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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.
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.
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
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 Review, The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, and other journals.