“Umbrella” by Heather Bell

Heather Bell


my first job was at a burger joint
I spent a lot of time washing trays with bleach
rubbing the corners

whipping clipped fingernails
into the trash basket

I ended up in the emergency room thinking
about my dress that opened at the hem like
an umbrella and how
I had not worn it in

I was only sixteen and that bleach
had burned off all my fingerprints

A nurse
in a whisper
asked me if I had been doing anything
strange with my hands

The lining of that umbrella skirt was
a strange pattern that always reminded
me of lungs
like it was saying

this is the skirt that will keep you breathing
and the more I didn’t wear it
the more bleach I would dump
into the industrial sinks

until it was one big vat of toxic
fire until every time I entered 
a room there wasn’t a quietness
for the dying and

I said no I just don’t know how this could have happened
any of it 
and there was a hush to the room like something deadly
sitting down like an osprey maybe or
father and I got up to leave thinking that the 

doorknob couldn’t be dusted by police to find me
I could go
I could do anything

from Kill the Dogs
2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize Selection


Heather Bell: “Once upon a time there was a six-foot-tall woman with blue hair and a sense of smallness. In her house was a teacup saying ‘girl, you got this!’ and on her wall was a kitten hanging from a clothesline. The kitten’s word balloon said something like, ‘Hang in there!’ or ‘Don’t let go!’ Always something with an exclamation mark. Isn’t that the moral of the story, always? There is always a small woman, hiding her grandness, trying to fill up on uplifting wordplay. But today, this small woman sits down and writes a poem in which she details her smallness and why she came to be that way. Another small woman reads it, and from the tip of her hair a fire starts, but just as quickly dies. Isn’t that why we are here? To write another poem for a small woman to read, and then another. Until the amount of sparks are too much for the quick extinguishing, and she is a woman on fire, exploding into the world.”

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