By Leah Umansky:


It is hard to quiet the blackberrying pain.
The little chronicles, the streaks, and the intimate workings.

I will face this by red-winging my truths.
I will push my blues into orchids.


I decided to claim more space
         But I chose the opposite
What are the words I would go to: hunger// longing// love
         When you feel drawn to something you should.
Whatever your terrible is is up to you.
         The question is how you lead.
I lead myself to distress; I lead myself to happiness.
         This is the history of our times.
I claw my way to the surface.
         I get a hold of this world with my teeth
& wolf down what I thirst for.
         How do I take the I out of here?
(why should I take the I out?)


I am always hungry
         I am always thinking of my next meal
         Is it the preemie in me?
Is it just the want?


We all have our oddities.
         I am always trying to be practical, logical, rational,
but it doesn’t always add up.
         There is so much of my life that I am forever holding under the light.
What falls below the seam?
         What falls outside of this poem?


I want to put the happy in.
         I want to put the hard world in.
I want to say this is a ballad, and so it is.
         Let’s enter it differently.
Any mammal feeds a hunger
         Any heart needs oxygen.


Everyone is saying no to me
Just as they do now
Just as they will
A kind of civil riot
A staged parade
It makes every kind of sense
That carnage that comes with falling hard,
That carnage that hassles and times,
That carnage that language picks up;
I am wanting to be picked up.
It is rarely an accident.
Elements are employed
Pounds are ranged
The number of possible routes are lost
All to force my foot door to door
To match the heart of my drive to
Coffee after coffee after coffee.
Take me as a whole,
Take these birds outside my window
Alive with the world’s chirp
Alive with the everyday thrill of
Worm or bug or crumb. Take them,
Then remember my thrills.
Everyone is saying no to me,
And I am flummoxed each time
I ask for more; or try for more.
I strive and I strive.
That’s the 21st century calling.
It’s doable. I travel great lengths
So I can match the heart
With the focus of each and every obstacle.
Can there be a rallying point?
This is not an accident.

(Is that what I should be learning here?)

Well, isn’t that magnificent.

“Hard” originally appeared in Thrush, “Ballad” originally appeared in The Inquisitive Eater, and “Carnage” originally appeared in Queen Mob’s. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.

Leah Umansky is the author of the poetry collection, The Barbarous Century, forthcoming from London’s Eyewear Publishing in 2018, the dystopian-themed chapbook Straight Away the Emptied World (Kattywompus Press, 2016), the Mad Men–inspired chapbook Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press, 2014), and the full length Domestic Uncertainties (BlazeVOX, 2012). She is a graduate of the MFA Program in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and teaches middle and high school English in New York City. More at

Editor’s Note: It seems I can’t read (or write) anything these days without seeing it through the lens of politics. Least of all poetry. Today’s poems — at once political and private — may or may not have been crafted to address the current moment. And yet they can be read as a direct address and used, accordingly, as a salve. What can we do, we ask? “I will face this by red-winging my truths,” says the poet; “I will push my blues into orchids.” Even in an ars poetica the poet’s words can function as a mirror: “The question is how you lead. / I lead myself to distress; I lead myself to happiness. / This is the history of our times.” No matter their intent, today’s poems are in the world now, speaking to us as they will. They might incite action or nurse wounds or take stalk of our humanity. “Take me as a whole,” they say, “Take these birds outside my window / Alive with the world’s chirp / Alive with the everyday thrill of / Worm or bug or crumb.”

Want more from Leah Umansky?
Border Crossing
Poetry Magazine
Jet Fuel
Minola Review
Quotidian Bee


  1. The infection by politics into every word, is inescapable; whether or not the poet is aware of it, or meant it to happen. Perhaps this is now the point of poetry, the coalescing of words that hatch out disquiet, outage and nurture solitude as the only huddled defense against obliteration of belief.


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