Writers' Corner

William Johnson

2007 Poetry

Author's Statement

In the woods near my father's apartment, I found a mouse on the path. It lay in the cleft of a tree-root, as if asleep, and when I knelt to touch it, its body was still warm. I saw no sign of a wound. Had an owl or hawk swooped down, caught and lifted it, then unwittingly let go? Had it succumbed to a malignity that left no visible calling card? 

The ground cottoned with frost, I saw no tracks, no sign of struggle. Staring at the mouse, I thought of my father in his rocker nodding, half asleep. He was ninety, incontinent, asthmatic, feeble in the wake of a stroke, slipping away from me. Suddenly the mouse seemed to tremble. In the instant before I thought, it had risen from the dead. It had been silently speaking to me, saying Look, Listen, Touch, Feel. . . 

Angles, avenues, tangents of possibility began to widen -- hawk, owl, mouse, my father -- and slowly, the mouse's left ear (a tiny tufted petal) began to twitch. Awkwardly, a yellowjacket backed out, rubbed its front legs and sputtered up toward the cool October sun.

A recurrent anxiety prods me to write. It's a feeling seeking form, half-given form, by whatever nags or prods me; glint of bottle glass by the road, a woman's downcast eyes, or a mouse dead on a path. Intersections as yet inarticulate, perhaps unsayable, trigger a felt change, and if I'm lucky my anxiety -- whether dread, bliss or something between -- lets words in, and the words move toward a pattern, jumping ahead in hopes the pattern will grow, lapsing back to find it again, and in the process, if I'm lucky, in moments rare as they are redemptive, becoming a poem.

"After Barnswallows"

In a heart-blink--the time it takes
to climb a stubble-cluttered hill--
they burst through shinglecracks of light
unroofed in a barn sagging under
warped slats, laminar gold
a rapture of ribgaps swallows
dart through, shrapnel scattered
over a pine-stippled windbreak only
to regather, blueblack backs and rust
flared breast-quakes as they tack and
veer, motes on the evening's hem
when from a rain-rotted woodpile
moths cocooned in crannies rise
to be taken, dozens--no, hundreds
snuffed as the door falls shut,
the bluff squeezing its last bronze
hinge, a wing stuck in my throat.