This is not the first time and I am not
The purest grain at the bottom of the bowl.
You are not the first meat to rotate over fire,
Each wave is not heaved onto a new beach,
Rising from the ocean of touches
A rhyme of wrists and ankles
A riddle of seaweed and bone:
Did we gallop into other skins to this same drum?
Is it rhythm
Or echo—scapula and flattened palm moistened and folding into one?
We have here a conflict between sensuous immediacy which is always new and, in its freshness, constitutes a rejection of memory, and nostalgic perspective which wishes for what is past to somehow become what is present. She is the victim of guilt via her historical sense, which is always heavy, always regretful, and which always threatens to dissolve the presence of the present into an echo of the past, of the lost, somehow fresher first love. And yet, as a poet, she is hyperaware of the immediacy of the senses, their perpetual freshness, which is always new, which, in a sense, is always, again, first love. This is a pure form of creative tension, of what Heraclitus called the “the bow whose life is when it kills.”
The ghost of Neruda echoes through Leonin’s lines and indeed all of her poems. Neruda himself was fixated on the sea and how each wave is new, and yet each wave is a ceaseless iteration of an endless, depressive historical list. Again, Heraclitus said you can never step into the same river twice since the water is always flowing; but history insists on giving the river one fixed identity, one place, one name, e.g. “The Nile.” Neruda was obsessed by these paradoxical contradictions of flowing and frozen things, of love and death:
To the beating of the wave against the unruly rock
the brightness bursts and founds its rose
and the circle of the sea shrinks to a globule,
to a lone drop of falling blue salt.
Oh radiant magnolia unleashed in the foam,
magnetic traveler whose death blooms
and eternally returns to being and being nothing:
broken salt, dazzling roll of the sea.
Together you and I, my love, seal the silence,
while the sea destroys its steadfast statues
and razes its towers of fury and whiteness,
because in the weft of those invisible weavings
of unbridled water and incessant sand,
we maintain the harassed and only tenderness.
(Pablo Neruda, Love Sonnet 9, http://home.uchicago.edu/~baude/neruda). The influence of Neruda is clearly detectable in Leonin. Part of that might have to do with her personal background. She was born in Kansas City, Missouri. Her mother is from Louisville, Kentucky and her father from Havana, Cuba. She received her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Miami. She lives in Miami Beach. So, the influence of the southern and central American, Hispanic and Spanish derivations, Neruda’s latitudes, weaves into her bloodlines, and is evident in the poems in her book, Braid, of which you can learn more here -- http://www.anhinga.org/leonin.html.
To read more, click here:
The Invention of Skin: Love, Magic and Miracle in Mia Leonin's Poetry
by Michael Parker
“...[L]ove reveals a repeated fury.”
It is upon this concept that Mia Leonin begins her bewitching collection, “Unraveling the Bed.” It is a stunning and weighty line, taken from Pablo Neruda’s poem “Integrations,” in which themes range from international unity and the struggle of life as it integrally connects with nature, nation, and freedom.
In the poems, stories, and even the spoken word of her collection, Leonin stays away from these weightier themes and those of a few of the well-recognized Cuban-American poets -- independence & freedom (Reinaldo Arenas); the resistance to orthodoxy (Octavio Armand); isolation, loss, and alienation (Lourdes Casal); exile, migration, heritage, Cuba’s “disharmony with the world,” and the essence of Cuba in the literary collective (Pablo Medina, Elías Miguel Muñoz, Jorge Reyes); and socio-political concerns, particularly those of conformity (Angel Cuadro).
Instead, Leonin tackles the lighter, yet highly arduous task of interpreting love. Under the auspices of love, Leonin specifically highlights desire, longing, and the sexual connection. She also stunningly analyzes sub-themes such as love as service; love as the religious experience; and love as the brilliant chameleon set against the fierce play of love – the joy and peace; the hunger and longing; the sacred act and the shared meal; and the magic and the miracle..
With this in mind, it is perfectly fitting that Leonin echoes Neruda's description of love -- that it is a fierceness that haunts us. Why? I give you three reasons: 1) because it is absolutely true. 2) Because it is a subject that could grow a library's-worth of writings. And, 3) because Leonin establishes a true psychological sense of place we are all intimately familiar with – after all, we are human; we are the grand, complex "invention of skin" bedevilled by seemingly hard-coded instincts.
Of all the themes resonating within this work, the most resounding is passion. I am reminded of a line in Shakespeare's King John. "O that my tongue were in the thunder's mouth! Then with passion would I shake the world..." [3.4.38-40]
Leonin's display and description of all things passionate literally feels like it's coming from "thunder's mouth." The effect is provocative, exciting, and intoxicating. Moreover, and most importantly: Leonin's passionate poetry is endearing, thrilling, and relevant because of her skill, language, and heart. Each display of passion feels like it was approached like a study – analyzing its movement, understanding its mood, perceiving every emotion, and interpreting each like a thoughtful artist at her easel.
As an example, I introduce you to the young lover in Leonin's poem “Florida Story.” In the waking moment of this lover’s passion, she begins removing her dress. Leonin describes this act as if she were “unbutton[ing] every dress [she’s] ever worn.”
This longing to connect, skin upon skin, and desire “to cleave to the strongest part” overwhelms her so greatly that she feels she needs to be completely naked – remove every layer of herself so she can give her truest self to her lover.
The poem “This Is Not the First Time” is another fine example of passion in Leonin’s works. It's easy to notice the intoxicating descriptions and sexually-charged images. But it is the beautiful language and prosody in these lines that ultimately grab me:
Rhyme of wrists and ankles. Riddle of seaweed and bone:
did we gallop into other skins to this same drum?
Is it rhythm or echo – this shoulder blade, this palm,
moistened and folding into one?
We’ve loved before. We’ve entered the body of other bodies,
traced arm-shaped shadows on a cave wall. (p.10)
Leonin uses love as a religious metaphor in many poems such as the memorable “The Repeating Garden.” At its root, this poem is a psalm of intimate connection. Leonin stages the poem in the mystical Garden of Eden and her narrator, becomes a modern-day Eve.
To read more: MiPO