Joan Houlihan is the author of six books of poetry, including Shadow-feast (Four Way Books, 2018) and the forthcoming It Isn’t a Ghost if it Lives in Your Chest (Four Way Books, 2021). She is part-time Professor of Practice at Clark University in Worcester, MA and serves on the faculty of Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program in Cambridge, MA. Houlihan founded and directs the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference.
Breathes from the body uncanny
A cloth on the mouth,
a box for a head,
a bright liquid hole in the eye—
We are nothing if not our body
In thrall to a younger day.
C’mon out, it’s a curds-and-whey sky!
Mottles and combs and sprays!
And bunny, swift to the woods.
And bunny, into the bush!
Now my face is gone long,
yours is gone bye.
Apples sink to the field.
Lilacs limp out and bow.
Oh for our days strung child-like,
our evenings stung hard with stars!
Our faults crept like fungus over bark.
The difference? Shades of decay.
Mine being lighter.
We were in our own hospital then.
You didn’t know me,
only my scent and lack of courtesy.
You acted original, boastful of your designer robe,
invented a non-spill bedpan and needle-free IV line.
Something to look forward to.
See my wig?
Woven over time, like my attachment to you.
Rather than suffer through, let’s work on a burial.
I’ll probably end up on the mantel with you.
But I want to be by the sea.
My first child came out
sewn together from rags.
We fostered a makeshift dependence—
me, a child myself from birth
who had nothing to reckon by,
she, a notion, covered in cloth
made by will and want.
By night she unwraps
down to nothing and lies at my feet.
By day she pulls herself together and speaks:
Mother, you shall be loved by me
and covered with abundance.
We sit at the window together, content:
two branches on sky, two deer by a fence.