Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson
Denis Johnson 1949-2017

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

At Balmorhea State Park

History matters, but if you thought about all the lives entangled in twenty-four
million gallons a day,
you’d go crazy. And I do not wish to.
I wish to observe the cleanliness
of the water, the kittenish algae on the stone
steps. And the small, alert fish—one of them’s
a Gambusia… Hard to believe
the children and all of us are swimming
with two endangered species, but there it is: they attend our entry,
divert our hair. I am rolling
them over and they
are winding me in. I mean
forgetting the future, the sun,
my password. While we sort out what matters,
we can never write enough
about a body diving into water.

Wendy Burk

Originally published in Pilgrimage, vol. 35, no. 2 (2010).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The wednesday poem on wednesday!

Our Valley

We don’t see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.


You probably think I’m nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you’re thrilled and terrified.


You have to remember this isn’t your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men
who carved a living from it only to find themselves
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.

Philip Levine

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wednesday poem on Thursday!

Ode to My Hands

Five-legged pocket spiders, knuckled
starfish, grabbers of forks, why
do I forget that you love me:
your willingness to button my shirts,
tie my shoes—even scratch my head!
which throbs like a traffic jam, each thought
leaning on its horn. I see you

waiting anyplace always
at the ends of my arms—for the doctor,
for the movie to begin, for
freedom—so silent, such
patience! testing the world
with your bold myopia: faithful,
ready to reach out at my
softest suggestion, to fly up
like two birds when I speak, two
brown thrashers brandishing verbs
like twigs in your beaks, lifting
my speech the way pepper springs
the tongue from slumber. O!

If only they knew the unrestrained
innocence of your intentions,
each finger a cappella, singing
a song that rings like rain
before it falls—that never falls!
Such harmony: the bass thumb, the
pinkie's soprano, the three tenors
in between: kind quintet x 2
rowing my heart like a little boat
upon whose wooden seat I sit
strummed by Sorrow. Or maybe

I misread you completely
and you are dreaming a tangerine, one
particular hot tamale, a fabulous
banana! to peel suggestively,
like thigh-high stockings: grinning
as only hands can grin
down the legs—caramel, cocoa,
black-bean black, vanilla—such lubricious
dimensions, such public secrets!
Women sailing the streets
with God's breath at their backs.
Think of it! No! Yes:
let my brain sweat, make my
veins whimper: without you, my five-hearted
fiends, my five-headed hydras, what
of my mischievous history? The possibilities
suddenly impossible—feelings
not felt, rememberings un-
remembered—all the touches
untouched: the gallant strain

of a pilfered ant, tiny muscles
flexed with fight, the gritty
sidewalk slapped after a slip, the pulled
weed, the plucked flower—a buttercup!
held beneath Dawn's chin—the purest kiss,
the caught grasshopper's kick, honey,
chalk, charcoal, the solos teased
from guitar. Once, I played
viola for a year and never stopped

to thank you—my two angry sisters,
my two hungry men—but you knew
I just wanted to know
what the strings would say
concerning my soul, my whelming
solipsism: this perpetual solstice
where one + one = everything
and two hands teach a dawdler
the palpable alchemy
of an unreasonable world.

Tim Seibles

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wednesday poem on Friday

Vacation        

I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.

Rita Dove