Poetry by Heather Bourbeau


In fields with red stone and high grass,
On streets with big trees and few cars,
In homes with avocado rugs and absent adults

They would run
Tag dart squirm
Taunt laugh between breaths
As they flitted on the precipice
Of getting away
And purposefully being caught

Later, when their children,
Born or never had,
Were old enough to stop playing,
To forget the joy of bursting legs
And pounding hearts,
They would seek the faces of old friends,
Drive down developments that once
Were dirt and daydreams

With hearts heavy and light,
With regrets forgotten or never to come,
With impulses tamed but not tempered

They played tag with memories
That knew better than to get caught.


This morning, I went through your medicine cabinet
aspirin offered, I carefully lifted bottles, read indications,
smelled pomades, maybe tested a bit here and there,
searched for proof my running legs were right

This morning, I learned you breathe, have flaws
to be flossed, subdued, neutralized, hidden (barely)
behind white box; tore down the teetering pedestal I had built;
met you as we are, (scared, relieved) offered my cabinet to explore

The end of summer

he smelled of kerosene and burnt marshmallows—
gone the days of cheap whiskey and stale cigarettes
though regret still seeped out of his pores,
frightening his children who did not yet understand
that with height and homes come remorse

she took in the pine, cocoa, and sour wool smiling,
before her was land to explore and paint,
cold air to fill the lungs and fuel her legs.
she felt ruddy, playful, vital, if no longer young—
this, she inhaled, was what survival meant


He would simmer the ginger, extracting the heat, concentrating the spice. Once he had reduced the brew to a syrup, he would pour the liquid into bottles to be mixed later with curry or mint, clove or lemon for sauces, sweets and cocktails. He would take the residual root, mix it with almond oil, sugar and kosher salt, and scrub her skin, slowly massaging the nights of lonely child rearing and days of house cleaning out of her willing body, warming her limbs until she ached for him to rinse her, towel her and love her, until he felt redeemed.

the spit

the spit left a
disco gloss across
her lips
defiantly attractive in
the act intended to repulse.

managed tomboy acts and
dress—she was
beyond her sex
mere attraction in
the texture of her

The only vegan boxer in Liberia

Where animal fat and flavoring
warm the belly, flavor the rice—
the day’s repast—
by choice, she goes without.

commitment, control

Sweat of fear and labor,
of survival of the day-to-day,
of small and white and female not
tilting in her favor
in this ring.

leverage leavened

Small pleasures
of muscles pushed,
of bananas fried
with cardamom, brown sugar,
of love stolen under mosquito net.

lonely sleek coiled core

Dance dance one-two
butterfly bee.
The life she left
greets and calms
with every right hook, left jab.
Duck spit pain
Duck spit pain

Heather Bourbeau was a Tupelo Press 30/30 poet, nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize, a finalist for the Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize and winner of the Pisk! Poetry Slam. Her journalism has appeared in The Economist, The Financial Times and Foreign Affairs. She has worked with various United Nations agencies, including the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia and UNICEF Somalia. Her first collection of poetry, Daily Palm Castings, profiles people in overlooked professions.

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