The Sweet & Low Down

Mary Leonard
Cover Photo: Gerald Leonard  
In The Sweet & Low Down, her third chapbook, Mary Leonard gives us the lowdown on life. Though it turns out to be less than savory at times, she shows its sweets as well as its sours. There is loss and yearning here, but there is also a rising from the dead through the energy of color, zest, and most of all, love. As the poet says in “On the High Seas,” she is tired of the way Life has stolen her dreams; she is ready to board his pirate ship, show him “a thing or two,” and reclaim what is rightfully hers. Early readers of The Sweet & Low Down have been delighted by its vivacity, humor, and honesty. Teresa Vilardi, Director of the Institute for Writing and Thinking at Bard College, has this to say: “Mary Leonard’s poems are vivid and intelligent; they sparkle with intuitions about how words work on the reader, how everyday events are transformed into ways of understanding childhood, loss, and small gestures that might otherwise go unnoticed. In poems that are formally inventive and often turn on a key moment (one poem, in fact includes the lines,
Shadow Sounds
  Cover: Gerald Leonard

‘Turn  the  key,  to  the   right  /  to  the  left’), Leonard weaves memory, imagination, and the incongruities of language—our own and others’—into a rich and emotionally resonant tapestry.” And this from Aela Mass Jourden, creator of Poetry in Motion at the International Writers’ Forum: “The Sweet & Low Down places the reader beside the author on her many journeys, looking in on her at the bright markets of Tel Aviv, the produce aisle of a Midwest Piggly Wiggly, an outdoor sculpture garden in the Hudson Valley, the dirty and oppressed eras of yesteryear, and the shadowed enclaves of childhood. So forcefully and beautifully are these scenes and times evoked that the reader becomes the author, experiencing them as if for the first time.”

Mary Leonard is a visiting lecturer at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and an Associate of the Institute for Writing and Thinking at Bard College. While teaching high school English, she was the recipient of three NEH grants to study poetry and a Fulbright Fellowship to travel in Brazil. She has published in many small journals and appears regularly in Hubbub out of Reed College. Leonard is the author of two chapbooks: Twenty-First Century Flint and A Girl. Although she reads poetry, fiction, humor and even non-fiction to keep in tune with the literary world, she has learned the most from working with her students and colleagues, especially those in the summer program at Simon’s Rock. She is working on a novel, Italian Ice, and publishes articles regularly in About Town (Rhinebeck, New York). She likes to travel, but her first love is the Rondout in Kingston, New York, where she lives with her husband, Jerry.

Please note that 30% of all proceeds from the sale of this book support Partners In Health, a Massachusetts-based organization which works to bring health and social justice to the poor in twelve countries around the world.

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ISBN 978-0-9843418-3-2

Copyright © 2010 by Mary Leonard

5.5" x 8.5" chapbook, 28 pages




The Sweet and Low Down

Small gestures matter,
and I’m not talking about flipping someone
the bird. I got a note from the principal.
See I can spell that because some teacher
taught me the mnemonic, The principal is
my pal
, and he is. He thanked me
in writing for my work with the teachers.
I came home and cleaned my house
lickety split. I was high on a small
gesture. I feel this way in the Midwest.
Last time I visited I was wandering
in the produce section of Hinky Dinky
or was it Piggly Wiggly—so corny out there.
And the clerk yelled, Hi, how are you?
I stepped back in a panic, thought
I was caught squeezing the melons.
But he was sincere. Day two in that market,
I knew the checkout girl’s name
and we exchanged some news of the day.
I know this will sound like some Feel-Good
New-Age advice, but why not smile at a stranger?
I did try that in the supermarket, here in NYC,
but the woman did not smile back,
did not say hello to my hello.
Oh well. I did not take it personally.
That’s the other thing that matters,
don’t take it personally.
No one is out to get you or me.
It’s a matter of being in the path
of hurricanes, earthquakes, the robber,
the suicide bomber, the terrorist.
I have myself panicked now.
My shoulders are up around my ears.
I am worried, not angry, but in need of one
small gesture. Thanks, I would love a cup of coffee,
yes, with one sweet and low

On The High Seas

How do I tell you, Life,
I am tired of your stealing
my dreams, hopes, desires
as if they are loot you can haul away
and present to some other. Who the hell
is paying you anyway? You can’t fool
me. I know the patch over your eye,
The doo rag, the parrot that recites
Submit, submit…all lame tricks.
Your ship may sail in open seas,
above the law, but what if
I sneak aboard? I can do that.
Your men would freak out.
It’s bad luck to have a woman
on board. I’d wear some push-up
lacy bra, garters, black stockings,
some high heels for your high seas.
No doubt about my intentions.
You would all cower by the tall mast
and I would claim my dreams and desires,
showing you a thing or two, my Life, you.

One with Color

When I stare at Benjamin Moore color chips
I might as well be inverted
in a shoulder stand, humming ommm.

Something about the tone
of Lime Froth 2031-70
lifts my spirit.

I am serious. I like the gentleness
of froth on my walls but
Neon Celery wakes me up.

It’s crisp, flashy.
But if I stare at it without
the Lime Froth, I am in second grade

writing—100 times,
I must follow directions.
We had chanted We must skip a line

so many times I became hypnotized
(Nirvana even then)
and did not skip a line and erased,

and Joey, the kid who loved the Dodgers,
turned me in.
I cried and Nancy Budd said, “Don’t cry,”

and Sister Celia said, “You can go
to the water fountain.”
I still had to write
I must follow
. I needed to follow,

to be one with Neon Celery
but ached inside, always have
and always will, to be luscious
2031-50—Key Lime.

I taste those pies, see them
wobble on my plate,
say ummm.

With the right mix of key limes
and cream I could spend my life
tasting pies from Key Largo to Key West,

could fling my tired soul into
the high weeds of Spring
Meadow Green 2033-70,

I could chant ommm with no need to follow.

The Sacred Eye

Blessed be the cats who live in the rocks
along the Mediterranean,
who huddle, heads together,

a furry flower searching for the sun.
At night they retreat to the dark
caves along the Teyelet, curling

like one to pray to the moonlight.
be those
who leave plates of water, cans of tuna,

food for cats to survive, breed.
Blessed be the Egyptian goddess,
Bast, body of a woman, head of a cat,

possessing a sacred eye,
the utchat
that word

giving birth to all the names for cat:
chat, cattus, gaous,
katt, katte, kitty, kitt

May the sounds of cats cluster like moonlit shells
washed up from the sea.
May they howl for peace, paz, pace, freiden, shalom.

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