In this remarkably inviting collection of poems, The Night of 1,000 Murders, Mark Leidner traverses the terrain between poignancy and emotional distraction. He does so with investment in the empirical and a welcome affinity for the absurd: a charcoal farmer tours county fairs with his giant, sooty produce, and illiterate bears roar at books. Leidner’s local observations brim with images and action. In ‘Thundersnow’, the speaker compares the sound of thunder in a snow storm to “…the murmur/freezer-burned/sherbet makes/when you press it/with a spoon–.” Leidner’s language here and elsewhere is bright, conversational and precise. It allows moments of absurdity to puncture, but not break apart, the surrounding narrative verse.
Still, Leidner deftly refuses to use the empirical as a stepstool to the metaphysical, instead suggesting that physical occurrences can and do contain their own answers. While not denying the possibility of understanding via abstraction, Leidner keeps epiphanies off the page. As such, reading these poems is like reading a logician’s proof, the final line of which has been erased. It’s engaging, a little mysterious, and it rouses curiosity.
The title poem of the collection is a succinct microcosm of what seems to be Leidner’s larger project: “The night of 1,000 murders/began no differently than any other night/in the village. The villagers/put their children to bed/then watched television for an hour/or two, then went to bed themselves./Then, in the middle of the night,/ there were 1,000 murders.”
The first two lines of this poem suggest that an explanation for the murders will be given or, at least, gory details revealed. And this, at first, is what we want to hear: we want to know what so many murders tell us about the human condition. But Leidner withholds this information, giving us only a prologue to the murders followed by a reiteration of what we already know has occurred. This refreshing sensibility is the heart of The Night of 1,000 Murders. It reminds us that, whether we say it out loud or not, we already know so much.