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Spring/Summer 2002, Volume 19.3



Allan JohnstonPhoto of Allan Johnston.


Allan Johnston (Ph.D., UC Davis) received a finalist award in poetry from the Illinois Arts Council in 1999. He has published a book of poetry, Tasks of Survival (Mellen Poetry Press, 1996), and has recently published in Weber Studies, Poetry, Dickinson Review, California Quarterly, and CQ among others. Currently he teaches writing, creative writing, and literature at Oakton Community College, DePaul University, and Columbia College. See other poetry published in Weber Studies by Allan Johnston: Vol. 6.2Vol. 11.2Vol. 14.2,  and  Vol. 17.0.


Deep Lake

Even the spring of a breeze across water
can cause a ripple that will join
the force of current brought with rain
and from the distant streams.
in dance of algae or gardens of moss
that tickle out from stones and piers,
or even in the empty air,
sunlight can seem to make a lay
of color. Eyes turn sleepily
away from folds to fish: lids,
gills, fins, everything
designed to offer water or sleep
in sun the simpleness of a career
as atmosphere and quiet road
of difference.

   Beyond the point
where cabins hang along the shore
and the boat feeds on its drift,
each loose line of rope can brace
a weft of spidering
unlike music everywhere,
every form of veiled good—
water brings nothing to the ears,
but empties them. To begin,
it brings the lap of stillness
to the world. A trout hangs
like an emblem by what seems
to it nothingness,

yet in just these heartbeats
I must come to air
from life to me unknown. Water
only holds for a while,
and as in sleep, out of time,
sink or swim can soon become
anyone's metaphor
for what we want or need to do
to keep alive.
   Yet water undoes
thought in gardens, giving intricate
undertow in everything—

we call the world.


Columbia River Gorge

West of Yakima the headlights fondle the highway,
and the insect-laden darkness, laced by bats,
reels everywhere, fervid and musty with liquor
from the scent of hops and wild taste of alfalfa.
But once you pass the bridge, over the gorge,
and head north, getting through Wenatchee
a few hours after the sun has cracked the sky,
earth becomes yellow with weed. Dry scrub prepares
to burn. The hills fleck with breccia. Outcrops of lava
   a reminder—

a ghost of the boil of air. All things slowly start
to overheat—the car, the temper, the mind.
Here one can pass into Canada
and still be stalking desert.

                                           As I drive,
below me brick-dark vertical lava rock drops
to the bubbling coolness of the Columbia River.
One who knows how to read these walls
can follow the snake of revelation
in solid rock—lava flow, stillness, lava flow.
   Time here freezes everywhere
   in moments of heat
   one can read
   to the ends of deserts.

Above this rippling ever-present
chance of fire, in the mountains
to the west and east,
cedars are hanging on in scented forests
among the cracked-bark pine.
They tangle over the green fern floors
where blackberries scraggle,
and a low scrub of huckleberry
still entices the bear. Somewhere

I will turn away from heat,
the chances of fire that surrounds me—
each of the brief thoughts given its chance
of solidification
in the outcropping of heat.

                            In some way,
the only reminder one has of the road
one passes in the comfort of cars
is the way lava preserves
the past. The knowing can read
the ancient lake that once formed,
then burst, sending forth a torrent
as large as the Caspian deluge
told in the Bible as Noah's flood.
These hills speak of glaciation
and vulcanization, two poles, heat and
frozenness intermingling
in the creation of the living
we now find ourselves touching
during a moment of passage through
a place where cliffs hang in the shadows
   of the afternoon
   I am driving in
   Yakima north
   and east through Wenatchee
   toward the hidden forests.

Earth is only
as it is;
as we want it if we know
that we need to keep it

as it is. There is only work to be done,
yet this world we are so intent on destroying

waits without us, vast and deep
in canyons of volcanic rock
that to the eye support little
but weed and insect.

                             And yet
here is what is coming to us:
being happy with what is;
words an engine is singing in overheating  

in the 100 degree heats of desert
above inaccessible waters,
a cool river broken here and there
by dams, yet still in flow,

knowing to continue without us—
one definition of home.



In the places where we walked
homesteaders had once tilled
acreage; but since then
more than a century has gone.
All that remains of their breaking
of the earth are the mossy
underlogs of barns and houses
long since dissipated
in the hunger of moss and fungus.
About them stand the apple trees,
feral, climbing still
among the larch and aspen.

Each tree has turned its fruit
away from commonalities
of produce to the subtle
adaptive accidents
of difference in tartness, sweetness,
taste, size, shape; distinct,
shrunken, varicolored
the great introspection

of nature; again
the grace notes of mutation,

fruit and sweetness drifting toward
the coming wilderness.

Apples, cannabis, and insects.
Apple-gorged and smoked out,
we would sit and listen
as the humming, sexual waves
of insects worked across the fields,
opening with the moving of
the songs, each indistinct, all mixing
into one great rhythm.
These too came in swells
as each species was fulfilled,
its sound replaced in surges rolling
over us as we sat,
listening, tasting: here to know
some part of the world: the fruit, the harvest.


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