Poetry by Michael Lee Johnson

April 4th, 2013

 

 

 

 

Indiana Poem

 

A few tales
of the reasons
I love Indiana.
Breaking loose from the state line
of Illinois, bursting down the Indiana
toll road near Lake Station
heading south
smelling smoke of old
gray steel mills
seeping out
of Gary
left behind me.
Work disappeared dreams died-
steel men, strong men
ribs of fire courage of
union dreamers
long gone and most laid off
pension plans stolen,
now gas station employees
travelers of the
past snuff chewers
labor wages and laws,
small lakes and fishing ponds
with half sunken boats
with tips pointed sky high
and memories dripping
off the lips of clouds.
I’m banging out 75 mph
in my raspberry Geo Tracker-
but as Jesus said “I tell you
the truth
nothing ever changes in
Indiana but the seasons
and the size of the corn ears.”

-1988-

(Revised 02-2013)

 

Battered Behind Dark Glasses

 

An otherwise beautiful lady
with eyes matted and closed
is not exactly sleeping.

The trouble goes deeper,
the doctor has a laser
light drill penetrating her eyes
that have turned thunderstorm
black with smudges of red and pink.

She tells herself this will never
happen again, there will be no
rebirth with him.

In idle hours she self-nurses
a cave of hurts. The lights are off;
her eyes are bruised and burning.

In the morning, still in bed she looks in a mirror,
Her face thickened with puff and irony-
she weeps splinters sounds.

Above her head on the lamp desk the alarm clock keep ticking,
across the room, around the corner, the refrigerator keeps humming.

The man who had his way is dark in her, like distant echoes
embedded in a memory or shadow.

She owes him nothing. He hears none of her sounds.

-1983-

 

 

 

Quiet Hours Passing

 

You rest
in this empty hospital room.

Your repetitious words, spoken to yourself, stumble over one another.
Everything is in holes and pieces.

The strange ear-ringing sounds of silence
broken by occasional voices in the hall-

the shadows pushing the lights
around like street bullies-

the sparse furniture all changed, each strange piece placed differently than
you would have it at home.

But you’re not at home, you’re
in this empty hospital room, resting.
Everything is in holes and pieces.

-1976-

 

 

Bowl of Black Petunias (Version 2)

 

If you must leave me, please
leave me for something special,
like a beautiful bowl of black petunias
for when the memories leak
and cracks appear
and old memories fade,
flowers rebuff bloom,
sidewalks fester weeds
and we both lie down
separately from each other
for the very last time.

-2008-
(Revised 09-27-12)

 

 

Lilly, Lonely Trailer Prostitute

 

Paint your face with cosmetic smiles.
Toss your breast around with synthetic plastic.
Don’t leak single secrets to strangers-
locked in your trailer 8 foot wide by 50 foot
with twisted carrots, cucumbers, weak batteries,
and colorful dildos-you’ve even give them names:
Adams’s pleasure skin, big Ben on the raise, Rasputin:
the Mad Monk-oh no, no, no.
Your legs hang with the signed signatures
of playboys and drifters ink.
The lot rent went up again this year.
Paint your face with cosmetic smiles.

07-11-2010

 

 

Now That I Desire

 

Now that I desire to be close to you
like two occupants sharing a twin bed
sensing the warmth of sweating shoulders,
hungering for your flesh like a wild wolf
leaning over empty carcass,
you’re off searching unexplored cliffs,
climbing dangerous mountain tops,
capturing bumblebees in broken beer bottles for biology class,
pleasing plants, parachuting from clouds for fun.
In clouds you’re closer to life, nonsense,
a princess of absurdity, collector of dreams
and silent sounds.
In clouds you build your own fantasy, share it with select celebrities.
But till this captive discovers a cure for caring, a way of rescuing insatiable insanity,
or lives long enough to be patient in longing for you–you must be vigilant,
for with time snow will surely
blanket this warm desire.

-1975-

 

 

Sandy

 

I have seen your eyes roam
over me so many times,
I don’t even bother to feel
them anymore.
One can speak with the eyes,
you know-
and you’ve been silent
for so long
it doesn’t even hurt anymore
to see you staring at me
and not uttering a word.

-1968-

 

 

Coffee Time, Fuller’s Restaurant

 

June 29th, 1980, three o’clock A.M.
And I’m getting older by the minute.
Thinking about it makes me tired.
Outside traffic crawls slowly over
slippery pavement like inebriated turtles.
Inside, at the coffee counter, I flirt with a waitress –
fresh young fruit from Montreal.
She insists on calling me Vincent Price
and speaking French in Alberta.
I’m trying to read Periods of the Moon,
by Irving Layton, selecting the human
condition, repetition, and insomnia as
my main themes.
Next to me, a street gypsy drooping
over the counter beside me, pulling
scraps of dog-eared aged newsprint
from a doggie bag. She stares
squint-eyed at a picture of John F. Kennedy
for two hours, manages to laugh an incredible 29 times, sorry, 30 times, 31.
Counting makes me tired,
makes me take notice of this gypsy
and disapprove.

-1980-

 

 

From Toronto to Ottawa

 

She comes,
she goes,
unnoticed.
She walks,
she talks,
to no one.
Her night is
the long city street
sheltered, protected by neon.
She amuses,
she entertains,
swaying her slender body,
no one offers,
and she shouts out
for no reward.

-1970-

 

 

Gingerbread Lady

 

Gingerbread lady,
no sugar or cinnamon spice;
years ago arthritis and senility took their toll.
Crippled mind moves in then out, like an old sexual adventure
blurred in an imagination of fingertip thoughts.
Who in hell remembers the characters?
There was George, her lover, near the bridge at the Chicago River:
she missed his funeral; her friends were there.
She always made feather-light of people dwelling on death,
but black and white she remembers well.
The past is the present; the present is forgotten.
Who remembers Gingerbread Lady?
Sometimes lazy-time tea with a twist of lime,
sometimes drunken-time screwdriver twist with clarity.
She walks in scandals; sometimes she walks in soft night shoes.

Her live-in maid smirks as Gingerbread Lady gums her food,
false teeth forgotten in a custom-imprinted cup
with water, vinegar, and ginger.
The maid died. Gingerbread Lady looks for a new maid.
Years ago, arthritis and senility took their toll.
Yesterday, a new maid walked into the nursing home.
Ginger forgot to rise out of bed;
no sugar, or cinnamon toast.

-2008-

 

 

 

Nikki Purrs

Soft nursing
5 solid minutes
of purr
paw peddling
like a kayak competitor
against ripples of my
60 year old river rib cage?
I feel like a nursing mother
but I’m male and I have no nipples.
Sometimes I feel afloat.
Nikki is a little black skunk,
kitten, suckles me for milk,
or affection?
But she is 8 years old a cat.
I’m her substitute mother,
afloat in a flower bed of love,
and I give back affection
freely unlike a money exchange.
Done, I go to the kitchen, get out
Fancy Feast, gourmet salmon, shrimp,
a new work day begins.

-2007-

 

 

 

Rod Stroked Survival with a Deadly Hammer

Rebecca fantasized that life was a lottery ticket or a pull of a lever,
that one of the bunch in her pocket was a winner or the slots were a redeemer;
but life itself was not real that was strictly for the mentally insane at the Elgin
Mental Institution.
She gambled her savings away on a riverboat
stuck in mud on a riverbank, the Grand Victoria, in Elgin, Illinois.
Her bare feet were always propped up on wooden chair;
a cigarette dropped from her lips like morning fog.
She always dreamed of traveling, not nightmares.
But she couldn’t overcome, overcome,
the terrorist ordeal of the German siege of Leningrad.
She was a foreigner now; she is a foreigner for good.
Her first husband died after spending a lifetime in prison
with stinging nettles in his toes and feet; the second
husband died of hunger when there were no more rats
to feed on, after many fights in prison for the last remains.
What does a poet know of suffering?
Rebecca has rod stroked survival with a deadly mallet.
She gambles nickels, dimes, quarters, tokens tossed away,
living a penniless life for grandchildren who hardly know her name.
Rebecca fantasized that life was a lottery ticket or the pull of a lever.

-2007-

 

Charley Plays a Tune

Version 2

Crippled with arthritis
and Alzheimer’s,
in a dark rented room,
Charley plays
melancholic melodies
on a dust filled
harmonica he
found abandoned
on a playground of sand
years ago by a handful of children
playing on monkey bars.
He now goes to the bathroom on occasion,
relieving himself takes forever; he feeds the cat when
he doesn’t forget where the food is stashed at.
He hears bedlam when he buys fish at the local market
and the skeleton bones of the fish show through.
He lies on his back riddled with pain,
pine cones fill his pillows and mattress;
praying to Jesus and rubbing his rosary beads
Charley blows tunes out his
celestial instrument
notes float through the open window
touch the nose of summer clouds.
Charley overtakes himself with grief
and is ecstatically alone.
Charley plays a solo tune.

-2007

 

 

 

Harvest Time

(Version 4 Final)

 

A Métis Indian lady, drunk,
hands blanketed over as in prayer,
over a large brown fruit basket
naked of fruit, no vine, no vineyard
inside–approaches the Edmonton,
Alberta adoption agency.
There are only spirit gods
inside her empty purse.

Inside, an infant,
refrained from life,
with a fruity wine sap apple
wedged like a teaspoon
of autumn sun
inside its mouth.
A shallow pool of tears starts
to mount in native blue eyes.
Snuffling, the mother offers
a slim smile, turns away.
She slithers voyeuristically
through near slum streets,
and alleyways,
looking for drinking buddies
to share a hefty pint
of applejack wine.

-2007-

 

Manic is the Dark Night

Deep into the forest
the trees have turned
black, and the sun
has disappeared in
the distance beneath
the earth line, leaving
the sky a palette of grays
sheltering the pine trees
with pitch-tar shadows.
It is here in this black
and sky gray the mind
turns psycho
tosses norms and pathos
into a ground cellar of hell,
tosses words out through the teeth.
“Don’t smile or act funny,
try to be cute with me;
how can I help you today
out of your depression?”
I feel jubilant, I feel over the moon
with euphoric gaiety.

-2008-

 

Willow Tree Night and Snowy Visitors

Winter is tapping
on the hollow willow tree’s trunk–
a four month visitor is about to move in
and unload his messy clothing
and be windy about it–
bark is grayish white as coming night with snow
fragments the seasons.
The chill of frost lies a deceitful blanket
over the courtyard greens and coats a
ghostly white mist over yellowed willow
leave’s widely spaced teeth-
you can hear them clicking
like false teeth
or chattering like chipmunks
threatened in a distant burrow.
The willow tree knows the old man
approaching has showed up again,
in early November with
ice packed cheeks and brutal
puffy wind whistling with a sting.

-2007-

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