Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson
Denis Johnson 1949-2017

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Poem & Drawing by Micah!



Elemental Phoenix

Ruler of the Scranamals

Look in the sky
it is a rare sighting of the
Elemental Phoenix

He flies around the sky with
magic wings
He searches around a forest
with his powers

He loves to play with squirrels

At the end of the day
he takes a nap or two
and does it all over again

Micah Bernard
Poem & Drawing 12/2012 (Age 10)


Sunday, January 20, 2013

¡Richard Blanco!



 (I cannot wait to hear Richard Blanco read tomorrow at the Presidential Inauguration!)

Betting on America

My grandmother was the bookie, set up
at the kitchen table that night, her hair
in curlers, pencil and pad jotting down
two-dollar bets, paying five-to-one
on which Miss would take the crown.

Abeulo put his money on Miss Wyoming—
She’s got great teeth, he pronounced as if
complimenting a horse, not her smile
filling the camera before she wisped away
like a cloud in her creamy chiffon dress.

I dug up enough change from the sofa
and car seats to be on Miss Wisconsin,
thinking I was as American as she because
I was as blond as she was, and I knew
that’s where all the cheese came from.

That wasn’t all:  chocolate was from Miss
Pennsylvania, the capital of Miss Montana
was Helena, Mount Rushmore was in
Miss South Dakota, and I knew how to say
Miss Con-nec-ticut, unlike my Tía Gloria.

who just pointed at the TV:  Esa – that one,
claiming she had her same figure before
leaving Cuba.  It’s true. . . I have pictures,
she declared before cramming another
bocadito sandwich into her mouth.

Papá refused to bet on any of the Misses
Because Americanos all have skinny butts,
he complained.  There’s nothing like a big
culo cubano.  Everyone agreed – es verdad
Except for me and my little cousin Julito,

who apparently was a breast man at five,
reaching for Miss Alabama’s bosom
on the screen, the leggy mulata sashaying
in pumps, swimsuit, seducing Tío Pedro
into picking her as the sure winner.

She’s the one!  She looks Cubana, he swore,
And she did, but she cost him five bucks.
¡Cojones! He exploded as confetti rained,
Bert Parks leading Miss Ohio, the new
Miss America, by the hand to the runway.

Gloves up to her elbows, velvet down
To her feet, crying diamonds into her bouquet
The queen of our country, our land of the free,
amid the purple mountains of her majesty
Floating across the stage, our living room,

Though no one bet on her, and none of us
  not even me –  could answer Mamá
when she asked:  ¿Dónde está Ohio?

*************************


AMÉRICA

I.

Although Tía Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter--
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer--
Mamà never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.

II.

There was always pork though,
for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Year's Eves,
even on Thanksgiving Day--pork,
fried, broiled or crispy skin roasted--
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips and yuca con mojito.
These items required a special visit
to Antonio's Mercado on the corner of 8th street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything--"Ese hijo de puta!"
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another's lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.

III.

By seven I had grown suspicious--we were still here.
Overheard conversations about returning
had grown wistful and less frequent.
I spoke English; my parents didn't.
We didn't live in a two story house
with a maid or a wood panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marsha;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke's family wasn't like us either--
they didn't have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn't have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.

IV.

A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain's majesty,
"one if by land, two if by sea"
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the "masses yearning to be free"
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.

V.

Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolus,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
"DRY", Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly--"esa mierda roja," he called it.
Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie--
pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered--
it was 1970 and 46 degrees--
in América.
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tío Berto was the last to leave.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Sound of One Fork



Through the window screen I can see an angle of grey roof
and the silence that spreads in the branches of the pecan tree
as the sun goes down. I am waiting for a lover. I am alone
in a solitude that vibrates like the cicada in hot midmorning,
that waits like the lobed sassafras leaf just before
its dark green turns into red, that waits
like the honeybee in the mouth of the purple lobelia.

While I wait, I can hear the random clink of one fork
against a plate. The woman next door is eating supper
alone. She is sixty, perhaps, and for many years
has eaten by herself the tomatoes, the corn
and okra that she grows in her backyard garden.
Her small metallic sound persists, as quiet almost
as the windless silence, persists like the steady
random click of a redbird cracking a few
more seeds before the sun gets too low.
She does not hurry, she does not linger.

Her younger neighbors think that she is lonely.
But I know what sufficiency she may possess.
I know what can be gathered from year to year,
gathered from what is near to hand, as I do
elderberries that bend in damp thickets by the road,
gathered and preserved, jars and jars shining
in rows of claret red, made at times with help,
a friend or a lover, but consumed long after,
long after they are gone and I sit
alone at the kitchen table.

And when I sit in the last heat of Sunday, afternoons
on the porch steps in the acid breath of the boxwoods,
I also know desolation. The week is over, the coming night
will not lift. I am exhausted from making each day.
My family, my children live in other states,
the women I love in other towns. I would rather be here
than with them in the old ways, but when all that’s left
of the sunset is the red reflection underneath the clouds,
when I get up and come in to fix supper,
in the darkened kitchen I am often lonely for them.

In the morning and the evening we are by ourselves,
the woman next door and I. Still, we persist.
I open the drawer to get out the silverware.
She goes to her garden to pull weeds and pick
the crookneck squash that turn yellow with late summer.
I walk down to the pond in the morning to watch
and wait for the blue heron who comes at first light
to feed on minnows that swim through her shadow in the water.
She stays until the day grows so bright
that she cannot endure it and leaves with her hunger unsatisfied.
She bows her wings and slowly lifts into flight,
grey and slate blue against a paler sky.
I know she will come back. I see the light create
a russet curve of land on the farther bank,
where the wild rice bends heavy and ripe
under the first blackbirds. I know
she will come back. I see the light curve
in the fall and rise of her wing.