NOT AS ONE who knows the ground
but woken to a standing, ay
rose and held as bird would hold
for want of weather, flight.
Far, the hard light grew.
The us were down in sleep.
Fire had blacked away
ay saw how none would know me
colding there. Stood and stept
as calf that has no mother-side
but as a weak thing made, fell
and lay in a smaller place to wait.
Where a noise had been
ay let a quiet in.
SHOULDER-HEFTED, left unsteady,
on mine own, ay walked the days,
leaned as in a wind, unstrong,
dumb-struck, shy of noise, still felt
the rock that rocked me shut.
Slow, blown through, an ear,
deep-hearing quiet in the air, an after-clap
of storm, a mourn, a torn-apart, poured out, a thunder
spent. Done by night and bed were as a dent, a wax
burnt down. Ay waited, wasted. Sky loomed,
rain washed hush across the field.
Long-sealed ay could not speak,
but it ran on, a river in me, and made a quiver,
quick, that ay would touch mine tongue to it,
tip-touch to break the run of it, stop the rush
and hum of it, that, deep-held, kept me
silent as a god. Ay am not one, ay mouthed.
COLD HEIGHT, SEED-soaked
in the first fires of day, ay
live toward, show the marks:
auk and owl, insect, horn,
leaf-borne or buried in dirt
all the sun-soft sheep,
things the night takes away.
Over the orchard, freed of hive,
a bee lifts from its summer bed,
a slit of light one deep,
telling its own stung way.
Small, and it lives toward a swarm,
rare from the cluster and blind.
Age, a parcel of rag, ay drag
under open sky.
As if ay have lived that long.
As if cold and cave and chalk.
As if buried in light holes and soaked with night.
As if by the heat of birds.
Hand, one hand, and ay tap mine chest
Here mine father is built
ay pasture hims shadow, tend him,
coming from sleep as all things do
alive toward the first fires of day.
Joan Houlihan is the author of four books of poetry, including The Us, The Mending Worm, Hand-Held Executions: Poems and Essays. Ay, a sequel to The Us, is forthcoming in 2013. Her critical essays on contemporary poetry are archived online at Bostoncomment.com, and she is a contributing editor to Contemporary Poetry Review.