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occasions

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 27, 2016.
About this Poem 

“Three of the historic lesbian bars I mention in ‘In the Dream’—Sisters, the Lex, and the Palms—have recently closed their doors. So on one hand, ‘In the Dream’ is a narrative of solidarity in the face of homophobia, but also the poem is importantly a dream, a fantasy of a space where queer lives and experiences are foregrounded.”
—Jenny Johnson

In the Dream

I was alone in a dyke bar we’d traversed before
or maybe it was in a way all our dives

merging together suddenly as one intergalactic composite,
one glitter-spritzed black hole,

one cue stick burnished down to a soft blue nub.
Picture an open cluster of stars

managing to forever stabilize in space
without a landlord scheming to shut the place down.

Anyways, I was searching for someone there
whom we hadn’t seen in years—in what

could have been Sisters, Babes, the Lex, the Pint,
the Palms, or the E Room? but the room

had no end and no ceiling.
Though I could see all of our friends or exes

with elbows up or fingers interlocked
on table tops zinging with boomerangs.

Maybe the tables were spinning, too. I can’t be sure.
But just as a trap that trips before

hammering a mouse is not humane
the dream changed—or the alarm

that I carry in my breast pocket in my waking life
was sounding. Because in the dream,

three people on bar stools, who were straight
or closeted? but more importantly angry

turned and the room dwindled
like a sweater full of moths eating holes

through wool. Or they were humans, sure,
but not here to love

with jawlines set to throw epithets like darts
that might stick or knick or flutter past

as erratically as they were fired. 
You could say their hostility was a swirl

nebulous as gas and dust,
diffuse as the stress

a body meticulously stores.
Like how when I was shoved in grade school

on the blacktop in my boy jeans
the teacher asked me if I had a strawberry

because the wound was fresh as jam, glistening
like pulp does after the skin of a fruit is

peeled back clean with a knife.
I was in the dream as open to the elements,

yet I fired back. And I didn’t care who eyed me
like warped metal to be pounded square.

I said: Do you realize where you are?

And with one finger I called our family forth
and out of the strobe lights, they came.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Jenny Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Jenny Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Jenny Johnson

Jenny Johnson

Jenny Johnson is the author of In Full Velvet (Sarabande Books, 2017).

by this poet

poem

I do not know how
she felt, but I keep

thinking of her—
screaming out to an empty street.

I had been asleep
when I heard a voice

screaming, Help!
and frantic, when I opened my door.

I remember her shoulders
in the faded towel I found   

before she put

2
poem

We could promise to elope
like my grandmother did
if a football team won

on homecoming night.
We could be good queers?
An oxymoron we never

longed for. We could
become wed-locked
as the suffix was once intended:

laiko, Common Teutonic for play,

poem

Tonight at a party we will say farewell
to a close friend’s breasts, top surgery for months
she’s saved for. Bundled close on a back step,
we wave a Bic lighter and burn her bra.
At first struggling to catch nylon aflame,
in awe we watch as all but the sheer black
underwire melts