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Kathleen M. Heideman: Two Poems

A Light Which Persists Long After | Woman in a Barrel, About To Go Over Niagara Falls

A Light Which Persists Long After

     The thing I lose patience with the most is the clock.
           — Thomas Edison

Neighbors say there's a room inside, still lit. Lit?

Where is it? Which door? Or can't you reach it anymore,
brilliance: that room with a simple bed, patchwork spread, no
headboard, sheets hastily made as if a recent love-affair ran late
and a man's silk tie forgotten on a hook behind the closet.

Normal enough, save this: no stairs connect it to the
living room. Myth? You'd dismiss the truth as a ghost story
but you've seen it, haven't you — leaving your own house,
locking the ornate wooden door, walking down the front porch

and looking up at your darkened house? There it is, Luminous!
In some hearts, the Guest Room is an old friend you can't locate.
Some lovers used night-lights, the best used stars — on all night, bright,
you can't unplug a star. So. You're waiting for it to burn out, right?

That halogen spot — a burning thought, weary of itself,
which must go on glowing hour by hour until it burns out,
a dish you loved but lost your taste for...... true Love, maybe.
Better than the rest, not domestic, neither flickering nor smoking

nor banal as an oil lamp. What if it never dims, your bulb? Hard
to fall asleep with the light on. Even if it dims, finally, fuel gone.
Who can be certain? In Iceland, Hekla stopped erupting.
Nevertheless, there are volcano ventricles building themselves

like red hurricane lanterns on the ocean floor, offshore.
How do you go on knowing it's out there, a tungsten room without
a door, a red lamp glowing like a star? A light which persists
long after you cut the wick, unscrewing desire at the socket

only to find its filaments were taproots, fed by deeper wires...
Depth. As I said, we sparked. For every lover trying to forget
another lover's incandescence there's an Edison, perfecting the art
of Electric Arc, spark in a vacuum, wattage. For us, Edison tested

a million bulbs in search of the One filament which would be faithful,
burn for a life-time, undimmed. Even in Greek history, when a dark boat
pushed out from the shore with the hero and Helen (not his wife),
they used a star to navigate, aiming for the island — even then,

oaring through the wine-dark sea, light surrounded them. Essence.
Another woman left a lantern burning all night, hoping he'd find his way home.
Someone cupped her hands around the guttering wick, sick with hope.
Along the route of love, each wave blazed with phosphorescence.

Woman in a Barrel, About To Go Over Niagara Falls
     (October 24, 1901, historical photo)

Some math problems, they come with assumptions and pencils,
eg: here's a black and white photograph, with blank spots to fill: _____.
First, you're standing in it, the river equation. "It" in this case is a boat above Niagara Falls,
X, hundreds of feet above the point of falling. You're holding something — a floating barrel.
A woman's head is still visible. Solve for her heart, friend

 — it doesn't matter if that's a pencil in your hand, or a nail. The barrel wants to move,
it's rushing by — your life, her life! You start to say something, but the woman is
humming. No words — just open throat and breathing. Your heart is
hammering against the barrel of your chest, "uhm uhm uhm"......
Well, maybe no drumming but the thunder of water. Hard to tell,
but it's a shoreline. You're on the edge of something large here,

like it or not, and let's not forget to mention it's autumn. She's hungry.
Did I mention harvest? Not all women are equal — elsewhere, at dawn, your mother
was kneeling midway down in a long row of frost-bitten tomatoes,
perfumed by crushed vines, each fruit twisting until it released itself to hunger.
Some women — their house holds a kitchen table full of mason jars, an ordered emptiness
longing for content. And the woman in the barrel?
Call her anything you want: Madame Need. Ms. Curiosity.

She's humming, yes — can you hear her? That old cellar song.
"Uhm" suggests hunger is a factor in this math equation. No apples,
so she fills the barrel with herself. The hand holding onto the barrel has an impressive vita,
a man who knows how to hold a hammer, pick tomatoes, paddle, use a pencil.
His hand, I mean, should know this gesture — how to solve for X.
You ask "why the Falls?", you repeat yourself, but there's no reply...
Sound of thundering water. She fell for him. The problem is like a blank postcard,

a long letter just finished and you're about to send it
but all your barrel-thinking ends in sudden doubt:
What will happen to the barrel? His hand... her head?
Full or empty, still or moving?
Hand > Select All + Press Delete.
File > Close.
Kiss her? Save her before closing the lid? > No.

Why sing of these things, a message with no message in it?
An empty barrel is debris, not a stunt. Restate the problem.
Assume that "it" = anything, and the current is relentless, tugging.
Okay, so there, I've said it. Anything. Why risk, why do anything?
Do nothing for a while, sure, but you'd have to remain very still,
maybe forever. How long are preserves well preserved?

Waiting in a barrel. Her leg muscles would atrophy, eventually.
It's a problem. Someone sympathetic would need to roll her over,
or one side of the body would soften in spots, pressure points,
a heavy tomato resting on damp soil. The heart is a muscle too.
Red organ, susceptible to weakening, fear, grace. Could you do it?
I didn't mean to give it away, how X is the current of life, and she'll survive,

and only the man's oars, fighting the current so long, grow rotten.
But hasn't the answer always been in the current, something audible
and humming, something you are holding onto, something you can smell
in the crushed veins of the fall's last tomato? In the barrel, her heart is ready
to go with the flow. It doesn't matter if your hand can't solve this problem, friend.
No one knows what will happen. Just climb in with her.

If you are a coward, fine. Still — be a friend. The sort of fellow who takes a hammer,
nails down the lid, lets her go.

Poet's Biography:
Kathleen M. Heideman has dirt under her nails, and a bad case of wanderlust. She is the recipient of the Bearlodge Writers Residency at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming (2002), an Eastern Frontier Society Artist Residency on Norton Island, Maine (2001), the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore's Sand Island Artist Residency (2000), and a collaborative Artist Residency at Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Red Wing MN (2000). She works as Developer of the MCAD Distance Learning Initiative at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and creates/teaches experimental online courses: The E(c)lectric Muse (poetry), Building the Visual Journal (artists' sketchbooks), and The Leap: Reading and Writing Creative Hypertext (creative writing hypermedia). She has received fellowships from the Bush Foundation, Jerome Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. Her current work-in-progress concerns an undermined town on the Marquette Iron Range: an epic poem of landscape, abandonment, and narrative fragments resembling an orebody, blasted from the bedrock of context. She owns tools and she knows how to use them. Her publications include the anthology 33 Minnesota Poets (Nodin Press), and The Cream City Review (Vol 24 #2). She has two chapbooks, Explaining Pictures to a Dead Hare (Traffic Street Press) and She Used to Have Some Cows (La Vacas Press).

© 1999 - 2003, by the poets featured herein.