In the Poet's Spotlight for
2006: Jennifer James LeRoy
James LeRoy hails from a military family and has lived throughout the
U.S., as well as in Panama and Germany. She wrote her first short story
at the age of four and five years later won her first writing contest.
While attending the Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia,
her poems, short stories, and essays received numerous prestigious
honors. In addition to publishing in Virginia Writing, her work was
recognized by the Virginia High School League (Superior rating and
Medalist, poetry), the National Council of Teachers of English
(Outstanding Writing Award), and Word Works (Younger Poets Award). Her
multi-genre portfolio was selected out of more than 1500 portfolio
applicants as one of five Scholarship winners in the National Scholastic
writing competition for which she was invited to read her work at the
Library of Congress. Out of over 16,000 entries, she received National
Scholastic Gold and Silver medals for the essay and poetry categories.
She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Arizona with a
degree in Creative Writing, winning honors for essay and poetry and the
Fred M. Scott award for fiction. Shortly after graduation, she was
diagnosed with an untreatable connective tissue disorder that threatened
to cut short her promising career. Though it severely restricts her life
activities, she fights daily against the pain and limitations of her
illness to pursue her passion. She lives with her husband in Tucson and
is working on her first chapbook. The poem “Before Curtain Call,”
featured below, was written by Ms. LeRoy when she was 17. This piece
appeared in The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards 1997 program to
highlight this talented writer’s accomplishment as a National Writing
Portfolio winner. The other four poems represent Ms. LeRoy’s more recent
Mary Todd Lincoln was committed to an
asylum by her son, Robert,
after her emotional breakdown following
the death of her three sons
gardens dressed for a funeral, fountains pour red wine gushing from that
in the back of your head
the bars of my window, like steel train tracks dividing a nightmare
My, my, wasn’t John quite the hero—such a brave little puppet with a
watch how he grew when he aimed
slumped, not a President, but a stable boy,
a pile of skin in the balcony
I watched you fall
time and space and ranks of honor,
but I couldn’t catch you, stop you from being mortal
boys now, our boys, William, Tadd, Todd
like a perfect barber shop quartet
side by side by side by wicked side
finally committed to something—me,
his mother in this looney barrel to roll around and claw to get out
But I’m not like them, I’m a lady, I have status, I have respect,
In the East
Room you gave up, succumbed to your selfish body
didn’t even finish the play
So now I wander the halls and gardens and fountains
everything that cursed paper clip man with a pistol
for me, what choice do I have,
but to gather my skirts like a lady and leave before curtain call
Mother, I am curled beneath your heart.
I breathe you in, start to move.
You place your palm on your belly
and hum a lullaby. But I don’t want
to sleep. I am awake, blind eyes wide
in this red suede room.
Your voice is an underwater song
and vibrates the somersault I’m suspended in,
half-rotated, upside-down. I’ll enter
your world wailing and bleating,
because the outside universe
is a sterile-gloved hand.
I don’t want to emerge,
but when I’m torn from our cord
and crying on your breast,
know that I left a secret,
my true spirit,
buried deep within you.
The only thing I knew to give.
So when I’m grown or if
I’m gone, I’ll still be in you,
sitting in that room below your heart,
listening to the beat and grooving,
mother and child, percussionist and dancer
preserved in duet, our tribal communion,
a concentric embrace blissfully repeating.
I chased a hare down a hole,
because I thought he had the answers,
but when I discovered
his pocket watch was decoration,
I found myself a timeless fool.
So I learned taxidermy,
pawned the ticker, thought a map
would show me which way was up.
But I bought it from a cashed out
caterpillar, and it was incoherent
as his prose.
Had tea in a Dali garden
with the insane. Hatter’s wife
hung herself in the pansies.
He’s been howling ever since.
I poisoned the crumpets
when trying to be big,
but only my sins grew;
I scooped up God in a thimble.
Now I lie awake
listening to the whooping cranes
and all their whopping lies
and the jingling teeth
of that rabid cat. Stuck
in this twisted imagination world,
no door out, everything backwards,
I raise the shard of my looking glass
to the moon, transfixed for a moment
by the silver, unaware that my wrist
has already begun to weep.
When the butler lifts the silver lid
and serves the host’s head
as the main entrée, half his associates
faint, while the others lose their appetizer soufflé.
Steam curls from the head’s orifices,
the eyes pinched in pain.
They loved carving him up
with serrated tongues, double-edged alliances,
but no one can get too close
to what they’ve done or take responsibility.
“Whack off his head, but keep that thing away from me.”
The publicist spins the mood by announcing,
“The steam is like incense.
He’s saying grace before the feast.”
The mistress exclaims, “Amen,
we’ve created something holy.”
The guests agree, then dig in, gossiping
merrily, networking without looking
at their plates, washing down the taste
with glass after glass of champagne.
One chair exists in this house.
Four legs, two arms, a hybrid of domestic pet and lover.
How the chair wishes there was another,
so they could lose themselves
in each other’s wood swirls,
get sauced on varnish,
spend the night chasing the other around the table,
then fall panting to the floor, whisper secrets
to the tiles, ponder the contents of their cushions.
Nothing is more lonely than a single chair,
sitting at attention against the wall,
a disciplined schoolboy the teacher forgot,
a death device craving a sinner to shock with devotion,
a piece of furniture once touched in creation
that will forever be waiting
for another hand or breath
to enter the room, give it purpose again.
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