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Luke Johnson



I slurp a sad boy’s fingers             

          nibble where the skin

                    has peeled & pull him out            


                    to spin inside pond splash

          powdered light. I study

the soft flesh, nip to pry


the past apart. Salve

          the place his mother

                    maimed, a map with oil


                    & skillet, prayed

          while watching him squirm. Later,

a sip of soup lifted


like an impartation,

          I drool because the fat

                    has fallen off the bone


                    fondled my throat

          with fennel. Fennel & quail.

Quail & floodplain. Salt,


mistsilk, spit. Their

          fragile bodies bagged

                    then hung to dry


                    headless over drip

          pans. Like this, he says: spoon

in his scarred hand––quivering.



Jacob leaves a stick of sage

          smoldering on an abalone 

                    ashtray & skims his hand 

                              across a bath filled with dahlia 


their copper flames sinking

          as the steam furls them under

                    like smashed faces

                              & fastens them to the tile.


He thinks of the boy he beat

          with a stick by the barn

                    the boy who nearly died

                              the day his daddy found


him fondling men

          beneath the bleachers

                    for forty dollars

                              & tied him to a tree


all night in wretched rain,

          the river frothing close.

                    Jacob unsnaps his belt

                              unties his boots, pulls


his pants below the waist

          & stands in front 

                    of a foggy mirror

                              to hold his flaccid cock.


He slackens his jaw

          teethes his tongue

                    mutters the name

                              of the boy who begged


barely able to breathe.

          Outside the snow has fallen

                    & the sky chalked

                              & black ice barreled


stubborn dogwoods, rooting

          for warmth underfoot.

                    Jacob empties himself.

                              Submits into the salted bath


to freely float unbodied

          & begins to weep, his 

                    wails a wounded mare. 

                              The sort that goes on & on


as it’s picked apart by birds

          then spilled into 

                    the sequined snow

                              the wind a volley of echoes.


This poem 

has a house and a field 


and behind the field 


a feral grove 

of olives and lemons, 


where a woman 

once laid a baby 


on a stone 

and sprinkled gas in its hair


wept as it rose into flames. 


Her lover stood

a few feet back 


begging a bucket 

of water, anything, 


but she bound

his lips with a kiss


and took his hand



his sorrow in bed. 


This is a poem

more about rain. 


About the sudden gales

that woke 


in the field

and shook the house



to tear it away. 


How the woman

would not 


wake from sleep

as hail cracked windows


ripped through fence


rattled the backdoor 

with rage. And how 


her lover––a man

no older than forty––


fell on his face

and begged his boy 


back from sky. 

How the boy 


would not come

how sky 


would not answer

how light 


was left swallowed

in the static of rain. 


How a rope and a rafter 

and a chair kicked loose, 


brought him his sweet Jeremiah, 

swaddled in cloth 


and still kicking. 

-from Quiver, Texas Review Press, selected by Assistant Editor, Karen Carr 


Luke Johnson is the author of Quiver (Texas Review Press), a finalist for The Jake Adam York Prize, The Levis Award, The Vassar Miller Prize and the Brittingham. His second book A Slow Indwelling, a call and response with the poet Megan Merchant, is forthcoming from Harbor Editions Fall 2024. You can find more of his work at Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Narrative Magazine, Poetry Northwest and elsewhere. Connect on Twitter at @Lukesrant or through email:

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