These poems describe the outside world with a luminous grasp of detail, clarity, connection. Soon enough in every poem it seems the external world is giving way to a subtle interior of feeling and nuance. What is surprising is the command of language and music in which this occurs, and the sheer precision of both. There are pleasures on every page here, making this one of the best debut collections I have read.—Eavan Boland The birds that populate Shara Lessley’s rich and elegant debut collection are avatars that mediate experiences of loss and violence haunting the deepest reaches of the human psyche. In language that is luxurious and musical Lessley creates the two-headed nightingale that is not so much a freak of nature as it is a paradox of the imagination and as such its special and disturbing gift of sight gives us access to the terrible and beautiful double nature of the self.—Michael Collier Shara Lessley has a scrupulous eye for the natural world, for the detail of memory, for the seemingly ordinary in which she often finds the surprise, the bizarre, or a painful past. In language that is sharp and clear, in forms that are disciplined by a discerning mind, she also explores the lives of liminal women and American outsiders. This is a first book you shouldn’t miss.—Peter Balakian Poem The Countervoice Yourself, the rule. Yourself the maker of its exception. Snow fills the nest’s ladle. Whiteness. Talons clasped, the cardinal sits on the ice- clipped bough, motionless. Everything bleached to nothing. The bird’s undistracted color: winter’s counterpoint. Should survival require such deliberate action? That difficult grace called once in defense, not too unlike a bird fallen less from flight than instinct. What I wanted was to know what sadness isn’t in part exhaustion? Something ravenous not ravenous enough. Unattended to, the nest naturally spills over; self- induced or by accident, the heart just stops. Like silence: snow drifting, drifting. Often I thought, if only I could make myself still enough. Porcelain still. Cardinal still. Go farther even, inside. This too shall pass, I reasoned, not knowing what (if anything) to answer. Not knowing then, too often a bird will not abandon the branch that snaps beneath it.