Jonathan Johnson

This empty Monarch stove and rotting birch aren’t much excuse
for my stack of stinking beer bottles. But we do have the snow,

the cars on snowpacked pavement, exhaust in subsequent taillight,
and I want to crack open my fingers, hear nothing

of argument or image, as pure song spills out and fills the room.
Maybe February enters this town with the clarity

of a child’s hands, and the lighthouse stands to its knees
in black waves, searching the last cloudbellies before the horizon,

scanning as if some lover might be sailing Superior home tonight,
after all these years. This much alone’d be a sight.

Still, a fine desolation refuses to mix our casualties
with the first blood of the Ironwood girl as she runs

from a barn into a field, twisted junk cars abandoned
like her father’s lovers, in the wreckage of the corn.

And if we belong to the Midwest only as abstract
expressionists, it’s all the same. We live here

with lake effect piling in our yards. The snow moves through us
without lights and blasts between suspension wires at night

above the Mackinac Bridge, sticking in hundred-foot-tall strands.
And the band covers Pure Prairie League every Thursday, nine to close.

Out at the empty county airport where all the flights are cancelled
blue points strobe in time up the landing strip just in case.

Up in this gable room, the greatest possible bravery
is a hairbrush of yellow spider-web at dawn.

We always toy with hopefulness, splatters
of yellow dot my dark wood floor like dandelions

above all the empty setting, the people living there
under a ceiling of expected snow. Without me,

they sleep. But a few old ones eye the night like crushed food
they can still chew. And shove it in their mouths.

previously appeared in Cream City Review

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