Erin Coughlin Hollowell
A uniform hieroglyphic
Time isn’t thinking of her sitting
beside this man she doesn’t know
even though she has slept to the cadence
of his breath for more than seventy years.
Every Sunday her children call
down a long hallway like the braying
of beasts that sounds only slightly
familiar. When she looks in the mirror,
Time has scrawled his mark
over the face she composed. All
those stories piled up as a shield
against people who have shifted, villains
become benign, and then shadows.
Only the small room is left, curtains
drawn, gracious darkness sifting into
every corner, and the world
a uniform hieroglyphic beyond the door.
Continue your annotations, continue your questionings
Then even though we closed our eyes
we could still see how disappointment
had become a church we helped you build.
Then there were all those ways to keep
sacrificing. Over sixty-thousand miles
of blood vessels to empty, to pack with ice.
Then we learned to hide. We made a tree-
house of our wish to be birds that did not
eat on the ground beneath the feeder.
Then we forgot. We became nostalgic
for open windows and summer curtains.
Dinners of cottage cheese with canned peaches.
Then we dreamt we had forgiven our-
selves. Car wrecks and divorces. Shiny
bridesmaid dresses. Filched cigarettes.
Then we began to draw maps to outlying
cities. We made friend with wolves and
long-distance truckers. Our hair grew long.
Then there was the hour we just watched
the sun elbow its way across the hospital floor.
Shadows began to finally mean something.
Those wing’d purposes
A flock of birds, all angular silhouettes,
swoop and wheel in the sky beyond
the glass. I am half-listening to the sound
of your television thousands of miles away,
waiting for you to respond to my question
about your breakfast, waiting for any response really
that might indicate that you know who I am.
The birds plunge and glide into the line
of alders that gnarl beside a stream cut deep
into the hillside, earth sandy and soft here.
When you say, you are my favorite, I laugh,
shaking my head, splaying my hand against
the window to feel the cold air held at bay.
And then you laugh, too. Afterwards, I walk
outside, my hair tangling in branches as I peer into
the ditch the stream has dug. There are stones
the size of babies’ skulls that the water has dodged
around. The wrist-width rivulet presses deeper still.
This is how time moves, carving through a life,
rearranging and searching for bedrock.
This is how time moves, dozens of small wings
that burst forth together and dwindle, distant
specks that disappear from the eye.
In vessels that sail, my words sail
Consider me washing dishes
after dinner. A bowl, a ladle,
small chime of teaspoons.
Outside, the mountain is the elegant
magician’s assistant. Watch as the sun
cuts her in half.
Now she hides behind low clouds that glow.
Now the big reveal. Light and vapor.
If I could shoot
this beauty into your breast like a clean
If I could open you up
to the grace and plunge of water
sluicing over a white and blue
Oh Mother, I would
fill you to brimming with this shine,
Show you how a strand of spider-silk,
connecting the nothing
in front of me with the nothing
yet to come, sparks as it sails
on the unseen air.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell is a poet and writer who lives at the end of the road in Alaska. Prior to landing in Alaska, she lived on both coasts, in big cities and small towns, pursuing many different professions from tapestry weaving to arts administration. In 2013, Boreal Books published her first collection Pause, Traveler. Her second collection, Every Atom, is forthcoming from Boreal Books in 2018. She has been awarded a Rasmuson Foundation Fellowship, a Connie Boochever Award, and an Alaska Literary Award. Her work has been most recently published in Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, Sugar House Review, and was a finalist for the 49th Parallel Contest for the Bellingham Review.