top of page

H.E. Fisher

A Cigarette Burns on the Asphalt in the Hospital Parking Lot


Half-smoked, half-alive,

blazing chemical-orange head.

Why let it burn? Why not snuff it?

The reason I’m here doesn’t matter.


Missing is the frosted pink lipstick stain on the white filter.

Indelible lip lines like a thumb print, an ID,

traces of evidence, a crime committed, arson,

the bloom of her incineration.


My mother went into her car to smoke.

You couldn’t see in.

Smoke like a passenger.


(My children are old enough to know

I’m flammable.)


We were in the center of town when the old

apartment building on Riverside and Park caught fire.

It’s impossible to describe the violence.

She took my hand, held us in place.


Aunt Doris Said Make the Fear Big


It would be no surprise if missiles, from the plural

            missilia—gifts thrown by emperors to people


on the streets—will soon be aimed at the moon,

            shot down, its stones used to make cities bigger.


Someone’s always deciding they need land more

            than people or homes.


What walks or stands is ground            

            to white powder like a drug—hate’s opiate.


Doris said if you make the fear big enough        

  whatever you think will happen

   won’t be as bad as expected.


Look into the whites of children’s eyes,

the walls they hardly knew

pressed like flowers.


I heard a eulogist at a funeral say

his fallen daughter                                                     

was as big as libraries of song.


A friend removed his brother’s urn

from its cardboard box, took

a handful of ash, tossed it over          

his shoulder for luck like salt.


          How big can something be once it’s gone?

Let the snow on the branch get heavy, Doris said.



            with a line from Hamlet



            Sparrows came to America on ships to work, replace

the birds and animals who once ate pests but were murdered

or displaced by lands cleared when the first factories were built.


            In Dhaka, cracks appeared in a garment factory’s walls.

The boss said, Work. The building collapsed. Buried workers drank

urine to survive in the rubble. Bits of fast fashion covered the dead.


            When the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was on fire, workers

went up in smoke, others jumped from windows. Sometimes nothing

carries us. Kate Leone and Rosaria Maltese, the youngest, fourteen, died.


            Once, I looked out my children’s bedroom window

and saw men and women in good suits jump from the burning

Towers, arms flailing, legs cycling.


            I study history, shorn truths recounted in my old threadbare

classrooms’ texts, held by unruly dates and definitions, hungry for crumbs.

There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.         


            O Ophelia, there is no providence in labor’s coin.

Only kings and presidents, owners and fathers.

But I think you knew that on the way to the brook.



Hospital-Issued Plastic Bag for Patient Belongings


Big enough to fit a winter coat, men’s size 12s,

wallet, the clothes he wore in the ambulance.

We all have them in the Care Unit’s waiting

room—  a tableau of chemical white hospital-

branded bags, logo like the dull, familiar face

of a neighbor, tightly knotted. Vending machine,

unmanned reception desk, vinyl furniture, floor,

wallpaper—  everything beige. We wait hemmed

by time’s thrift. Disposable gloves, syringes, cannula,

tubing, monitors—  the bags are only one symptom—

paradox of the polymer world of a hospital, landfill

for the sick, where physicians vow First, do no harm.


Decay, 1981


Every train starts in a tunnel before departing. Every window of every train reflects the people

on it. My face looks back at me. It is not hyperbole to say I am surprised to see myself. The car smells of commuter cocktails, cigarettes, and newsprint. A young man, seated across from me, about my age, faces forward, then turns away, corkscrewing his body toward his reflection, eyes locking onto something I cannot see. His mouth forms a circle I pray into. Years later, I stream a movie about zombies on a train and remember him and my prayer, unanswered. Unlike in the movie, there’s no hero on the train to rescue me from the dead. The young man’s eyes glide slightly to the left, align with mine, window to window, reflection to reflection. The darkness of his mouth I enter is mine. I am dead  for you, Mother. I am dead for you. He nods, Yes, as if I’d spoken out loud. The conductor stops at my seat, asks for my ticket. Punches it.


H.E. Fisher is the author of the collection STERILE FIELD (Free Lines Press, 2022) and chapbook JANE ALMOST ALWAYS SMILES (Moonstone Arts Center Press, 2022). H.E.’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Tupelo Quarterly, Psaltery & Lyre, DMQ Review, Ligeia Magazine, Broadsided Press, and Whale Road Review, among other publications. H.E. was awarded City College of New York’s 2019 Stark Poetry Prize and has received nominations for Best of the Net and The Pushcart Prize, and is a recipient of the Poets Afloat residency. H.E. is a writing coach and editor, and currently lives in the Hudson River Valley.


bottom of page