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The Immigrant

by Heather Quinn

I was wide-eyed, bright moon pulling ocean, a soothsayer reading the wind.


After a hard rain, I would pick up a long stick of elm, stir the muddy riverbed like a cauldron. I wanted to be a ballerina, firefighter, painter.  Today I look down at my hands stained with acrylic Prussian blue, stitch a canvas with yellow thread, paint my name as if I knew it. Again the moon, permanent and shiny like a dime my grandfather gave me when I was nine.  I keep it in my back pocket to rub like a talisman. 


My grandmother knew my bones would grow to be like hers, my skin the color of her grandparents.  Her parents fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe, spitting rotting teeth like nails. Watch how I dance on the points of my toes, leaping and squashing purple grapes for ink to write this story. Most of us crossed borderlands.  We were poked and quarantined then sent to cold water flats on Orchard Street in Manhattan or to the barrios of East Los Angeles. A patina of tears to wash this canvas, pigment squeezed from ancestral blood, from Latvian wine.  


I’ll apply locks of my hair, swatches from my grandmother’s yellowed wedding dress, lines from long letters written by my dad on aging paper back when addresses included the names of streets and a stamp cost 21 cents.  Time, that river from my childhood, murky or clear, it keeps churning out that sablefish I ate with my dad every Sunday morning, wrapped in newspaper, smelling of sour smoke. I’d suck on the bones like an old lady sucking her teeth. Today I am approaching that old lady, trying to make out her face.  She looks up like a little girl with big eyes. I want to hold her for all the times her elder brother shoved her head into a closet door, dropped her like mom’s glass thermometer on the hard-white bathroom floor, mercury spilling and pooling into a hundred silver balls. My paintbrush a matchstick conjuring her a path in the Red Forest among pine and larches. With gold leaf on her heels, she walks through the fire but does not burn.    

About the Author

Heather Quinn is a poet living in San Francisco and is drawn equally to life’s light and shadows. She is awed by that unnamable and indestructible force that burns brighter than shame, which inspires much of her writing. She loves the act of layering memory, imagination, images, the visceral and spiritual in her work, and often thinks of writing as collage-making. She has been published in Burning House Press, Ghost City Review, Minnesota Review, Zoetric Press’ Nonbinary Review West Marin Review, among others. She is a founding member of a peer-led poetry workshop, which has been meeting regularly since 2002. She spends her free time mining for words that are so alive they beat in time with her pulse, then whispering them into her husband's ear.

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