The Night Heart Knows Every Word


Out of stock

poems by

Sharon Leiter

Poetry book, 88 pages, $15 cover price


ISBN: 978-1-59948-346-7

Release date: 2012



SLeiterPxSharon Leiter is the author of two volumes of poetry, The Dream of Leaving (Main Street Rag) and The Lady and the Bailiff of Time (Ardis), as well as of two works of literary scholarship, Akhmatova’s Petersburg (University of Pennsylvania Press) and Critical Companion to Emily Dickinson: A Literary Reference to Her Life and Work (Facts on File). Her poetry has appeared in Atlanta ReviewCimarron ReviewThe Georgia ReviewThe Virginia Quarterly Review, and many other journals. She has published fiction and essays and was the recipient of a 1990 Virginia Award for Fiction. She serves as poetry editor of Streetlight, a journal of art and literature for Charlottesville and surrounding areas. Leiter has a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Michigan and teaches literature at the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies Program at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she makes her home.

“One deep dream /disgorges us/ into the faithful light”… In The Night Heart Knows Every Word, the poet emerges from real sleep into startling insight, probes memory and ancient myth to find the future and rises out of the fog of illusion toward heart-rending loss. Sharon Leiter’s compelling images and language in these poems take us on an intimate journey as the poet questions and confronts life’s irony until we arrive with her at grateful celebration of all of our travails and encounters. “You and I lived in the Garden of Remission./… In the desert sand was ever on our tongues,/ but sometimes a feast of hope/ fell from the extravagant sky.”

–Roselyn Elliott,
author of The Separation of Kin

The lyrics in Sharon Leiter’s The Night Heart Knows Every Word are nocturnal, dreamlike, stalked by loss and a restless, storied nostalgia, and suffused with feist and dark humor (“Sixty is the new forty, they say / to which I say bull / to which I say if only”). They speak to us from aftermath and a coming to terms with the truth that “what you cannot reach / has no address beyond / what your heart left behind,” (“Lost City 101”). Moved by the engine of a stalwart, steadfast heart, these poems open out redemptively, “into the vanished / gesture of stretching // . . . provoking the rigid / skeptical palms to curl forward again // making a shallow / chalice for gathering / water, a valley where / the wanderer lies down // a cradle for the wind.”

–Lisa Russ Spaar,
author of Blue Venus

In The Night Heart Knows Every Word, Leiter recites elegies for the days, cities, homes, dreamscapes, and the loved ones who appear from the poems’ familiar doorways to fill each passage with meaning. The collection is a clear-eyed and tender re-gathering of spirit in the midst of a gathering darkness.

–Kevin McFadden,
author of Hardscrabble


       for Darryl

Only one day at
a time passes.
One deep dream
disgorges us
into the faithful
light. Yet we awaken
to refurnished eyes.
Families have passed from earth
while others have appeared
from nowhere,
anchoring us
to this world.
The ones I love are not
the ones I loved.
And yet, for you and me,
only the flesh surrounding
the flame of that old
familiar ecstasy
has changed.


this morning we’re
iron monkey bars
high, high
the sky keeps changing colors

yesterday we climbed
over a stile
you laid me down
on the still fresh green
of early August
your smile your
wild sleepy
aroma of home
made a tent
above me

today, tomorrow
seem inflated with
a buoyancy we might
mistake for lightness
might reach for
bend to ladder

ah, but a dream
keeps flinging them
beyond our fingers

fools of gravity
all we can do is
think ourselves
assume the derelict
shapes of movement

after watching “the edges of the universe”

       to my husband the astrophysicist

please don’t show me the universe

there’s no room for me in it
and don’t tell me
I’m made of stardust
when even the stars
are nothing but
oblivious fires

don’t show me the chalky
smear of my miniscule
planet circling its
negligible sun clinging to
the peripheries of a rampant galaxy
like a tick on the tail
of a wild stallion

don’t enlighten me and–
please–don’t lift me
to less than nothing–
ness don’t
relieve me of myself
and all I know how
to think and be

strands of a cosmic despair
already striate my DNA
so don’t make me wonder
what can the trees matter
what of the children the streets
the shops the leaves falling
much less my heart my bowels
my high rickety
cities of significance

and I’ve had trouble enough
with god all my life–
I don’t need to wonder
what kind of god could
such an indignity
don’t need to see
how in all that brutal
infinity there’s even
less room for god
than there is for me

Recurring Dream

If I could believe, put my mind to sleep
in a garden where images spin
one into the other in long raptures,
I’d tell myself these full-fleshed visitations
show me you are well, lucid, alive
in the vigorous land of yourselves.

Not that you’re back in Rockaway again,
living out your years without my help,
phoning the relatives, playing cards,
walking the boardwalk,

but like the good Jewish parents you were,
you’ve come to reassure me,
putting on a world I know
to tell me of one I don’t.

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