Susan L. Leary is the author of Contraband Paradise (Main Street Rag, 2021) and the chapbook, This Girl, Your Disciple (Finishing Line Press, 2019), which was a finalist for The Heartland Review Press Chapbook Prize and a semi-finalist for the Elyse Wolf Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in such places as Tar River Poetry, Tahoma Literary Review, Cherry Tree, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Pithead Chapel. Recently, she was a finalist for the 16th Mudfish Poetry Prize, judged by Marie Howe. She holds an MFA from the University of Miami, where she also teaches Writing Studies.
A Man Does His Apologizing out in the Wilderness
But you have no regard for funerals, instead of mercy, extending a glass box in the shape of a keel no bigger than my palm. Inside, a miniature starling swathed in spider silk & stilled to sleep, its iridescent arms spread out from under it. You thrive in convincing me we are the bird, each of us a wing—our bodies back-to-back in a fetal position & tangled into a single spine, our limbs curling into hydrangeas. It is a curse to be turned to stone, but you are a god exerting the greatest effort to remain idle. You do not notice the sadness of your wasteful blooms, nor that of the starling, persistent in its slumber until one of us agrees to become the other—& I refuse to bend. Why not await the mercy of animation, the earth denied the delicate erosion of your bones, until peering inside the glass, all that’s left are feathers.
Should You Forget Your Way Home, Remember
the World Becomes Clearer the Closer You Hold It to Your Face
In case of an administrative error, there is a team of ghosts
assembled inside a singe of angel mane & threaded
through the tiniest needle. Someone must be accountable for the enormous
migration about to take place. Someone must prepare a stack
of rags & buckets of ice water. Forget the hole in the shirt. Once,
you were so determined, you cut your hands off
at the wrists & starved yourself to shimmy through this minor hole
called life. Does the splendor or the scar do the sewing? Brother,
I don’t know. But even tender words are terminal—& inside
the long growl of your grown man’s voice, whenever you said the word, button,
I could almost make you small again in my mind.
It started snowing inside the jail—a deer sprang
from winter’s hip & shed its antlers into the left ventricle
of your heart, the fresh rots fencing plasma
from the thin trails of your body. Too often something
is owed to the wild, but there are deer antlers in your chest
bearing the days-long scrape of tree bark & for this,
you are lucky. Frozen but lucky. Normally, the skull bits
would have been shredded overnight by sated coyotes
or indiscriminate rodents. Now, a thermal undershirt
costs $9 at the commissary & you are good for it, now
you are a woodsman with a flared nostril & steel limbs
selling deer sheds by the pound. The others forget
you paced the periphery. Soon, the deer will escape
the body’s thickets for a life more spacious than a single
room, for thick velvet curtains, tiny scraps of meat dangling
from the meandering crown, while you remain coatless,
only the satisfaction of knowing what’s graced you,
hurt you. You wouldn’t wish nature on your cruelest enemy.
I would. On the outside, deer antlers are often shed
along the forest floor miles apart. We, too, are miles apart.
Yet, I can hear the heavy hoof of your heart beating
beneath the earth, poppies swarming the snow-fire
fields—you, with your arms bent into a makeshift pillow
behind your head, almost warm.
Influencing the Angels
Loss transpires & then comes the recognition that you are not God. You are more like the failure of man-made music hovering above an outdoor café. It is your fault you have forgotten how to pray. That you have taken for granted a rare engagement with sky & the imaginary birds that flit behind it, their feathers steeped inside the world like tea. Yet, you’re holding the strings. You’re holding a penny to the light. Faith, a wooden doll now sitting upon God’s lap, the bones of her skull stitched together by horsehair. She preaches to you in absolutes about your beloved. She refrains from using the word tender more than twice. Soon, you start believing. Soon it occurs to you, only God cannot tell you what you want to hear.