Cloudbreak by Heather Saunders Estes


by Heather Saunders Estes

114 pages, retail price $17.00
ISBN: 978-1-63649-690-0

What others have said

Cloudbreak is an act of San Francisco; kaleidoscope of fog and hills, wooden back stairs, relic garden plantings, monterey cypress and redwood trees. Heather Estes has created an intricate portrait of place quite separate from the version that appears in popular fiction. This is a recognizable 'tetris'. – Kim Shuck, 7th Poet Laureate of San Francisco

In Heather Saunders Estes’ book, Cloudbreak, her poems are full of wonder, conflict, love, and luminous insight. To the reader, the lyricism of her work comes across as a bittersweet conversation. In the end, one finds the strength of her work comes from her courageous honesty as she constructs poems that are as delicate as petals pressed onto the page. – Joseph D. Milosch, author of Homeplate Was the Heart & Other Stories

As one of Heather's former Planned Parenthood CEO colleagues, I've watched with wonder and delight as she has blossomed into an accomplished poet of depth and complexity. Her new book demonstrates a deep understanding and exploration of the tangled relationships between our memories and our myths. As she says, "Perhaps memory doesn't matter to truth." This is the first book of poetry I have ever read straight through at a single sitting. I couldn't stop. – Linda Williams, President and CEO 416 Holdings

Author Biography

Heather Saunders Estes grew up in a small New England town. She and her husband drove their blue VW bug to the Bay Area, sight unseen, 45 years ago. The blue jays looked different but crows, the same. Summer fog replaced winter snow. She lives in the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco with her professor-writer husband of 47 years and is sheltering-in-place with their biologist-writer daughter.

When Heather left her valued, long-term career as Chief Executive Officer of Planned Parenthood Northern California after 37 years, she transitioned to writing poetry. Poetry is laughter, reflection, appreciation, and a call to action. Cloudbreak is her second book of poetry. Inner Sunset, her debut book, was published in 2019 by Blue Light Press.

Cloudbreak by Heather Saunders Estes


Today the sky is threaded
in folds of gray raw silk.
Luminous catches of sun
gleam in its cloth.
Not light and gauzy,
or stretched smooth and matte,
although I have seen such fabric skies.
One winter morning, my father
and I drove to school together.
Peering through the car’s front windshield
at the growing storm clouds he said–
You know what I will miss the most when I die?
He was not thinking about the impact
of that vision on a doting 12-year-old daughter.
Not seeing the sky and clouds, he whispered.
Or maybe he said that when I was in second grade,
our necks craned back
to scan a mackerel-scaled sky,
cirrus streams of mares’ tails
caught in frozen winds of the troposphere.


I am invited to be the newest member
of the US Supreme Court.
I am proud to be talking to them on the phone,
and seem to hold a heavy cream-colored envelope
like a Nobel prize in my hand.
I am called. I accept.
A life-time position sounds wonderful.
I am surprised to be so decisive
and relieved about the future.
I firmly dust off my dream hands,
eager to get started on logistics.
Need to find a house surrounded
by trees in Washington D.C. ASAP.
Oh, and the physicians tell me I am pregnant.
I laugh and tell them
that is impossible, I am 64.

The Power to Choose

“After the power to choose a man wants the
power to erase."–Stephen Dunn

Imagining my mother’s loss of my three
siblings before they could be born.

Blood ran down my leg,
First the excitement, pride,
tempered with fear of something going wrong,
like before.
I held off telling the people at work
I was pregnant.
Pain, cramping, I saw the evidence
of our daughter,
my hopes, our plans,
in the toilet.
I didn’t know
but I was sure, this time,
she was a daughter.
Despite the fear,
we named her Deidre,
in hope.
Sang to her,
willed her strength
to stay with us.

I chose to become pregnant,
even knowing what might happen.
Erase my memory of her?


The Book of Hours

High in trees tall as spires
I stand shivering on a tiny platform,
a kingfisher on a branch
over a rushing waterfall.

In the smell of pine and sweat,
I press backward.
I must risk the fall–leap and grab
with my whole body, my heart.

I stand motionless.
Pine needles prickle my skin.
I can't be safe without abandoning the tree.
Or, I must climb back down.

Leafing through the book of illuminated vellum,
I find the intricate drawing of this moment.
I turn the page of my trembling hesitation–
light catches golden in my flying hair.

Elegy for a Chief Executive Officer

The letter of resignation is on the desk.
Sparks escape only I can see.
Music by Two Steps from Hell,
and burning sage scents the air.

Who will I be when I am not a crusader,
not a good or evil fairy?
Who will I be when each late night call
doesn't conjure break-ins, fire-bombs, gunmen?

After 37 years as a Planned Parenthood CEO
I choose to become born again–
spelunker, gardener, weaver, writer,
wiser inhabitant of my new chapter.

Monsters still exist to be slain or tamed,
golden rings to be unmade, or explained.
I was a culture warrior.
I came home alive.

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