Joseph O’Brien

—for Lucy

At winter solstice

Can you find the right words? On the surface, letters add 
 Little to the capital search. But buried beneath the cases
Are the common shapes for tongues to fit. So, child, blow
 The wind with lips pursed. The grey evocations of winter 
Wilt the chary flames of autumn and die at equinox,
 To drip from eaves in afterthought. But now the weeks have passed
Into solstice. Months die away. The year and day remain 
 The weather of a calendar, although not the same as weather
Itself. The primer page will tell no fortune except to tell how
 The course is run. Hills and valleys… along the lively surface,
Your tiny soda-bottle fingers, chubby with their growth
 To come, trace and sculpt, and find and fail and find again.

Along the way, the seasons are colored like cows in the field—
 The dun, the unrelenting white, the blackguard, the maculate roan…
Did you not know that cattle and seasons must go their way?
 In the barnyard, the mud and ice have left a mark on you.
The cows low, their bovine eyes heavy but raised skyward
 In pathos, their swinging udders drenched in manure and pasture
And cadenced to their gait, beastly urgent, slow in progress.
 Child, did you not know that winter must give way to blades
Of grass, that summer must give way to what the gravity box
 Has in store, inevitable? As corn and oat resort to silage,
The corn shucks are pages turned; harvest, a corner turned.
 You do not know, original child, the tender yield to change.

A guttered fire glows in the grate and warms the nursery.
 You leave no mark in time—except as preliminaries of spring;
Obsequies of winter; all splendid as consolations in between.
 Learn these things well, child, and train your eyes to follow
The lazy rolling funeral of a fly, the spider’s resurrection,
 Each drawing on the given gravity of rain like dreaming…
A window’s shadows are alpha, the clouds and sun, omega;
 Between is language, raw, without recipe, sinuous, barbed, 
Or bulbous to soothe, eternal, discrete, shaping, shaped, 
 A catalogue among the last things to leave you. Child, rest 
Against the pillow. Sleep. Forget your mind’s miscellany
 Of wants and needs now plowed under ultimate optative light.

Joseph O’Brien lives on his rural homestead in Soldiers Grove, WI with his wife Cecilia. Together they are having the time of their lives raising hell with their eight children: Barbara, Seamus, Bernadette, Norah, Liam, Anastasia, Mara Naomi, and Lucy. He is currently working as staff writer for The Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of La Crosse, WI.