Ode to the Unsayable by Keith Leonard


There was a word
I was taught
not to say
in the gym, or on
the basketball court,
the playground,
and sometimes
at home, and so
I took to picturing
this word
locked in my gut
as a sun beam staved
and skinny
dungeon inmate.
And when I did
lift a torch
to the wrought-iron door
where this yardbird
jangled his chains
like hell-smithed
windchimes, he held
his palms open
to a bath of light
washing the dank stones.
And yes, maybe
there are words
we should smother
to oblivion,
but what
if I told you
the word I kept
locked wasn’t
some expletive
to ruffle
the tighty-whities
of the principal,
but was, in fact,
love? Love, the unsayble.
Love, the destitute
and hungry. If you
were a boy
in America
maybe they beat
this word
into the dudgeon
of you, too.
The gym,
the playground,
and sometimes
at home.
Maybe they cracked
their fist
against your temple.
You learned to focus
on tuffs of grass
that seemed
to litter the dirt.
Who was it
who told me
the tongue
has no bones,
so we’ve got
to learn
how to hold it?
My tongue can do
amazing things
when my love
wants it. I’ll say it
again: love.
And again: love.


Keith Leonard is the author of Still, the Shore (YesYes Books), a chapbook of poems. He has held scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Indiana University. His poems have recently appeared in Colorado Review, Gulf Coast, and Redivider, among others.