In Their Own Words

Leah Nieboer on “Minor Events 1”

Leah Nieboer author photo

Minor Events 1

between atoms the implausible cosmonaut

in her heart-shaped sunglasses

in her slick ruby suit

turns herself slowly into

the chlorinated blue

belonging to the public pool

as if every event

announces strange beloveds

nearly naked swimmers

avoid her slipstream—

they point to the shimmering belly

as it turns up

it wants to be licked

the sun does it

the radio static

the slice of a skateboard

behind the fence—

in the beginning there was

the navel

a striated color

something rising between

her legs—

the trajectory became


in the movies

people are lonely and kissing

their worlds together

in the next scene

one girl rotates under

another girl

saying yes

like or unlike this

absurd person

a minor event

in the water

here is the angel

wants to drag her under

Reprinted from Soft Apocalypse (University of Georgia, 2023). All rights reserved.

On “Minor Events 1”

I think of water as a site for emergence, and where something emerges, like an event of the body, like a “shimmering belly” in a “slick ruby suit,” like “something rising between / her legs,” something also flows unformed away from the event, and something falls slowly and quietly to the bottom to keep a secret.

This is what the summer in which I wrote this poem was like, in 2021, in the high desert, in a season of precarity, through a flare-up of chronic conditions—personal and public—and looming exams, official orders, buckshot employment. Bright, hot days with a fat silence underneath them. And every night, I dreamt of water.

And many days, I went to the public pool in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a queer, preteen ghost in my shadow. Sometimes I went early, just after waking, to keep hold of that dream suspension, and swam awkward laps with a handful of older folks; other times, I joined a limited number of young families, admitted in two-hour increments, and dipped in the water once, quickly, and sat in the grass with a book.

Individual gestures and public interactions become clearer to me in the molecular erotics of water, which approximate the molecular erotics of the public space we all the time inhabit. The body becomes itself, more fluid, more oscillatory and dissonant, less fixed entity and more an emergent event that escapes measure. If we can say “it writes,” it writes itself non-univocally, by private revolutions in public space—much like “the implausible cosmonaut” of this poem, who, in her revolutions, and the slipstream of presence these offer, may inspire desire, apathy, disgust, wonder, and any number of responses, or kinds of feeling, that circulate in the water.

Soft Apocalypse regularly concerns itself with the possible macro-consequences of such minor events and intimate collisions or the way macro-consequences are lived through at the microscale. While the collection explores this with more disruption and a heightened sense of entanglement in its longer, polyvocal poems, here, I hope the reader finds permission to float with more ease in the atmospherics of the book, and of the dream, in proximity to one of its central figures: this shape-shifting girl, not me, but like someone I also was, who goes in many times and guises, with her radical incoherence, and her peculiarities. She appears here as the anachronic cosmonaut—elsewhere, perhaps, in an actor, a cicada, Lispector, Weil, a handful of confetti, sleep horses, a soft girl leaning away, an excess, and in residual traces that are yet telling themselves to me.

This poem, the second in the collection, is, I guess, the annunciation not only of an erotics, a means of embodiment, or an atmospherics, but also of another kind of cosmology, and ontology—an “in the beginning” of queer being-in-touch. What’s more than any singular figure is their existence in the slipstream of vibratory matter, “one” entangled with human and more-than-human others, strange beloveds, and elements not its own.

Which is a risk. If water carries emergence, and possibility, it necessarily carries risk, too, which has an oblique relationship with desire. The sun may lick the belly, one girl may rotate under another girl, but there is equally the possibility of violence, avoidance and aversion, a chlorinated burn, or nothing may take shape at all. The situation is fluid. Desire circulates in the water. And then comes the angel.

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