LeighAnna Schesser – Five Poems


The Thinness of Things

Winter dawns with their eggshell light
and pale, spare clouds combed over a bald sky;
translucent red-peach shell of the boy’s small ear;
skim of milk on day-old coffee, forgotten high
on cluttered bookshelf; time’s uneven crust over old griefs,
stretched taut in fitful sleep; that harpoon leap
of ringing terror in the wool-gray night when the other car
looms, engulfs, and somehow, misses–
passes by in hollow, vacuum-hush of air, the cold release of limp relief–

the walls in that first apartment, amplifying every step and door,
thunk and thud, flattening, filtering, funneling voices;
flour dusted on the wooden bread board, streaks of white, stiff drops of oil;
film of steam on bathroom mirrors, blurring every imperfection
into smoke, amorphous shadow; how the weary blood
slows after so many late, solitary nights–

the edge between now and next, this time of year, with its dry cold,
its motley leaves, blanching into thirst for snow; hopes for everlastingness
strung like beads on knotted prayer cords, binding our own chill
hands to the bony wrists of every one who’s already pulled aside
the last, diaphanous curtain, and, exhaling, passed–

where midnight presses against midnight, faded nearly through,
where a single finger can trace the fraying line
where the walls between the worlds have rubbed together,
worn and worn away to a single, cleaving shine.

Canticle of Philomela

The story that cannot be told will be.
Some silences must be signed into being,
fingers into palm, read with toes in
the lines and lumps of dark wet roots,
traced in the sky with brown feathers.


My royal name was Philomela
in your love poems. I burn
it in the rising darkness
I sing each night, wave
under wave, land under land.

Your love is a blind fingerprint,
grafted to each blank new face
of your selfishness.

When you come for me
with your closed, stitched mouth,
I will be harvesting olives,
I will be the nightingale, singing.


Makers of words, this is your lullaby.
You are begotten of words,
and begotten, you beget.

Who planted this tongued root of love,
wriggling and warm, alone in the dark?
I will harvest its heartlessness: sweet sprout
and bitter blossom, the tonguelessness of grief.


Sometimes, the telling burns.
Sometimes, the teller.

So be it.


In the meadow of marriage, my thighs, two pale fawns
in silver-green, frond-heavy light. Your spine, elegant
curve, at rest; long, broad-knuckled fingers between mine.

For you, I would interpret the mysteries of turtledoves
nestled on the wire; goldfinch’s yellow flash; the hawk’s
abrupt, devastating dive, into clutch and brief wet red cry;
a small death, rich soil for the bursting seeds of flight.

Two field mice between wheat shoots under waxing moon;
Two bright bells buried deep in breath-drawing chests;
Two long plaits of sea-green words turning and twining together.

For you, I will spill the moonwater well,
divine the unworded oracle of coupling.
I bring a silty palmful of deep riverwater to my lips;
taste the ground of sustenance, flooded with promise.


Night sky, bitten plum
above stone-hollow mortals
grasping fragile to blue
wool star warmth, low heat
of promise, person-nearness,
in the long, darkening watch.

This godleap desire springs
firmament stars from deep
heaven furrows, bloom-
blossom bright down white
stem-trail sky-hanging,
grow, dark sea, grow,
and milky-wave reach
to earth. Touch

gently our sleeping,
flint strike, burning ice,
the vast void sail-yearning
unfurling in our old
dust, these earth-seed,
skydazed, light-rung hearts.

Women’s Work

We prepare the living and the dead. In the heat
of daily fires we wear memory smooth,
as tight-woven wool shines to translucence
from hand to younger hand. Hush, hush, we say,
and rock the cry, one constellated star
at a time. We pull tight the knotted line, hand
over hand, enflesh the bones of time
as potters shape and break: vessels carried
and carrying towards final, dusk-musk doorway.

In Egypt, we bared and beat our breasts
through streets, became drums of absence,
the rhythm of gone-ness. In Jerusalem,
anointed the Anointed One, myrrh and aloe,
shroud-wrapped all our hopes, sealed up the kingdom
of heaven in dry stone. In Greece, opened blue
and breathless lips to weight the tongue
with ferry fee, and afterwards, washed
all the restless living with all their worldly goods.
Bleed out and purify, sacred mingling.

Always, the water divide. Living and taken,
borne and bearing; sail-still harbor of death,
whispering line between two shores, never touch.
We, ferryman’s handmaidens, put feet to each bank.
We, wells and buckets by turns, raise and drop
the buzz and pull of waterfalling gravity.

We who swim as waves from tide to tide
bleed long and heavy, wrench and bucket,
years of blood in the middle of our lives.
Conduit, flash and tinder, call, response.
Blood is the life, but this flood, its absence,
its someday-ness, its lightning-ready strike
of origins—divine fingerprint.

Blood-born, moonleash led, we feel our way along
the viscous river bottom to froth and tideshore.
The pull of seaweed veins turning and twisting
inside us. Flush and wash: the weight
and dragging pull of origins against the clear dark
of oceanic singularity, drawing, again and again,
all things to itself. The crush of weight and pull
apart, sticky tear and press, deep, we’re earth
leavened into bread and knuckle-kneaded
in the bent-over, long wet blur of enduring.
We, light-driven rushes of weight swung low
and lower in widening hips, redmoon-kissed,
pressed slowly below the floor with the clutch
and grunt of cost—terrible beauty, awful wound,
in the full, waxing light of a free doom.

Surrender to the need to utterly succumb.
The shadow of life passes over us; mark your
doorposts, ladies. The angel of death
is mother-red, and weeping, comes.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

Poets are a people of liminal spaces: some part of us always inhabits the edge or doorway between different kinds of reality. Yesterday and tomorrow, life and death, grief and joy, loss and fullness, self and other… In his moving 1999 “Letter to Artists,” St. John Paul II described artists as having a “vocation to beauty.” Beauty is, perhaps, the supreme liminal space: the point of contact between who we used to be and who we could become; between profane and sacred, temporal and eternal, human and divine. Of the myriad ways to live out this calling, I have come to understand my own path as an aesthetic of joy, where is joy understood as something deeper and broader than mere pleasure, independent of temporary fulfillments. Joy as a state of being and awareness that does not ignore or exclude realities such as suffering, grief, and loss, but builds on them, subsumes and transforms them, into something magnificent and transcendent.


LeighAnna Schesser is the author of Heartland (Anchor & Plume Press, 2016). Her poems have appeared in journals such as Kindred, Ekphrastic, and Rose Red Review. She earned her M.F.A. at North Carolina State University. LeighAnna lives in south-central Kansas with her growing family, half-wild garden, and many overstuffed bookshelves. More at: leighannaschesser.wordpress.com.