Stranger from Thrust by Heather Derr-Smith




My eyes ouija in his direction. He’s next. 

I’ll keep you in the back of my closet with the petrol bombs.


He was a boy back from the Troubles,

Smudge of bruises up his arms, red eyes like two raw abrasions.


In our neighborhood there were still ruins from World War II

And everywhere the men and women wore poppies in their lapels,


I could feel the accumulative weight of every action,

Every sin an adhesion on your flesh and mine.


The sound of piston and bolt in the night.


We took a drive to Northern England and saw the graves

Carved with hollows in the shape of human bodies.


And in a cathedral, the waxen mold of an emaciated corpse

on top of the marble tomb. Our mother tongue,


this violence, just rediscovered. Some primitive language

We shared. He said he was going to marry me, didn’t ask,


Grabbed a handful of my hair, wound it around his wrists,

Dragged me to his room in Camden Markets, and I was his.              




Black out under a new moon.

Hawkweed, gorse, and broom susurrate, slip the stitches


Of their roots into the earth. The sound of their tips like the shutter

Of film in the camera’s slip and click. Maryon Park


At night, at the scene of the movie. scene of the crime,

In the spot where the man was shot, the outline of him shifts


And vanishes. I walk a little deeper in, trying to shove off the fear

Of being caught. If you’re not guilty, why are you running?


Sunrise like blood over the lintel. Trying to lose the past.

I wonder what ever happened to him, and if he tried to track me down.


I can feel the wind follow like a tender ghost over the grasses, spangled

With moths and the acapella of crickets along the barrier wall of the Thames


sprinting through the dark. When Wycliff wrote about the rapture he called it

Rushed, as if all the saints would turn to water or wind.  The image


Of that soldier’s face drifts like silk in the river, discarnate, and nameless now,

Forgotten, he meant so little to me then. But looking back


I remember the bruises on his arms and I can feel his hair

Under my hands. I remember the body of him.




It’s Christmas and you wear a Santa hat, sweatshirt stained with blood.

Just a performance, fog machine behind the drums, I’m just pretending


To be myself, you said, falling to your knees on the stage. The look on your face,

A killing jar, the mimicry of the predator’s eyes in the moth’s giant wings.


I’ve seen your girlish and freckled hands smoothing the sheets

In a photograph you took of the cat. Everything about you is one step removed


From my sight, a glimpse. In the book you gave me, Nabokov cast an acetylene lamp

Over a white sheet laid out on the grass on a moonless night, to catch 


Some rare moths, a longing he had, and it was the same lamp  he would shine on Tamara,

Six years later. He wanted us to know the moment. He wanted us to remember


That moment forever.  We will always be two strangers, always estranged.

Even Nabokov would come to know this, the last time


He saw her. She was walking away from him, hair and face wet from the rain.



–Poem from Thrust, Winner Lexi Rudnitsky Prize, forthcoming from Persea Books, 2017