The Works of Heather Bartlett

Heather Bartlett recieved her MFA in Poetry from Hunter College. She lives and writes in Upstate New York and teaches writing at Elmira College. Her work has appeared in California Quarterly, RealPoetik, Conte, The Cherry Blossom Review and Melusine.

All Poems © Heather Bartlett



This is not my first time.

In the beginning it came

much slower – an itch

under my left foot, pain

between my legs,

emptiness in my throat

that dried my mouth

until I could only taste



They set me on fire,

spread me

as dust. At night my mother

whispered prayers we’d never said

into my father’s ear.

Below them, under

the bed, the remnants

of a campfire.


This is not my first poem. I've heard

others have turned

to art.


Next time was a waste. I saw

what had happened

when I woke up. The residue

on my pillow,

thick and dark

like the blood from my nose.

I touched it, rubbed it

between my fingers, smelled it

to take in a piece

of the moment

or waiting

for it to come again.


It came. Swept in

through a crack in the window,

didn’t even hover

above me, just went

straight to my mouth.



We’re sitting alone in the back of the plane,

three rows behind an emergency exit.

The flight attendant offers me

headphones. My lover

offers me raspberry gum,

a notebook and a sleeping pill. Sleep

she says and opens her book.


During my last therapy session

the doctor quotes John Lennon

and takes my hand, everything

is clear. He tells me

to be happy. He gives me the office

phone number. He makes sure I have it

in my pocket

before I shut the door behind me.


Will you ever go back? my mother asks

when I tell her I love

a woman.


The voice in the song is quiet, weaker

than the accompanying piano.

When she comes home, my lover will ask

what was it like?


As we taxi to the runway

we are making a list of the things we’ve seen:

30 elephants,

3 car accidents, one meteor shower,

one dying person, two dead

people, 4 oceans,

the color of blood on a white

sheet, too many lovers.


My mother’s hand is pushing away

her glass of wine, fingertip to stem. She is waiting

for me to catch it.


We’re flying back to the states

after eighteen days

in South Africa. Tucked tightly

under the seat in front of me is a plastic bag

full of handmade scarves

and beaded necklaces.

They will keep them she says

as we fold the gifts – necklace inside

scarf, wrapped and placed on top of each other.


Will you ever go back?


The captain tells us we will be landing soon.

The cabin is dark, a baby crying

from the front rows. Almost my lover says next to me

and puts her hand on my leg.

The trees are coming into focus below us,

street lights and black roofs, the tall red

beacons outside the airport. Yes I say

and lean against the window.

Yes I say, and she takes her hand away.