Peter Johnson

Vaccination, in the Broadest Sense of the Term, Crickets and Lucky Strike Lanes
April 20, 2021 Johnson Peter

“Crickets”

Ah, the wild nights of youth when I could get hammered on tequila, then spend all night translating The Odyssey. Now just a little iced tea and a marathon of cheerleader horror movies on the Lifetime Channel. It’s Halloween in the age of the New Abnormal when I have to peek at kids from a window like some goddam pedophile as they grab candy bars that I’ve placed six inches apart on a cookie sheet. Tonight is our last gasp before another shutdown, before the wheezing and sirens start again, before the squirrels and the birds too dumb to fly south stare hopelessly at us and say, “Just wear masks, assholes.” Once, I took a ride in a red MG with the richest girl in town, who loved me whole-hearted-and-souly until she met the richest boy in town. What would the trick-and-treaters make of that? Perhaps it would partly explain why I’m dressed like a scarecrow and toilet-papering my own home, or why, after they’re gone, I sit on the back porch, listening to the last remaining crickets protest the night, barely remembering last summer when they had had the time of their lives.

 

“Vaccination, in the Broadest Sense of the Term”

Just as the pharmacist drove the vaccine into my arm, I thought, “So what did you do today, Peter?” I shaved, then looked into the mirror without disappointment, wondering why it took 69 years for that to happen? I had an argument with my wife about a Biblical plague of ants that had overrun her underwear drawer. I killed a huge spider clinging to the inside of the shower curtain, then washed it down the drain. It crawled out so I killed it again. At 10 a.m. I had a headache the size of Bangladesh. At 11 a.m. it was gone, and by noon a woodpecker had an unfortunate encounter with my sliding glass door. I went for a coffee. Argued with a pickup trucker with a nose ring, who taunted me for wearing a mask. I spoke with two monks outside the grocery store about the pitfalls of wrestling with the unexpected. I went home. The woodpecker had regained consciousness, then flown away. The spider was back, so I killed it again. I went to the library, spoke of the failure of trickle-down economics with the janitor. I left. I gave a lecture about hopefulness to a bunch of squirrels sharing a bagel under a Japanese Zelkova tree. I stopped at the pond and watched the baby geese make their stunning debut. I called my wife, told her to hang in there, that the sequel would be much better. She laughed, then said there was huge spider clinging to a picture of me on her nightstand, its thorax eclipsing my face. “It’s so big you can see its eyes,” she said. I told her to ignore it, it had earned the right to live.

 

“Lucky Strike Lanes”

I was reading my favorite dog-eared copy of The Book of Hopeless Cases when a foghorn nearly took my head off, transporting me back to Lucky Strike Lanes. It was during my “heroin chic” days when I was as pale and pasty as an albino’s ass. I spent most days watching the National Geographic Channel and taking long walks around a polluted pond, not far from a neighborhood that had been hastily constructed after World War II, when soldiers had returned home so full of hope and testosterone. I had no loyal companions on these walks. Just broken beer bottles, orphaned sneakers, and abandoned underwear—all spotting the shoulder of the road like poorly hidden landmines. Lucky Strike Lanes was a haven of sorts, a place where I could spend an evening searching for the legendary “Bowling Ball with No Holes.” I desperately wanted to make a statement back then, to transform myself into a flesh-and-blood metaphor that might change the world.
It wasn’t much of a life, you might say, but one just the same, and, really, who are you to judge?

 

Peter Johnson’s prose poetry has been awarded an NEA and two Rhode Island Council on the Arts fellowships. His second book received the James Laughlin Award from The Academy of American Poets. New books are: Old Man Howling at the Moon (Madhat Press, 2018), A Cast-iron Aeroplane That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 Contemporary American Poets on Their Prose Poetry, editor (MadHat Press, 2019), and Truths, Falsehoods, and a Wee Bit of Honesty: A Short Primer on the Prose Poem, With Selected Letters from Russell Edson (MadHat Press, 2020). A book of short stories, Shot, will be published in January of 2021 (Madhat Press).