Friday, June 19, 2015

Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows - Eugenia Leigh (Four Way Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows.  Eugenia Leigh.  Four Way Books.  A Stahlecker Series Selection.  Four Way Books.  New York, New York.  2014.

Eugenia Leigh offers us a startling first book with the sparkling Blood, Sparrow and Sparrows. 
Leigh is also now an official entry for Today's book of poetry's best title of the year.

These poems are loosely focused on God, father and family -- but it is Leigh's precise weight we enjoy most, regardless of subject.  Her voice has weight, resonance, echo and these poems can make you laugh out loud, usually just before Leigh kicks you in the throat.

Pretty Universe

God stalked me on Marion Avenue. Said, You can't
fix it. Then, I can't either.           That morning,

my ceiling lamp had ripped from its cord. Even after
I welded the fragments with duct tape, everything
felt cracked--like your five-hundred dollar glasses

I smashed that winter--so I thought, if I couldn't fix that,
what the hell am I doing piecing together
your eyes? Our crumbling

kisses? So I didn't question God. Sometimes, God wants
to be understood. Sometimes, God hates

his perfect grammar. His pretty
universe. So he'll pluck a butterfly of its left wing. Call it
art. He'll turn from a hurricane. Say, It wasn't me.

If artists were created in his image, how often
does God abandon his mistakes?

The day I stopped talking to you, I said
nothing to him too. I cursed. My entire drive home.
I littered the freeway with fistfuls of tissues

while God shuffled his God feet
and pretended not to see.


The reader will be forgiven if they can't quite decide whether Eugenia Leigh is happiest talking to, or at, God.  We're never quite sure whether the praise is hopeful wishing or snickered bravado.  But the conversation Leigh is engaged in is a constant delight for the reader.

We're all Pagans here at Today's book of poetry.  We run around the office burning sacrifices to the strangest assortment of deities and demigods.  And we all adored the poetry of Eugenia Leigh.

Leigh's narrator is a dutiful daughter, a guilty daughter, a disdainful daughter, a confused child of God and a strange mistress -- but she is always an interesting poet.

Leigh's narrator/poet persona is brave enough to step outside of expectations, keeps trying to answer big questions, keeps coming up with bigger dilemmas, more paradox.

Every Hair on Your Head

     Every hair on your head is counted.
     You are worth hundreds of sparrows.

The day you pushed a bullet through your heart,
the length of a day on earth shortened by a millionth of a second.

That same day, a NASA satellite captured an image of a dust storm,
Chile withstood its one hundred thirtieth aftershock in a week, and I
glimpsed a bird, twitching

on the floor of a Brooklyn metro station. Its eyeballs
bulged as if to literally absorb the ocular world,

and I shuddered away. For hours, I saw that flinching
creature in my mind. I saw hundreds of similar birds
shimmering into the station to lie

next to it--a quilt of silvery bodies tiled wing to wing. On good days
I want to be saved. Most days, I want

every savior in our hell--so they'll know
torment in the bloodstream--death's whistling, ceaseless,
blurring the cleanest heartbeats.            My first time, I was thirteen.

I tested five pills. My stomach barely ached. I ate ramen, lived, solved
math problems. But for days before that, I envisioned my body
smeared. Inside out. A swarthy, dazzling canvas.

What I wouldn't give to graze that silence.

Did you do it standing up
or crouching?         Which was the bigger surprise--
                                      the gun punching              or the angel catching you?


Eugenia Leigh's Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows is bejeweled with very smart poems that like to dance between the Devil and disbelief, they challenge notions of parenthood and piety.  These poems get the brain working in more than one direction.

There was much discussion around the office about this book.  Angels come and go with alacrity in the poems of Eugenia Leigh, just like they appear in real life, the devils too.

Sex Education

Folded into the carpet, eyes closed, I huddle
next to my small sisters--the baby
curled in the middle. My parents shuffle

in the couch bed beside us, and I wake. I peek.
I absorb the wet sounds of one mouth
guzzling another's laughter--and without

health class pamphlets, without Eve's Adam
and the fruit still rich on his chin, I learn

the music of bodies smacking together.
I learn the word yes. And how yes--

when whispered over and over--seems to free
other meanings--secret meanings

I never heard them speak in daylight.


Eugenia Leigh steps out onto the poetry stage fully formed.  Many, if not most, of these poems have previously been published in journals of one sort or another.  No surprise there.  Leigh has considerable dander, she even sounds dangerous on occasion.  Everyone here at Today's book of poetry enjoyed Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows a ton.

Eugenia Leigh
(Photo: An Rong Xu)

Eugenia Leigh is the recipient of awards and fellowships from The Asian American Literary Review, Kundiman, Poets & Writers Magazine, and Rattle. She earned her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and her poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications including The Collagist, North American Review, and the Best New Poets 2010 anthology. Eugenia serves as poetry editor of Kartika Review and lives in Chicago.

"Built out of blood and awe, rooted in sorrow and radiant lyricism, these poems remind us that 'to survive is to be / wholly human.' Divine and earthly voices haunt these poems. God and parents singe the speaker's heart; angels and sisters redeem it. These poems are brutal and brilliant. But also instructive. They teach us to 'weld our wounds / to form tools.' This is a book of moving and startling epiphanies. I can't wait to teach it."
     - Eduardo C. Corral

"This book went through me like a blue lightning strike. Part lyric, part narrative, and always alive, unflinchingly alive. A wonderful book and an even more astonishing debut!"
      - Thomas Lux

Eugenia Leigh
at Kollaboration, New York
June 26, 2010
Video: angelle 527


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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