I’m not afraid, not at the moment, I don’t even have any enemies. I’m not defending myself, even though I’m not afraid to, since somebody told me they’re looking tired I’m not even using my hands anymore. Not mounting a defense, or offering a defense, as when you give something away even though you don’t have anything, it’s pointless when you’re not afraid. Not even covering my mouth, I don’t want to be negative, or impolite, even to my enemies—sometimes I tell myself there’s nothing to be afraid of, as if it’s all I need to know, when you’re afraid is there anything you’re not afraid of? Of course, you don’t need to be brave when you’re not afraid, when I say enemies I’m not even angry, according to Aristotle you can’t be afraid and angry at the same time. As long as I’m not afraid I’m keeping my tongue on the inside of my teeth where it belongs when I’m not defending myself, not even letting it stick out, not preparing a defense, or waiting for a defense. It’s true, there are times when you defend yourself in order to confuse your enemies or convince them you’re braver than you are, but I don’t even have any enemies, not that I’m aware of. I’m not even defending my rights, not even my right to defend myself, not in so many words—I’m not even sure I’m brave enough, of course you don’t really know how brave you are until there’s something you’re afraid of, and I’m not afraid of anything.
Self-Portrait as a Person Who’s Far Away
When I get up in the morning I already feel distant, like a person in the rear of a large auditorium,
I’m telling myself to take it easy,
what if it isn’t?
I mean it’s not a mirror you look in to see what it looks like
or a clinic with needles
where they’re waiting for you to stop crying.
Not getting any closer,
to be honest I don’t even know how far away I am
from what I’m close to,
sometimes I think I guess I am.
Holding onto my ankles
to keep them from slipping away, like the kind of displacement that makes you want to host something,
I don’t think it’s dangerous,
not a threat to anybody,
please don’t tell anybody.
Or to myself,
please tell everybody you know.
When I feel distant I put my hands around my neck like a form of capture,
it’s embarrassing when somebody asks you what you’re doing here, or what do you think you’re doing,
and you can’t think of anything at all,
when is it time to say never mind?
Are there any other questions?
It’s still early,
but I’m already feeling distant, as if I’m sitting in a large auditorium after the performance is over,
I don’t even know what I’m doing here,
of course, when something is distant we often pretend it’s getting closer,
as if it’s trending,
right now I need to find my glasses,
I know they’re here somewhere, but honestly I’m not seeing clearly—
that’s when I feel distant, as if I’m in the back of an enormous auditorium and moving further back,
finding a seat in the back row,
I’m telling myself to calm down,
what if it isn’t?
Sometimes I think I’m losing the feeling in my body,
not the feeling
but the feeling of feeling,
as when you put your head in a paper bag and wait for it to ripen,
I actually believe I’m under-simplifying—
when there’s something I don’t understand I have to sit down and think about what I don’t understand,
even though it’s always what are you doing this for?
In Empty Space
When my head falls to the side I hold it up with my hands and press gently, as if I’m sticking on some stamps, laying a hand on either side, making room for myself, as when you shovel the snow to make room for more snow. There’s room for everything I don’t have, I don’t mind looking even if there’s nothing to see—I’ve been here the whole time, I would have noticed. When I say hush nobody disagrees. There’s nothing to clean up. Lifting up my head but it always comes back down. I’m not getting up to look for anything, or sitting down and looking for something, I think it’s easier not to. Not even pointing, there isn’t any point. Sometimes I talk to myself the way you talk to somebody who doesn’t even know what you’re going to say, not opening my mouth, there’s nothing to discuss, like white lettering on a white background. Personally I often pull up my hair and tie it on top with one of those circular elastics covered with smooth fabric, lifting it up and waiting to see if it drops down, nobody asks me to move over or step aside. When I cover something up there’s nothing under the covering, nothing that’s hidden or overlooked, I mean the emptiness isn’t just turning away or being turned away from, closer or further away, as if it’s deepening on both ends. I actually believe I’m light enough to leave the ground and heavy enough to come back down.
Voyage on the Ship of Uncertainty
There are times when you don’t know where you’re going but you can’t just stay where you are, it’s just not possible, you’re already on board, lifting yourself up as if you’re casting off. When the ship sways the waves sail away in the wake like wales breaking up, diving down beneath the surface like a kind of understatement followed by lifting up like an overestimate, we’re not even sure what we need the ship for, are we taking care of it? Every day we decide what to do that day, it’s different every day, like a form of prioritizing—the important thing is to stay on without falling off or slipping off. We often walk around on the ship, putting our hands in front of us and following them where they’re going, sometimes we need to stop and hold onto each other, as if we’re taking care of each other, isn’t that what we’re here for? I mean if we didn’t care we wouldn’t even be here. The ship slips through the waves while the waves lift the ship up in the air as if it’s drip-drying, it’s not a tall ship or a long ship, but it’s easy to lose your place when you move from one part of the ship to another—we’re not the kind of people who think this is where we are, or this is where it’s going. When something happens to us there are other things that are happening at the same time, and other things that are happening but not in the same way, a person isn’t the same all the time, if you stand in line you don’t even notice the difference. Holding onto each other, moving our arms in circles as if we’re learning to swim out of water—it’s not a display. Of course, movement is what separates us from the world of mannequins and others who don’t follow up, even when we’re not wearing our sailor suits and Dixie cup caps: as long as we keep going nobody can say we’re not getting anywhere.
Peter Leight has published poems in Paris Review, AGNI, FIELD, Beloit Poetry Review, Raritan, Matter, and other magazines.