Totality & Temporality
I have completed two books of poetry, both under review. A third, Critiques Of, is in progress. The first,Totality & Temporality: Elegies through Time and Space, was inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies. In it I explore what it means to be human through an engagement with the interpretations of quantum mechanics. The Copenhagen, many worlds, decoherence, pilot-wave, and other interpretations are lenses through which, especially in the 10th elegy, I productively play with the possible bottom natures of our universe, and what those natures signify about, and how they speak to, the precarity of the human condition in all its radical contingency.
Each elegy is written around moments, memories, and experiences with, and images of, my daughter, the figure around which the geographies and spacetimes of each poem orbit. Such moments contour the human condition through particular events—her own birth, growth, education, acquisition of language and various abilities—each of which embodies and speaks to the larger human experience. In this way, my meditation on her life becomes a meditation on my own, on existence, meaning, space, place, change, and growth.
I have been invited to read the elegies publicly at various poetry and art events at UC Riverside, Cal Poly Pomona, and other venues since 2014, especially during my time serving as Editor-in-Chief of Pomona Valley Review from 2010-2017, to which I now serve as an adviser.
Totality & Temporality
Die Erste Elegie
Vast was our beginning, stardust
strung through the fabric of the
cosmos into the blue breadth
of sky and ocean.
Eternity brought you to me,
slung you down the arms of a
spiral galaxy, a bouquet of ashes,
reborn in the fiery dark
of your mother's womb.
A spark. That is all that is
needed to separate light
in a sky of coal.
You began me, held me up to
made me bear the weight of my
own gravity, made me separate
the bits of redeemable dust from
the vast expanse of cosmic waste,
a supernova brightening and
exploding its own mass.
How do you interiorize an
exteriority? Your eyes, wide as a
word that can’t be spoken,
they reflect me, mirrored image
before an astronomer’s gaze,
seeing what was perennially
unseen in the fixed, deep-rooted
stars of your eyes—
the cosmos, the inchoate
constellation, of an entire life.
How do you make totality from
temporality, the ephemera of
your wide-eyed dance endure—
your almost too-small shoes
on the floor.
If sound could some day rise
down, I might apprehend
the transient wanderings of
your voice, vaporized
in the fleeting tension
of a laugh.
What faces I might find there
between the spaces of a coil too
worn to spring open, and what
images might emerge beyond the
pull of the event horizon,
its dark and silent memories
awoken in the detritus
of the stars.
And you, then, you who grew from
seed to flower, from energy to
matter, a genesis wrapped in the
revelation of my own mortality,
could you presence that totality—
the angel an elegy once promised,
say the unsayable,
the pure draft?
Could you bend the stars down to
me again, wrap me in the warmth
of that childhood skin, which—
enveloped in the womb-like curves
of that first home—
oversimplified the cosmos,
where time unfolded in tendrils
of shadow motion over the street
corners that circumscribed
our world, its cul-de-sac center
sheltered as a pearl deep inside
the heart of an ivory dark.
Now, the mute stasis of a different
dark surrounds me. A memory,
creeping out, reaching in, crippled
hands once held, clutching broken
things so openly, frail fingers
vanishing where thick absence
breathes so tangibly,
the indeterminate immediate,
the intimate immensity,
an immemorial horizon drawing
me down where the ground
fails to come—
to come to that memory,
to that fragile space where we
had lived so tenderly.
You, too, drawn taller as toward
a siren in the soundless
vacancy of sky, stretched by the
strength of your cellular desire,
already and forever departing,
the thin space between us
dividing as your very cells.
I see you at the iron gates of their
institutions, see you in the rooms
with their orderly rows aligned in
broad blank spaces,
pressed forward in the progress
of their generations, spirits
There, too, the choir calls and
manifests a new monasticism,
where their heads, turned from the
heavens, reproduce the conditions
of their own disjunction.
Yet, even as my mind, immersed
in your impermanence, dwells in
the untold temples of the future,
caught in the disenchanted
current of a different air;
even as your eager dance
anticipates the final repetition of
a note, closing it off from
the seeing world;
even as the mountain slope we
traversed restricts access to
its own horizon, losing itself in
the sediment and strata of
generations not our own, those
broad boulders we stood before
broken and scattered;
nevertheless are you there,
lost in the dark forest of your
mother’s hair, bathing in the low
light emptying itself through our
bedroom window, basking in the
depth of that inner event,
that call to consciousness
in the buzzing hive that is your
mind, kneeling deeply beside the
sunflowers and bees, nature born
again in the dark mirrors of your
eyes, watching closely, intently,
cradled in that gentle becoming,
that simple oneness, of a
being there—just there, once,
and never again.
There, in a distance all too finite,
a distance we walk but once,
the flashing base of a platform
waits, arrows directing us,
conducting their disarray, calling
us, so indelibly, away.
On the Verge of Vanishing
In my second book of poetry, On the Verge of Vanishing, I engage the ancient Chinese poetic tradition, in particular Tang Dynasty poetry, to explore the poetry of everyday life. Informed both affectively and intellectually by the greatest of Chinese poets, including Tao Yuanming, Li Bai, Du Fu, Meng Haoran, and Wang Wei, among others, I attend to fleeting images and moments with resolute simplicity and clarity. Known as the "everyday poets," these exemplary writers not only wrote poetry, but also, and more importantly, lived their poetry. Or, rather, their poetry is a consequence of their living. Practicing the Daoist's "empty mind" and inhabiting change, the 10,000 things, their "selves" do not need to be in view, as Heidegger writes in another context. Rather, they "flow with the situation." My own book is such an attempt to do just this. My writing of each poem is a way to perceive, experience, and apprehend each moment before abruptly letting go. Such is the nature of the instant, Gaston Bachelard writes, which, as Rilke adds, incessantly departs. Thus, my poems here approach the present, hung between two voids, on the verge of vanishing.
Flying Kites in the Dark
Before I leave, night draws us near.
Stars hang from the neck of the sky
like small bright jewels
We send up a kite.
The wind responds with a tug,
gentle tension lifting us as if above
the invisible black ground.
Our legs curl up and down
into themselves like soft springs,
the taut string carrying us across
undulating waves of blackness,
tall, swaying blades of grass
pressed into cold, damp earth.
Can you see it in the dark,
the watermarks of memories,
the impressions of generations rising?
Published in Yes Poetry, Sept. 1st, 2020.
There were simple moments.
Asking me to pronounce words
with a mouthful of toothpaste.
Persepolis, that was your favorite,
small finger pointing to the book
cover, or to the I in Introduction.
So distant now, it seems,
your first crawl across the sheets,
the months that streaked by,
a cloud without a trail.
Playing with the makeup box,
painting lashes, putting things
back in their place.
What was it, your first word,
a lone leaf turning, falling,
departing—ripe, if only
for an instant.
Published in Chiron Review 116, 80,
Michael Hathaway Publishing, 2019.
Ryan Leack's creative work has appeared in journals such as Chiron Review, Poetry Quarterly, Yes Poetry, Pif (Poetry, Interviews, Fiction), Westwind (UCLA), RipRap (CSULB), Contemporary World Literature, Strong Verse, and Pomona Valley Review (Cal Poly Pomona), where he served as Editor-in-Chief for seven years and is now an adviser.