Featured Poet: February 2013 Vol. 5 # 3

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Luke Johnson
A native of Ithaca, New York, Luke Johnson is the author of the poetry collection After the Ark (NYQ Books, 2011). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Shenandoah, Southwest Review, The Southern Review, The Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. He is an Associate Poetry Editor at storySouth (www.storysouth.com) and a graduate of the writing program at Hollins University. He lives in Seattle, Washington. (personal website)

Above Oxbow Dam
            Rupert, Idaho
Even the gas stations are beautiful
in Rupert, but not for the obvious reasons.
Not the Snake River feeding
reservoirs that feed automatic waterers
sputtering arcs over potato crops
yards from the diesel pumps,
not ranges clawing the horizon
like distant kingdoms of thought.
Not the woman with her grandson:
him crouched next to a truck-sized puddle
swatting gravel at brown water,
her tugging him back by his overall-bib
when he edges too close. A man
in a patchwork leather coat
tapping ashes on the bars of his Harley.
We’re not here together, mostly.
It’s a tale the land is telling: we are
momentary, always on the verge drawn
both ways. It’s the fisherman,
one week earlier, sucked back from his raft
into a diversion dam. The water there
stays deep and dark. It is feeling only.
It is the place running over itself.
*Appeared in New England Review

Shooting Below the School Building
Holy is the muzzle-flash, the blood-speck
on my thumb’s knuckle where my hand met
the gun’s recoil above hoof and paw prints
tracing snow, thickening only to disappear.
Earth held ice around us. No halo here
but trigger-guard, no prayer but aim.
The iced creek—where our students escaped
to grope or smoke, hiding joints
in a stone-sunk ammo-can—gurgled
its small life. We left their stash and kept
shooting bottles. The art-teacher (his guns) told me
Our kids plain don’t care: when in Pennsylvania
five young girls died, a grown-man killing
in a one-room school, one of our students joked,
some laughed. You can’t teach against that
sort of senselessness
, he said, bracing.
One of the girls, speaking only German,
did escape, not understanding
the shooter’s words, but running
to a nearby farm while others offered to die
so their classmates might live, knowing
the meaning of salvation. I didn’t
hit much, but kept reloading, stripping gloves
and fixing rounds to chambers, tossing
my spent shells into the creek. No balm
but repetition: fire and re-load, like writing
words on a blackboard until they’ve lost
meaning, not glancing backwards, but trusting
the hand to spell each sentence the same.                       
*Appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review

Summer Service
Do not pity him. Do not treat him like furniture.
Robin, the autistic boy from the congregation
who liked to watch our ceiling fans go.
Talk. He’s a boy. He seemed less
fixed on revolution, searching instead
behind the blade, the space for an instant
obscured then revealed over and over, knowing
he’d seen the blank ceiling-patch before,

but believing it could change, or just liking
its blankness, the communion between boys
and what seems like magic. I would find him
Sundays after sacraments: neck craned back
feeling the blades change speeds, and as the wicker
sank in the blade’s middle, Robin soon
came less, as if the fans were a miracle
disproved, a once great prizefighter
swinging at ghosts. He will leave
and we will move. The fans gutted or left
as decoration, a relic of hot days after prayer
when the fans spun impossible, and boys loosened
ties as if all they needed to believe was air.
*Appeared in New England Review

Wedding Night that Wasn’t, with Thunder
Surely, in this other life
we would have let the filament sour.
Rain: the forest-rustle turns drone: a sound
that goes with emptiness, deep and hollow.
Inside my tent is damp.
A spider restrings its web
beneath the rain-fly. I’ll watch it work
again, knowing its venom
and quiet, knowing it continues
despite me. In the morning
I’ll clear her spun web.
*Appeared in Quarterly West

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