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04-01-2019

L. A. Johnson

SELF-PORTRAIT AS NORWAY SPRUCE 

 

I had been quiet once and for a long time: 

turned my needles inward with discretion, 

tolerated both birds and wild radishes. 

 

When they came to possess me with twine  

and metal, they counted, patiently, each limb. 

 

Thirst overwhelmed me for the first time.  

They took me horizontal, crushed belts 

 

thick around my spine, forcing my muscles  

to contract without labor. Veins cross-hatched  

my monstrous body. The perfect discs 

 

of my sapwood become exposed, revealing 

a mien that is only one half of eternity. 

 

I never had a mother or a child— 

nothing to bind me to the earth but myself. 

 

And when I become too thin to stand, 

bring me to the knives, seal my mouth  

with calla lilies, and call it a burial.  

IMPERMANENCE 

I waited for you all evening in my little room. 

When you came, I took you to the window 

 

to show you my one gift of naming stars. 

 

To get here, you rode a train that divided 

fields of foxtails, ice freezing their roots. 

 

The tallest ones were taller even than you.  

 

You didn’t attend to my quixotic joy; 

instead, you looked into the house next door 

 

where a woman slept on a beige lounger,  

 

her rounded fingernails covering her face.  

An orchid widowed on a shelf. Snow began  

 

to fall, filling the eaves with white. What is  

fidelity if not a decision against this life. 

HUSH 

In these green hills, there’s no longer time  

for sleeping, for condolence notes.  

 

Like a face, the sky looks back, with longing.  

 

Another life, holding ice  

in my mouth. Another life, leaving 

 

my body out to be burned by the sun. 

 

I had a lover once, with the eyes 

of a monster, blue as a flood. 

 

I felt the water lapping at my door. 

 

I had a horse once, with the buck and gallop 

of a stallion, that I lead carefully 

 

to graze on the cliffs above the Pacific. 

 

 

Twilight arrives and I tremble— 

 

doubt sleeps among the stars,  

tucked neatly into rows of twin beds.  

 

This evening could go on forever, 

like the plastic cord of a telephone 

 

I used to wind around my wrist, 

 

as I listened to your voice, 

a miracle echoing out of the dark.   

 

Tonight, I am witness to misshapen things, 

the live oak growing coiled in our yard. 

 

When the night decides, I won’t see 

 

them anymore, shielded by ghosts 

and shadow. Only then do I want to stay  

 

close to you, like animals in a wet field, 

huddling awhile, saying each other’s names.  

-From Little Climates, Published by Bull City Press, 2017

Prompt: ???

Bio: L. A. JOHNSON is from California. She is the author of the chapbook Little Climates (Bull City Press, 2017). She is currently pursuing her PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California, where she is a Provost’s Fellow. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly ReviewThe American Poetry ReviewThe Iowa ReviewThe Southern ReviewTriQuarterly, and other journals.