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Leah Umansky

the poet

Leah Umansky is the author of two full-length collections – The Barbarous Century and Domestic Uncertainties. She earned her MFA in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College, and is the curator and host of The COUPLET Reading Series in New York City. Her poems have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Thrush Poetry Journal, the New York Times, POETRY, The Academy of American Poets' Poem-A-Day, Rhino and Pleiades. Leah is resisting the tyrant with her every move.

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the poems

Alternate Ending of the Tyrant

00:00 / 02:11

In an alternate of King Lear, written after Shakespeare’s death, Cordelia dies in her father’s arms and then Lear is hanged. No rights are wronged; no savior is found. Wrong begets wrong. Betrayal begets betrayal. In an alternate ending of this life, the tyrant falls in a swift, a swoop, in a spoon’s width away from comedy. In this ending, the tyrant gradually falls to pieces; circuits fail, edges crack, and hinges bust; the tyrant frails, his hands are already taken; in one hand lies all the evil deeds and in the other, all the cries of the people. All the Americans; all of those people he tried to separate, nullify, procure; all of those beautiful people he mined against one another, who he propped up with his puppetry and from whom he mystified the truth, those are the ones leading the fray. Lie by lie, layer by layer, the tyrant falls to the earth, and there is no burial song, no choir leading the audience in prayer; death is death. It is a certainty — we all die — and here, the tyrant is without his hands, and here, he is now without his tongue, without his voice, and without his hearing; he falls and falls and falls; no one pities him and no one cries. In this alternate ending, the need to feel fades; victory triumphs, freedom triumphs, peace triumphs, love triumphs; in this alternate ending, his ashes become a stone and the stone is buried in the dirt, captured in the dank and the dark and in the damp of eternity. The tyrant is just that, a pebble beneath the surface; one we know is always there, always there, always.

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00:00 / 03:02


Apparently, St. Margaret was so pious that she was

indigestible when the dragon tried to swallow her.

The dragon didn’t want her, was repelled by her,

and saw her as alien. She was both easy to resist,

yet also irresistible. It often feels like I am of the

same flock. I repel; I reject; I shun; I halt; I

discard; I deter; I resist and I disavow.


Inside is the alien/ inside is the hunt/ the hunt that

makes monsters out of us/ the hunt that makes us

hunt the want/ the hunt that makes the want/ the

hunt that makes us want the want/ the hunt that

makes us want the want that we want.


My friend says: you are different; you walked

through the fire and came out on the other side.




I think about that fire. All my phoenixing. All my

aligning and redefining. I think about all my

reframing, all my scaffolding and my lexiconic

leaps. What are they for? To establish this

monstrosity? To establish my monstrosity? To

establish the reflection of myself to myself?




In myself, I see the hope. I see the urgency. I also

see the bleak. I see the way I reinforce this to

myself, tearing the edges, punching the holes; I see

the way I keep, and I hold and I stare, and I see

the way this should go, and I see the way this would

go, and then I see the way it actually is. In my own

self is what is alien: the woman I’ve become, the

woman I now am, and the woman I thought I’d be.

Who is to say any of us are better than any one of

us? Who is to say we aren’t all the same woman,

for what woman is ever the same?




Okay, let me stop dramatizing.


What I know is that I’m tired of fire, its heat and

its staunch; its climb, its origin, its sanctimony. I’m

tired of its necessity, its ritual, its height, spit and sear.

What I know is that I’m tired of looking at myself.

I’m tired of looking within myself. I’m tired of

looking around myself. I’m tired of looking at you

in relation to me. I’m tired of looking at this in

relation to me. I’m tired of looking. I’m tired of

sifting and treading oh so lightly. In an instant, it

is you. We are all of this now, of this Tyrant. In

an instant, nothing is bolstered, and everything

is let loose.

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00:00 / 04:33

I want to tell you that I felt more than alive; I felt pulse; I felt acutely in tune and gorging. I felt more than the familiar, the self.



         from the beginning

                                   a wrestle with                 my self

                                                        a labor


                                                                           of work

                                   and breath.


a canvas of body                 and beauty


                                   of breath.


                                                                           like a new day


a new inside              coming







        like a sun







                                           in light




I didn’t say saturated, though yes in image, in text, in breath, and beauty and breath and beauty, and oh the beauty.

It was the first time and yet, better than the first time. A replacing of the actual first time; this new turn; this new length; the reach of it.

A mirroring of body and beauty and body and beauty; a satisfaction, a testament; an order of allowance and gift and a decree of density; a plunge. There was a delay satisfying, a flash of body of beauty of breath and beauty and breath and body and breath and breath and breath and then then then—the sense of my blooming before my self before my former self before the new self stuttering before me









What I said was I felt engorged. I said I felt engorged and I did. I felt enlarged with breath and body with blood and breath and body and beauty in the flash of body and word and beauty, and the body was my own and my own only body and the medium, the channel was forged in breath and image and in beauty and breath and the way I showed myself to myself.




Did you know there's something called a “spark bird”? It’s the first bird you see with your eye; it's the first bird that changes you, changes your life, and inspires you to love birds. I’m not sure what mine was exactly but it could be the first time I saw a hummingbird in Santa Fe in 2016. I couldn’t believe I saw it with my own eyes: all that color in its beak; its wings; its forehead. I marveled at its ferocity; its splendor; its small breath. I saw another one in Utah this summer, which is probably ordinary, but I found it extraordinary.

It makes me think of what Ocean Vuong says in his novel: “It was beauty, I learned, that we risked ourselves for.”


It is always the beautiful we are after, or at least that I am after; the beauty in love, in dream, in hope,


                                        in the body


                                                                 and the body

                                                                                          of the body

                                                                                                                 of the body



A friend offers the word unleashed, and yes I was unhanded and ponied away (a bitch, a slut, a woman—call it what you will); I was the wild and the hunger; and the circling in the darkness was a rhythm of my own—the guide of my own destination—but who held the bridle? (It doesn’t matter.) Still, the rival of the struggle; I rivaled and rebelled in the light and dark of the flush and the curved; the dips and stirs and in my sigh, in my clank, an imagined grip or pull. See it—there I am—clacking my feet to the breath; the clop of my hand, of the way that spark sat above me, like a chant; a breath, slick and slender and slendering-still                  sliding.



I want to go back to the spark bird. Maybe I am my own spark bird. I have changed my own seeing with the seeing of myself.



Mapplethorpe said, “If I had been born one hundred or two hundred years ago, I might have been a sculptor.” If it were me, I would have still been at this struggle—this work of being a poet in this life. I would still be finding other ways to show myself to myself; to unravel the beauty of the word.


Here’s the truth: we are always arriving at ourselves. I gave myself to myself and the giving was revelation was destination was body and body was brush and brush and brushfire was unburied and unbound.

Publishing credits

Alternate Ending of the Tyrant: Glass (April 2020)

Self-Reflection: Poetry International (March 2020)

Unleashed: POETRY (November 2020)

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