Peter Leight — Poems

After the Fall

After the fall I picked myself up,
slip­ping my collarbone
under the collar
and smooth­ing the lumps in my pants,
lift­ing up my arms as if I’m reach­ing for some­thing that’s out of reach,
how do you know if it’s out of reach
until you reach for it?
It’s not the kind of abandonment
where you pack up every­thing beforehand.
After the fall I was a serv­er, catch­ing my hair in a net
and spray­ing or mist­ing to keep it from wilting,
pick­ing up with one hand
what I dropped with the other,
drop­ping the ball
and pick­ing it up:
some­times I pick up things by mistake
that don’t even belong to me,
why do you keep mak­ing mistakes?
Slathering on a new cream: every­body says the sore­ness is going to dis­ap­pear completely.
After that they put me in a facil­i­ty, I’m not even sure what it’s called, I was the one who pushed all the buttons
to find the one that actu­al­ly worked.
I’m not one of those peo­ple who thinks every­thing hap­pens to some­body else,
as when you’re sit­ting in the dark
and it’s so dark
you don’t even know if you’re the one
who’s sit­ting in the dark.
Not look­ing back,
not even look­ing at the back of my hands or putting my hands behind me,
of course we often drop things
in order to light­en up,
as when you’re stand­ing on one leg,
as far as my own life is con­cerned I think it’s falling into place, as if every­thing I pick up has been dropped.


If I Don’t Know What I Need It Doesn’t Bother Me

I think I’ll wait until I need it,
in the mean­time when peo­ple ask me what I need I tell them what­ev­er you’re having,
or I’ll get back to you,
that’s all.
In the mean­time I’m tying back my hair with a rib­bon and a piece of string,
giv­ing out my num­ber to any­one who needs it—
peo­ple need oth­er people,
there’s no doubt about it,
I’m try­ing to help out,
that’s all.
In the mean­time I don’t believe I need anything
that any­body else doesn’t need,
not even wor­ry­ing about spe­cial needs,
not at the moment:
some­times I actu­al­ly think I have the same need over and over again,
that’s when I think my need is showing.
Of course, there are times when we need something
and also need some­thing else
at the same time
that isn’t even com­pat­i­ble with what we need,
as if the need is a cage
and also the key that unlocks the cage,
there’s no doubt about it,
what about when you need some­thing you aren’t even aware of?
What about a pack­age con­tain­ing some­thing you need and some­thing you don’t even need,
are you even going to open it?
In the mean­time I often exchange some­thing I don’t need
for some­thing some­body else doesn’t need,
I’m try­ing to help out,
that’s all.
I mean not every­body has the same needs,
not in a free country,
what’s the mat­ter with you?


The Judge Is the Mother of Us All in My Dream

and if she’s not she’s a moth­er in wait­ing, or else based on a moth­er, or else pick­ing up where the moth­er leaves off: it’s con­ve­nient that she’s lenient as long as we’re obe­di­ent. In her cham­ber I’m stand­ing under a spe­cial light, as if I need to be illu­mi­nat­ed, of course things often look dif­fer­ent in a dif­fer­ent light, I’m not deny­ing it—if I’m plac­ing my hands on top of my head it’s only because my brain is cold, it’s just to keep my hair from stick­ing out and both­er­ing the judge—at some point the judge is mak­ing sure nobody gets away with it, not a sin­gle per­son, every­body suf­fers when even one per­son gets away with it, okay? The judge is wear­ing her robe and under­neath a pair of pink flan­nel paja­mas that but­ton in the front, her cheeks are sparkling as if they’re cov­ered with some sort of glit­ter: I’m not sure if it’s nat­ur­al or if it’s some­thing the judge does to make her­self shine. Holding her hands togeth­er, as if she’s putting things togeth­er that need to be togeth­er, when she decides she lets her eyes slide to the side, as if she’s look­ing at it from both sides, bal­anc­ing like lime and ash, not wait­ing until the same thing is hap­pen­ing and there’s noth­ing she can do about it, not even think­ing under the cir­cum­stances: the judge is the one who knows when we need help and when we need to be help­less, we’re not telling her we’re not doing any­thing because then she’ll think there’s some­thing we’re not telling her. People lie when the truth is even deep­er is some­thing the judge is get­ting to the bot­tom of, lift­ing one shoul­der and drop­ping the oth­er, as if she’s proud of what she’s dis­ap­point­ed in. When we’re crooked the judge straight­ens us out, at the same time she’s bear­ing it in mind—I mean every­one has weak­ness­es, it’s point­less not to accept them.


The Judge Sentences Me in My Dream

I’m sit­ting across the room, rest­ing my hands on the table where the judge can see them, but for some rea­son there are red and green spots like Christmas lights blink­ing in my eyes, I’m not even sure if I need to apol­o­gize. The judge is look­ing over my shoul­der, as if I’m sit­ting behind me in a chair in the back of the room, look­ing at me where I am, or where she thinks I am, when she asks me about my plea the only thing I can think is I want to be the per­son I think I am. I mean you don’t even know how inno­cent you are until the case is closed, I’m telling the judge every­thing I’ve done togeth­er with all the things I haven’t even got­ten around to, it’s a long story—it’s almost always some­body else’s fault, I don’t mind admit­ting it. I’m a reli­able per­son, or reli­able enough, like the oth­er end of a gear, but there are spots in my eyes tak­ing turns first on one side then on the oth­er, red on one side and green on the oth­er, flash­ing like stop and go. It’s true, I often get start­ed and then stop to think about what I haven’t even done, and then I think about all the things oth­er peo­ple are doing: you don’t even know how inno­cent you are when every­body is just as inno­cent. The judge leans toward me, point­ing at my chest with her index fin­ger and squint­ing as if I’m out of focus, the prob­lem with you Pete the judge is point­ing out the prob­lem with you is you’re not focus­ing. The judge picks up her copy of Crime and Punishment and reads me a sen­tence right out of the book, like a long sto­ry she’s mak­ing short: to go wrong in one’s own way is bet­ter than to go right in some­one else’s, and I’m not sure if the judge is refer­ring to some­thing in par­tic­u­lar, but I’m ready to apol­o­gize right now, if I’m wrong in the wrong way I’d be glad to apol­o­gize, let­ting my hands hang down from my wrists like an exam­ple, some­times I think the judge isn’t sat­is­fied after all.


Out of Time

I’ve had my last glass of water,
I’m lis­ten­ing to Time is Running Out
and Take Your Time
at the same time,
like a kind of balancing,
not wor­ry­ing about anything
spoil­ing, as when a pack­age is deliv­ered to you
that isn’t even yours,
what are you going to do with it
when it doesn’t belong to you?
Who has the time?
You don’t want to wait until there isn’t any time left is some­thing I often think about
when I have time,
snack­ing on Jujubes and Thin Mints,
let­ting my hands rest on the air—
there’s no point hold­ing onto something
that doesn’t belong to you,
who has the time?
I mean we often think about the time we don’t have when we need to think about how we’re using the time we have
is some­thing I’d like to give more thought to at some point
when I have time.
Not hold­ing my breath
or wait­ing to take a breath,
not even lick­ing my fingers,
like a riv­er drink­ing a glass of water:
some­times I think it’s time to go
when I’m just tired of being here.
My love­ly wife reminds me
I need to rest for a while,
but I’m not sure how much time I have.


Peter Leight lives in Amherst, Massachusetts. He has pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished poems in Paris Review, AGNI, FIELD, Beloit Poetry Review, Raritan, Matter, and oth­er magazines.