Emma Aylor: “Ossuary,” a poem for Haunted Passages

Haunted Passages: Emma Aylor


On the farm, our border collie lab killed
small animals. I’d tell people

they died from Joy. Once a groundhog
just next to its burrow, head

open to skimmed winter sky and the pink
of its brain blurred and scraped at the edges;

twice our hens, bodies stretched
in the cage corner, eyelids purpled and closed.

Some she could never have taken herself:
a fox slumped in the ravine, abdomen open to air.

My father scooped the rag-loose bodies
in the palm of his caked shovel

and threw
them overhand into the closest field.

The bundles landed under the sound
of fussed creek water, the closest mountain old

and handled like a tablet.
After a few weeks, he checked back,

cleaved gristle and fur already
stretched and keening to let it out

let it out
bone brittled with a pocketknife

but he would never release what was in the head.
When the body was ready—little skin left

puckered—he disarticulated, dropping
all but the skull in the sallow grass.

Supply spread through the house with each
found dead.

I asked my father if he had kept
the scalps whose sutures I used to trail—fibers

interleaved at the joints—skulls with mouths
fissures above our winter fire.

No, he wrote, but I’ve found some since.
We’re gone

eleven years. Remains in that field. Still mantle
above woodstove gray with ash, muck boots

meddled red, damp cellar huddle, rows
of jaws and heads tracked with stuck fur,

and I asked my father if he kept the teeth I eyed up,
teeth I snapped from hollows

to hold on my tongue.

Emma Aylor is from Bedford County, Virginia. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades, Cincinnati Review, Sixth Finch, Bluestem, and Salt Hill, among other journals, and she is the recipient of Shenandoah’s 2020 Graybeal-Gowan Prize for Virginia Poets. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington and lives in Lubbock, Texas.

Image: worldwidewildlifeproducts.com

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