Michele Leavitt is a former trial attorney who now teaches in The Writing Program at the
University of North Florida. Her poems and essays have been published in a variety of journals
and anthologies, including Rattapallax, The NeoVictorian/Cochlea, Slant, Sojourner, The Humanist,
Wind, The Ledge, Yellow Silk II: International Erotic Stories and Poems, Asheville Poetry Review,
The Edge City Review, and THEMA.
Commuting to their nests, the birds swoop by, decline
To join our evening picnic—beach and bread and wine—
First tern, then black ducks, crow, an errant, crass blue jay,
A chipping sparrow, cormorants and gulls. You say,
“There’s all these kinds of birds, but only one human—
Well, two, if one considers man and woman.”
Between two sips, I counter, “Isn’t that quite odd?”
And then I gasp aloud—this may be proof of God!
Unique and peerless species—made in His image?
Then God knows He must have often taken umbrage,
That distant God with His curly capital G
Who sees the sparrow fall, and Who sees even me,
And all my flip retorts to His existence,
And my unflagging, resolute resistance
To succumbing to the comfort of the Lord.
Then luckily, the platypus, duck-billed, occurred
To me—alone in its taxonomy
As we so often find ourselves to be.
Published in The NeoVictorian/Cochlea.
I choose datura from the racks of seed
And nurture them with care, although they'll grow
Up poisonous and beautiful. I need
Their syrup-scented trumpet-blooms. Their weed-
Like vigor cures me of the winter, so
I choose datura. From the racks of seed
I choose some others, too—the hearts that bleed
In spring, the columbine, and these will grow
Not poisonous, just beautiful. These need
A simpler kind of care; such flowers breed
With ease. I need the razor’s edge, and so
I choose datura from the racks of seed.
Surprise—their family, Nightshade, Jimsonweed
And Belladonna visit me. I grow
Accustomed to poisonous beauty, need
Hypnotics causing death or merely greed
For sleep, for nature’s death-defying show.
I chose datura from the racks of seed,
As poisonous and beautiful as need.
Second place winner of the 2002 Newburyport Arts Association poetry
Winter in a Beach Town
Like a bunch of gossips sharing secrets,
The storm-born tangle of lobster traps
Conspires on the sand, a split-second
Mirage, just as happy and at home here
As truth. Despite the dunes, no barriers
Survive long on the wide and open beach.
Our prodigal daughter returns to the beach,
Committing acts she’d like to keep a secret.
We mean to save her, not to bury her
With gossip; she thinks our talk’s a mousetrap
Meant to snare her. Her childhood still lives here
By the waves—sunburns, grandparents and second
Cousins in endless summers, split-seconds
Of innocence still dazzling the beach,
Old stories—that dead whale that washed up here—
Illustrating death—the grown-ups’ secret—
Her awful smell a mesmerizing trap,
Until the town bulldozed and buried her.
But sand shifts, a crystalline barrier
That’s born to break apart—in just one second,
That whale could be released from her damp trap,
Her bones could rise and decorate the beach
With curves and knobs and ivory secrets.
I've wished that this would happen while I'm here,
Out on the sand, and our daughter could hear
Of it, see how useless to bury our
Todays or yesterdays in sand. Secrets
Migrate like trash, prefer the clasps of second
Hands. Flotsam washes up upon the beach,
A glove, a ring, a bit of glass, trappings
Of lives thrown overboard or lost, trappings
That sing to those of us who wish to hear
Of others. Waves advance the news, the beach
Grass whispers, hisses, wind turns barriers
To conduits to give itself a second
Chance, and the sea disgorges her old secrets
In tangled traps, the barriers that bind us.
Here, the second hands pass news on, each to each,
Because there are no secrets on the beach.
Published in Rattapallax.
Chasing the Dark
Tonight, small globes of night-dew glisten on
the evergreens, like lights of ritual
the ancients brought inside to chase the dark,
to celebrate the sun’s first movement
toward ascendancy. Even with this, some lived
in terror of the flatness of the world,
of falling off into the void, while the world
shimmered and laughed and the stars glistened on.
it’s late at night outside the house I live
in. After work, my own small ritual—
observing how the moon and stars have moved,
or sometimes at a sky that’s clouded, dark.
We bring the light inside, still fear the dark
collapse of our fragile little world.
Sometimes the only comfort’s found in movement—
unceasing, forward, till sweat glistens on
the skin, such rhythms as spiritual
as all the prayers chanted in the lives
of saints. It’s still late outside the house I live
in, and I’m still alone out in the dark.
the night is mild. Moths make ritual
excursions through their own instinctive worlds,
attracted to the lights that make them glisten
like small gods. It’s summer. Plants are moving—
they're slow and secret. The waves’ hushed motion
ushers in on eastern winds that live
without repose, bearing memory, glistening on
clear wings. Summer, out alone in the dark,
children hold fireflies hostage in the world
of a jar, create a captive ritual
of light. Constellations wheel, spiritual
reflections of the sea’s deep motion,
the rhyming orbits of our own small worlds,
the blood, that coursing, urges us to live.
It’s summer. I’m alone out in the dark,
watching the night-dew and stars glisten on—
my own minor ritual— as the world,
unceasing, moves on toward perfection, dark
giving way to light, alive, listening on.
"…the darkness and the light are both alike to thee."
Imagine coming to. You’re naked on a rock,
a hundred feet from shore; the lake begins its day,
releasing plumes of mist into the air you thought
you had to breathe or die. But you are still alive,
though last night’s fuss has been erased except for bit-
part scenes—a face across a bonfire, hands that reach
into the coals, a snapshot of another drunk
dispute. Your fingers burn, your clothes are lost, yet you’ve
survived yourself—so why not dive beneath the soft
gray silk of water, touch the silty floor, forget
you ever told the darkness from the light? The shore
is waiting: reachable, miraculous, your clothes
collapsed, but still intact, the fire doused. You are
divine, since morning followed night, since you believe
the world will cushion every fall until you die.
Always the essential thing gets lost. That’s
One rule holds true of every inspiration.
—Jorge Luis Borges, “The Moon,” tr. Edwin Honig
Today the ocean’s quiet. Tide glides in,
Recovers sand abandoned once before.
Cupped wavelets lapse to glistening, clear skin,
The sheen that goddess Aphrodite wore
On rising, new-born, from the sea.
I didn’t bring a pen with me today—
Why bother when this morning’s bright new hue
Will surely strip both brain and breath away
And leave me just the imprint of this view,
Erasing what occurs to me.
Whatever’s sacred will escape our box—
Such is the sacred, so elusive, yet
Pervasive—the sacred paradox—
The sister of this mystery, our wet
Old universe—the callous sea.
And all her incarnations—river, rain
And clouds. They take their paths of least resistance.
What did occur to me? Some fresh refrain
About abandonment, indifference
Or loss? It’s gone. It’s vanity.
Only this morning’s left, more than enough,
This ocean and its lapping, measured sounds,
This spangled sand, this curl of downy fluff
A gull has left behind to dress the ground
Like cirrus strewn through atmosphere—
Another changing, bright, permeable sheen
To mirror the essential thing I’ve lost—
My nascent, evanescent, sparking theme
That wants to mimic water, lend a gloss
To what is now and what is near.
Inhabit the deserted space, left free
By what’s escaped—a cloud, a wave, a thought—
Each absence opens opportunity
To reach for mystery. That’s all we’ve got—
Our reaching. Water. Atmosphere.
Whatever’s sacred will escape from us,
Evaporate to fertile vacancy—
The kettle-holes in glacier-molded crusts
Hold water just until it joins the sea.
That Mongrel Fix
The source of sin remains a mystery.
Great minds have posed the question, led debates:
If God’s the one who made us bodily,
And seeing what He’d done, He called it great,
And if He added soul into the mix,
And if the soul is spirit incarnate,
Why does that combination seem to fix
Itself on sin and rarely hesitate
To taste temptation’s freely offered gifts?
Exalting love, we grasp and fondle skin,
We stoop to this enjambment that befits
Our mongrel breed. Is this the source of sin—
The nexus that perplexed St Augustine?
Body is the spark; soul is gasoline.