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Three Poems
Likely Story

These are the days everyone talks about: pixilated skies, 
newness reinventing itself like an aura, each of us 
driving away. In Coeur d’Alene (Heart of an Awl) you fall in love 
with your eyes (which explains your boxer’s stance, 
dust of A-bombs), enter the realm of the dead singing. 
But out here, salmon and steelhead feint in heavy water. 
Monkey flowers, bleeding heart flowers, moments that clutch. 
Flies, too, attracted by rotting meat fragrance 
certain flowers give off, saccades of day and night 
riddled with speech or thoughts of speech. 

Beyond the pleural trees, where the landscape breaks down,
tidewater goby’s drab little male makes a nursery of his mouth.
Contact calls the young. Daylight moon we can’t see either 
sinks through salt brush, glasswort, with no idea. 
Meanwhile we’re here, end of the loop, pausing by the gift shop 
on our way out of the grove, into exploding sunlight,
relations who’ve never met. Equal and opposite, we seem 
to hold one another without touching, beat the drumhead air, 
try to get a word in. It was a pleasure. No, really. 
We’ve got to come back again one day. 



Despite expectation, we reach morning like a milk bottle, 
elbows skinning, sweat beading. The poet warned us, 
“Do not think of numbers. They are a form of punishment.” 
She held a book in her right hand, and with her left 
seemed to take something small from a dish and release it 
repeatedly. Thus we tremble in perseverating light, 
figure the attractive forces, take them in selectively, 
organs extending—never mind good intentions—everything 
truly remarkable without ever meaning to be so. 

We met again outside the auditorium. Wasplike 
our legs dangled because that’s what keeps us 
blooming the shocked waters, dreaming up the right 
reader, whose incomplete transcript recommends them. 
It was Thursday. No perfections, no purposes. 
We thought we’d gotten ourselves out of the way. 
Ruby hyacinth in the city of love. Countless gradations of red. 



He sits among brooding books, tailored to the page,
composing in a peculiar light not entirely himself,
sand in his fur, goat song stuck in his head. At first thought 
he’d jumped ahead, but no, only dozed, thinking 
if that girl hadn’t cried for days, refused to eat, 
the nuns would not have called her mother back, said 
we’re sorry, we can’t keep her, obdurate child, 
who stood at the door regarding them like a mudskipper, 
eyes above water, now below. Her husband or someone’s 
will enter the war six months before it ends and get 
trench foot, which probably saves him. Two semesters of French 
and they’ll make him company translator. But for now 
he’s happy as a beetle in a box, folding in at the edges, 
tapping out basemental language of soldiers. 

John Johnson’s poems have appeared in BOXCAR Poetry Review, Chaparral, DMQ Review, New Guard Literary Review, OVS Magazine, Triggerfish Critical Review, and other journals.