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luke johnson / poem


Notes on Time Collapse

I put my ear to my daughter’s heart & pray afraid the sick will seize it,

cause a full       

collapse. 


A full collapse when mud slides off San Gabriel Mountain & 

swallows a room of 22 children in a seaside church down south. 


For months a fox circles her window, leaving behind red lace.                                     


How long before the screaming stops? 


As a boy, I witness an egret eat its young, scatter their insides like lace. 


I long for mud, its fibrous tendons, to sate on roots that move 

like fingers, find a pocket of air. 


A mother says she can feel them shouting, ghost notes scratching her womb. 


Grief, my therapist tells me, strangles the throat then bloats the body, 

can cause a psychic split


When I pray there are my father’s hands, dragging an elk’s skinned carcass.


He isn’t supposed to marry my prayers, nor slip me from her heart. 


This isn’t real. 


Her heart begins to murmur, sing like whales. We watch a movie on migrating

narwhals. How they use the horn to cut through ice & when a calf gets stuck            

the father spears it, blood like curls of lace. 


The story goes there were signs everywhere, fair warning. First the egrets stop laying 

eggs & then a creek moves backwards. A backwoods preacher calls it a sign that God 

no longer will grieve. 


On the sabbath, in high school, I take a wafer & call it His body, slowly sip     

the blood. Inside me there’s a thousand secrets, my body blessed by touch. 


Touch is a match that buries the breath, the tongue a witch’s refusal.


I refuse to yield to another fever. Spear a hole from a block of ice & rest 

it on her tongue. 


I could be wrong. 


My mother warns me to ward the spirits, submit myself to Christ. 


I try to be a good son, read my daughter scripture. Daddy she says why would 

God desire Isaac? What good is causing pain? 


After the egrets stop laying eggs & the creek moves backwards, 

foxes fill the empty estuary, move like frames of mist. 


I confess when I fuck my lover’s body, I beg the Lord for grace.  


What good is grace without contention, a severing from light? 


How long before the screaming stops? 


As the baby narwhal bleeds, the mother plunges polar depths, 

to spill a pitch that can’t be detected, only felt. 


My daughter says it starts as a stab than morphs to a shake, radiates into 

her bones. Says Didn’t God get it? When Abraham offered Isaac others 

would follow. Even the earth would agree. 


At that depth there is no light and pressure obscures sound. 


The weight of trees backed by water causes full collapse. 


*


The weight of trees backed by water causes full collapse. 


At that depth there is no light and pressure obscures sound. 


My daughter says it starts as a stab than morphs to a shake, radiates into 

her bones. Says Didn’t God get it? When Abraham offered Isaac others 

would follow. Even the earth would agree.


As the baby narwhal bleeds, the mother plunges polar depths, 

to spill a pitch that can’t be detected, only felt. 


How long before the screaming stops?


What good is grace without contention, a severing from light? 


I confess when I fuck my lover’s body, I beg the Lord for grace.  


After the egrets stop laying eggs & the creek moves backwards, 

foxes fill the empty estuary, move like frames of mist. 


I try to be a good son, read my daughter scripture. Daddy she says why would 

God desire Isaac? What good is causing pain? 


My mother warns me to ward the spirits, submit myself to Christ. 


I could be wrong. 


I refuse to yield to another fever. Spear a hole from a block of ice & rest 

it on her tongue. 


Touch is a match that buries the breath, the tongue a witch’s refusal. 


On the sabbath, in high school, I take a wafer & call it His body, slowly sip     

the blood. Inside me there’s a thousand secrets, my body blessed by touch. 


The story goes there were signs everywhere, fair warning. First the egrets stop laying 

eggs & then a creek moves backwards. A backwoods preacher calls it a sign that God 

no longer will grieve. 


Her heart begins to murmur, sing like whales. We watch a movie on migrating

narwhals. How they use the horn to cut through ice & when a calf gets stuck            

the father spears it, blood like curls of lace.


This isn’t real.


He isn’t supposed to marry my prayers, nor slip me from her heart. 


When I pray there are my father’s hands, dragging an elk’s skinned carcass.


Grief, my therapist tells me, strangles the throat then bloats the body, 

can cause a psychic split


A mother says she can feel them shouting, ghost notes scratching her womb. 


I long for mud, its fibrous tendons, to sate on roots that move 

like fingers, find a pocket of air. 


As a boy, I witness an egret eat its young, scatter their insides like lace. 


How long before the screaming stops?


For months a fox circles her window, leaving behind red lace. 


A full collapse when mud slides off San Gabriel Mountain & 

swallows a room of 22 children in a seaside church down south. 


I put my ear to my daughter’s heart & pray afraid the sick will seize it, 

cause a full       

collapse.


 

Luke Johnson is the author of Quiver (Texas Review Press 2023), a finalist for the Jake Adam York Award, The Vassar Miller, & The Levis Prize, A Slow Indwelling (Harbor Editions 2024) & Distributary (Texas Review Press 2025). Quiver was recently named one of four finalists for The California Book Award, winner announced in May. You can find more of his work at Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Narrative Magazine, Poetry Northwest and elsewhere.

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