Sunday Poetry Series Presents: Heather Kirn



by Heather Kirn

Crown, I said, or kite, and that was that.

Like flames encased in glass, the nouns dissolved.

But levitate had weight around it. Rapt,

I wrote it down. Then menacing jabbed dark

with dark and triumph made me win. I grinned,

heard the strained trill of an oriole

and knew it too was mine. As was the phone.

It sang an octave lower than the bird,

rang all day. Go away, I wrote

and dialogue was born. I gave the words

a mouth, designed a face, a body, legs

for him to choose the wrong direction—there

he went and there he fell. I clasped my hands.

He multiplied. Then, Yes? I took the call.

The voice said, First you killed the oriole.

You killed the old man who found it too.

You say you’re sitting down?, it asked. You killed

entire villages, then carved initials

into anything that bled. A eulogy?

A prayer? How could we say a word? I bowed

my head, left the pens and rode the car

to padded walls. I ate soup. Soup, I said

and slapped my wrists. Pill, I swallowed. The walls

are blank as pages. In my dreams, I write

the kiddy-books that label every noun.

I write door, bed, salamander, slug,

erase a letter only when I start

to feel an adjective, a verb. Nothing does.

By morning, all the work evaporates.

No word remains but one. Intent. When split,

it names a sleeping spot. If stripped on the sides

it calculates the digits on my hands.

But whole, it settles me to self. I meant

no harm. I found a shape and made a world,

then crawled inside. Where else was I to live?


Heather Kirn’s essays have been noted in The Best American Essays Series and published in The Florida Review, Colorado Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere.  Her poems appear most recently in Cincinnati Review and Shenandoah. She teaches writing at UC-Berkeley. The above poem originally appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

About Okla Elliott

I am currently an assistant professor at Misericordia University in northeast Pennsylvania. I hold a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Illinois, an MFA in creative writing from Ohio State University, and a legal studies certificate from Purdue University. My work has appeared in Cincinnati Review, Harvard Review, The Hill, Huffington Post, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, and Subtropics, as well as being listed as a "notable essay" in Best American Essays 2015. My books include From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a coauthored novel), Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker (translation), and Bernie Sanders: The Essential Guide (nonfiction).
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5 Responses to Sunday Poetry Series Presents: Heather Kirn

  1. oklaelliott says:

    As someone who sometimes writes in metered verse, I just want to applaud Heather for what she’s done with blank verse here. Very natural (that is, the poem never feels confined by its meter) yet still musical in the way we expect from metered verse.

    I think the appropriate exclamation is: Bravo!

  2. SK says:

    Nice poem Heather.
    Sean Karns

  3. David Bowen says:

    Is it weird that the words “salamander” and “slug” back to back in this poem make me hungry?

  4. oklaelliott says:

    Yes, David, I believe that qualifies as weird. But each reader brings his own interpretation and every text contains…er…uh…no, sorry, no amount of theorizing can save you this time, amigo mio. That’s just weird. 🙂

  5. SM says:

    Great poem, Heather.

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