Marilyn A. Johnson

June 10, 2024 Johnson Marilyn A.


we wait in an arc with flashlights
tremble in the dark

we walk the fields
fan out over the hills to the next farm
down the slope to the fallow orchard
down the dirt driveway to the road
David     David     we call
the dogs roam too
tense with the mission
barks and whines and
the sounds of our boots
through half-frozen weeds
this is what the mind does
I drop my flashlight
the moon useless tonight
reflecting nothing
a bed of embers
in the wire basket where
the family burns trash
the searchers like fireflies
in the distance

there’s a madness to this
I don’t want to find him—
sick with suspense
the red embers
the lights
twitching on the hills

I feel a brush against my coat
I can’t see what isn’t there
my coat hem lifts
a tug—
what circles me
moves air
an exhale
could be wind

whatever it is
presses me
this insistence

every baby wears a name too big—
his     the mighty David
like our father
like the king of the tribes of Israel
many wives     concubines     descendants

he will father no one
the air stirs
the tug on my sleeve
unmistakable this time
a whisper
chase me
all right I’ll play
I’ll run after you
past the glowing burn cage
I’ll chase the idea of a boy
through a flicker of sparks
along the fence-line
one more race
before the last who knew you
are gone
get over it
my aunt says
her professional opinion—
all of us
need to move on
an emergency room nurse
she scales death
and I get it
one small death
happened long ago

I agree     get over it     and yet
from way up the driveway
they heard his body hit

a sound I heard too
though I was nowhere near

and then he was
projection     conjecture

his absence the fact
we can’t help bumping into
what if he had a reprieve
another lifetime
another eight years

auburn hair in his eyes
muscled     an athlete
pockets bulging
with all we’d given him—
keys     folding money
the watch he got
the day of his first communion

say he still has that watch
its face un-shattered
say it tells us
he has time
I’d sit on the split-rail fence
the sketch of a fence
as he tosses a ball to the sky
and swings the bat out
one-handed pepper
into the fields

endless bucket of baseballs
a defiant   crack     
over and over
imaginary birds
in the wild orchard
—Marilyn A. Johnson



Marilyn A. Johnson’s work has appeared in Plume 149, and also in Salamander, North American Review, FIELD, On the Seawall, InkwellNine Mile, and Hole in the Head Review, where she is now an associate editor; her poems will soon be published in Rhino and The Provincetown Independent. She is the author of three works of non-fiction, including The Dead Beat (Harper Perennial). She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.