Poems of the Week – Denis Johnson

9 Aug

THREE POEMS BY DENIS JOHNSON

There Are Trains Which Will Not Be Missed

They tell you if you write great poems
you will be lifted into the clouds
like a leaf which did not know

this was possible, you will never
hear of your darkness
again, it will become
distant while you become
holy, look,

they say, at the emptiness
of train tracks and it is poetry
growing up like flowers between
the ties, but those

who say this
are not in control of themselves
or of anything and they must

lie to you in order
that they may at night not bear witness
to such great distances cascading and such

eternities unwinding
around them as to cause even the most powerful
of beds to become silences, it

is death which continues
over these chasms and these
distances deliberately like a train.

A Consequence of Gravity

my wife’s voice yelling from
the window holds the distant echoes
of a thousand mothers-in-law, all the women,
all the weight, increasing, of this planet.

i will not listen. here in the yard i am watching
an old story: a child has dived
into the earth attempting to fly, and injured

farther than the skin gives
his long syllable toward the moon.
there is no one to tell him he will settle

for years, in a gradual re-enactment
of this flight, against the earth,
as he cries over his miserable attachment
to the ground and mourns

that first unlucky generation
of airplanes, the lost inventions still burrowing
somewhere desperately away from the air,
making caves, making

no sense at all crushed into the sides of mountains.
i grow, like an imprisoned pilot,
heavier, near death, my face
makes mistakes in the last oxygen of the cockpit.

through the dusk the moon has rolled
again out into her private ocean. i cannot
help it, like a blank virgin she has retired

beyond the air, and here, bereft, surrounded
by grotesque, inedible women and the painful
breaking of another spring i admit it,
i will never touch her, hold her.

Victory

the woman whose face has just finished breaking
with a joy so infinite

and heavy that it might be grief has won
a car on a giveaway show, for her family,

for an expanse of souls that washes from a million
picture tubes onto the blank reaches

of the air. meanwhile, the screams are packing
the air to a hardness: in the studio

the audience will no longer move, will be caught
slowly, like ancient, staring mammals, figuring

out the double-cross within the terrible progress
of a glacier. here, i am suddenly towering

with loneliness, repeating to this woman’s
only face, this time, again, i have not won.

* all poems from The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly, HarperCollins, 1995.

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