Hillary Hays

If I try very hard I can read your voice.
I can feel it, lodged in the white.
Leapt from the space where words are exempt,
it hovers, resonant,
draped beyond the rib of monitors
and my uncertain reach.
You are text to me,
text and not text.
Breath in a vortex
of fibers and light.
And through hours
after nights spent,
our lines...
a tent drawn taut against the split,
I know the sound of you.
Soon, I'll come to the room where you sleep -
so your father doesn't see,
doesn't hear the click of keys,
the shift of feet,
the way we cover our mouths
to keep from letting on.
Or how we dare to speak
past the muteness of weathered houses
and walled-off lives.
I think we have found the secret.
How to touch past skin.
How fisherman feel the rainbow swim
below, until a surfacing.
That hidden things aren't hollow after all.
Just here and there, a door, a ladder to,
a knotted sheet tossed from a tree.
We need no more than carving tools
to leave our names in beech.
Like hieroglyphs on cellar walls,
once faint, the blood-paint flaking there -
come back to life to tell us this
is where we were

Poem for My Father

Bent Mountain is a nice place to get lost at dawn,
its fog and no white lines to follow. Strips of tar skip off the edge, go down
around in circles. The uneasy gaps in language form spaces
between our teeth, and you whisper it was 250 miles west of here
that I spoke my first word: Daddy.

Well I wanted to talk of history. Of something so distant,
like the color of my mother's eyes, red as the stomach of a dying buck.
But the fog kept us quiet. We smoked cigarettes in unison,
called the clouds green sheets, said something between us died
beneath the weight of eleven years of unnamed county lines, and dogs
you discarded to dirty prisons, to live out last two starving weeks,
before the ovens.

It poured pockets of gray coins for hours, and Bent Mountain
finally lost itself for being too close to the sky. You wanted to know why
I was cold. "Just get me a beer," I said, so we split one on the shoulder.
You put your finger to the wet beneath my eyes, called it Conch Shell,
said you could hear the tide coming in.

It was never hornet stings or wet boots that drove you home
to mother, waiting up, her dim glass lantern run out of oil, or me,
woke up scared by shotguns sending young deer down
mountainsides, their breasts beating against rock
all the way to the lake below.

You showed me once from the dock, that sinking thing,
the sound of it going under, mouth to the sky.

Date Rape, 1981

For a long time I forgot my dream of wired-shut jaws.
A steely cock like scalpel, clipped the stitches,
Tong probing tissues. An asp between the scars.
My mouth would draw the poison.
Let the sore.

But not this night. Nor the nights just past.
It is half my life since the Russian blessed the match ~
Said, “Listen to the fire speak. 
We do not have much time.”
So I made my mouth a pot for him.
A chalice lip seared back by kiln.
A flue in winter’s toss.

Shall I tell him the snow lost my secret ~
Mummed, clotted after,
I went under and within the freeze, and ground my teeth
For months beyond, forgot to eat ~
“Not meant to chew,” the Russian mused,
“Only to give pleasure.”

Shall I tell him, then, for years after
I dressed in man’s trousers, and even liked to strap one on.
How I often thought of him ~
Eyes reflecting balled-girl fists.
I made him limp. Flush. Excuse himself.
Forget to zip his pants.
Now it all comes crawling back.

Funny, but I think I see, very nearly
To the end of it.


Peter, it’s been fifteen years of fences.
(You never broke her in.)
She’s wild, this one. Like you left her.
Bent on bucking. Spooks like rattlers under brush.
You’d be wise to bring your bit, your rein, your tether choke.
A sucker for the little boy who wants to mount.
An apple, when she’s tame enough to take it

Best your man-hand grooms her rough.
Fisted yanks. Frequent spurs.
She’ll like it that she cannot throw you off.
Clumps of mane you’ll swear that she could do without.
Come. Finish what you meant to start.

Mouth for fruit. Not for biting down.