Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 14
Spring 2016

[Four Poems]

by Joy Moore

The Piano

An old upright with missing keys,
but it was hers,
and somehow she wheeled it to the barn,
leveled it on abandoned plywood
against the certain slow sinking into hayseed and mud.

Ghosts in the damp corners and loft,
and her fingers moving like small lit wicks
subduing shadows. Simple,
the imagined old bellow of the tired bull,
the constant swat of cows’ tails, cats
prowling for mice and voles.

Beyond the silent, safe shelter of the house
where walls stood studded and straight,
planked gray-boards leaning inward, just so, like a choir
that longs for a song they haven’t, anymore, the voice
to carry. And so, she primes
her hands and plays an octave lower,

and the dust and cobwebs and rusted milk buckets
drift into dream, sunstreaks, the clatter
of morning boots, the stench of grunting pigs
pricked awake, the rooster rounding the chickens.

A song so vivid only a single note hummed
and it returns, full-throated, whole. She is running
through the sunflowers that tower overhead,
holding her skirt up. Inside, a wounded redbird.
Her father bends and cradles it, then sings a wordless dirge.
And with them, the whole barn sways.

Then the dark startles her with a whistle of wind,
a fractured roof slat
as the distant, thick-tongued stutter of a diesel engine
flares. She listens to the absences,
and refusing to join, begins again, her fingers
not yet stiff from the cold.


The Sleepwalkers

In the season in-between, the sky
rain-silked, someone slips out
the screen door toward a back field,
a fence, the woods where the river
bends against shale
and walnuts dangle like ash-snubbed stars.

Trees shiver above ground fog
like sleepwalkers stalled on porches
without coats or robes.

With every step, the ground pronounces
something’s here: the rustle of raccoons foraging,
a wood thrush at the river’s edge, boulders
lodged in the current. Far off, a railroad bridge,
an approaching train
where a boy dreams his way past blurred buildings
toward Omaha or Fort Collins.

Smoke plumes from chimneys and factory stacks
where, perhaps, bells were forged, and who was it
composed the notes from the base of those towers,
tugging at hundred-foot ropes as if to waken

the barefoot wanderers at dawn and call them home?
They splash water on their faces
and sip coffee at the breakfast table
before school or work or worship.
How ordinary they seem then,
peeling an orange, buttering toast,
those who travel the night with ease, whose bodies
hide among tobacco rows and hug the edges of windbreaks,
their eyes shadowlit by a million crescent moons.


In the Shade of White Fire

for Merideth, Justin, and Anders
When your first cry sounded
through the blurring hum of that room—

monitors beeping, shoes scuffing linoleum—
we held our breath, our mouths rounded

in wonder at you breathing here, among us.
As if, until this moment, we’d been waiting,

like pots in a wood kiln, and only then,
did the fire reach us: heat feathers, glazing us gold.

In the space between bedside and doctor, we are christened
with new names: Father, Mother, Son.

The nurse swayed you, muttering mmhm, mmhm,
as though you were a sermon she affirmed

from a front row pew. She wiped your skin, your folds.
Your arms prickled from the cold, damp cloth.

Wrapped then in a thin, blue blanket,
she passed you to your father, and then,

the weight of you in my weak, needle-poked arms—
tiny chest, tiny nose, tiny lashes and lips.

I held your head in my hand.
Two fingers reached each ear, your soft, oily hair,

already growing.
In my throat, a million blessings gathered

like snow geese, blue-white and flapping, taking flight
out the doorway and through corridors,

past the entry desk and the intake nurses
looking up from notes, their cheeks brushed

and flushing. An endless cloud of them winding down
the stairwell, and out the revolving doors,

over wheelchairs and worried faces rushing in,
over cars packed with overnight bags, over street lamps

and shrubs and signs pointing to delivery
and emergency and outpatient care.

They alighted above buildings, casting shadows on highways
and fields, on houses, barns, cows, and even now, drivers

are leaning against steering wheels, cocking their heads to see.
Beneath a canopy of wings, everyone we love

steps out and dances in the shade of white fire.
Even the chickens squawk in song.

Everything born of air, flocking toward
the Lake of Praise, where we are now,

dipping into the pale cerulean water,
wings turned toward the wind, and rising


A Dream Without Faces

Except for the nuns, each holding a fistful of bright red balloon strings. Here, something for your kids. Yes, here. Take another. Inside every balloon, a square: a paper seed, an image of Jesus. I thank them as they murmur the morning office, not kneeling in the church nave, but standing here, in this dark hallway absent of candles and stained glass. I have just returned from the tattoo parlor, my shoulder a swollen mosaic of angels, three of them, crimson-robed, folds stitched in gold. Heads bowed and christened with habits of raven curls. Behind them, wings spread wide, waiting for the wind. A halo of pale blues, and the sky’s haphazard pattern of weightless white. At least, that’s what the first nun describes, tracing the shape inside my shoulder blade, barely touching the tender skin. The second nun says, Sweet Mother of God. I’ve seen those two angels watching Mary in a dream. I grope my way down the hall, my hands outstretched. A third nun takes them, says, Your shoulder is glowing the face of him who visited Abram. When she lets go, a breeze pulls me deeper into the darkness, the balloons rising like giant poppies, sparks and firelight brimming from inside, stamens like lit wicks. Red sky lanterns, a canopy of tiny hearts illuminating this vigil, this midnight festival of the Sacred Heart.


SHJ Issue 14
Spring 2016

Joy Moore

lives in Tennessee, manages two coffee houses and a music venue, and teaches creative writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, The South Carolina Review, Lake Effect, and Prairie Schooner, where it won a Glenna Luschei award.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury