Heather Derr-Smith, “The Pelican”


My father, whom I did not know at the time,
Was at Yelapa Bay, Mexico.
He had been missing since I was seven. One day,
He came around a bend and found a wounded pelican,
Caught on a fishing line, tangled and hooked.
Every time the bird thrust its head back,
The pouch tore,
The hook ripped a little bit more, an episiotomy
That birthed only fear.
It wasn’t the first time. Once, he’d led a deer
Just like the father in Arabian nights with the gazelle,
Who bought a third of a life for a stranger.
My father sat near through her labor
Until she gave birth.

The pelican would die. About this time I would have
Wondered where he was, if near.
My father, whom I was beginning to forget,
Crept low to the ground in a gesture of humility the bird recognized,
Beyond all believability, and calmed.
My father, who left when I was very young, cradled the pelican in his arms.
My father was a ticket agent for Braniff airlines
And always carried his sewing kit in his pocket.
He was prepared for anything but fatherhood.
But at the bend in the bay he mended the hurt bird.

The Bride Minaret is the second collection of poems by Heather Derr-Smith, and the University of Akron Press has provided a PDF sampler of more poems from the book. The Literary Bohemian has also published three new poems in its most recent issue.

In an interview with Barn Owl Review, Derr-Smith discussed why her poems often include such vividly detailed imagery:

“When I was a little girl, I just loved that scene in The Sound of Music when Julie Andrews is leading the children in singing about their favorite things. I’ve collected favorite things all my life, as a way of feeling attachment to a material world that has at times felt very unstable to me… When I got older, and I started to go to places where there was a lot of upheaval, a lot of turmoil, maybe poverty, maybe war, the scattered pieces of ordinary life became a very important way of understanding where I was, to get located, somewhat grounded in a strange, sometimes dangerous environment.”

5 April 2009 | poetry |