Eugenia Leigh


Eugenia Leigh grew up in the suburbs of Chicago in a Korean American Christian household. In middle school, her family moved to California, and an English teacher assigned Leigh’s class to choose a poet and recite a poem from memory. She randomly chose Anne Sexton and was electrified by the experience of reading Sexton’s poem “Red Roses” to the class. After discovering confessional poetry, Leigh incorporated poetry into her teenage life as a coping mechanism and survival tool. Diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and complex PTSD, Leigh writes poems that are invested in the intersection of Korean American intergenerational trauma and mental illness. Leigh received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, during which she hosted writing workshops with incarcerated youths and Brooklyn high school students. Her first collection, Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows, was published by Four Way Books in 2014 and won the Late Night Library’s 2015 Debut-litzer Prize in Poetry. She was awarded POETRY’s Bess Hokin Prize in 2021 and her second book, Bianca, is forthcoming in 2023, also from Four Way Books. Today, Leigh lives in New York City and serves as a poetry editor for The Adroit Journal

The First Leaf

I thought I forgave you. Then I took root and became

someone’s mother. This unending dread, ever checking


for his breath. I have never wanted to be less like you

than I do now, daily gauging the venom,


how much of you blights my blood. When my baby wails, I ask

whether I too could beat his body quiet. And when I choose


to be a mother, choose to be tender to my child—a choice

my mangled brain makes each day—my fury surges.


The distance between him alive and him dead

is how well I am. And I think about the woman in the news


who poured water on her sleeping baby’s face. And I

think how for decades, I was grateful you never killed me. How


that was enough to make me think you loved me.

I raged as a child, but never


in the right direction. So when my therapist said

that not killing me yet didn’t mean not killing me ever—


that if I had stayed, I would have died—I had to

watch her get angry to know to get angry.


On the eighth week of the pandemic, my son, whom I sheltered

at home for all that time, found on our fifth-floor balcony


a tiny green leaf the width of his pinky.

The last time we’d strolled outside, the city was frigid. Frost


everywhere we looked. And Dad, let me tell you, the leaf

stunned us both. Unexpected, like the olive branch


snatched by the dove barreling back to the ark.

He refused to let go—the first leaf of all the leaves


my child will ever hold. He looks so much like his father.

Nothing at all like us.





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:




Body & Body Image


Violence & War


Literary Devices:


a line break interrupting the middle of a phrase which continues on to the next line


visually descriptive or figurative language, especially in a literary work


a comparison between two unrelated things through a shared characteristic