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two poems /susan l. leary

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

Roll Call

By now, the children have fled the schoolyard

& the river has split itself in half. I should have told

you when the last wildflower relinquished its head to the current, but you were ambitious then & dressed

yourself in sky & paper. Today, there is neither thread nor rain. Today, the house is vacant

& your pencil dulled to a pinprick. How misbehaved of me to wait an entire year for the same day

to return, for the same body to appear at the cleft in the river when the river is becoming wiser. & though

I fail to change alongside you, Brother, I see the quilted knapsacks of light emptying atop the river

into capable likenesses of your face. The water, at once, a desk, a suture, & a sieve. Because this poem

is a house & there are children here, at least, I call them children because, somewhere, a river keeps

on living. Somewhere, you’re reciting the alphabet in your new summer clothes & I am one or two people.

Go now. You are the river in need of a new name.


Though the Stars Were an Empty Threat, Neither of Us Were Fools

That was the summer I had a bad attitude & I fought you on every detail. You insisted Orion had a little dog in the sky & I insisted the dog was left-handed. Were we a constellation of stars, we’d be a set of parallel lines unworthy of the imagination. Two hunters with nothing to hunt, still brandishing their swords against the wind. We play a more perfect game. On the company’s organizational chart, we draw a dotted line to Truth. I pretend, you pretend, not to know what the other wishes to conceal. A version of plate tectonics adapted to human speech in which masculinity is made permissible. Here are your choices, your own voice says. You, alone, must make them. That was the same summer we took an IQ test together over the phone. I read the questions aloud & you memorized the potential answers. It was the first time you were more without a script than me. Orion, with a chance to lay down his sword. We tested each other on what we knew, keeping distance as trees of the same species keep distance at the crown, oblivious to the shrewd geometry of our shared life, that, Brother, from the very beginning, the love between us was bound up in all we didn’t.


Susan L. Leary is the author of three poetry collections: A Buffet Table Fit for Queens (Small Harbor Publishing, 2023), winner of the Washburn Prize; Contraband Paradise (Main Street Rag, 2021); and This Girl, Your Disciple (Finishing Line Press, 2019), finalist for The Heartland Review Press Chapbook Prize and semi-finalist for the Elyse Wolf Prize. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in such places as Superstition Review, Tar River Poetry, Tahoma Literary Review, Cherry Tree, Jet Fuel Review, and Pithead Chapel. Recently, she was a finalist for the 16th Mudfish Poetry Prize, judged by Marie Howe. She holds an MFA from the University of Miami, where she also teaches Writing Studies. Visit her at

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