Joel F. Johnson
I'm a businessman and chronic English major who began writing poetry about ten years ago. Sometimes, I find myself switching back and forth between a spreadsheet and an unfinished poem. My first book of poems, Where Inches Seem Miles, was published by Antrim House at the end of 2013. In 2014, Kirkus Reviews selected it as one of the best books of the year in the Indie category. I've benefited from workshops at the Concord Poetry Center and from the journals which have published my work, including Rattle, Blackbird, and Salamander. My website, joelfjohnson.com, includes a few videos of my readings with images.
Never got remarried after her husband,
Little Bobby Ross, got burned up by the Japanese.
He was sent home from Guadalcanal
in a government-issue steel casket
with a sign on it that said Do Not Open.
She did, of course. Say-Say was a stubborn somebody.
Her mama (Sarah Mobley Senior—we called her Lu-Lu,
same as we call Say-Say Say-Say, not Little Sarah)
said Child, don’t you open that box.
Begged her not to, got down on her knees and pleaded with her,
but Say-Say was one to do what Say-Say wanted.
She pulled that lid up, and what-do-you-think—
there was nothing in there but a dog tag,
a piece of helmet about the size of a butter plate,
two hands and a pile of ash.
Lu-Lu must have sat up every night for the next six months
with a cold compress packed on top of Say-Say’s head,
every light in that house turned up just as high as it would go.
Here's a video with a reading of this poem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txGo8tPPtUs
Beside the Backhoed Earth
Spare me the folded flag, the white gloves,
your re-worked sermon and brown gaze.
Send me a mother, one to match me
boy for boy, loss for loss. Let us
talk girlfriends, caskets and favorite songs,
compare the measure of children’s graves. Let her
climb with me into this one, defy the world to make us leave.
Show me what she keeps in her cardboard box:
the pinewood derby car, the trophy,
the bottle of sand from Venice Beach. Or the picture
beside the TV set, the uniform and crew cut,
the closed door upstairs. No, send me a mother,
not a speech, not a flag, not a cause or a reason,
no personal note or comforting call.
Send me someone who knows how to suffer,
who grieves as I grieve and cannot sleep.
Here's a video with a reading this poem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqdCvBc5wSY
©2015 Joel Johnson