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TWO POEMS by Taylor Johnson


Overcast in the shadow of the capitol, the city is a lead song

sent up all night through populated air, capone smoke. A youngin sparks one, fires off

his hard-earned-steal steady cocked at the unanswering upthere. If there is anything past this blue

above West Virginia and Raum it’s a chorus of black boys chewing bullets with their gold fronts—

that’s alchemy. Everyone has someone to lose, just hours before: the ambulance’s red moan

across my window; one of the ladies on the stroll went into something tinted and low and

never came back. I leave my house for the first time in a week, grabbing at the nothing in my pants

to feel grounded, stealth; the whole hood lit under sodium light.

Behind the corner store where a lightbulb is out, a man holds another man in his mouth

unflinching in his hunger, stilling the man’s torso with his hand

as if lifted in praise, yes, the hand says: taken up with praise. The new year crawls

out the drain in front of them with the other roaches

I have no shoe with which to beat it back.


Consider the deer who, when I say “deer”, doesn’t know

whether or not I mean a single one, though there were two

dead and shiny with maggots on the side of the highway;

or, a group of them, always a bit lost

in the divided woods (blame our need to reach

or leave each other, faster).

Consider the deer that I saw dead

on the shoulder, midday mid-autumn,

whose neck in post-rigor mortis pining

broke itself again so that the head could face

the woods, the woods setting itself alight.

Oh, that I could turn and live again, the deer might say

recalling that one poet singing to himself, ruining the grass.

Consider that the deer, when called, won’t come alone

purely due to linguistic vagary. Who, like me, resists

the gesture toward singularity.

Call my name and the whole woods

rise up inside me. I is a plural state

of being. Consider the multitude

before my footfall; how I’m able to crane my neck back

see only myself


TAYLOR JOHNSON is proud of being from Washington, DC. They’ve received fellowships and scholarships from Callaloo, Cave Canem, Lambda Literary foundation, VONA, the Fine Arts Work Center, and the Vermont Studio Center. Their work appears in, or is forthcoming from, CALLALOO, the minnesota review, Vinyl Poetry, Hayden's Ferry Review, and elsewhere.


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