Head on a Shelf / Kayla Sargeson


In stock

Head on a Shelf

poems by

Kayla Sargeson

ISBN: 978-1-59948-899-8, 36 pages, $12 (+ shipping)

Projected Release Date: February 1, 2022

The Advance Sale Discount price on this title has expired. For those who prefer to pay by check, the price is $16/book (which includes shipping) and should be sent to: Main Street Rag, PO BOX 690100, Charlotte, NC 28227-7001. 


Kayla Sargeson is the author of the full-length collection First Red (Main Street Rag, 2016) and the chapbooks BLAZE and Mini Love Gun, both from Main Street Rag. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in 5 AM, Cimarron Review, and City of Asylum’s “Poem of the Week” feature. With Lisa Alexander, she co-curates the Laser Cat reading series. Sargeson lives in Pittsburgh where she teaches at the University of Pittsburgh, Carlow University and the Community College of Allegheny County.

Kayla Sargeson’s Head on a Shelf needles, sizzles, and burns with a nervy intensity. These poems practice a post-punk personism that’s like a phone call from a strange and delightful alien planet. Again and again, Sargeson’s poetry holds terror, sadness, and loss at bay with a powerful and transgressive insistence on joy. These poems are hungry for life, and elevate the quirkiness of happenstance to the sublime. Reader, prepare to be permanently markered by Head on a Shelf’s vibrant indelibility. ~Lee Ann Roripaugh, Author of tsunami vs. the fukushima 50


I’ve unabashedly admired Kayla Sargeson’s fearless poems for over a decade, how they kick down doors, take it all head on, no turning back, nary a whine nor wheedle, no plea for mercy – but a wry, reckless endearing irreverence that always freezes me in recognition: the brute, beautiful, often joyous world that she so uncompromisingly constructs syllable by syllable, one haymaker line after another.

In her searing new volume, Head on a Shelf, she once again threads the lethal needle because she stares so long and longingly at everything her gaze lights upon. Her appetite is voracious – especially for withering truth: “the only people who don’t bother you are the dead.” Perhaps what I admire most is her celebration of embodiment: the brazen, the glory, the mysterious blood gnosis – feeding the body, subtracting from it, exponentiating it, tattooing and fetishizing it. “What is it about bodies that can tell us so much [?]” she inquires. “Who hasn’t, as a child, touched themselves, / slid a warm body over a wet bathroom floor, / fallen in love with the man / who has perfect hands?”

Sargeson’s poems inhabit the present and the past so seamlessly – the two realms that she, like all of us, inhabits simultaneously. She brilliantly choreographs the double narratives of our lives – one step ahead, yet paradoxically, elegiacally, two steps into the past, and its italicized whispering voices depended perfumed and sweaty in the ether. Sometimes the sweetness cloys and sometimes it suffocates, but this is not ordinary sweetness. It’s risk and reckoning: visceral, sensual, ceremonial – “circling this world with no concept of time, / slipping in and out of love.” Even as the body betrays and sabotages, it remains, in Sargeson’s poetic economy, redemption. We simply can’t stop feeding it. What a splendid, courageous book. What a splendid, courageous poet. ~Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina Poet Laureate (2012-2014) & author of The 13th Sunday after Pentecost



Mother rabbits eat their first litter.

Ali tells me this over miniature cupcakes
and M&Ms.

I had this rabbit once.
She walked on her babies,
crushed them until they bled.

The next day she went to the cage
and the little ones were gone.

I couldn’t look at her after that.

I tell her all mothers eat their eldest children
and get it right with the next born.

Can you imagine that?
Eating six babies in one night?
She must’ve been so full.

I’m picking at acidic pasta salad.
I’m not satisfied. I want something more,
something that once bled.

Maybe my mother and I would have gotten along if she had eaten me,
felt me squirming inside her again.
Maybe there’d finally be that familial bond between us
other than that Estée Lauder Spanish Red

and I wouldn’t be left hungry,
greeting the world with a greedy mouth.



Head on a Shelf


I’m on three days no sleep and you
just want to talk about your new album:
Did you see it online? I’m putting it on vinyl, too.
Can’t talk long. It’s on my Bandcamp.

I remember the nights I spent listening to your fucking Bandcamp.
The same three albums over and over.
Here’s where that got me:
Yeah, I told you about my album release party!
It’s okay. I still love you.

I spent the morning wandering around
a warehouse in Warrendale full of cast-off props
from Netflix shows: vintage clock radios,
pillows, TVs.
Some woman pulled a mannequin head off a shelf, said:
I’ve always wanted to put a mannequin head in a suitcase,
just to say I have a head in a suitcase.

You don’t care about my morning,
don’t ask about my week.
You’re 40 years old, still living with your mother,
never going to be famous:
It’s okay. I still love you.
Your four words/thirteen letters
sour the morning’s avocado toast.



Two White Men on a Bus


When my father died,
I wanted the world to stop.
I swear I saw one of the men kiss another man,
but this morning he keeps saying my wife, my wife.

They both take up two seats.
The big one’s elbow digs into my side.
There’s no room for me in their world
and why should there be?

My sister lives in California.
Look, 100K just doesn’t stretch there
the way it does here.
You hear about the shooting in Wilkinsburg,
the black kids and the barbecue?

The big one is sweating.
The not gay one clutches a briefcase.

They could be any men:
the friend who got angry after I wouldn’t send him nudes,
the colleague who asked if I got fucked on my birthday.
I want an elbow out of my side/
to be able to breathe comfortably.
I don’t care what they think about pay equality
when the not gay one won’t look me in the eye
at the bus stop.

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