By Joan Houlihan
Froze by winter blast
Froze by winter blast
us could not grip on meat or crust,
our fingers blackened down to all the hand.
and so were fewer count of us
coming into weather, loosened snow,
water falling down around the stones.
Us heard command in that.
Rose again, the light, and rooted things crept out
and greenly took up spots between the snow.
What good there were for us
showed in rings around the moon,
the starrys rustled as they moved.
By roar and rush and smell of brine
us found the sea and stood along.
Sen’s scatter-sticks and wobble-stones
gave command to go by boat
and find by water, home.
Ay were alive
Ay were alive, a sky were mine
cracked cold and furred along the hill.
On thresh of limb and stem
rough-made with leaf-
crush, moss ay were a carry.
Hurried with the brush and squeak of boot
on crusted snow none looked down
to where ay lay and did not speak.
Put by at camp, ay felt a break,
alone. Ay were struck deep.
Us had lost the want to build against
the cold and stay. The only watchful
fire were glint then spent
and us went one. Ay saw tops of trees, some melt
from snow, a quake of shaggy branch and gold
between the leaf. The us had broke. Ay felt the fault.
And a cloth bled high
And a cloth bled high on a stick
raised for the noise of new dark.
Fields were spelt and fire-
smoke, harvest turned animal, pelt-
stripped for meat, trees mad with fruit
at their last. Winter was eating into us,
putting the lamb to its pen
and ay held a saying, small fire:
All to be done again. All to be told.
Round light then day were bounded.
Us pulled the field of its grain.
Deer, rough-coated for winter fled,
hid from us, unfed and stranged.
Wind-cut and high to sun,
the cloth soaked full, bled down.
By thorn-fire, by horses gelded and sore,
by a sun winter-lit in the eye of a lamb,
by a great tree in rags, aging
us bent to hear the earth dying.
Ay spoke through a fire’s low burning.
Joan Houlihan is the author of Hand-Held Executions, Poems and Essays and The Mending Worm, winner of the Green Rose Award from New Issues Press. A third collection, The Us, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2009. She is founding director of the Concord Poetry Center and the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference.