AS IN A SACK held shut by cord,
what wasted you, hid in you,
fell quiet each day, ready for us.
Your pain wasn’t physical, hadn’t taken you.
Your body wasn’t yours but a made one.
Nothing pierced far enough to matter.
Drip, and a softening torture
brought us together. Stretched-out arms
felt with fingers for a way out.
STILL HEARD in her head: They burn what’s left.
And then he is there again: hands to face,
shut off and steeped in no. His terrible angle of shoulders,
her insistence, sham of control, as what couldn’t be cured or fed
turns wasting from a bowl. She serves him as mother, as wife,
forced to bear up his frame, collapsed. Stand up. You can do it.
His trying to do what she asked.
BREATH THEY COULDN’T catch, motion that fell
as a run of shadow on their window
folded into one wish. Time—what was that—
flung over mountains where sun could blink and waver it off.
Clouds muscled in to not let them see the bald sky lying.
The knife-cold privacy exposed a man, and from his window
no motion, just New England birch, stripped limbs in late light.
Joan Houlihan’s fifth collection of poetry, Shadow-feast, will be published by Four Way Books in 2018. Her other books are: Hand-Held Executions, The Mending Worm, The Us, and Ay. She is Professor of Practice in Poetry at Clark University and also teaches in the Low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Lesley University, both in Massachusetts. She is founding director of the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference.