Luke Johnson: Three Poems
I trapped bees in boxes
& carried them to the neighbor’s blind son.
Set them loose. Praised their frantic undulations,
their search for someone to serve,
then left him, bitten, tongue partly swollen,
stomach distended & scabbed. Edit: I did not
simply set them free in the blind boy’s hair. I
wooed them with candy & blew smoke through
a hole in the box until they dropped dizzy.
Plucked their stingers. Drowned the queen
& smiled as her wings folded into soda pop.
Promised the boy a taste of fennel, hot joy
thrumming his throat. He opened. Teeth
clean. Teeth like washed windows. Tasted
my kiss. Unraveled my tongue inside his.
(Originally published in Porter Gulch Review)
Rats & Manna
This poem has a house on a slipped foundation
and a woman beneath the porch
with a wrench
trying to tie down the posts. She’s heavy-set
with small hands
and bites her lips until they bleed.
footsteps thud and dust swarms. She admires
the way the refraction of light comes close
and whorls when her hand moves through it.
Remembers her father preaching and pacing
the aisles between pews
while her silent mother
flipped a black bible and wrote notes,
gin on her breath. These days all it takes
is a gentle gale to shake the house.
If you’re standing by the stove frying tilapia
and a storm congeals
and what follows that storm
are silk howls wrapped with rain, you’ll feel
your feet wobble
as the structure cracks like ship boughs,
shifts for balance. This is a poem more
than a house. A poem about a woman
who fixes three plates for supper,
who waits patiently for the back door
to hook and close
and the house to erupt with laughter so loud
the wood shutters slap, metal sconces shake.
But there are no footsteps here,
no voices in the clearing,
no lover’s hand moving the hair from her face
when she fights fever or builds a fence
or ties down the house
so, the earth won’t swallow her.
This is a poem about prayer, about the loss of prayer,
about rats who nest inside walls and leave shit
lined from room to room like manna. About two plates
left like offerings, for a lover and son
she carried six months into light.
(Originally published in American Journal of Poetry)
– to Smitty, Slick Nic, Mortimer and Dave
In a barn
choked by rusty tools
in a riotous circle
fetal mice fill
their fresh lungs with air
behind a tribal smile
pulled a blade
from his back pocket
to slice one down the abdomen
with ball point precision
each of us stone-silent
as Smitty unsnapped
like a bloody brassiere
then moved toward
a porous drum
swelling in his fingers.
(Originally published in the Asheville Poetry Review)
Author photo by Clara Johnson
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Luke Johnson's chapbook, :boys/i>, was published with Blue Horse Press, July 2019. His poems can be found or are forthcoming at Kenyon Review, Florida Review, Narrative, Nimrod, Tinderbox, Connotation Press, Greensboro Review, and others. He was a Finalist for both the Pablo Neruda Prize and the Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Award, and completed his MFA at Sierra Nevada College.