Luke Johnson, After the Funeral

After the Funeral

When the winds
had toppled the playhouse
had pushed over the oak
had made of windows
wrecking glass
and called me out
to greet the rain barefoot
to meet the sky nude
to wash myself in muddy waters
and will my body underneath
to touch the muted black––

when I had touched it,
had made my skin cargo
a carrion of ghosts,
when I had heard
my sister walk the shore
and woo me back from boulders
a mutiny of leaves, I
stepped from torrents
slick with silt
and waited for her fragile grip
to take me back toward home.


Just when
I think
the sky

has sloughed
its skin

so that breath
becomes untenable,

a hummingbird

the bluest
blossom, swivels
its beak to sate.

Behind the feeder
my daughter

with both palms
raised, psalms
the blanched sky


She’s been
doing this for hours.


Slaps a stick
to shriveled squash

to watch
its insides seep,

and swears
that when
the aphids’ plume,

they pop
like peppered corn.

Love, I say

and she stops,
comes closer:

scribbles her name
on freckled window, spits
then smears it away.

Come inside.

To which
she nods no.

To which
she calls down
braids of bees

to interstate beauty
and bear it.

I am speaking
of sorrow.

Of a hummingbird
rapid wings

in search
of just a sip,

and this little
girl, dizzy, pulling
up brick,

for larkspur


Gin with quail eggs butter
and salted biscuit,
made daddy want
to touch my hand
and take me in the canyon
to shoot skeet
and slur at fattened geese.
Made him want
to wash his feet in the river,
and wade
until his body’d lift,
drag downstream
and snag storm debris.
Once, plucking feathers
and dripping a dead bird dry,
he made me
put my hand inside
and pull the heart
place it under my tongue.
It snapped and quivered
dissolved in spit
and the winds laid down.
The canyon suddenly quiet.

Numbers 14:18

I’ve never told you
how my father tied
a drunk man to a chair

and snapped the first four fingers
on his left hand.

How the moon—
a sickle soaked in milk—
hung center the window

cracked from frantic birds
and how, the man, his dad,

howled like a stray in the hills
the boys’ bragged of maiming.
You might be wondering

what happened to the fifth finger
his thumb

and whether it stayed straight
or faced a similar form of fracture.
But none of that matters.

In the time it’d take
to detail a thumb pried loose, I

could move from the shed
to the house
a quarter mile north,

where my nana
swirls thyme in soup

and sways her hips
to Stevie Wonder, John Prine.
How can she dance

when the dead crawl inside?
How can she dance

with a body branded,
owned by a beast, a belt
that blooms the tremors?

Believe when I tell you
the fifth was spared.

That my father
ran out brandy
out of spite

stopped soothing with brass
sought light

and stepped out,
deeply hidden—an animal
crazed for water.

That he found in his search
an oasis

and there lapped stars
until shame clotted

spread like mange
and swallowed him.

Sometimes that’s all
that it takes. One taste.
One. For deadwind

to enter and eat
the insides

of a boy / of a boy
of a boy / of a boy
of a boy / of a boy
of a boy—

Luke Johnson lives on the California coast with his wife and three kids. He was a finalist for the Vassar Miller Prize. HIs poems can be found in Kenyon Review, Narrative, Florida Review, Thrush, Tinderbox, Cortland Review, and elsewhere.

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