TWO POEMS by Jessica Johnson

/ / Issue 19, Uncategorized


The boy builds a four-throated fish

out of cardboard. The fish lips 
flap, blue-taped, from a body that
carried bottles. See! He says
a large-mouth bass. I’d have smiled once 
(inwardly of course) at his fine 
imaginary, thought him unspoiled, amusing himself
with the trash. 

                             Wasn’t I doing a good
job? The boy, a living sign that I could refuse 
the invisible purveyors who would sell him
dopamine hits & strangling masculinity with a side 
of fried sugar? The things we buy 
without knowing. But this is a cool
summer, air and skin the same, enough water

the rose taller, the jasmine tendrils 
longer. The soft white sky. 
I ought to love it. There’s no war now
except the usual one
& death like age is just a number 
that rises. I walk every morning
& the number rises. We finish our assignments
& the number rises. We reply to your message
& the number rises. We build a fire no one
may gather around. What can you swallow 
with four throats 
that you couldn’t swallow with one?
The same things, but smaller. 


One trimmed off his own name 
to hide his Irishness.
One wrote white
instead of mother’s mother was
instead of no 
right designation. One dressed 
like a shark, smooth suited, pressed 
& pale to compensate
for parents who grew 
in foreign soil 
on preserved fish & sometimes stank of it. 
My people were damned

successful at leaving themselves behind
rushing toward a shrinking 
field of safety just inside the blade
of cooling sunlight even 
as night came on.

And me, years ago when I had bad 
insurance, I saw a doctor for a raft 
of pains, a strange doctor
but official. She said the way I move’s all
wrong: from the edge not the center 
as if I could just decide a thing & make it so 
without getting too close without risking parts (belly, heart) 
I couldn’t lose.
She said my problems come
from a thumb too quick 
to pin something under it.