Oct/Nov 2014 Poetry

Three Poems

by Patricia Johnson

Artwork by Susan Klebanoff

Artwork by Susan Klebanoff

Ascension Island

At breakfast my husband played an old tape
he recorded as a radio man on Ascension Island.
His last night on the program that his team called
Nightline, long before the TV news show used that name.
There was a lot of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Herb Alpert.
Mellow soprano women—sad music speckled with
Vietnam war songs. Even a country-sounding song
called in as a request by two tribes, the closest neighbors,
on an island 500 miles away, the Maw-Maws.
That night was my husband's last broadcast.
He'd been on the island a year with one trip home
to marry me then two more months filled
with all those sad love songs that went out
to lonely listeners over waves of ocean and air.


Becky's Trilobite

Little cold snail trail through the backyard
of a rifle-packing angry woman's property.
My friend, MJ, up for the adventure, greets the woman
who shifts her rifle from one shoulder to the other;
aims at the bridge of MJ's nose. No more sneaking
onto property without permission; much too dangerous
to continue, no more crawling through torn fences.
We miss seeing the endangered snail this trip.

We settle for a curved highway's roadside cliff,
whiz and zing of tires on asphalt. The sandstone rocks
a dusty reminder that here long ago trilobites swam
in salt water. When this curving highway lay submerged
Paleozoic sponges sunk their one foot into the mud;
while worms wrote the first lost alphabet.

I was the neophyte archaeologist.
Oddly I found the one trophy.
Fossilized and only slightly longer than an inch
but coveted by my companions, all self-taught geologists.
I gave the fossil to Becky, who had just last year
left a bad marriage moving to Iowa with her young son.
She thanked me and sputtered about how she had looked
for ages for such a fine example, so how could
the one who had never sought before be the finder?

To my untrained eye the extinct arthropod
was not much different than the outline of a roach.
I could not keep a thing I did not understand.
So I handed over the etched fossil to my new friend
beside the steep bank above the highway
in Clayton County, while whirring cars passed us.
And there it became Becky's trilobite.


On the North Shore

At first the bird appeared a migrating Goldfinch,
odd for early October in Louisiana. The warbler's
breast shone bright, downy and rounded. I studied
the bird through binoculars from a breath away.

The last verified sighting of a Bachman's occurred
in Cuba decades ago. Believed extinct; some trust
the warbler survives beyond human reach. One
ornithologist claims it's impossible to spot.
"People will not believe you. They'll call it Bigfoot."
Yet he instructs, "get a picture if the bird returns."
A whole summer and a fall the warbler stayed away.

Warbler species feed in various ways. My warbler
hopped as she fed; nudging pine needles, eating the insects
that spilled to the ground. She was a mature bird,
accomplished in each move. Her breast equal to Audubon's
drawing—olive blending to cream-yellow. Her beak
perfected for its purpose, a gentle decurved bill.

The Eastern guidebook states Bachman's Warblers
inhabit hidden swamps, like the bayou one mile away—
forbidden, unfathomable—yet I would set foot there
for a truer glimpse. I caught my warbler on film
when she returned one evening; sent the video
to the museum, though it was grainy. The ornithologist
dubbed it a common yellowthroat; although
long ago I eliminated that ordinary bird.


Previous Piece Next Piece