Two Poems

Poetry / Seth Leeper

:: cats in a bag ::

i learned my duplicity at a young age amidst late night serenades 
of shattering glass and slamming cupboards / slinking around 
corners to survive the impact from each sonic boom / donning 
my cheshire smile in the morning like a denial of the night before / 
an implicit approval / a strategy to avoid the jagged edge of a curse / 
the pointed edge of a cutting board / rolling across the floor showing 
my belly / projecting cute to survive / the long drive to the hospital 
for stitches above a crying eye / phone calls to mother explaining the 
accident / i don’t blame her anymore / we were cats in a bag tossing 
and hissing and fighting for love or approval / stalking a prey called 
loyalty or devotion / he’d left me once / i remember her perched on 
the kitchen counter looking at the clock / calculating the difference 
between time with him and time without 

:: the last time we saw you ::

we never got to see your final ascent she just dumped you 
like stale cigarette ashes into the delta and never apologized 
to anyone for the missed show or wasted gas which was her last 
power play her final triumph to singe the skin and squeeze 
the heart and she never had to touch any one of us to do it 
now she had something of you no one could take or give back 
her repulsive reflexes and cackling on the way back to her car 
ensured no one would try so you drifted away from us the wind 
carrying you across grass plains and water the wind chasing 
the wheels of her car down the dirt highway the keys in her 
ignition rattling as she slithered out of focus out of view 
out of our lives for good 

From the writer


:: Account ::

cats in a bag” and “the last time we saw you” are from my man­u­script, dou­ble fea­ture: anato­my of a star | of men and mon­sters. The manuscript’s first part fol­lows the Speak­er through planes astral and celes­tial in pur­suit of his father. The sec­ond part, which these poems are from, finds the Speak­er in more ground­ed spaces, anchored in the real­i­ty of his grief and trau­ma. The Speak­er is flee­ing from mem­o­ries and his own account­abil­i­ty in the rela­tion­ship between him­self and his father, and he has plunged head­first into pro­cess­ing the rela­tion­ship dynam­ics that were com­pli­cat­ed by his father’s spouse. Deprived of clo­sure for him­self and his fam­i­ly, the Speak­er makes attempts to forge his own res­o­lu­tion with his father, and make sense of the spouse who func­tioned as rival and vil­lain in his child­hood.   

Peel­ing back the cur­tain a bit on craft, these poems rep­re­sent exper­i­men­ta­tions with how space is uti­lized on the page. The deci­sion to use punc­tu­a­tion, or not, is meant to add an ele­ment of ten­sion, or dis­rup­tion. It com­pli­cates the nar­ra­tive and the expe­ri­ence of how the read­er engages with the text. It also mir­rors the frag­men­ta­tions of the Speaker’s mem­o­ries. 

I was also inter­est­ed in exper­i­ment­ing with prose blocks, since I had pri­mar­i­ly writ­ten in verse pri­or to this project. The blocks pro­vide a frame for each poem, and serve the over­all attempt to world-build in both por­tions of the man­u­script. The world in of men and mon­sters where these poems occur is one of harsh real­i­ties and uncertainty—filled with mon­sters both fic­tive and real—and it moves back and forth between the present and the past. This is the oppo­site of the world in anato­my of a star, where the Speak­er wields the pow­er of his imag­i­na­tion and grief to cre­ate moments out­side of com­mon­ly accept­ed con­scious­ness to inter­ro­gate and reunite with his father. The project is meant to tran­scend the per­son­al and the spe­cif­ic; to offer cathar­sis, com­fort, and hope­ful­ly heal­ing for the read­er who can empathize with the work.

Seth Leep­er is a queer poet. A Best of the Net nom­i­nee and 2022 Brook­lyn Poets Fel­low, his work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Sycamore Review, Riv­er Styx, Sala­man­der, Hobart After Dark, Over­heard Lit, and Always Crash­ing. He holds an M.A. in Spe­cial Edu­ca­tion from Pace Uni­ver­si­ty and B.A. in Cre­ative Writ­ing and Fash­ion Jour­nal­ism from San Fran­cis­co State Uni­ver­si­ty. He lives and teach­es in Brook­lyn, NY. He tweets @seth­wleep­er.