The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: “Tongue Screw” by Heather Derr-Smith

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“Family Dinner”

Someone’s opened up a doorway to the Occult,
my mother said. She can tell by the presence

in the house. My step-dad started drinking again,
can’t take his eyes off my breasts. Tobacco smoke

curls into the humid night, as he sits smoking
in the screened-in porch, black-light zapping the bugs.

I imagine he is wonderful to me, call him Daddy
like a Southern girl does. I learn to cook,

wanting to please him, hoping the ruffle of my apron
will catch his eye. The cicadas whirr

and the owls turn their heads to watch.
My step-dad drags on his cigarette and the ember glows

like a popped hymen, with its flash of pain and light
in the dark where the girl lays, having crossed over

to some promise land of love. He smells of Old Spice.

He says, you are just like your mother, so controlling.
He throws the peach cobbler in the sink, shouts

Why can’t you cook something someone wants to eat?
My mom snaps her fingers and says, if you aren’t sure

you’re saved then maybe you aren’t really saved.
My brother says he would never marry any girl

who wasn’t a virgin. My mom says, shhh you’ll hurt
your sister’s feelings.


This selection comes from Heather Derr-Smith’s poetry collection Tongue Screw, available now from Spark Wheel Press. Purchase your copy here.

Heather Derr-Smith is the author of three books of poems, Each End of the World (Main Street Rag Press, Editor’s Selection, 2005), The Bride Minaret (University of Akron Press, Editor’s Choice Award, 2008) and Tongue Screw (Spark Wheel Press, 2016). Her fourth collection, Thrust, won the 1016 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize at Persea Books and will be published in 2017. She was a visiting poet at Iowa State University in the Creative Writing and the Environment MFA program and at International University of Sarajevo and American University, Tuzla, Bosnia. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently divides her time between Iowa and Brooklyn, New York.

Beth Couture currently serves as both a Board Member and an Assistant Editor at Sundress Publications. Her work can be found in a number of journals and anthologies, including Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, The Southeast Review, Ragazine, and Thirty Under Thirty from Starcherone Books. Her novella, Women Born with Fur, was published by Jaded Ibis Press in 2014 as part of its Blue Bustard Novellas series. She is currently working on her Master’s in Social Work at Bryn Mawr College, and she lives in West Philly with her husband and five cats.

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