Poet’s note: This is the 21st installment in the Tupelo Press 30/30 Poetry Challenge. I am writing, along with 8 other poets this month, to raise money for the nonprofit literary press. If you contribute a tax deductible donation, you’ll be a vital part of enabling an important nonprofit publisher to keep poetry alive, to provide 12 new homes  in books for emerging poets, to run innovative projects like the Million Line Poem, the world’s only open source poem, and to continue offering educational seminars for serious writers around the country. To donate and learn more, click here.

Stories of “Leah”

Dante’s “Leah” in a dream of
“Purgatory,” pleads, “Whoever
Asks my name, know that I’m Leah.”
She gathers a garland of flowers.

At 36, I learned the significance
Of my given name in Hebrew
While eating vegetarian pizzas
And sipping Californian pinot
With Isaac, from Israel. “Leah,
She’s one of the four mothers
Of Judaism,” he said, a contrast
With all that I had grown up
Believing, based on history
Teachers, my father’s sermons
And interpretations of the story.
I’d heard of the ‘weary-eyed,’
Or blue-eyed one, and ‘homely.’

In Arabic, my name means,
“Warrior princess,” certainly
Preferable to “tender-eyed,”
A reference to weak eye sight.

In fact, it blew my mind, this new
Take on something I’d already
Accepted about my ‘story;’ to
Re-ignite my curiosity, the study
Of linguistics and narrative,
Cultural anthropology, my love:
The language of reinvention,
Pronouncing, announcing,
The way the acting coach
Commanded me: “Leah,
You’re an actor; start acting
Like it.” I performed a scene,
Let go, I spoke in tongues.
It’s all relative, to say
Nothing of “Star Wars.”

Leah C. Stetson