Peter Leight ~ Poems

Enemies

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.