Poems of the Week – Jonathan Johnson




Give me a moment, sun gone to shapeless
cloud at evening and wall of trees where field
is done and the unspeakable questions begin,
birch, oak, beech, poplar, hemlock, black bark spruce,
fence of wrought iron companions and stone block
corners, stone, grass, leaves, and tear the moment
down the middle. A mower has shaved the lawn.
Thin, tip broken sabres of grass are softer
than air, by which I mean absence, and cold.
Tear the moment open, the sentence of
your life falling in two, a space wood ducks
on the pond swim into. One Moment. One.
And another. Incidentally, a Jeep
Cherokee is parked on the mini-road,
feet from headstones, owners absent since before
I got here. It’s a Grand. Gold trimmed forest.
Green of starting over, a deeper green
than the new grass growing from the cut ends
of the old. Don’t give it another thought.


In Season

We hunt from horseback, down on side
of the ravine and up the other. The fact
is wounded. We see her blood on the snow,
but don’t know which of us got off
the good shot; we all fired pell-mell
when we saw her step clear from the confusion
of spruce and deadfall shadow and spot us.
Our horses are good hunting horses and
don’t spook at the rifle report over their ears
or the smell of Fact blood up their nostrils.
We got the horses, high hats, and spurs on loan,
part of a package that includes the Fact stuffed
and mounted in a predatory, hunched-shoulder
pose, Fact ribs, round, and sausage
in a FedEx cooler home before us as we toast
the hunt and toss our Marlburo butts
into a rock-rimmed fire. Or, the Fact
will give us the slip. It’s wild country,
the Fact’s home range, after all.
What do we know? The fact may be healing
already, then hit a mere graze. Looking
from this ridge across vertebrae of mountains,
it’s easy to believe that Fact is far out there
and has perhaps rejoined her pack of Facts
to run free as inside her new young grow
strong and as yet both blind and unseen.


Red like Rust

One example of communication
is when truckers flick their lights off and on

so passing truckers know it’s safe to slide
back into the right lane. See what I mean. Stand

in Dakota fields, watching from the dark.
Stir your fire for the lift and swirl of sparks.

Time is an abundant commodity
when considered collectively, beauty

in rivets in a steel hull at sea.
Turned table legs of blood red mahogany,

inches into miles of asphalt tell
how human hours were lived, lives spent, fuel

for the blaze all names become. Circle the wreck
you’re pulled from and believe what you suspect.

The jaws of the jaws of life are built in. Go home.
There the park deer are plump and eat from your hand.

Lie down on the rocks of the river beach
and let your fists uncurl. Practice dying

in this way, spruce rising, like arrows
shot through your body, the copper sound of swallows

and shallow water running fast over sandstone
cracking your heart which had turned against you.

Would you have a woman touch your sun warmed face?
Don’t count on her. But here, count on here.


* all poems from Mastodon, 80% Complete, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2001.

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