~~this poem previously appeared in West Branch (2009)
Overnight, someone has discovered suffering.
Someone has putt-putted over an ocean of misery,
and planted a flag.
You can hear the cloth snapping in the morning
air that philanders the hyacinth
that sits by the door. You can almost see it
from the balcony where you recline,
tasting a glass of very cold
tomato juice, or a minted tea.
Listen...snap, snap, snap...
and then a lull, and then a moment,
and ... snap, snap...
the decorum of a hand
brushing crumbs from clean linen.
If asked, you would guess stripes
or a Scandinavian Cross,
a field of quince yellow
an eagle in the center, or a falcon
circled in stars,
clutching an emblem of laughable knives.
~~this poem previously appeared in Antioch Review(2008)
Because they are clever, we believe they are wise.
Because they are wise, we conclude they are good,
or evil, or good and evil, but never muddied
in between. Because they are arrant and utter black,
we assume them to be downright chummy with death,
and so in England once a woman was pressed between stones
for owning a pillow made from crow feathers.
This, the people said, gave her the power to dream affliction
like moonlight into the lives of their children,
and even though during her trial, records show
that the streets rang with the din of fat and ruddy
lineage, there was still a principle involved
and the city was cheered when no crows arrived at her grave,
which was hurriedly and spotlessly dissembled by snow.
~~this poem previously appeared in Pleiades (2006)
are not your feathery
When they cry sometimes,
eminent bridges go down
and when they waddle
the earth small
towns become great
They husband a wrong
fondness for salt
hauled out in incalculable sacks
on mountainous shoulders.
they pee into oceans.
Their voices, though
gorgeous, often din coarse
and disengage ashes;
when they speak
women turn dead
or tally up gravid.
Ceci N’est Pas une Poésie
~~this poem previously appeared in Passages North (2010)
Silly earth. Silly sky.
A crocodile rests on the mud,
unaware of the fact
that her brain is the size
of a large lima bean.
She is enjoying
the view of the rump of a lazy gazelle.
She is at ease in her elegant river;
the fish when they crowd
to the surface
the color of discolored tin.
Silly clouds. Silly columns of light.
In a poem one hundred
miles to the east an island is forming,
unrolling its acres,
polishing its sand in the sun.
It has palm trees, some snakes, an
The rainfall it craves is the translucent blur
in a sensitive painting.
Ridiculous cloudburst, go find it.
Go knock on its door.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
One thing these four poems have in common is that they all began with their opening lines.
Sounds obvious, but of course as we all know, it’s rarely that easy. Most times when I start a new poem, the sentence or phrase or rhyme that I used as my jumping off point in the early drafts, the line that got me up out of bed or in from the back yard, off the phone or away from the dinner table, straight to my notebook or computer, is discarded once I have the basic form and ideas blocked out. Sometimes it gets tweaked a bit and moved down somewhere else in the poem where it works as a hinge to join two ideas, or as a bridge between introduction and conclusion. Or it’s not unusual for it to become the concluding line, a summation of what initially inspired the poem.
But in these poems the generating phrases held their place. The first lines of "Crows" and "Angels,” each gave me a theme that the poem could follow in a tidy, linear progression. "Ceci N'est Pas...'' began with a line that was floating through my head when I woke up one day, and although perhaps less linear, it served well to introduce the mood of the poem.
The opening of “Vexillology” came to me after reading a line by Mary Ruefle. It's from her poem "Catalog,” in which she wrote “Someone has invented happiness” and my first thought when I read it was, What a fabulous line, followed instantaneously by - How can I steal it?
I remember I decided that in order to make my theft somewhat less egregious, I would turn her line on its head, since, if I was saying the opposite, how could it be stealing? So “happiness” about-faced to “sadness” and then took one more step further into “suffering.” It was still a bit close, so “invented” became “discovered,” and with that, the poem unfolded on the page in front of me - not only the conceit, but the syntax, the attitude, the organization - as suffering became a place, a domain, a discrete territory with maps and boundaries and topography, a country with a population of one that the all-embracing someone could seek out and lay claim to, where she could plant firmly in the ground her own quince yellow and aquamarine flag.
In checking my records I see that publishing the poem did not come nearly as easily as writing it. As a matter of fact it was one of, if not, the, most declined poem I‘ve ever published. It took over two years, and many, many rejections slips, but I thought highly enough of it to persevere, and now years later, it remains on my list of personal favorites. ~~Hailey Leithauser
ABOUT HAILEY LEITHAUSER
Hailey Leithauser’s work appears widely in Poetry, Gettysburg Review, Crazyhorse, Iowa Review, Agni, Best American Poetry, and on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. She is a recipient of the Discovery/The Nation Prize, the Elizabeth Matchett Stover Award, and the Virginia Center for the Book’s Chapter/Verse Prize. She currently lives in Silver Spring, MD, where she is a coordinator for the Café Muse reading Series.