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She had a death in me

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She had a death in me, knees drawn up   
and my bowl and cloth rinsed through with her.   
As morning takes night, field closes the hare,   
and ay would burrow into her.   

Over the altar, catalpas rattle,   
shadow and bother the branch.   
Is this her white? Dress me.   
Her rain? Wash me with that.   
Her bowl? Feed me empty.   
Her colding? Ay am forgot.   

Then mask me the g’wen, hers skin   
being mine, and body that pools   
in the brine of her, rivers the silt and stone of her   
wrapt in the warm of hers fell.   
She were the watcher and tender of pyres   
when the wet grass shined with quiet   
and ay lean to the mouth hole: ay, mother.

Notes:
The Us is a formally fractured poetic sequence spoken by a chronically nomadic people. A member of the group (Ay) dramatizes the coming to self-consciousness of an individual in the group.—JH
Source: Poetry (December 2008)

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This poem originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

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She had a death in me

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  • Joan Houlihan is the author of four collections of poems. Her first book, Hand-Held Executions (2003, re-released in 2009 in an expanded version to include her essays from Boston Comment), was followed by The Mending Worm (2006), winner of the Green Rose Award from New Issues Press.
     
    Houlihan describes the space poets occupy as the revitalization of language and experience. Her own body of work manages at once to be deeply human and to push the boundaries of expression. A common pronoun gave rise to her third collection, The Us, a poetic sequence spoken in the collective voice of nomadic hunter-gatherers at the threshold of language, which was named a 2009 must-read by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. “The Us is like nothing I have ever read or seen,” writes Lucie Brock-Broido,“... these poems are just extraordinary: wildly hewn, classically construed and skewed by an imagined lexicon.”...

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