Poetry Pause: Heather Birrell — Wants and Needs

Poet name: Heather Birrell Poem title: Wants and Needs Poem: I meet my dead dad at the corner store where my husband buys cigarettes for himself and popsicles for our kids. My dad is wearing a clever costume; he looks exactly like the owner of the store, a Korean woman whose mother-in-law has been moved from the ICU to alternative-level care. But, she says, we cannot afford this and my mother-in-law has—how you say—mental disease and she tears out the tubes, she says they are worms, and her blood pressure is not stable… My dad’s eyes are shiny as chip packages and she is ignoring the line- up behind me and I know we all have our needs— I need streetcar tokens and that guy needs a lottery ticket and I try to teach my children the difference between wants and needs but who the fuck knows sometimes? Later, out on the street, which is dank with November and snoozy leaves, I will walk with tiny purpose, thinking about poems and the mucous that seeped from my daughter’s ear in the night and I will meet my father again in the form of a stout, ruddy-faced man in construction boots who smiles at me as if we have already met but he knows we have never met and is delighted by the puzzle of this End of poem. Credits: Copyright © Heather Birrell from Float and Scurry (Anvil Press/A Feed Dog Book, 2019) Heather Birrell is the author of two short story collections: Mad Hope (Coach House Books, 2012) and I know you are but what am I? (Coach House Books, 2004). Her stories have been shortlisted for both the Western and National Magazine Awards and have appeared in numerous Canadian literary journals. A frequent book reviewer and winner of the Journey Prize, she also works as a high school teacher and a creative writing instructor.