My work questions the conditions of an image, diction, and sound in the context of a culture in which images, representation and ideas normally function. By applying a lyrical and often metaphorical language, my work generates diverse meanings. Associations and meanings collide. As Audre Lorde said, “Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat.” Space becomes time and language becomes image.

My work appears as dreamlike images in which fiction and reality meet, eminent tropes merge, senses shift, past and present fuse. Time, culture, and memory always play a key role.


Lea Banks



Me and sister have to be put somewhere cuz ever since Mama left, Daddy is betwixt and between. I pad from my room, hear him crying. Crying. Like my baby sister cries, all howling and carrying on. But quiet at the same time. She needs to take lessons.

I hide behind the crusted studio door without a handle. He’s gonna fix it so until he does, I watch the smoke pour out it and peer through it and smell all the good smells. Pine oil seeps under every door of our house, all because one doesn’t have a handle. At least that’s what Mama said.

A circle of empty cans rim a blackened ashtray in the shape of a punkin. Or maybe was an apple. Or a ladybug. Drinking a beer, he paints a picture of Mama — from memory Daddy said a couple days ago.

This time, a large black X across her pretty face. He smells of cigarettes, beer, Right Guard, and turpentine. Mainly turpentine.

Daddy glares at me with a dark look though he says in a soft high voice, go back to bed. Daddy never has a soft high voice. In fact, it’s the most bottomlessness one I’ve ever heard. I tiptoe back to bed in boy’s flannel Flipper pajamas, two sizes too big.

This is Florida in the middle of summer.
He finds a place for us.


The Cigarette Girl

On heavy metal tracks the train’s thunder rumbles
our flyblown trailer every strangled bit of morning.
Mama’s alarm. Slam of the sleep button—again,
again. “Rainy Night In Georgia” in my head on loop.

I whisper secret noises to the silent air; soon
I need to wake her. Give me
this share of myself a bit longer before
she stumbles out of bed with a bellow.

I’ve made her lunch in a paper bag.
I hand out intractable Pall Malls.
The cigarette girl with fishnet tights
in the aisle, I wait patiently as she hustles
around. Pop open a can of cat food, smear
it in his dish. Here, stupid cat. Day after staggering day.

Mama’s face—worn-out, bloodshot, speeding
to school in our shameful stick car. Layers
on mascara as we round the corner, her mouth
an “O” in the rear view mirror, doesn’t
even look as she applies it. I dig through her
purse, find coral lipstick.

I look at her through crooked
bangs. At this moment, she glimmers
ravaged beauty to honey.

“Light me a cigarette, doll baby,”
and smiles her slanted smile.
She’s the fairy queen, the good mommy. Stinking
of smoke on my ten-year-old
self, I don’t care if I’m late again.
As we pull in to school, she’s blotting
her coral lips with an unopened bill.


It Was Nothing

Nothing is so beautiful as spring. ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins

Something like the ride on the Tilt-A-Wheel,
the teasing carnie with the snake tattoo. Something
like his boarding house room with the meltdown
mattress floor. Milk bottle of vodka and orange juice,
just a little vitamin C to help me dance until the ceiling
exploded. Woke up with nothing on but a Heavy Metal
tee shirt. Naked smoke rings blown from his scratched
mouth next to my ear, a torpedo. My hands
covered my throat. His curdled breath demanded
me watch where his snake started — and ended.

Something like being thrown hollow and naked
into a pool I couldn’t swim in, so-huddled
with death. This time it was a man carrying
me to poolside. His fingers inside my gasping
mouth, hooked between my teeth and cheek.
Told me to drink more wine, stop that screaming.

Something like being fucked drunk and willing
the waves of the lake over the two of us
in a mad tangle of wet clothes, lips of shiny
Erie oil, fish water, dirty wine. Freezing
later under a blood-soaked moon with a teenage
blotchy-faced stranger. I was a blue slip of a thing
slimy, sodden. I slept under a van that night.

It was nothing like you said it was, mother.
It was something else entirely, father.
You weren’t there for my undoing, a volley
against those lessons that you taught or failed
to teach. I was an emergency room wide open.
Angry squall of death in a small town morgue.

It was nothing. It was nothing like the spring
it should have been, innocent and brave. Before it
cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning. Spring could
have been jumping in puddles, boggy smell
of brack, lily pads hiding sacks of eggs. A firefly
chase, a swat of black flies, rolling rolling dizzy
down hills of parachute grass — something
like the garden of Eden after the gate had closed.


Leaving Middle Earth

She stops at the first bar she sees on that
desolate trap of sand. It’s the middle
of the day in the middle of the earth
in the middle of your town, USA.
Pulls off her hot pink baseball cap; feral
eyes dilate like a cat on a night stalk.

She swallows the breakfast of saloon light,
pickled eggs. Slack, she fusses with her bra.
She’s an addict to your dereliction,
a splinter in your heel, a perfect wreck.
Roughed-up little heart shake, she has unearthed
fugitive bits and pieces of herself.

Leaving behind what she once loved to burn,
she belts back the whiskey of obsession.


River Without Mercy                       

~ for Mariatu Kamara, survivor of Sierra Leone’s war

Giggling in the lunatic desert, girls play hide
and seek in the wadis, dry river beds. Mamas
down river, papas tend cattle.
A slight of safety binds them to this world.
One girl hid under an old junk car.

Boy soldiers, hawks, jagged arrows, tease
a pocket mouse out of the nest, stifles screams
with fists. The girl, their hardscrabble prey. Hips spread
wide by wrought muscle boys, tight spilling out
of their saw-tooth jeans. One parades down
the dumb dirt road, panties on his AK-47.

The lead boy, Lord’s Resistance Army
with machete, a shark’s tooth
proud round his neck. The girl shrinks,
too small to batter: a tiny tick.

A language older than words, younger
than the boy’s flesh, steadies him as he slashes
her hand. Her hand clutches air
as it bullets on the dead sand,
tracked by a line of fat blood.

Her insides rinse red in the fragmentary river.
Broken gloved fingers stitched like ghost
hands, deep in the folds of her dress.


Spotlight So Clear

On white sand rugs I spilled quarter-like drops of blood, bustling, crowding each other out, patrons at an operatic debut. Now, my body its own spotlight, as the Carol Burnett exit: office maid, head scarf askance, shuffling off the stage.

The Goddess of Spic-and-Span peers over my shoulder like a back seat lover. I hurriedly rubbed my panties with knuckles of chilled water. Counting vice and sin like my mother did, I still my mind to her medieval age. I am a sponge nun dabbing grime and sewers of the past. The chronometer will go off, I’ll long for those days. Impatient as a buzzard in flight, I’m waiting for the kill to conk out. These moments eventually evaporate, replaced with macular holes. I feel like an elderly butcher wiping his counter.

Tick. Tock. The ticking is the bomb that holds my head, often holding nothing, not one thing expected. Deep-frying days mixed in a curry stew, with the joy of redemption, of being remembered: a wee child, daydreaming, what if I were to die? Would they dismiss school? How many people would come to my funeral?

My sense of time controls the air I breathe. The air is concealed weapons. The air is small jewels and secret cabals, chokeful with hope. I am weary grown, though. Tired of this renovation. Moan and cuss, throb and pine. I am a child in nightdress jumping up and down on the bed …

You can’t catch me.
You can’t catch me.


A Note on Texts:

“Turpentine” was previously published in The Laurel Review, Summer Issue, 2015

“Cigarette Girl” was previously published in Town Creek Poetry Review, in Volume IX: Issue 1

“It Was Nothingwas previously published in All of Me, Booksmyth Press 2008

“River Without Mercy” previously published in the “Danger” issue, The Quotable, October 2014


off the margins contributors are asked to respond to three questions that will be asked of all featured writers to further articulate a collective response to the question: How do we step off the margins of convention and enter the wild terrain of our writing?

In what way(s) do you identify yourself as a woman writer?

I carefully clear my thoughts of detritus. About halfway into the piece I’m working with, I start to think of myself as a woman writer, an impudent, fearless goddess even. I form the narrator (or she’s formed for me) and suddenly, I’m acutely aware that I’m writing for women. I believe myself to be the courageous, powerful woman writer that I am because of others.

I step back from my writing and see that, despite persona or writing in another’s voice and conscience, I have been true to my own particular experience and my writing is its witness and muscle. As Muriel Rukeyser famously wrote, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”  The strong, subterranean connections I feel from the world, precisely because I’m a woman writer, are deeply undetectable from truth.

Whose voices have you carried with you for creative strength in order to arrive at this point in your writing career?

I’m writing this on the anniversary of my mother’s death 5 years ago. Unbeknownst to me for the longest time, she has been very instrumental in the unleashing of memories, and the creative strength I receive from her informs every decision I make about writing. Sometimes, we had an unsafe relationship with each other, and then one of warmth and total support. Both of these worlds affect my writing.

C.D. Wright, all the time. Jane Kenyon. John Berryman. Audre Lorde. Gerard Manley Hopkins. James Wright. Galway Kinnell. William Blake. Yusef Komunyakaa. Emily Dickinson. Muriel Rukeyser. Joy Harjo. These are some of the voices I hear and/or read when I’m writing.

What do you want our readers to know about your process of becoming a writer that might be helpful in further articulating their own individual process and growth?

As far as the process goes, I write instinctively and intuitively from an almost infinite, everlasting well. We all have these wells. Self-discipline, not self-loathing or anything destructive anymore, helps me to achieve these writing moments and growth in this wonderful trainwreck called life. Colum McCann years ago spoke at FAWC and he said one thing that’s stuck with me: “Don’t write about what you know, write towards what you want to know.” I do both.

I don’t think of myself as a gender, a policy, an age, race, or classification during a writing progression. I don’t bother anymore with trying to define my style, or methods, techniques, schools, or certainly not manners (at this point in my time of life, I honestly give no fucks, as they say), but rather what human being am I writing this for? What body politic am I representing? What type of community do I want? Find your community, go back to school or stay in school. If not school, then surround yourselves with readings, open mics, volunteer for a literary journal, be on the board of a press you admire. Take a specialized class, frequent a real bookstore, support writer friends, join writers groups, critique groups, start your own, read read read.

The writer’s life is lonely and myopic when you get down to it, but embrace the loneliness and learn to focus. Put away your g.d. phone and Facebook. Buy a typewriter. Anything to remove you from the contagion of real life, and cradle and support you and your imagination is vital. Do your time. Pay your dues.

Artist Statement

My collected, altered writings are defined as aesthetically resilient and buoyant. I mine thematically interconnected material for memory, the body politic, and projection. By studying processes, connotations, and communication, I absorb the tradition of remembrance into daily practice. This personal follow-up and revival of the past is as important as meditation. It is my mediation.

I’m a writer who works in a variety of genres. I question the division between the realm of memory and the realm of capability, while amplifying the confidence of the reader, hopefully by creating settings that generate elegiac images in juxtaposition with grave, sometimes harrowing metaphors. This division leaves traces, poises on the edge of perception and alienation. I am a poet and writer of witness.

My work questions the conditions of an image, diction, and sound in the context of a culture in which images, representation and ideas normally function. By applying a lyrical and often metaphorical language, my work generates diverse meanings. Associations and meanings collide. As Audre Lorde said, “Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat.” Space becomes time and language becomes image.

My work appears as dreamlike images in which fiction and reality meet, eminent tropes merge, senses shift, past and present fuse. Time, culture, and memory always play a key role.


Lea Banks is the author of All of Me, (Booksmyth Press, 2008). She lives in Western Massachusetts, is the Poetry Coordinator for the Brattleboro Literary Festival in Vermont, and founder of  The Collected Poets Series in Shelburne Falls, MA. Banks has published in several journals including American Poetry Journal, Connotation Press, Big River Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, Slipstream, Diner, Sweet, San Pedro River Review, and has work in Town Creek Poetry and The Laurel Review.  She was a fellow at the Vermont Studio Center.

One forthcoming manuscript comprises narrative and lyrical poems, and the second is a fiction, memoir, and poetry hybrid.  Her works in progress include a provocative text focusing on her experience as a stroke survivor and the Appalachian Project, a folk opera about Appalachian women musicians.

Banks was the editor and publisher of Oscillation: Poetry in Motion, former poetry editor of The Equinox and editorial assistant for the Marlboro Review. She attended New England College’s MFA program, facilitated stroke survivors’ writing workshops, and is a poet, freelance editor, and writer. She is the owner of an online vintage store called The Domestic Darling and also facilitates poetry workshops, gives private tutorials and manuscript consultations. See more of her at and what she does with all her spare time at