Lodestar Quarterly

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


Wayne Johns


You were swimming and riding the waves

when one swell curled over you,

slammed your body to the seafloor,

churned and twisted, unrelenting.

And what you had been avoiding

hauled you out, sand scraping skin

off your face, terrible burn of the salt water.

The shore glinted in the distance

like a memory of childhood.

There were others, sinking all around.

When this happens, as it does,

the thing to remember is not to

struggle, not to pull anyone else

under, when you go under.


Planted by hands that have wielded
weapons, hands that have been

bloodied as weapons, the flowers
bloomed as if they had been tended

by priests in the prison yard.
Knowing only thirst and release,

how could they ever care
what hands cared for them?

At night snails move over them
like thumbs slick with saliva,

leaving traces on what goes uneaten.
The prisoners throw bone meal

around the bed so the slugs
get cut up when they come to feed.

Nothing can stop what must be seen.
The ones who will not see the world

outside again in this life
are like the flowers in that

some will be thinned
so the others have more room.


Our Father who hath been in hell,

Who swallowed the vinegar without grimace

And bled from the pores as he prayed,

Who saw a cave within a cave and was not afraid

To enter. Across the clear water toward the flames

He stepped through the muck and through the gate,

Vowing to come back and harrow these souls --

Poor fetuses -- like bulbs wintering

in a cellar. Thy kingdom come it will be done.

Until then, give us this day our newly dead.

And forgive us our hungers as we have forgiven

Your open mouth, insatiable as a black hole,

That consumes us in its silence.

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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