Don Johnson

The Weedeater's Confession

     
   

You like me to come in
with grass-stained shins,
bits of fescue
in my hair, or dark green
stems of ironweed
still clinging to my bare lower back
where my tee shirt has hiked up.

You say, “Don’t bathe,”
and nudge me toward the bed,  
eager to inhale
the smell of earth
from my damp skin.

But I know what
really revs you up,
gets you cranking
almost beyond control
(like the Husqvarna
just before the fuel
runs out)     
is the motor oil
I dab behind each ear
in the garage
when I quit work.

It’s all right
that it takes you back
to high school,
the drop-out greaser
on the BMW
who picked you up
each day
and your mother hated.
I’ll take you
wild for anyone.

     
         
 

Carp Among Trout

     
   

Even when they flash they show as shadows, not the rainbow’s
jeweled gleam or flare of tailing browns, orange as tropic sunsets,
but gray shapes, blunt subs that on the surface would be tugs,
on land, tow trucks for eighteen-wheelers. They never jump,
rarely take bait, and turn, when foul-hooked, like super tankers,
in cold corn syrup, as if the message from the brute brain
to the tail short circuits at the dorsal fin.  No sleek-sided dancers
on the surface, these brooders hold deep, decide slowly,
heads down to the mud, oval mouths accepting what comes
their way, weighing in only when there is no other choice.

     
         
 

Hearth

     
   

Down on my knees on the block foundation,
leaning in to the chimney hole, I feel them
backing toward me, ancestors who lived
in this space I have reconstructed
two hundred miles from their home.

Even the memory of fire attracts
beyond need, pulling the family in
in sweltering weather when
every door and window stood open.
So they crowded here morning and evening,
through all seasons, hands habitually clasped,
to talk of drought, tobacco beds, neglected
traps,, and family scandals.  It was the one
place, my father said, to look for money
when I tore the homeplace down.  “Old
money,” he called it, coins that had slipped
between the scorched floorboards
Since they had no proper hearth.

I savored “old money” for months, picturing
grand plantations on the James, mansions
in Newport or Kennebunkport, though I had
played in the cabin as a child and knew
my family ate what they could can or kill.

 No coins will pass these irregular stones
I now arrange in the rectangle I have scribed
on this new cabin’s floor, the flat field rock
I have salvaged from the old chimney
the only vestige of flame-blackened warmth
the fireplace remembers.  January sun
loosens my lower back as I scoop another
trowel full of mortar, remembering how
I levered up that blackened yellow pine
and carefully sifted the sandy loam
that had not been looked at in a century,
finding one washer and a bent nail,
nothing else, but yellow dirt, just dirt.

     
 
      return to poetry
 

Don Johnson was general editor of Aethlon: the Journal of Sport Literature for sixteen years.  He served as poetry editor of that journal for four years.  His most recent poetry collection, Here and Gone: New and Selected Poems, was published in 2010 by Louisiana Literature Press.  His poems have appeared of late in North Dakota Quarterly, Kaimana, The Shawangunk Review, and The Southern Poetry Anthology edited by Jesse Graves and Will Wright.