Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 12 • Winter 2004 • Featured Writer • Poetry

'There is Nothing We May Call Our Own in a Union That is But a Dream'

Wayne Johns

Frogs cry tonight from the creek, swollen
by the thunderstorm that knocked the power out.

On the kitchen floor, we find one
bound with dog hair and carpet fibers.

We catch it in a jar. You hold
a flashlight while I tweeze as many strands

as I can from the slick indented skin.
Its pale throat pulses against the glass.

Released in the wet grass, some of the hairs
still clinging to its skin, it leaps, awkwardly,

out of the flashlight's beam toward the water,
toward the calls which seem to grow louder.

Hooded in coats, we're coming in
from a breathtaking blizzard
as from an operating room.

My head is down.
You look back into the whiteout.
Or is that someone else?

No way to know from this photo
since all skin is covered.
Behind us, the white figure --

it should stand for something --
that we formed. We've been framed
between the threshold and the storm.

At first we think the one under your arm
is a blood blister. It must've been there
for a while, swollen to the size of a pin cherry,

but gray-green. I do what Mother did
to me: light a match, extinguish it,
touching the head to the thing's body

while pulling with the tweezers.
When it holds fast I steady my hands.
This time it lets go long enough

for me to detach it. I didn't know
this method could make the tick
regurgitate, injecting its spirochete.

You trellised the cucumber plants, and they clung,
tendrils encircling the wire mesh

like an infant's fingers curled around a finger.
Their palm-sized coarse leaves concealing

the yellow blooms. When they opened,
I thought they opened for me.

But snails chewed the new shoots to shreds.
The brilliant thieves went after the best leaves.

Their gleaming trails the only sign.
We placed saucers of beer out back

and each morning we'd find a few floating
in the warm beer, green flecks in their clear flesh.

After the rain, fog consumes the edges.
Before bed I open all the windows,
lie still, unlocked and exposed.
I wake from a tangled dream, thinking I see
something stirring in the room. Sinister,
the way the creek out back twists
so quietly in its silt bed.
I pull the sheet tighter.
The fan turns the stillness inward.

While I sleep the honeysuckle opens,
slowly, like regret, until its smell
overwhelms the room. In one dream
I am a child still carelessly plucking
flowers from the vines, peeling the filaments
through their tubular bases to taste the single
drop of nectar. Blossom after drained blossom.
You'd think by now I would have had my fill.

Gun shot sounds of cherry bombs.
One boy lights a strand of firecrackers.
Scattershot, and all the children run,
laughing, hands over ears -- cloud of smoke
suspended. We climb the shed at dusk
to watch the celebration
from the roof. Above the pines
sparks rupture and drizzle,
leaving faint traces in the night sky
like dried stains on a dark sheet,
or snowflakes melting on asphalt.

Wayne Johns

Wayne Johns's poems have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Cortland Review, Image, The James White Review, Meridian, and Ploughshares, among others. His work has appeared in several anthologies, including American Diaspora (University of Iowa Press) and This New Breed: Gents, Bad Boys & Barbarians 2 (Windstorm). He received a Reader's Choice Award from Prairie Schooner, an Editor's Choice Award from Mid-American Review, and the first annual Frank O'Hara Award for his chapbook "An Invisible Veil Between Us" (Thorngate Road).

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