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.
Jèsus and the Snowman
It’s a west Texas thing:
three Delco car batteries strapped to a switch lighting a line of icicles.
Draped from barbed wire.
As far north or south as a man can walk in a night,
a clutter of jackrabbit holes and arroyos,
cactus and yucca,
sand too coarse to be good,
too dry to be dirt.
A plastic snowman guards the south end of the illuminated line.
Cheerful in its green tie and top hat, its buttons and broom, carrot nose.
The balls of its head and chest light up the sage
like St. Elmo’s fire.
Decoration for the chiggers and toads, fire ants and lizards.
For the ones who cross at night,
taught by word of mouth to know it as a beacon,
a place to meet at 3 a.m.
where, after fanning out for 10 miles or more,
they can regroup, drink some water, fan out again.
It’s 5 a.m. when Jèsus finds the snowman.
It should be cold, but it’s warm.
He huddles against it, stone-eyed and afraid,
trying to look past the snowman’s lasso of light.
There are three figures moving toward him,
silhouettes in wide-brimmed hats against a pale horizon.
Hearing them before he sees, knowing he will want to be erect,
Jèsus stands, tries to button up a smile.
-first published in Blackbird in 2010
How she sat on the porch with her feet on the rail,
the curve of her jaw like the lip of a shell.
Red sun full-on in her face.
How she swore to him
this was a place she’d never leave.
Odor of sage more memory than smell.
If there were wind, there would be a sound of wind.
If there were a highway, there would be a sound of trucks.
But there is no wind, and the road is not so much a road
as distance flayed. For him, these stars
might as well be holes,
the Milky Way a spilling and a waste.
A dreamed imperative of night-panic and lightning,
the pinch of burrs in her coat, frost in her snout,
the crunch of frozen buffalo grass,
a clean thin burning in her lungs as she sinks to accelerate,
shoulders and haunches dropping down, as her legs stretch out,
out on the prairie
when the prairie still burned, when it was prairie because it burned,
and they followed the packs of humans, coming close enough at night
to steal strips of fat, scraps of hide,
to hear their cries when the prairie fires leapt close,
thunderous and high, and they all ran, dogs and women racing
across the burning earth at night, the spark and glare,
the scalding wind, the babies left behind.
©2015 Joel Johnson