I pull a piece of the bed
you made for me from your finger,
a blonde splinter nestled down deep
as a quill in the thick of a birdıs wing.
I flay the mound of swollen skin
with a rusty blade like a fisherman
stripping meat from bone,
a plow through the furrows
of a fingerprint field,
a lathe across a virgin plank.
I press and squeeze the pussy wound
and watch your face for signs of pain.
A quarter inch of sunken ash bursts
to the surface like a birthed baby.
I tweeze it from its depths pulling
smoothly as a toothpick from an olive.
We lie back down together in bed
and let things begin to heal.
Every so often there is a breeze
stirring moss on the boughs
of oaks, like wigs of women
grown old and hung out to dry.
You stroke the wrinkled bark
with your mind and memorize skin
as smooth as a beetleıs back
and hair plucked free of gray.
You are the next Jesus,
in touch with your animal spirit.
With nighttime lotion creamed on your face
you devil eggs in robe and slippers,
dreaming of your trip to China
at fifteen, where you looked up to no one.
At parties you forget to thank the host
as moss, growing longer not older,
fails to thank the tree
which ages, rots and dies.
In the windıs slightest rustle
the leaves whisper, "Stop wishing."
Blake at 80
One day you will happen
to be a great old lady,
knobby fingers snapping
beans on the front porch.
Rising for a morning walk
you pause in the garden path
to wonder how the daffodils
make it to the party each year.
You bend to snip herbs--
basil, parsley, tarragon--
between your nails and bruise
the leaves under your nostrils.
You toss fragrant confetti
into the wind. Music in the trees,
you silently totter on the steps
with an old dance still in your toes.
surrounds you like a partner
whose lead youıve never forgotten
how to follow.
The Origin of Teeth and Bones
My father hands me his teeth to wash.
They clack in my palms--warm water on ice.
At the sink, picking his lunch from between plastic cuspids,
I see his reflection in the medicine cabinet,
his white skin thinner than the sheets he lays upon.
Like artificial bones, the dentures clatter
under the stream of the faucet. I sniff
the hand towel embroidered with flowers.
The fabric hints of sour milk and floral soap.
Father mumbles from the bed, sure of his words,
and I nod and hope he will not notice
I do not understand what he seems to mean.
Handling his teeth like fossils, I place them
as a horrid grin beside my grandfatherıs clock.
Father lifts his leg from under the covers
displaying a scar the color of rust
running from ankle to crotch.
With the sheet askew I spot a glimpse
of scrotum, like a ripened fig left to rot.
I glance away pretending I have not seen it,
but its smoothness and color are that of a newbornıs.
I cannot help noticing:
that is where I began.
With her cataract out she claims my beer can
reaches the floor. She says, "Iım seeing double."
We agree thatıs better than triple.
It appears sheıs been socked
perhaps by the doctor smack in the eye,
purple bag drooping and blood in the socket.
With her grey hairdo and a smudge of rouge
she feels like herself,
but today her color is natural.
"Once they take it out
everythingıs a little bit brighter,"
she says spooning spaghetti onto the table.
I take the pot and serve myself.
The timer dings on the stove--
she misses the dial to turn it off
and turns back the clock.
"Thatıs my drops!" she calls to the den.
He shuffles in and heads for the pills.
"Where are you going?"
"I thought you said pills..."
"...drops itıs time for my drops..."
"...oh drops I thought you said pills."
I collect the droplets
on my aluminum can,
make a pair of tabletop rings,
liquid myopic goggles.
With the tip of my finger
I touch where there would be pupils,
create two tiny watery lenses.
I look into my own blurry eyes.
In the other room
he dabs her tears.
Iım turning into my grandfather.
I glimpse my reflection
in the supermarket plate-glass window
and for a moment itıs 1930
and Iım calling on the grocery store
tipping my hat and taking inventory,
filling candy orders and stocking shelves.
My legs turn out Chaplinesque
and my stomach distends
like the bloated belly
of a milk-fed puppy
turning in dreams.
And then the momentıs gone.
Plagued thoughts roll back in
curling fog-like in my skull,
polluted veins pulsing under skin.
I turn back into the man
Iıve become but not come to know,
product of a sick and tired child.
As the century aches to turn,
my plot develops and is dug.
The first kicked shovelful
of rich dark earth overturns worm
bellies burning in the sun.
As the doors magically open
before me into cool white fluorescence
I think perhaps I should have turned
a horseshoe over in the tool shed
like my grandfather
to catch more luck.
I threw the Bible at my brother,
the family one with the birth-
and deathdays scrawled
in different colored inks.
It plummeted, a downed duck,
papery plummage flapping
across our parentsı bedroom,
leathery spine striking him
on the back. He said it didnıt hurt.
He lied about everything.
MICHAEL STONE JOHNSON's poems "Blake at 80" and "The Origin of Teeth and Bones," which appear here along with five other poems, both won honorable mentions in the 1990 Deep South Writers Conference and were chosen for publication in the subsequent chapbook. He is a native and current resident of Louisiana.
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