The Poetry of Joan Houlihan, Part 1
I Sing to You, Offering Human SoundCome here. Let me finger your hair.
I like the way you imitate weather:
a white breath here and there
the rush and sting of pinkened air
a coven of crows talking briefly of home
and then the pelted tree.
By these shall I know ye,
bless yer little round mug.
Oh, my semi-precious, so much slow time
so much crawling and browsing
so much fascination with harmful insects
and corrosive sublimate.
As if you have as many eyes
as many eyes as the common fly,
and every one stuck open wide
to the wonderful, wonderful world.
So, I get up at 4 am, finally, to put on some tea—
a soothing explanation for steam.
Children grow into themselves, then away.
We musn’t worry when they’re gone—
or worse, not-quite-gone-yet.
The roots of things connect
where we can’t see.
When I was born, Mother began counting
to herself. Something in the middle
must have gone missing.
Fortunately, I have all my faculties.
In fact, I still remember to turn
every small thing until it gleams:
like your favorite airplane pin
there, riding on its own cotton wad.
Now come here so I can see
through your eyes to the sky within.
You are my only animal—
my animal of air.
Stark, North of GainsboroHis body follows its shrunken pattern
and specification: he is placed in the final chair;
he is clapped with heat along the landscape
of his skin. Each carpal of his wrist
quickly cracks to tinder-sticks.
All that we can do, is done:
the strapping and jolting, the ceremonial
drubbing; even mummery and finger-play
behind his volted head. We hose him
as we would a tree, wrinkled and run deep
with char. The body, pinned and porous, shivers,
briefly sways, as if a damaged wall is lightly pushed.
Empty-handed and incarnate, he is taken like a pet
and carried with his head cupped from behind.
Look on him. He is always ours, and cold.
MatterI make a little mother out of mud, sticks
and a bit of gauze. Once formed and dried,
she’s bound to disappear: powder to my fingers.
All my plaster saints go down that way.
Wormwood. Gall. Holes of age.
Not that it matters, but
I once saw Mars through a telescope:
pockmarked, awash in gas, but distant enough
to have dignity. All this farawayness has to stop.
So much homesickness, but so little home
and so many notions they call tradition.
Knife, fork, whip of potatoes—all the womanly arts,
are not so much lost, as far, as spilled
as if moved from the table too fast—
salt from a lidless box. And the one candle
I molded and set on the mantle had to be lit.
To enjoy the burning, mother said.
Because something holy was happening then,
and all was made to be blown away—burn of cry,
steam of want—expelled like a mouthful of air.
To Celebrate the Empty TombWe convene here, listen to Uncle B
in his backward-pointing baseball cap
lit with stories, muttering of loss—
a low and meaningless animal sound
we take for talk.
This Easter we’ve put it all behind us
and, spoon-fed with the whipped
milk of childhood, we revel in
what is gone: the rock of the undiscussed.
Mother’s cataract and Father’s altered
look give us nothing to say is wrong.
We lean into this—
where the rock was struck
and the air inside was stopped;
where unhinged stems root
because that which was unknown,
is not; and that which cannot,
must rise and walk.
First published in Caffeine Destiny
Nothing Else But You Will DoWith your trail of powders and devil shoes,
with a mill for hard and a bowl for spills
you’re everybody’s glamour rage
you’re doom on a cracker with a dark red brew.
Crooked and flamed, broken-mother
chained, with bad and uncertified stare,
you were never chinked up in a family fence
you were free—something wrong
and against. Now you’re everybody’s
take-me-home, black cuffs and fine
wreck of silks. You make us feel
we’ve been swabbed down, needing
a borrow of light. You’re everybody’s
air and spark. Nothing else but a lightning
bite. You’ve got wit, grit, and a tail to be lit—
the blade, the heel, and the screw.
Nothing else but you will do.
Not Little Sir Charm and his Finger Box.
Not Mistress Up-to-the-Sky.
Not Papa Spew and his Bundle of Blue.
You got everything and more
and we want to be like you—
in this hatched-out drone of our insect hour;
in this cruel box of our days.
First published in Fine Madness
Surgeon SpeakingLie down. I am hand and finger
to you, intent in my medium,
fluent in what flourished before
guided by the noise of trapped being.
I was yours at birth, privy to your washings
and waste. Words spoken by us
are lysis and ligature. What matters
is the gash, the possible rush
between us. How to conduct the bleeding?
Bent to you, I provide from my fingers
something small and mammal,
parted from one discarded.
Ten hours of us and we are wed.
Mumbling of vein, I finish you,
who will emerge new-made, doll-sewn.
The furthest thing from my mind.