This isn’t poetry, but it’s part of the journey I began with 2019 Napowrimo and exploring my relationship with my dad.

I’m leaving soon on a pilgrimage, three days traveling alone to sit at his grave and read my poems and mark a moment of closure? maybe?

It’s an attempt and I am, right now, terrified it will fail.  Terrified that I won’t have the strength to really look into the dark of this.  Terrified that I will liquor up on whiskey and suffering and shut down.  Terrified that it will all be for nothing.  And it occurs to me that even if it is for nothing, I’ll just do it again and again and again until either it becomes less important or more healing.

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.  One bit at a time, one moment and one breath and one tear.


There’s a portion of him I want to keep
tucked in a pocket, warm and safe and secure.
Tears dried and hurts soothed.

There’s a portion of him I want to keep
in the palm of my hand, twitching and sighing.
Smiles and astonishment.

There’s the esplanade and the bluegrass
the summer rain and the dragonfly
the national treasures I didn’t know about
and The Dance that I am meant to paint.
There’s the rejection and the hurt
the confusion and the frustration
the feeling disposable.

the sound of his voice.

I can’t keep a portion
He is not a chicken to be quartered
the white meat discarded for the far superior dark
He is the whole bird
more than my plate can hold


I’m finished with this project for now.

In some ways it feels like I did what I set out to do.  I looked at those experiences closely and lived them more thoroughly than I had previously and most certainly felt them more honestly than I was capable of at the time … and I let him in, even if only a few times and they were awkward and difficult but that will get easier.

I have started something and I think now it’s time for me to let it sit on it’s own for a moment.  Some recovery is needed before I can come back to this.  I feel like continuing would just be creating hurt for myself and that’s not at all what I want to do.

No, I did not make it until the end of April and I have feelings about that, but I have done so much more than I’d ever even considered before and I have learned so much and seen so much and felt so much these past few weeks … I need to stop now.  But I’ll be back, to revise and revisit and hone.


the blooming season
new growth soothes hot skin
sweating aching under the labor of change
longing to recline into certainty
that the earth turns

that I have done well
that I can rest
that I am not too late
fearing I've missed something
am missing something
am hurting someone
am not doing enough
have done too much
have said too much
am not enough
am too much

what will they grow into
what have I done
when can I stop

I want this to be tidy and finished
I want to lean on someone and feel safe being unsure

today, I miss the silent dead of December
today isn't an adventure

and all my fault
I started everything


slowly twisting history I play
measuring compassion and fear by the moment
I move in pilgrimage toward freedom

a spectacle of failing fathers 
lining the street as I pass
heavy and plodding and never-ending

wondrous, the legends of men who have stayed
I marvel at the ease with which legendary men are made

I ask each
what pain is it that let you run?

what did it take for you to believe that 
drinking yourself to death
killing your wife
abandoning your children
was your best option
was your only option
was an option?

a parade of Heather moves forward
their faces turn away as I pass
soft and fierce and never-ending

what strength is it that lets me stay?
what love is it that brings me here?


Look around
This is where the adventure happens
where I gather the ragged and beautiful pieces of myself
and they fit and are assembled
all separate and one
whole individually
epic collectively

the silence here is unafraid of a cry
ready for awkward and painful and cruel
poised for the blow that is change
while smiling into the mist of right now

dad, I know how to do this
I know how to pattern 
and mimic 
I know how to sing with you
and dance with you
and play clapping games
My daughter taught me and I can teach you

put your hand like this and follow what I do

'I feel silly' he says, hands at his sides

You feel silly? 
I'm talking with a dead man
Shush and give me your hand

'I'm afraid' he says, hands shaking
of course you are
we all are
I've got you

prying eyes from the ground he looks
'you made all this?' he asks, hand raised a breath from mine
yes, I made all this
now do what I do

hands move together
and a weight lifts
and the mist rises
and I hear the buzz of summer
and I feel his eyes on me
and I smell wood fire 
and I never thought I would be here


in the circle I tell him the story
the long drive to West Virginia
the childhood home of carnival glass
how they circled the grave
these relations in thin suits and Sunday hats
as I approached the crowd parted

then the whisper began
'Doug's daughter'
a rolling message
'that's Doug's daughter'
harmonious in their merging
'she looks just like him'
voices filled my head
a rolling wave of celebrity
'oh my'
and attention
'that's Doug's daughter'
and discomfort

I feel the moment at the grave
the crush of their gaze and whisper
snapping some vital connection in me
and I was gone 
somewhere fuzzy and cottony
somewhere with no hard edges
no soft sounds
no more memory

"It was to keep me safe" I say
"Safe from what?" dad asks
I watch him from the corner of my eye
he watches the ground at his feet
does he really want to know?
"I was something much more and much less than sad."
He doesn't understand
"I don't understand"
"I know ... just sit with me."

and we sit
and we smell the wood fire
and I don't know how to begin


a very small me rides a very pink bike
banana seated and plastic basketed 
Easter candy loot in her periphery she smiles
sunshine on her face
warmth and safety and freedom and spring and hope and delight
and Reese's eggs
My littlest Heather

and there are so many more
Heather who sat alone during the vicious rejection of junior high
Heather who discovered how complicated rape can be
Heather who went away to college and learned the beauty of Dickens
Heather who survived an asphyxiation
Heather who forgot her own face
and Heather who remembered

and there are so many more
every step I become someone new
every moment I am recreated and renegotiated

today we sit together
and we heal
my band of challenging women 
baking bread and showing their teeth 
fearsome little girls
riding bikes and wielding sling shots
"I am Legion, for we are many"

today we discuss
could he sit with us?
my very young father

today we ask
will we open our circle to him?
a Mowgli in our wolf pack

today we wonder
can we teach him to sing in harmony?
to sleep in a mound of each other's warmth and care

I don't believe the dead can learn from us

but a newer Heather, whose questions don't tip up at the end, asks
can we teach him to survive?
and what will we learn in the teaching?
and isn't this audacity what makes us strong?



'whatever is cheapest' 
menu of services folded
(an actual menu)
rustling silence
sharp suited salesman looks for disagreement
searching faces that don't move
watching his commission trickle away
under my unwavering proclamation
no one intervenes

ordering my father's funeral
no one speaks for me
or with me

my dad's belongings

'don't look in there little miss, 
he had some photos you might not want to see'
I look
giant breasted blonde sucking a finger legs spread
seductive brunette green tank leaning over a table
me smiling blue polo shirt short haired so small

two rings
one winged skull I slip onto my thumb
heavy and solid and present
the other a wedding band
'was he wearing this?'
he never remarried
and he died wearing this white gold band
that matched my mother's ...

I sold them both.

Dancing with regret and righteousness 
I know I have been monstrous
too swollen and malformed for my own head
too unruly and inhuman to possess space
too broken and weak to have a right
but nevertheless
some cruel twist of existence
I do

'whatever is cheapest' I declare
and over
and over
and over
and somehow, in the end, it is me



then he was dead
face down
blood pooling under his skin
"acute and chronic alcoholism"

I buy a pizza
boyfriend asks 'are you ok?'
I ask 'pepperoni and sausage?'

still and empty
a dull void
monstrously inappropriate
beautifully contained

lifting the lid on that night
I feel the heat such pressure produces
I feel the slippery untangling
I hold my own small hand
I breathe deeply of the complexity
it smells of sweet spicy chai
and the sex of olives
and sharp decay

the smell of old life unlived