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Spring/Summer 1996, Volume 13.2

Poetry

 

Susan Johnson


Susan Johnson (M.S., Acadia University; M.F.A., University of Massachusetts) is on the faculty of Shimer College. She has published poems in the
Massachusetts Review, Greensboro Review, Quarterly West and others.

 

Letter(s) Home

The sea slides over itself,
busy smoothing out the shore.
I follow my thumb through ports
of rain, mountains capped with snow.
You know the place. Islands rising
out of mist. No one knows me,
just this exclamation point burned
into my brow. Boots sodden to the knee.
Stairs step into the ocean like you'd
step into sleep. Waking I grasp
handfuls of empty. My brain takes on air.
It's like that here. Gannets eye level.
Roses fingering stone. Each dusk
I dig tunnels. The last rays touching
heather with their tongues. Skua skim
the shore returning to what they can't
leave behind. Walls of rock. My face
in your window, like looking out to sea.
I search the face of the sky for one
familiar feature. You hovering in your
field of sparks. Back on the street:
fish trips, fish and chips. A little girl
whose long hair falls like so many ribbons.
The tiny white soldiers of her teeth.
I stop to mend my legs, the muscles
I've knit and worn, knit and wound
bay to bay. Fields scarred by barbed wire,
bandaged with fleece. Someone's pants
dancing dry on a line. Farms are minuscule.
My hands immense. Fulmars fold into crevices
of air. I lean down a hundred yards
of sheer. The planet slips a little
adjusting its plates. A door opens,
a door shuts. What do I want?
A fjord of goats. A gorge of pine. A piper
drawing this ship through yesterday's
fog. (I want to lie in your sleep
and not dream this ice again.) Empty
milk bottles stand sentry at each
back door. My home the next parish
I tell the farmer beside me, pointing
toward the ocean's brim. Otters rising.
Waves and all the silences between.
I can jettison everything but what
you didn't give. A lane of hydrangea
meets me like so many blue moons…

 

Now and Then

Are you with me in this or am I rafting
these rapids alone. Thunder marching
a band through the trees. They gather
in pairs to laugh at rain, their roots
long since drowned in stone.

Last night I dreamt of my grandmother's
garden. A stifling sun on weedy carrots,
I kept hoping she'd call me in.
First generation Norwegian, she loved
jello, sanka, and grilled cheese.

Today she would have been ninety-one.
Tomorrow too. Days stretch open
at both ends, breaking into sleep.
Out my back door I step into forest,
and climb through branches head first.

I try not to ask for more knowing
no one ever really thought the world
was flat, just something they couldn't
hold in their hands, Killdeer crying,
their echoes tagging behind.

At sixteen I thought the world
was a table with empty chairs,
a window opening to pine. A sum
of two seasons: light and dark.
Daffodil and muskeg. You and me.

Last year's brush billows into cloud.
Now and then a trace of flame.
A tulip tree opening its wings.
When DNA transforms it's a permanent
change. When this music stops we'll dance.

 

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