Dan Johnson


On the last night, near some ferns, a star
revealed the little bone to me: part of
somebody's knuckle or thumb, I thought.
But it was smaller than human, light as
an eggshell in my palm. When I looked for
other pieces, worn equally smooth or
scattered and chipped, all I found was
the pulse in my throat. The stream
swelled with muddy clouds; each
tree leaned into one darkness, dim
branches clattering. I listened
as long as I could, still wanting
the whole hand, the paw.


An old woman's eyes shine
and people gather near the swollen canal.
A child's breath hangs beside me in the air.

Overnight, a fence appears. Everyone hears
hammering, the motors and trucks.
Soon the fence is topped with wire.

Something beyond our reach is nearly complete
like a castle rising out of fog,
or a dozen shovels dropped at my feet.

The crowd moves slowly toward the square.
Voices go silent beside the fence.
It's the first day of spring.


So this huge flounder washes up overnight.
Next morning, some kids carry it to the dock

and we come to watch its twisting mouth.
I say it's sleeping off a hangover.

A woman is singing somewhere.
The children stare into flounder eyes.

Someone wants coffee. The children are
burning in the sun. Flags go slack.

So then they heave their catch
into the low waves. It starts drifting

holding the last of our ambition.

Dan Johnson's poetry has appeared in three collections, most recently in Come Looking (WWPH), and in a variety of journals, including Rattle, West Branch, Gargoyle, Delmarva Quarterly, and Poet Lore.  His poems have also been anthologized in 31 Arlington Poets (CD, Paycock Press), Orpheus & Company (University Press of New England), Hungry As We Are (WWPH), and A Fine Frenzy: Contemporary Poets Respond to Shakespeare (University of Iowa Press). He is public information representative for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), and lives in Chevy Chase, MD.



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