Poetry: Joan Leotta

Joan Leotte

Learning to Live Free--Swahili Lesson, 1967

The first Swahili word I learned
was uhuru. I heard our Kenyan hostess
tell another passenger
“Nairobi’s main street
is called UHURU now.
The word means Freedom.”
As the plane winging me
to Nairobi banked before
descending, I gasped at
the beauty of the image of steel
spires of skyscrapers rising
up from a green mass
of trees (this was before
the great droughts and just a few
years after Kenya’s independence).
The plane continued gliding
downward, and I determined
to try to stay on that street, Uhuru.
The rolling sound of uhuru
resonated with me--
at age nineteen,
traveling alone in Africa,
I also felt the exhilaration
of being free –in my case
from parents and professors.
I felt as one with this young Kenyan
capitol, a city that signaled its embrace of
freedom, by naming the
main street, Uhuru.
Later I learned to say,
“hello, goodbye, thank you”
in Swahili, but truly it is
for this one word, uhuru, that
I will always love Nairobi.


Beyond Our Ken

Some say minds wander
in old age, veering from here
to there and back again,
bewildered, lost, no
longer able to follow
our world’s roadmap of
places, spaces, hours,
days, weeks, years, the logic of
what we call “memory.”
Elders often slip into and out
of dreams, walk their own
path freely stepping between
today, yesterday, and even
imagined tomorrows.
Elders have attained
a higher plane. They
simply no longer wish to
recognize our arbitrary
time divisions of clocks
and calendars, or of anything
separating present from past
or that divides earthly existence,
memories, and realms beyond.
Elders perhaps prefer slipping into
and out of dreams between today
and yesterday, processing
time and space in
ways far beyond our ken.    



Duck Crossing

I heard the quacking,
as I approached the stop sign
it was not the troublesome geese
who live in our creek,
noisy, bad-tempered neighbors,
no it was a group of ducks
perhaps two families.
Two mallard males at least,
some gray-downed goslings,
a few teens perhaps, some smaller
and several females,
stepped out of the pond and
approached the road as
slowly as I had rolled
up to the sign.
The males quacked a halt
to the procession, yielded
the asphalt to me and pecked
at the grass for midges and whatnot
until I had passed by.
Through the rearview mirror,
I watched them waddle across
One adult male in front,
another in back.
Briefly I wondered if at least
One pair were the ducks
evicted from our pond by
overzealous trimming
near their nest last spring.

Sorrow for the accidental
eviction welled up
within me once again, and I was
glad to see the family had
regrouped, survived and was
thriving in spite of last spring’s
incident. Moreover, I was thankful
that in spite of what I’d done
by asking for trimming by
pond’s edge, these ducks
held no grudge,
even allowed me to pass
by first, and then, blessed
the road with their own dignified
crossing, allowing me to
enjoy (albeit through my mirror)
the beauty, the resilience
of their family and to admire
how in spite of everything
they continued to thrive,
even while sharing space with us.

Bio: Joan Leotta plays with words on page and stage. She performs tales of food, family, strong women. Internationally published as an essayist, poet, short story writer, and novelist, she’s a two-tie Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, and was a 2022 runner-up in Robert Frost Competition. Her essays, poems, CNF, and fiction appear in Impspired, Ekphrastic Review, Setu, Verse Visual, Verse Virtual, Gargoyle, Silver Birch, Yellow Mama, Fictive Dream, Mystery Tribune, Ovunquesiamo, Synkroniciti, MacQueen’s Quinterly and many others. Her poetry chapbooks are Languid Lusciousness with Lemonand Feathers on Stone.


  1. Lovely poetry, Joan. I valued your insight on change and the aging process. From Cheryl in Pittsburgh.

  2. Lovely poetry, Joan. Insightful view on elder persons and memory loss. From Cheryl in Pittsburgh PA.

  3. Jambo, Joan! Lovely, thoughtful poems that help me see deeper into cities, memories, and Mallard families (the most prevalent duck in my neighborhood).


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