Three Poems
John Johnson

Likely Story

These are the days everyone talks about: pixilated skies,
newness reinventing itself like an aura, each of us
driving away. In Coeur d’Alene (Heart of an Awl) you fall in love
with your eyes (which explains your boxer’s stance,
dust of A-bombs), enter the realm of the dead singing.
But out here, salmon and steelhead feint in heavy water.
Monkey flowers, bleeding heart flowers, moments that clutch.
Flies, too, attracted by rotting meat fragrance
certain flowers give off, saccades of day and night
riddled with speech or thoughts of speech.

Beyond the pleural trees, where the landscape breaks down,
tidewater goby’s drab little male makes a nursery of his mouth.
Contact calls the young. Daylight moon we can’t see either
sinks through salt brush, glasswort, with no idea.
Meanwhile we’re here, end of the loop, pausing by the gift shop
on our way out of the grove, into exploding sunlight,
relations who’ve never met. Equal and opposite, we seem
to hold one another without touching, beat the drumhead air,
try to get a word in. It was a pleasure. No, really.
We’ve got to come back again one day.


Despite expectation, we reach morning like a milk bottle,
elbows skinning, sweat beading. The poet warned us,
“Do not think of numbers. They are a form of punishment.”
She held a book in her right hand, and with her left
seemed to take something small from a dish and release it
repeatedly. Thus we tremble in perseverating light,
figure the attractive forces, take them in selectively,
organs extending—never mind good intentions—everything
truly remarkable without ever meaning to be so.

We met again outside the auditorium. Wasplike
our legs dangled because that’s what keeps us
blooming the shocked waters, dreaming up the right
reader, whose incomplete transcript recommends them.
It was Thursday. No perfections, no purposes.
We thought we’d gotten ourselves out of the way.
Ruby hyacinth in the city of love. Countless gradations of red.


He sits among brooding books, tailored to the page,
composing in a peculiar light not entirely himself,
sand in his fur, goat song stuck in his head. At first thought
he’d jumped ahead, but no, only dozed, thinking
if that girl hadn’t cried for days, refused to eat,
the nuns would not have called her mother back, said
we’re sorry, we can’t keep her, obdurate child,
who stood at the door regarding them like a mudskipper,
eyes above water, now below. Her husband or someone’s
will enter the war six months before it ends and get
trench foot, which probably saves him. Two semesters of French
and they’ll make him company translator. But for now
he’s happy as a beetle in a box, folding in at the edges,
tapping out basemental language of soldiers.

John Johnson’s poems have appeared in BOXCAR Poetry Review, Chaparral, DMQ Review, New Guard Literary Review, OVS Magazine, Triggerfish Critical Review, and other journals.