Joan Colby

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In the house of birds you sing
Pain into the cellars of forgetfulness.
Fine wine ages in the casks
Wheels of cheese, glass jars of apricots.
Dressmaker forms haunt the attics
Like women who came on coffin ships
To a land of plenty. They wanted
What we all want. Your spirit dog
At the door and the parrots
Welcoming daybreak as you enter wearing
Bracelets of sorrow and joy.

Halters stiffen on hooks in the barn
Where I kept my horses.
The dark mare, the blaze-faced one,
A colt named for a moon of Mars,
A filly called Witch. They raced
Their hearts out just as you and I
Have ridden down the bridle paths of desire
Scrubbing our hands to beauty,
Scrubbing the walls of old houses
Where other people lived and died.
They watch us jealously,
Creaking floorboards in the night.

Sisterhood, we said as we put on
Our lucky clothes. Yours were stolen.
Mine wore out. This will not deter us.
We are daughters of the Great Lakes
Of happiness and resilience.
We will ride the ghost horses
The Indians swore could never
Be tamed. We hail each other
We wave. We wave our arms.

What the Horses Say

We exchange breath
Which is how horses greet.
She snuffles, large eyed, and I
Blow softly into her widened nostrils.
She tucks her head over my shoulder,
Tugs me in a hug to nibble
My withers. I scratch hers until
She is all joy.

What it means to whisper horses
Is to see how they love to imitate,
Styling their steps to yours
In an equine tango.
How they relent to hazing. Finally,
Turning in obedience to approach you
As you stand quietly waiting,
Holding out your hand..

They graze for their lives
From high country to the meadows
In the seasons of plenty.

When asked, people say horses.
The beings they would return as,
Thinking freedom and grace
Never the bit, never the rein.

On the Bay

You ought to remember how
As the motor failed in the little boat
Father leaped out, the tow rope
Wound on his body
And began a steady
Australian crawl. The tide
Urging us out of the bay
Into open water. He fought
To save us. In China, his sign
Is the horse. His head turning
To grasp breaths with a regularity
That said how much he loved us.
Mother prayed, it was her one recourse
Being less brave than trusting.
The sun scorched as we approached
The headland, a gate to a beyond
We hoped to miss. Shells
Rattled in the sacks we brought
To the famous island. To take away
What washed up while we were living
Our safe, ordinary lives.
You should remember the rope burn
Across father’s spine and chest,
How he hauled us into the calm inlet
And rested, finally able to stand,
Half in sea-water, half in air
Like Poseidon shaking our praise
From his curly mane.

Years and years later, drowning
In the waters his heart cannot dispel
He lies stricken in the comfortless cot
While we stand helpless
Searching for a rope
To snatch and save him.

Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, Gargoyle, Pinyon, Little Patuxent Review, Spillway, Midwestern Gothic and others. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She has published 20 books including Selected Poems from FutureCycle Press which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage from Glass Lyre Press which has been awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Three of her poems have been featured on Verse Dailyand another is among the winners of the 2016 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. Her newest books are Carnival from  FutureCycle Press and The Seven Heavenly Virtues from Kelsay Books. Her next book Her Heartsongs will be published by Presa Press in 2018.  Colby is a senior editor of FutureCycle Press and an associate editor of Good Works Review. Website:  Facebook: Joan Colby. Twitter: poetjm.