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Red Paint

poem /luke johnson

What I mean when I say water

is we watch a whale, my son and I,

struggle on the beach and start to hiss

when air grows thick and the throng

of its blowhole sputters. Move on I say no more

and my son obeys with a gaze like Gaza

smoldering. Not a single bird alive to sing

the living from the shatter. Only smoke

smoke and glass and a cello lost

from a second story window where a little girl played

despite her daddy’s drinking and pretended

it a door which sounds like adore

a dance of echolocation. I was worried

if he stared too long the wounds would smile

and suddenly raptured under all that awe

the sandpipers dim and waves diminish

leave him clawing for more. I

read there is a beetle that eats its husk

and as it burgeons out a brighter color

collects the shards and buries it where

a blossom’s shriveled to trick your plane of sight.

And isn’t that like a father afraid of his boy?

The both of them bound to some kind of ritual

by which I mean shedding, until all that’s left

are lunar lights and a cry that wafts

like lit spruce over the day’s spent sky.

A little one playing the cello.


Luke Johnson lives on the California coast with his wife and three kids. His poems can be found at Kenyon Review, Narrative Magazine, Florida Review, Frontier, Thrush and elsewhere. His manuscript in progress was recently named a finalist for the Jake Adam York Prize, The Levis through Four Way Press, The Vassar Miller Award and is forthcoming fall of 2023 from Texas Review Press. Email:


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