Peter Leight


Peter Leight lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.  He has previously published poems in Paris Review, Partisan Review, AGNI, and other magazines.

Shape Shift

A few days ago I was smaller, I needed to be small enough to disappear, but also to be able to be bigger, stiffening or sticking out, and when I looked in the mirror there was more to it, more of me in it, room for expansion, although it was also something I was responding to, I almost said afraid of, because fear is also useful when it’s convenient to disappear. Shrinking in order to strengthen later on, softening in order to create an opportunity for hardening, because everybody agrees empty seats are useless unless they’re occupied, almost like the mind itself. Of course, I’m still a weight-bearing entity, not perhaps to the same extent, scaling down in order to remain sustainable, although it doesn’t have to be precise like one of those recipes that requires you to weigh everything on a scale or it blows up in your face, and in any case I don’t have a skeleton on the outside that protects me like armor from feeling inside. And I’m not an idealist or Platonist with templates available to me when I need to be creative, and also for purposes of comparison. Even when I’m small I’d like to have room for everything I carry around and need room for, and I’m reserving my rights, because I don’t want to lose them, I want to be able to use them later on.

When I wrote ‘Shape Shift’ I was thinking about the transformations that are present in myth and fairy tale, and in fantasies as diverse as Alice in Wonderland and the X-Men, and the urge we often feel to change our appearance or to disappear entirely, because we’re scared or embarrassed or fed up with something that’s happening or, as in the environmental context, to reduce the imprint or footprint we leave on the world. We often think about the changes that are occurring around us without thinking about the changes that are occurring inside us. I was also trying to convey the sense we have early in life of the availability of possibilities that tends to fade later on. I guess it’s fairly subjective, but it doesn’t have to be outside our control.