» Poetry

This is what it looks like, son,

so stop stabbing the heron’s belly,
as if repeated stabs will wake it from the flies.


I mean what I say,
when I talk of permanence like permafrost


or ancient arteries of the earth’s underbelly,
spilling from volcanic pores. A woman, did you hear?


Crated homing pigeons
and biked them to a Tokyo market,


when her tire hit a rut in the road
and the cage fell loose. Nine birds died on impact,


while her most treasured, still alive
but blinded by headlights,


hit a fender and blew open—
feathers falling like snow. For months,


the poor woman wore grief like a wet wool coat
and wept through the deadwind of winter. She’d set the table
each evening for two. Wait for the backdoor to swing


and shut
and the sulfuric smell of sorrow to come in the kitchen to eat.


Tristessa, she’d whisper,
and the ghostly girl locked behind thick black bangs
would look to her left and say nothing.



When I was a boy
I had a habit of carelessly sloughing bark
from a Eucalyptus. I loved its salve and


layered it like glue
over every burn left by my father’s lighter.


And though that tree numbed each wound,
resulting in an able-bodied boy, one who’d go on
to live like most other boys,


I carried with me two things:
scars without witness and the tree’s sick tinder.


Many moons chafed into years of dissolution
and worms hollowed its core. Violent winds blew.
The old tree tilted, fell loose from soil, then split in half.


For months, it ghosted an aroma so thick
the fallow fields became places to pray, rub wounds
and feel cleansed. I felt cleansed. Opened my mouth


and ran nude in the rain. Its fading ointment
coating my throat and my tongue.



Which leads me here with you, son.


This heron, no different
than the three dozen floating out over the estuary,
was once a winged creature maneuvering winds


with precision. It was effortless. Swooping
soft beach for sand dabs then arrowing back toward light.


It’s sick, I know, how Man manipulates beauty.
But listen, son, listen: I’m asking you
to set the weapon down and look toward ocean.


That storm coming close
is big enough to rip this beach from coastline and swallow it.


High tide will swell and splash over the barriers
built to guard the street. Perch will fill medians like manna.


The poor will come collect their rations.

Wave hands toward thunder and praise it.


I’m asking whether you’d like to keep gazing at records of lost time,
or undress and wade these choppy waters,
our bodies weightless as breath.


Luke Johnson

Luke Johnson's chapbook, :boys, is forthcoming from Blue Horse Press. His poems can be found or are forthcoming in American Journal of Poetry, Asheville Poetry Review, Connotation Press, Greensboro Review, Kenyon Review, Narrative, Nimrod, Tinderbox, and others. He was a finalist for both the Pablo Neruda and Brett Elizabeth Jenkins awards, and he completed his MFA at Sierra Nevada College. His Twitter and Instagram accounts are @Lukesrant and lukethepoet.ninja.