A Poem Avoiding Its Own Tour of Force

Steven Leyva

I could begin with the slate roof of sunsetthe smog has given us, or the low growlin the throat of a window—the A/C unitexasperated. I could begin with the coldcolor of gun metal, the aria of the bullet:sing a song full of the faith that the darkpast has taught us. I could begin in ocean:the gray headstones of dead coral, the onlygrave markers. Or approach the starting lineof seashore: the eye is colonized first. Or firethe ceramics in our language. What namedoes the sculpture give to the claywhen it lives in the kilnof a closed mouth? I could annunciate Fear notbetter than any angel and begin with the graysnow on a rose bush: the promise of color. Icould begin with the wheat we sow in ether,or the menagerie of jailed poets: Pen Pen Pen.I could begin in doubt true to our God, trueto our native land. I could begin in error:I don't care what anyone else thinks.I could begin where I will end, in Ithakasso gray when one speaks their nameBaltimore will be the only word anyone hears.I could praise the present tense, and begin again.I could condition this vow: I will not loveanyone else, but instead begin to humin your ear, reader, lover, gray stranger.

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Steven Leyva was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and raised in Houston, Texas. His poems have appeared in Smartish Pace, Scalawag, Nashville Review, jubilat, Vinyl, Prairie Schooner, The Hopkins Review and Best American Poetry 2020. He is a Cave Canem fellow and author of the chapbook Low Parish and author of The Understudy’s Handbook which won the Jean Feldman Poetry Prize from Washington Writers Publishing House. Steven holds an MFA from the University of Baltimore, where he is an associate professor in the Klein Family School of Communications Design.


Baltimore, Maryland

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Founded in 1998, Smartish Pace, a Baltimore literary magazine that appears in April and October, and publishes poems, essays, and interviews.

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