Peter Leight ~ Poems


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.