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Leigh Kirkland

June 2001

Photographs Fallen from the Family Album

24 Exposures

Our refrigerator is covered
with yellow post-it notes,
polaroid pictures,
and a clipping from the paper
of a president in a raincoat, waving sheepishly.

None of the pictures are of me.
They are close-ups of my husband's face,
vivid self-portraits taken at arm's length
with the blue sky brilliant behind his head.

When he does take pictures of me he gets too close.
If they were of somebody else I'd think they were funny,
but I don't want anybody to know
I look like that, nose and big teeth.

We had pictures of me before,
kept in my wooden jewelry box.
They weren't anything for the refrigerator.

Somebody broke into our house--
took a jarful of quarters,
and all those pictures.

For months after,
I was sure every man who looked at me on the street
was the one who'd stolen my pictures
and that he recognized me
from all that garish color.

My husband says
no woman has a sense of humor.


A Coalition Between Beauty and Oddness


Some people see colors come out of mouths
when other people talk.

Some people feel music on their skins
when another person touches them.

When it dawns that no other
person feels what they feel
no other person sees what they see,
they learn not to confess.

I want you to tell me
if when we talk, heads close together,
what comes out of my mouth
is not stale peppermint cooling
your skin or the stiffness
of words. If your eyes are full
of my blue red purple breath
whirling in a pattern
tell me.

If when I touch you
you hear music more fabulous
than Mozart newer than Glass
more raucous than any rock and roll
tell me.

Oh baby no one's ever made me
sound like this before.


Tonight he stood on a chair to remove the light
bulbs, five glass pears arranged
in the wicker wastebasket, did not whack crazily
at the brass arms with his tennis racket,
spinning, did not leave the aluminum bases screwed
into the sockets, thin bent wires quivering
like antennae, glass shards like eggshells
rocking on the floor.

She flips the light switch:
the room stays dark, her hand has no substance.
The shades are drawn below the window sills,
uneven behind pleated drapes.


A Manual for the Identification of Trees


Lucy's dad teased her mother, for wasting
so much time learning the Latin names for plants
and trees, Sansevieria, Quercus nigra. Nobody knew
which plant she was talking about when she said the botanical
names. So she learned the other names people called
the trees, all of them, the common names, snake
plant, mother-in-law's tongue, water oak.

Still, no one understood whether she said Mahonia
or Oregon grape,
any of the names.

When Lucy and her mother saw the house in December,
planning for the wedding, Lucy couldn't tell
a thing about the yard, but her mother took off her gloves
and walked through the cold garden touching
the bare branches with whitened fingers, whispering Maclura
pomifera, Cercis canadensis, Ginkgo biloba
like secrets.

Reaching Below the Calm Surface

When Tom yanked the line, the barracuda,
reflecting like aluminum foil,
came flying out of a wave
in an arc over his head,
and smashed down silver on the deck of the boat.
Blood splashed his legs.

When he stepped on its tail
to pull the hook, it fought
like the most muscular of fishes, flipping
back, snapping at his bare ankles.

Half the length of its body was mouth
and teeth like nails.

Sitting in the Marina


I should switch off the engine and go in
instead of sitting in this parking lot
feeling like my car isn't good enough to be here.

I wish I were sitting on any one of those boats
bumping against the sides of their slips,
drinking canned cokes
with the sun reflecting off the deck
onto the backs of my shaved legs.

The radio is particularly good on Sunday afternoons,
and the sun dazzling off the mica
in the asphalt is almost mystical,
if there can be mystical experiences in parking lots.

Sports Heroes

The red maple grew too close to the porch
for a basketball goal
unless a person wanted to stand alone
and practice the same shot over and over again.
Over time, roots emerged from the court.

The hoop was too low.
The father who nailed it
four feet above the ground
must have stood swinging his hammer in his hand
and envisioned the goal rising
as the tree and his kid grew taller.

And in all the days that passed,
he crossed his arms
to keep from reaching out
as the son leaned forward to balance at the top
of a metal triangle of crutches
and locked leg braces,
adjusting his shots
as his spine twisted
and the hoop rusted
and bark furled over its bracket.

This is Enough

Your wrist flicks, your words hang
out of the window, incidental guitar chords
in a soundtrack that may tie the smoke
curving over the car and our fragmented film clips
into a whole, hanging in the damp fog.

Vista del Mar

It was black over the wetlands
without the pink dome that hung over the city.
Lights from the houses were white.

Tonight the physical edge of the fog
that usually filters over Playa del Rey
into the low spaces of the marsh
crossed my window like a veil.

I have two rules for my death:
don't die a death that could be a joke
and don't die in a car wreck.

My knuckles cramped around the wheel.
If I let go even with one hand
I would die. People would say
what did she expect, driving in the fog.

After the state beach at Dockweiler,
the fog thinned--
no space between the houses to move up the hill
from the beach.

In Hermosa, the foghorns stopped.
With lights on either side,
the pier looked like a runway into the ocean.
Last month some guy on a motorcycle
tried to use it as one.

Flew down the hill.
Halfway down the pier
he hit the chain link gate.

I don't know if he intended to kill himself
or if he meant to keep on flying
over the horizon
into the darkest part of the sky.



I was standing between the garage
and the first pecan tree
when Lynne ran out screaming, chased
by a black swarm.

I could see each one from across the yard.

Mama put Clorox on Lynne's arms and legs,
made her lie on the couch.
Each of the nine big stings
had four or five little welts around it.

Lynne had been hiding
beside the water pump
in the wellhouse when she bumped
the paper nest.

I never would have found her there.

Leigh Kirkland is currently a Marion L. Brittain Post-Doctoral Fellow in the department of Literature, Communication, a.nd Culture at Georgia Tech. Her poems have appeared in various other journals, most notably in Raritan, Poet Lore, and Weber Studies. Other poems are forthcoming in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Poetry Midwest, and Comstock Review. Stories are forthcoming in Harpur Palate and Shades of December.

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