archives fall 2008



                        —as hiking

Though in theory night happens first to the sky,
when you are idling worn boots

in a pond tucked just below the summit,
when you are watching a beaver navigate

and chew, stroke and fell, when you
are watching this still pool, this toothed creature,

these winded trees, then night is a thing that happens
first behind your back. The sky thins

and sheens. Darkness rises
into a valley scattered with stars,

                                 one of which you live in.

I get as far as the rise edging the yard;
the trees behind whisper about jailbreaks, but
I sit and watch the bulk of dark

sliced by spill of yellow light, the window
making of the night an architecture, 
his shadow patrolling the aquarium

the night creates. And overhead, the stars

have done what I have done, spent the day
spinning and whirling beyond sight,
unhoused and absent—meaningless.

But now, the night complete, the stars and I
assemble in our usual places, shining, as always,
in a litany of fresh and ancient betrayals.


Huntley Meadows, May

Shadows angle
across sunsilvered wood—
the quiet scratch

of sneakers on the curve
of boardwalk,
gray snake, arch

of gray log, the ice
clear sky fallen—
tangled in pickerel rush

matting in a tepid breeze.
Salt filters upriver like
the ache of distance

coming, and then
already here. Our hands
hold artifacts—our separate

to bring them closer,
mine to hold them still.

In shining marshgrass spikes,
white bird—bentmetal
rustlegs on slivered

inverse arch of rising
wings, and in that thrust,

the words have lost
their things. Referents
dissolve in early air.

Egret he says,
but that is not
what I hear.



It was winter; that much I remember.
The light—it came from everywhere
except maybe the sky.

What the sky spat down into the woods was
sharp—each piece of dust tucked,
enfolded in the crystal.

How the snow or rain requires
that desert heart, or nothing grows
nothing falls.

It was not winter. If there had been
snow, I would have missed
the bones—they would have been

invisible in all that hard white light.

It must have been winter or the opening—
low and on the wrist—would have bled.
Cold like ether, like a cudgel

is one type of amputation.  I chose
a long  splintered bone—head
like a fist, the entrywound prepared

the thrust, the way it fit—clean like crystal.
But its companions on the ground twitched
closer to order, closer to articulation,

closer to meaning.

If it was not winter     
where did all the light arise?
Why does every single tree resemble bones?    

Why am I so cold?

In this way I acquired a phantom limb—     No
Season?   —No   Beloved?   —No.   I merely
reinforced the prison. Bone to bone I wed   

myself and when I wake alone, lost
in the trees, the tangled sky, lost      
in the fall of fractal edged flakes

I give the bones permission to ache     
for the ones separated, the ones
I left.  My hands splay and twitch

for remembered, absent flesh. In my chest
the message grows confused and I cannot tell
what hurts: the cage I left,

the one I carry, or my idle bat-hung heart.



I buy by the dozen, stack next
to tea bags, dogfood, next to

nights of no sleep when,
unfurling a new one, I mark

the places I’ve lived and draw—
a westward, erratic line

like a live heart stuttering
into fibrillation; the line

from most north—ragged
Ws that doppler away

from winter, season of
my belonging; the random

lines that almost assemble
into image, carnage:

the one that draws the witch,
the one like hands broken

from a body, the great fish,
worn hills, stalled flock

of birds at scatter, water
in a riffle, a rifle, a gun—

I’m leaving again.  


Leslie Harrison has poems and prose published or forthcoming in Ninth Letter, POOL, Gulf Coast, Poetry, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. Her book manuscript, Displacement, has been selected by Eavan Boland as the 2008 Katherine Nason Bakeless Prize winner in poetry and will be published in spring 2009 by Houghton/Mifflin Harcourt.