Susan Leary


My mother explains the babies have a designated space in the cemetery & I think, only death would disguise in such beautifully-cut grass a field of complex abductions. There should be an ancient remedy for this kind of grief since babies are phantasmal things, but no. Women gather like clover at graves & still, starshine seals the mysteries of a body’s ‘complications.’ As a girl, how I ever thought babies were mixed in ceramic bowls from a fizzing, plum-colored paste? That at night they wakened from the centers of hand-carved soaps sold in some seaside shop in Maine. A baby, literally made gift. This is what we mean when we say ‘an active imagination.’ Active because it lacks any desire to will or change. Strange, flitting things should matter now. Every bird, a carrier of consciousness. Every skull, an oxygenated heart. Yet, as the metaphors edge off sadness, they demonstrate a thievery of love. See? Even the sunlight escaping a tangle of branches in three evenly-spaced segments of earth. How much of this living, then, requires us, still, to be born? When staying is the only currency & wisdom, but the cruelty of bargaining with one’s imagination. I falter in such contests & self-persuasions,

& if I had a daughter, I would name her Mary.

Catch & Release

What a beautiful thing to see the ache of first light & not know how easy for it to kill you. To believe its steady sprawl into sun & the sun’s miraculous descent into water—all of nature: a kindness. So that anything else, a fish can only do to himself. Can only bite down & swallow the hook of human hands & once in those hands, learn the lesson of barely breathing. This may happen once, twice. Or not at all. Though each time, at ourselves, we will marvel proudly. Look at the budding mouth, we will say. The tiny gills gusted into wings. The eyes brimming with dayshine the color of lilacs. This is how it begins. How a fish becomes a body & through this, how a body becomes a boy that survives. Knowing only to flail & calm. Flail & calm. How easy, then, to gift a thing back to the world & watch it swim off. To wash our hands clean with the ocean’s impossible refusal. Oblivious the fish might asphyxiate, or bleed out, or feed until the last horizon on the invisible blade of a ghost. As if we all believed the fish were to remain unchanged. That it were lucky to return to water.

X-Ray Impression #2: Self-Study

If science is the body’s ability to know something the world cannot, what then of the world? How should it come to recognize itself if all but gloaming & accidental recklessness? In the doctor’s office, my husband holds images of himself in his hands & he is pleased he proves transparent. I, however, would rather cry at the fact of such hidden severity. Blame God for the insufficiency of origins. I do this because I am too uncreative. Too lacking in faith. As if every intimacy were born from the misperception of an invasion. Imagine, my husband says, the shared pulse of a river & a ravine. That between them I might accept a principled violence. I take this to mean my husband is too optimistic. Too smart for his own good. He takes this to mean that within the cavernous dens of our bodies, we make effective use of the shadows. Invent from them the flimsy beasts we know our bones too precocious to ever need to outrun. The curve of my husband’s spine thus nothing but the body taken by a rigorous self-intrigue. By a desire to never cease bending into the prospect of its own humanity. Within every vertebra, the briefest eternity. That at each turn, might open the crimped wings of a thousand paper birds crawling from the space of their births & feeling for their hearts. The world consumed by the vast invisibility of its histories, where inch by inch by inch, everything beats, purposefully, from without.

X-Ray Impression #4: Wife’s Tale

In the non-dream, tissue will come to out-torture the blade.
Will deny itself the privilege of rupture & instead swallow itself whole.

I know because a seahorse is born without ribs.
That it hooks its spine to the ocean floor because it believes water a hungry lung.

What this suggests about surviving, I am loath to say. Though did you hear?
A seahorse once lived to be a hundred years old despite an inability to swim.

Susan Leary‘s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in such places as Into the Void, Arcturus (Chicago Review of Books), Heavy Feather Review, and Gone Lawn. She has been nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and her chapbook, This Girl, Your Disciple is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in August 2019. She teaches English Composition at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL.
This entry was posted in Poetry and tagged , by Posit Editor. Bookmark the permalink.

About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis ( is the Editor-in-chief and founder of Posit ( and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom (winner of the Washington Prize), Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Walkers in the City (Rain Taxi), They Said (Black Lawrence Press), and Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches/Spuyten Duyvil), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions online, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, and VOLT.