Commiserate is a monthly experiment in poetic collaboration.

April, 2013: Katherine Leyton


notes to a husband


When I feed the ducks
my hard heels of bread

I hate how the black-
necked geese often do not care

for my crumbs.
That’s not really news

but it’s what I care
to report.


The bed is cold ground
when you’re gone

my obsessions sweat
through the sheets
and I blink
at the ceiling

as it lowers itself.
In the morning
I think about our kitchen window–
the time a sparrow collided with our reflection

we’d been eating toast
hands gripping mugs
everything like any day.


When I swim
I know only swimming

this water remembers my body

you will come back and say
I’ve memorized every inch of you

but your hands will feel cool
strange and I will shudder the first time

your mouth moves for my skin.


My bookshelves prove
I will keep expanding
like a universe, unchecked


When you are here
and sitting still
I make you read to me

I lay my head in your lap
and you get nervous:
“She gave him his eyes, she found them
Among some rubble, among some beetles.”

You stumble
and I reach up and put my hand
to your neck.


I don’t know whether to answer the telephone
or the emails or the door. I am too drunk

to eat fish. Windows or not,
your eyes are broken

and we have conversations
in my head like a television

on somewhere,
letters I don’t send.


Your job is to be forgotten
but present. A rattling

glass eye or some trashy
romance novel I never read

but refuse to throw away.


Call me.
Call me and don’t say anything.
Call me and pray.
Call me and talk for the dead.

I will call you.
I will call you when my legs open wider.
I will call you when yolk sticks on the plate.
I will call you when night wakes me.

Call me when you buy carrots / when you feel like a run / it is raining / the bus is late /
you stop to help an old woman up the stairs/ I will call you

when i notice the moon again / when i rinse out the bottles / before the trash / must go out / call and there are no answers / no endings / i will call you when i remember
what it is / i entered / the kitchen for

Katherine says: I’m a bit of a fascist when it comes to my poetry, so I’ll admit I found this exercise very frustrating at first, especially since Ryan took the lead on it and decided both the context and the opening stanza.

Here, Ryan says, go anywhere you want, but only in this room. Or, in this case, be anyone you want, but only in the confines of this marriage.

In the end, of course, constraints are wonderful things because they challenge you to go places in your writing you normally wouldn’t.

And working with Ryan is exciting: what I like about his work is that it explodes in these unexpected places into deep grooves and melodies that I really want to get into, be a part of, and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to do that. I’m really glad he asked me to participate in this project.

Ryan says: Originally from Canada, I’ve known Katherine since her days of study in Edinburgh. Her mature, considered, (occasionally angry) voice and rare concern for The Poem struck me from our very first workshop together and, indeed, my first collection remains indebted to her eyes.

Since then she’s been at work on her craft and it has been my privilege to read her poems as often as she cares to send them along. Having just read her recently finished first manuscript, I remain excited about the future.

Katherine’s poems have appeared in places like The Malahat ReviewThe Edinburgh Review, and Room. She was also the founder one of the more exciting poetry projects I’ve seen in a long time — How Pedestrian. Without any funding or sponsorship, Katherine took poetry to the streets and got random people in random places to read poems aloud. You’ll want to dip into the project. But, first, have a read of our poem which was loosely inspired by a Tomaz Salumn poem which might have been called ‘Notes to My Wife’ (though, I’m not 100% positive) but was definitely in ‘A Ballad for Metka Krasovec‘.

Read More From Commiserate 2013