A Tribute to Sharon Leiter, poems from her unpublished chapbook

One of Sharon Leiter’s myriad of roles and activities while living and working in the Charlottesville, VA community of scholars, teachers and writers was to serve as Poetry Editor of Streetlight Magazine from 2004 until her death in 2016. In this capacity, Sharon made the day of many an emerging and hopeful poet writing from Virginia and beyond, always with the intent of offering encouragement and celebrating poets striving toward their best work .

During this period of her life, Sharon, a Slavic Languages and Literature professor at the University of Virginia, and then adjunct professor in the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies Program there, also wrote and published two volumes of poetry, The Dream of Leaving, and The Night Heart Knows Every Word. These followed her scholarly books about Emily Dickinson and Anna Akhmatova and a trove of scholarly papers and analyses.

During her last year, as Sharon battled what was to be a terminal illness, she also mourned her beloved husband, Darryl Leiter, who had passed away two years earlier. Her sorrows made their way onto pages of poetry as a chapbook, still unpublished. These are poems written with the sharp knife of early bereavement, keening on the page in a poet’s voice all the while hungry for logic and meaning.

Today, in celebration of our well-loved former editor and dear friend, we begin our Fall 2018 quarter, with 6 poems from Sharon’s chapbook, Thefts of Night.

— by Roselyn Elliott

Before Your Surgery

 

I’m waiting for you
to come home and
make love to me
for the last time.

I haven’t showered
or dressed. I haven’t
put on make-up. I’ve
been sitting all day
at the computer
in my nightgown,
grading final papers.

When you come
home we will lie
down on the bed
and hold each other.

We won’t require
some fancy dance
to get us there.

We are natives
of these woods.
We walk blind
to the warm cabin.

I believe the flame
we have bathed in
for fifty years
will seize us again –

unless we are simply
too sad
to tap on the door

and breathe in
the time-scented walls
as if it were yesterday.

 

That Other Death

 

They said you were at peace –
The mob of healers and hopers
circling your final days –
but I keep picturing that other
death you should have had,
uncertain years from now –
no hospitals, no crowds –
we two in our darkening
bedroom, a fire in the hearth,
two bony folks
conversing quietly,
finally tired enough
and satisfied
to say good-bye.

 

Hebrew Cemetery on Rosh Hashanah

 

I stood at the place where
you lie, next to my parents’
shared gravestone. You were no more
than a slight rise in the ground,
imperceptible, had I not been looking
for you and the children placing
small stones on the spot and on
my parents’ polished marking.

You were no more palpable
to me there than you are in
my spiteful dreams, though
the children, who had not
seen you lowered,
were solemn
and excited to have
some part of you at last.

At year’s end,
I will raise a
stone to you,
dark,
polished,
impenetrable,
with some words
that must suffice
out of all the words.
This will disguise
the barbarity beneath
the ground,
and give me a way
to come to you.

 

Our Argument

 

You had your
Personal God,
I had my Blank.
I had the Holocaust.
You had tikkun olam
ploy of an oddly
incompetent God
wherein humans –
no questions asked –
undo His wars
and cure His diseases –
ungodly things
you’d think
He’d have seen to.

Over the years
the fight got less raw.
You went on seeing
what I never saw.

You stayed true
to the end, adrift on
your hospice bed,
on a river of dwindling
pain you may well
have mistaken
for welcoming bells.

Do we get what we believe in?

God or no
I go on
through the threadbare
seasons –
afterlife
of the fifty-year wife –
mine without rhyme
or reason.

 

how absolute the thefts of night

 

the children sleepwalked out of time
they might have stayed

I called out an essential name
it spurned my claim

I pointed at the food I craved
it hid behind the window pane

the book of poems in my hand
made a nosedive under the bed

came unglued, each yellowed page
setting off on its own way

I woke to the light of a counterfeit dawn
and the absence that fills my days

 

The world falls flat

 

on the widow who has
to do it all herself.
Suddenly she is
the shlepper
the techie
the money-worrier
who fawns on
tax jugglers,
computer mystics
engine mavens.

She bullies bottle caps
and gadgets to the ways
of her arthritic fingers,
slaps and cajoles
the radio and TV into
articulation. She clings
to Mali and Somalia,
Timbuktu and fiscal cliffs.

She drives in predictable circles
through the small town
of her heart, parks however
she can, carries one grocery bag
at a time from car to kitchen.

Still, she slips down stairs
spills merlot on ivory
tablecloths, bangs
into end tables
leaves legal evidence of
herself in supermarkets.

At night she sleeps the sleep of
the left-behind-by-the-dead,
head wedged in dreamlessness.

 

Sharon Leiter reading to an audience

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