Logo, MacQueen's Quinterly
Listed at Duotrope
MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 23: 28 April 2024
Micro-CNF: 329 words
By Roberta Beary

Leaving for San Francisco With Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

—Emily Dickinson*

My mother begs off giving me a ride to Idlewild. We say goodbye in her bedroom. She is safe under the pink satin coverlet, surrounded by pocket packets of Kleenex. The behemoth vaporizer on full blast. The air excretes the smell of store-bought menthol rub. It lathers her hidden chest. My mother communicates in raspy whispers. Can’t you stay until I’m better? The flu came on so suddenly. Aren’t you the lucky one, to be leaving? I reply loudly, in that know-it-all tone favored by young women awarded an honors degree. But I’m packed. Everything is set, you know I’m doing a share with that girl I met in Rome and I’ll find a job quick enough. Walking backwards, I wave my way out of the room, pull a few Viceroys from her robe, and race down the stairs. Mr. Williams, my best friend’s father, is waiting in his Oldsmobile. Chain-smoking. I sit beside Jane, who slides closer to the steering wheel. Let’s go, Dad, she says, lighting up a Viceroy with a Camel. Her father says, Aren’t you the lucky one to travel? Then he smiles and passes me a brand new copy of Dickinson’s Collected Poems. Something to read on the plane, he says, as he unrolls the window, flicks ashes with practiced ease.

* * *

Back then, no one told us cigarettes could kill. Jane’s father went first, at 50. My mother decades later. And now it’s come for Jane, who sits beside me, as she waits for the chemo chair to be free. When the nurse points to the empty box on her clipboard, Jane answers, Yes, but I quit ages ago. Why does everyone keep asking? My eyes stay glued to my torn paperback, stuck on the line about hope, the thing with feathers.



* Publisher’s Note:

The epigraph quotes the opening lines of poem number 254 in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson as transcribed by Thomas H. Johnson (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1955).

This poem is one of 19 included in Dickinson’s hand-sewn Fascicle 13, which she compiled circa 1861. For more details, see the Wikipedia article: “Hope” is the thing with feathers (link retrieved on 7 April 2024).

Roberta Beary
Issue 23 (April 2024)

is the longtime haibun editor for Modern Haiku, and co-author of Haibun: A Writer’s Guide (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2023), as well as the author of three award-winning poetry collections. Individual writing awards include Bridport Prize for Poetry, Touchstone Award for Haibun, and Kusamakura Grand Prize for Haiku. Beary’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Rattle, Atticus Review, MacQueen’s Quinterly, and other publications. Beary identifies as gender-fluid and calls Washington, DC (USA) and County Mayo, Ireland home.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

New Book: Haibun: A Writer’s Guide by Roberta Beary, Lew Watts and Rich Youmans, an interview in Flash Frontier (July 2023)

Featured Guest: Roberta Beary on Rattlecast 133 hosted by Tim Green, editor of Rattle poetry journal (YouTube, 28 February 2022)

Featured Author: Roberta Beary in MacQueen’s Quinterly (Issue 12, March 2022)

Tiny Love Stories in The New York Times (8 January 2019); scroll five stories down the page for Roberta Beary’s “Now It’s All Fresh Fish” and her photograph of lobster traps in Clew Bay, Ireland.

The art of brevity, an interview by Ciara Moynihan in Mayo News (22 January 2019)

Copyright © 2019-2024 by MacQueen’s Quinterly and by those whose works appear here.
Logo and website designed and built by Clare MacQueen; copyrighted © 2019-2024.
⚡   Please report broken links to: MacQuinterly [at] gmail [dot] com   ⚡

At MacQ, we take your privacy seriously. We do not collect, sell, rent, or exchange your name and email address, or any other information about you, to third parties for marketing purposes. When you contact us, we will use your name and email address only in order to respond to your questions, comments, etc.