“House of Air, Hours of Fire”

A Poem by Donika Kelly

May 5, 2021  By Donika Kelly

I was born into a house of air,
my dad born to bear, to share, his burden.
I was his dominion, a bit of land
turned to use. Where he plowed, I was worn,

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and where worn, I strained. I knew little
of the life behind the hand that sounded me,
that turned the field, that planted the maze,
yet I answered to his name as if it were my own.

Then came the fallow, when I came into my body
as a horse, as a bird, as a beetle scurrying
in the brush. For many seasons, I was known by his
name but rarely worked by his hand. The field receded,

overgrown. Then came the hours of fire, her joy
at my taking her name—one given to her mother
and taken by her—the undergrowth charred to ash.
In the distance, a house, neither mine nor his.

Was I happy? Happier, yes, to have some sky,
to see the horizon, to want to know my body
unworked. I lived in the flame, practiced being
incomplete, a progression, an action without place.

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I once thought it a carapace I shed,
that house, that name, my time as a field,
but I think of the fire, the brief time
I will have held her name, this one shell taken

for another, and I know I am palimpsest.
I house the air, the earth, and flame—though nearly anything
can be overwritten, and what can be left behind
is no more or no less a matter of will.


The Renunciations

“House of Air, Hours of Fire” from The Renunciations. Copyright © 2021 by Donika Kelly. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Donika Kelly
Donika Kelly
Donika Kelly is the author of Bestiary, winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for poetry, and the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She teaches at the University of Iowa.

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