The poems in Heather Sullivan’s Method Acting for the Afterlife bring me to a world of Donny and Marie songs, of hollowed out oak trees, to a world of “unseen demons and/long dead ghosts pushing addiction and/melancholy.” As only a master poet can, Sullivan blurs that line between the seen and the unseen, the living and the dead. As the “toll keeper of existence,” the poet connects us with “everything that I’ve lost forever.” Loss is ever-present, but tempered with humor, with such real imagery – the popular girl’s table, Deadheads, and Limoncello – that my heart is allowed to “break again and again.” I trust Sullivan’s “deliberate, direct” voice – the voice of a “Sabbath child made wise.” Method Acting for the Afterlife is an important book, full of urgency and truth. — Jennifer Martelli, author of My Tarantella
You pass through me,
leaving a trail of memories,
echoes of events in the present.
Bread crumbs to find my way,
attempts at understanding the why
behind the what the hell happened
that brought us to the point where
we go through the motions,
watch days measured by gallons
of milk and loaves of bread,
the minimal hours of sleep needed
to ensure I don’t drive off the road
while staring at the brake lights
of the truck in front of me.
If I could pick up the pace enough
to catch up to you, walk along-side,
and after asking the questions,
fall back just enough to watch you,
the way your hair will swing,
right arm holding your purse tight,
one foot in front of the other,
but never overtake your lead.
They finished off my tree today, the huge oak
on the side of the house. Eight men in three
trucks with a crane and chainsaws, towing a
wood chipper to process her start to finish.
Seventy feet up in the air they climbed, cutting
sections off that the crane would lift up and
over the power lines, like an enormous game
of Operation, threading between our house
and the neighbors. She had a lush façade, but
was rotted underneath. I was told it was only
a matter of time or another intense thunder
storm before she would come down, take out
one of our houses or the power lines, disrupt
the norm. A massive storm two years previous
broke a twenty foot section off, landing exactly
in the arms of the three trees behind it. We had
a guy come and remove it before it could work
free for the final descent, crush a car or a child
below. Out our bedroom window, the creaking
as the wind moved in the leaves brought sleep.
When she came to live with us, Mom was happy
to be near the ocean but ached for the woods she
had left behind. After she died, the daily interaction
with her empty spot on the couch overwhelmed me,
so we found this house, the main selling point not
the deck or the tile, but the trees. The huge oak
that I could touch before I got into the car, further
try to connect with everything that I’ve lost forever.
Aside from my last name, my father didn’t
give me much of an inheritance.
He parceled out a strong temper, a
profound appreciation of vodka,
the unfailing knowledge that
all crushing love songs were written
for me alone to understand and
a fascination with the motorcycle
in the garage that I wasn’t allowed to
touch, my mother’s constant refrain of
crushing death always in my ear.
In my thirties, I decided it was time
to get my bike license, check off that box.
Again in my ear, she wondered aloud
about how the children would function
after I had slid under a tractor trailer,
pondered why I loved her so little
to do something so stupid.
I got the license anyway, but
pregnancy postponed my purchase.
Then my mother died. A year later,
I bought a used Honda Rebel from
a little old lady who couldn’t ride anymore.
I took it around the block a couple times,
let my kids sit on it in the driveway.
There’s no thrill in it anymore,
so it sits in the basement, and I stroke
the seat when I go down to get the laundry.
Heather Sullivan’s first collection, Waiting for an Answer, was released from Nixes Mate Books in 2017. Her work has appeared in numerous online and print publications such as, Chiron Review, Paper and Ink Literary Zine, San Pedro River Review, Trailer Park Quarterly, Common Ground Review, Barbaric Yawp, Big Hammer, Ygdrasil, Free State Review and Open Letters Monthly. She lives in Revere, MA with her husband, Rusty Barnes, co-creator of the three most marvelous humans on the planet, a small herd of cats and the water’s edge is just a short walk away.
Copyright © 2019 Heather Sullivan
Cover photograph from the collection of Lauren Leja
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