the louderARTS Project

Shannon Leigh

Shannon Leigh

Shannon Leigh has been featured on HBO's Def Poetry Jam and has performed alongside Sage Francis, Talib Kweli, Saul Williams, and Taalam Acey among others. She has performed in ten states and two continents, is the author of three novels ( Tetrarch, The Skin Tree, Isaac and Malachi) and produced a hip-hop album, Sanctuary, with Austin's DJ F. Scott Godot. She is a photographer, cave diver, polymath, and linguist and is a film producer for Atlanta-based Triple Negative Films. She can lecture on the origins of evil in Latin, Creole and Italian without breaking a sweat while simultaneously kicking ass with Krav Maga, the official fighting style of the Israeli army. Shannon is also the third-ranked poet in America, according to the 2007 National Poetry Slam Indies.

 

Variations

When I was ten I was the fat kid
with glasses and crooked teeth
and I could read novels, write books
and play the cello.
None of these talents makes you popular
in middle school and two years later
I had as much fun mocking the girl
who wore horse-themed t-shirts to school
as I once had picking them out.
I was brutal.
In four years I transformed sandals to high heels
and six feet of hair to two with unabashed cruelty
towards the friends I used to look like
who still thank me for the losses of their virginities
like I had been the one to hold them down.
But sometimes, with no one watching,
I pulled my instrument to my chest like a long-lost child
and played Messaien.
My favorite piece was called
"quartet for the end of time"
and all the emo kids in the world
could not have matched the fervor with which I played
I played like I knew enough about time
to understand its absence

I played everything but Bach. He seemed
like a pedantic schoolteacher
full of steady beats and mindless repetition
to me, the variation was too predictable.
There are only so many ways to elaborate a theme
and I never liked remixes much anyway
I did not understand
until I lost my father.
He is not dead.
I lost him years ago, him seventy me
fourteen we tried to bridge the gap with circling steps
and cautious advances
but when his hands were stung
by the open palms of my adolescence
he slowly stopped reaching
for me
and for the distant truth of my mother
who had grown into a tree
when he thought he married a sapling
he found another woman
and I slipped into the shadow of his new daughter
whose embarrassed tears at his insistence
at cheering for her soccer games
were the same salt that fell
when he never came to any of mine.

I lost him the first time I swore at dinner
and the last time I saw him
long-sleeved and quiet, knowing I could tell him
yes, I am happy
but I could not tell him why, wanting to say
that I loved how we used to dance
and all I really want from him
is the story he made up for me in Rome
where I am wandering through the catacombs of the great cathedral
if I heard it again
maybe I could stop looking for him in the stones

these are the variations of my father.
How he sang like the air was on fire
and his throat was water how he could imitate Elmo
from Sesame Street then turn and mock
an effeminate voice to its owner's face
how I loved him like you can love the ground
when you are falling from the sky
like I was once willing to destroy myself
if only to bring him closer to me

he was my theme.

And sometimes, with no one watching,
I pull my cello to my chest like it was him.
When I play Bach the notes spill out
into a thousand repetitions of what could have been
like returning to the burned foundation
of your childhood home
and lying in the ashes
I play for the lost infinity of my father.
And maybe that is the one thing I can do
that would have made him proud.



© Shannon Leigh



. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .