Two Poems by
Julie Swarstad Johnson

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Night Letters (October 2020)

Dear—
                        Nearly full moon lifting
above mountains        sky deepening
towards sunset        and that moon so suddenly
huge I stopped on my bike in the street        hungry
for that realness    that body    that rock
reflecting sunlight        mundane and powerful
translucent the way only the moon
before sunset can be
                                         I stopped
on my way home        riding American streets
lined with signs and flags touting our
two countries        hostilities unfolding
in the air all around me        and I rode
through it       anxious that there will be
no end to the ways we delude ourselves
speaking past one another        signals crossing silent
in mid-air        I do it all the time        unwilling
to disagree out loud        filled by the fury
I let settle inside me       
                                        I have been looking
at the moon all my life        haven’t you too
eating its image        that light somewhere
in our cells waxing towards fullness
Don’t you want to name it        that feeling
of seeing your life at a distance
lit by all it cannot hold
                                    Waiting,

 

 

Night Letters (November 2020)

Dear—
                        Washed out haze
of nights with Saturn and Jupiter
blazing like faces        distant enough
to be safe        How can they be
other worlds        I ask myself all the time
without ever asking it to see my way
out of darkness
                                 I’ll tell you plainly
a neighbor I’ve never seen walked out
of his house with a shotgun and shot
through teachers’ cars parked at the school
between us        his house kitty-corner from mine
cats and pigeons hunched together at the curb
outside his house all I knew of him        some truce
between them to sit like that        fed on
whatever he unseen put out
                                                    I wasn’t home
that morning        my neighbors and the internet
offering scraps of that hour        the masked
woman walking her dog        his voice caustic
across the open air        screaming communists
I’m gonna start the next Civil War
He did not come for her        as he said
he would        no body in the line of fire
the bullets’ path into metal        and across
the playground emptied for months
teachers sheltering in a bathroom inside
Over the bullhorn        the police negotiator
did her work    calm    coaxing
him to walk out again
                                           For weeks after
the landlord hauled out garbage        a ghost
turned out onto the curb
for everyone to see        the neighbor
still in custody        remote as any light
I cannot reach        I pray        then neglect my prayers
for him    for the school    for neighbors I see
never or daily
                              Today I walked out
and saw Venus and Mercury        those steady
lights against dawn and I watched
for them to fade
                                    Wondering,

   

    

    

Julie Swarstad JohnsonJulie Swarstad Johnson is the author of Pennsylvania Furnace (Unicorn Press, 2019) and co-editor of Beyond Earth’s Edge: The Poetry of Spaceflight (The University of Arizona Press, 2020). She lives in Tucson and works as an archivist and librarian at the University of Arizona Poetry Center.

Read “Cross Country: Julie Swarstad Johnson and Patricia Colleen Murphy in Conversation” in Terrain.org.

Header photo by Matías Candia, courtesy Pexels. Photo of Julie Swarstad Johnson by Patri Hadad.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.