Heather Sullivan’s Waiting for an Answer is a breath of fresh air, a debut collection by a poet who has actually lived long enough to have something to say. This book builds slowly, offering a glimpse into childhood memories grown into intricate flaws. The beauty here is found in every imperfection along the way. Like any good alley cat Sullivan has more than one life to live and let’s hope she’s just getting started. We’re all just waiting for an answer that may never come, peeling away the layers of every passing year, but at least now we have someone there to wait with us. — John Dorsey, author of Shoot the Messenger
Excerpts from Waiting for an Answer
She made us hand sewn burlap travel bags
both to keep our little minds occupied
on the car trip from California to Kentucky,
the land of our father’s people, and to
keep us out of his hair. She filled them
with coloring books and crayons, Hot
Wheels, puzzle books, a soft toy for the
baby. She had collected and saved for
months, painted our names on one side
and a picture on the other. Mine was a tiger
emerging from a kaleidoscope forest. Her
talent played out before a limited crowd,
although she always signed every piece of
her art in the corner, a small act of rebellion.
All our money for the trip was bundled in
a tin Band-Aid box, long before credit cards
and ATM’s were on every corner. Somewhere
in the Southwest, we spent the night in a
roadside motel with the loot hidden under
the bed. The next day we were an hour away,
when Mom realized the money had been left
behind. We raced his rising anger all the way
back, to learn there was still honesty left in
this world when the manager handed it over.
Outside, he hit her nonetheless, and then we
learned that no good deed goes unpunished.
She is Broadway show tunes
and digging in the dirt
to plant mountain laurel with her
She is home cooked lamb chops
and my first and only Rancid t-shirt.
She is sensible work clothes
from Lands’ End and intricate tattoos
that wind around her porcelain skin.
She is perfectly coifed hair,
makeup wipes in her purse
and the proper conjugation of fuck.
She is the definition of generosity.
She is sitting stock still,
holding the hand of a veteran who
in a moment of clarity from the voices
realizes he is dying.
She is timely paperwork filled out in
triplicate with the goldenrod copy
going to right the office
and crying in the car where
no one can see.
What She Said
For twenty years, Joe DiMaggio had
two red roses delivered three times
a week to Marilyn Monroe’s burial
vault. I wonder if I could have roses
delivered to your grave. What would
the delivery guy’s reaction be when
pulling into the little parking lot behind
the Lutheran church in the middle of
the Pennsylvanian woods. Fifth row
down from the top, sixteen spots in.
The commercials on TV and the radio
keep telling me to pick the Mother’s Day
gift that would mean the most, to
remember a present for that special
woman in my life, the woman who made
me. Every holiday, manufactured or not,
is the same. I think the perfect gift would
be to stretch myself out on the grass
beside her, close my eyes and let the
dew and time slowly return me to her.
My mother used to tell me that I was the
prettiest girl in the world. I hold my breath
to make it easier to hear her again
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Heather Sullivan’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Corium, Busted Dharma, Chiron Review, Revolution John, Free State Review, Open Letters Monthly, Street Value, Big Hammer, Barbaric Yawp, Common Ground Review, Nixes Mate Review, Muddy River Poetry Review and Trailer Park Quarterly, among others. She lives near Boston and the ocean, with her charming husband, herds of children and cats, and three beloved whispering trees.
Copyright © 2017 Heather Sullivan
Cover photograph from the collection of Lauren Leja
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.
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