Contemporary American Voices

February’s Featured Poet – Jocelyn Heaney



Jocelyn Heaney-

Waiting for the Dead

The fortune-teller shut the black curtain
wound the ticking clock and set the alarm,
assuring no revelation
spilled past the allotted hour.
He held my right wrist and traced
two divergent lines on the edges of my palm.
“You have the ability to transgress boundaries
and enter the world of the dead.”
This I already knew.
The paths inscribed in the body
mirror those I walk in the wooded past—
trails marked with faded red ribbons
blurred by rotting and growing.
I pass the serenity of beaver ponds,
the crude warnings nailed to trees,
the collapsed wedding altar.
But where are the dead?
Should I watch for them
in wilderness
or  feel them
rise and fall in every step?
I hear that the dead often appear
just beyond borders
So I follow the cold stone walls
up and down the leaf-strewn hills.
Once I dreamed that they wait for us
at places of transition—the parting of two roads
or the benches of lonely depots.
I remain alert when traveling alone.
They’re attracted to still, late hours
and fragments of their bright voices can be heard
fleeting transmissions
in moments of our greatest joy.
But most often the dead enter through sorrow
that old forgotten gate, past the whorled trees
in a forest of undeciphered lines,
of startled clearings and ever-widening paths.



A moon-bright field raises hairs on the arms.
Wrists go numb remembering dark brooks.
Horses become instinct, thirst.

What it can no longer return to
in the old way, the body rebuilds, reclaims
as if to say: there was always only here.

Is this wholeness at last?
The translation of all loved things
to their essence

The barn less brick than silence
that agreed for a time
to gather itself into manger and beam


Sunshine, Liquor, Tae Kwon Do

Each time I pass that glowing mantra of Western Avenue, I recite the silent incantation: Sunshine, Liquor, Tae Kwon Do. Sunshine, Liquor, Tae Kwon Do.

Approaching the corner of Beverly, the old excitement grips me. Sunshine Liquor Tae Kwon Do. My talisman. My delight. It will be soon.
I pass the church. The trophy store. The Chinese Antlers.

Suddenly the sign blazes before me in the oily, starless night, half shattered, the bright white tubes beneath the words exposed.
Oh. Liquor then Sunshine.

No matter. Syntax didn’t change the purposeful march of the syllables, two and two and–I stopped at the third line. Tae Kwon Do had become a ghost, a flickering wound beneath a single hand-lettered obscenity: ZUMBA.


Jocelyn Heaney’s poems Waiting for the Dead, Home and Sunshine Liquor Tae Kwon Do. Home previously appeared in a journal called Artemis. Her work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Talking Writing and Hippocampus.