Descendant

And detaches self from shadow
across puddles, and forgets how to hold
his mother’s hand and

the sliver of her voice slips the fist
of his mind / but believe me    there were years
he could hear her in the songs

of the tūī of the backyard— I say
there are things you will
never know again 

not the front room held in light (the late warmth),
nor birds running the roof like early hail, like the plums
pounding the deck after gale, split and bruised

—not the tree, bowed and broken,
dead last spring. Branches slain in storm,
felled across the fruitless soil

like the severed arms of a statue, stretched
heavenward in blank unpraise,
her stranded embrace.

How do you lose a language? Or let slip
entire kingdoms / Slowly,
then all at once

the birds stop alighting. And the ear
grows dull. And the tongue grows
heavy. And  I didn’t mean to   he says

hang up halfway  he says  thumb slipped
               I dropped
                                           call

Some mornings I find
him silent on the balcony with
the herbs and all his hands

no birds in the city  I say
He says nothing, listening
to the day, young and cold

as the day the cat killed the tūī
in the depths of July
Carried to his feet, an oblation—

the white collar stained, the wings mid-beat
And I watched him pale

and turn away / and walk
voiceless into the house /

where neither sings
again / and carry with you

that open, untouched hand /
that death

About the author
Janna Tay studies law, politics, and philosophy at the University of Auckland. Her work has appeared in Starling, Polyphony H.S., and -Ology Journal, and she won second prize in Landfall's 2018 Charles Brasch Young Writers' Essay Competition. Find her on Twitter.