Shara Lessley

Shara Lessley is the author of The Explosive Expert’s Wife and Two-Headed Nightingale, and co-editor of The Poem’s Country: Place & Poetic Practice. A former Wallace Stegner fellow in poetry at Stanford University, her awards include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the Mary Wood Fellowship from Washington College, the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, an Olive B. O’Connor Fellowship from Colgate University, and a “Discovery”/The Nation prize, among others. Shara’s poems appear widely in magazines and anthologies. She was the inaugural Anne Spencer poet in residence at Randolph College and currently serves as assistant poetry editor for Acre Books. She lives in Oxford, England.

Photo: Lisa Beth Anderson


Border Crossings »

Reading: Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul, Shara Lessley

Fri 8 March | 11:30 - 12:30 | £4.50/£3.50 | The Town Hall, Queens Gardens, Supper Room


Letter to Bruce in Paradise, Indiana
Swefieh, Amman

A worker came to measure for curtains
today. It was the first time
since moving here I’ve been alone
with a local man. Asked for his opinion,
he stared at his notebook and nodded
as you like just as the Orthodox church
bells began to ring. I don’t understand
most things. When I try to speak
Arabic, my mind races toward
some word locked in a coffin
of glass. Where is the key? I hear
you say, Be patient. It will come.
Mornings, I practice the names
of days. Truth is, I’m saved by
the fact most people here know
three languages or more. Yesterday,
a taxi driver said the kingdom is the size
of Indiana—I’ve heard this twice
before! I like to picture us there
drinking margaritas by the pitcher
in the study off your parents’ kitchen,
before stumbling down the hundred
or so outdoor planks that, as a kid,
you helped your father hammer into place.
We turned our backs to the lake then,
remember? Before undressing
I took my glasses off. Between
the sky and tree-line, everything turned
greenish gray and what chirped
chirped from a far-off place
I couldn’t see. We laughed and talked
about the men we loved—wondering
how to make it last. We swam without
seeing what lived in the depths
beneath us. Next day, I planned
to drive part way to Virginia. Only,
I never told you, I kept going.
Pushed on alone past the Ohio
turnpike before night pressed down
and the sky above Maryland turned
green: a sudden storm lashing out,
rain caning the hatchbacks and two-
doors into makeshift rivers toward
a ditch. I couldn’t hear a thing—
not a horn or engine, not even
the sound of my name—and I don’t know
why I’m telling you this, except
that when I heard the nothing
that was nothing but water
falling all around me, sound itself
became a warning; a way of saying
that when the maps collapse
we are somewhere still. I don’t know
the name of the place or time
we’ll see each other again, only that
a man invented the compass to pinpoint
the time for prayer. That, here
they say a needle dropped into
a heart-shaped bowl points true
north, and you are there.


Shara Lessley

From The Explosive Expert's Wife (University of Wisconsin Press, 2018)