo exhibition at the Noyes Museum of Art in his home state of New Jersey. Lugara’s work has been featured in several publications (multiple in ACM: “Inkling, Sketch, Tattoo, Scar,” “Two Places,” and Two Poems by Donald Stang) and has appeared in more than forty exhibitions in museums and galleries in the New York metropolitan area, including the New Jersey State Museum and 80 Washington Square East Galleries at NYU.