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Fall 1994, Volume 11.3

Poetry

 

William Johnson


William Johnson (Ph.D., University of Denver) teaches at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. He is the author of
What Thoreau Said (University of Idaho Press, 1991) and is currently completing a manuscript of poetry. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Leftbank, Poetry Northwest, and Quarterly West.

 

At Sheep Lake

I unzip the rainfly.
lean into milky light.
On the ridge Antares
glares blue-green,
like the eye of a
Stellar's jay dead
on the step of a fire
gutted lookout tower
we passed on the switch
backed highline trail.
Stars are bright wicks
igniting the beargrass,
soft white plumes
that glow on the flat
like lanterns. Wrapped
in his down coccoon
my son whimpers, then
sinks back deeper into
his dream. An ocean away
there is war. The dead
smolder, charred in
their bandages of sand.
When it's light we break
camp, wrestle into packs
and climb in the shadow
of a crumbling granite
dome. We meet them
on our own—two deer
nibbling dew-wet grass.
their eyes like a last
light wind off the lake;
a mountain bluebird stitching
the sky into pines.
By a rockseep we fill
canteens, drink and lean
back to rest. He picks me
a lily, prismed
in its locket of frost.

 

Chinese Ruins on the Salmon

A fingernail of moon
ticks shadßows of sage
like claws on flatironed
stone, the sky like
a necklace dashing its
jewels on the rimrock.
From my bag I stare
at Orion, three
cold tacks in his belt.
Cassiopeia's cart
tipping its load of pyrite,
stars like cinders
the wind licks
back into coals. Hand-caulked
rocks have toppled, rubble
dusted with poison
oak and the bones of miners
who grubbed out life here,
hounded out of camps at
Florence, Warren or Stibnite.
Robbed of their claims
and hardtack they slept
near coyote or deer, dreamed
swallows mimicked Mandarin
losses in the Book of Songs.
I wake hearing picks in the
rocks or a clicking of
hackberry galls. On the bluff
moon-etched shadows of sage
jut like ideograms only
the river translates,
a soft hush panning the stars.
                            for Cort Conley

 

Dipper

Where a creek froths
soupy over rocks
in the plummeting rush
to a pool, it island-hops
and bobs, tail a pump-
handle furiously cranked
in the spume of a mist-
whipped rainbow, gone
as it wing-walks a dark
undersky, pecking out
nymphs or larvae wedged
in a crack like bread-
crust dropped by God.
Prospector of waterfalls.
Deliverer of the quick
and the numb. Where
creek-mist kisses
stone it leaves no
track, prints invisible
as after-plunge. A cheap
zeet and I squint through
limb-filtered light,
home in a bowl of moss
I'm careful never to find,
hidden beneath a fall.

 

Hawks

Dawn, outside of Uniontown,
the wipers scissoring rain.
Drops like depth-charges
sploosh in pools by the road
and daylight grains over
wheat, a thin blade
slicing its blanket of fog.
The sky is muffled, a dim
correlative of solitude
converting its mist to loss.
No mice skitter in furrows
and the hawks simply wait,
hunkered on powerpoles I pass,
one on the slat of a gate,
like drunks weary of rain,
snubbed on the hem of dawn.
The ditch runs coffee-slosh.
Nothing will move in the wheat.
Now a hawk climbs, tacks into
wind and glides, a tatter
elegantly lonely. Even in rain
that sense of direction,
a faltering, swerve and return,
what gnaws at the hungry heart.

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