Poems by Heather Derr-Smith

Three poems on nature, violence, and beauty.


The hunters came driving through town doing eighty,
the carcasses of wolves tied in cruciform
to the hood of their trucks. I could hear God’s voice
in my head shouting, Let us make us in our own image!

The Pink Lady Slippers in the woods
hung like carcasses on hooks and the lights of ranches
twinkled in the valley below and damn, we could hear,
with a kind of clairaudience, the stars clicking their pistols.

There was a red fox like a blood smear
in the wild lilac of my mother’s abandoned homestead
and black-blotch shadows of hawks and ravens,
like sweeping rorshachs,

the bird-like leaps of the heart’s wonder.


I had a summer job watering plants in a nursery
in the middle of nowhere. Some redneck county
lost between ribbons of blue highway. I wanted
that flower, the color of a shadow’s dark sex, a cardinal
come to rest between my legs. I decided to steal
the whole damn bush, stuff it in the back seat,
its woody branches scraping the upholstery. Be careful,
My mother warned me that morning before I left,
there’s some guy in the Food Lion parking lot, stuffs women
into the trunk of his car. And on the same highway
I drove every day, another man
pulled up beside the truck of a Mennonite girl
and mouthed into the speeding wind:
Your tire is flat and she read his lips and believed.

My mom said she could just feel the power
of Darkness out there and no girl should be alone
in that country. Driving home one afternoon,
I got lost and stopped at an old general store for help.
A man led me behind a door to a small room
and told me to undress. It was too late.
There was nothing I could do about it.
Small frogs hymned faintly their evensong
from the throats of the pitcher plants.
He let me go that day, but a few weeks later
they found the other girl’s body in a ditch.

Hundred Year Flood

I walked home with my young son
from the town’s one movie house. All around us
the risen water lapped at the yards. It was dusk
and we could hear the waves and
sense the dark water’s presence.

Dozens of hummingbirds buzzed around a bush.
It was the faintest of apparitions hastening in dark.
My father taught me how to find their nests in the trees
of the Dollar store parking lot,
little purses of spun spider silk.

The red stalks of the fire-moss flamed in spring.
Every few years now there’s a hundred year flood.

Back at home, locked in his room, my son
punched the electrical outlets,
cut his arms with the broken shards,
just like my father did when he was young,
same mania that erupts each spring,
our Mennonite heritage, martyrs going back generations

whose lopped heads still sing
from the executioner’s basket.

Look, we said together, the waters part,
like revelation’s open door no one is able to shut.

About the Author

Heather Derr-Smith

Heather Derr-Smith was born in Dallas, Texas in 1971. She spent most of her childhood in Fredericksburg, Virginia, steeped in southern history and religion, playing hide and seek in the Civil War trenches in the woods of her backyard, and spending many nights singing old gospel hymns at tent revivals. She earned her BA in art history at the University of Virginia, where she also took poetry workshops with Charles Wright, Rita Dove, and Greg Orr. She went on to earn her MFA at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. While at the Writers' Workshop, she rented a little "grandpa house" in Kalona, Iowa and reconnected with her Anabaptist heritage. She joined the Mennonites in 1997 and is presently an active member at Des Moines Mennonite Church. Derr-Smith has two books of poems, Each End of the World (2005) about the war in Bosnia in the 1990's and The Bride Minaret (2008) about Palestinian and Iraqi refugees in Syria and her own history of childhood physical, emotional and sexual abuse.