From the circling road on Rousay, years ago,
my parents and I pronounced each mound
either hill or tomb. All among: the sea fret blown
from Eynhallow Sound into a cracked
window, into night, drafty and close
as an open coat. The local sheep—evolved
to eat mainly brown kelp—gather at low tide,
rest at high, and fatten in winters, when the storms
push more seaweed up to shore for reaching.
I took touch pieces (two coins, oval pumice,
star-eye replica of a Neolithic stone wife,
blue china from the strand) to keep
in my pockets, and the islands—
ovine, unruffled—watched as their offing
washed into the air. Hunched
in the still entry of a passage grave,
we crawled into a space that felt just used
and not yet left: warm, windless,
the caved-in air human on our heads.
I can only know the human by what it catches on.
Back home, in Virginia, the estate sale sold photographs
of one woman—dead now, my father’s age—through her youth.
That winter, low fog cottoned up to the windows: it draped
a bit stiffly, as if starched, over the spice
of boxwood, chips of fallen housepaint, limbs
aching and deciduous, a red clay in wedges, the rain
glazing the waxed tops of magnolia leaves.
There’s an eddy, isn’t there? to where we’re sure
a person’s been. Spring 1958, she dressed
formal, gloved hands as large (with foreshortening)
as the mountain. I know that mountain.
In the pinked edges of one picture, a bit of copper
spills; misplaced emulsions curve
along her bare arm like personal ghosts.
Some other time, she sits on a stone beside
the James—it’s rained; the river’s generous.
Trees still bare. Looking, a body could fall
into sky, smooth, shown as it seems, on the water.
Emma Aylor’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in New England Review, AGNI, Colorado Review, 32 Poems, and the Yale Review Online, among other journals. She lives in Lubbock, Texas.