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About this poet

Jenny Johnson received an MA in teaching from the University of Virginia and an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of In Full Velvet (Sarabande Books, 2017).  She has received numerous awards and scholarships, including a 2015 Whiting Award, a 2016–2017 Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University, and a 2019 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Little Apophat

Your child is a little lion cub
ready to tear into
a hunk of antelope is
a fuse bursting into
electric sprays of light
is trouble, you
say, like me. Has
your eyes though, pale
as the eggs of quail.

Yes. And also, shouting
No! as I reach for her balled fist
I wonder if she is
our negative capability.
Dare I say she’s beautiful
or that seeing another photo
I feel inexplicably like a father
though I am nothing other
than an ex-girlfriend
falling in and out of touch?

I like to study
her features exactly,
but all her small perfect shadows.
Her sleeves like swallow’s wings,
the oblong ring she casts
moving down a slide,
some latent echo inside you
now there of me, some remnant
of the night we longed to
against the drum of a water tower,
but did it instead again and again
on a bed too small for one.

Would it stretch wonder
if all our immaterial actions
could sire the ambition that ignites
when we let a child sit
too long with her own design,
let her stack blocks
one cube at a time, sturdy as
a well-pointed chimney
or a giraffe’s dorsal spine
or a tower of solid cheerleaders
kneeling into sweaty backs and thighs,
until the pyramid’s gotten too high
and without warning
all the bodies tumble down,
laughing.

 

            *

Little Nothing,
dare I tell you
what your mother and I made?

Firsts and fights
that left the kitchen
whitened by a fine silt of flour
and bras twisted into
the untidy nests of lyrebirds
and closety love
at the drunken end of straight parties,
in cemeteries
and in shower stalls.

Without sheet music
we were prodigious,
learning by ear and mouth
how to produce
each vocal score,
and when we were done
and we felt like making more,
we made it. And we made
sweet, fast nothings
with other people, too.

Little Apophat,
I could tell you stories of
scientific miracles,
late ovulation in garter snakes,
the courting rituals of macaques
playing hide and seek
behind tree trunks,
how when seals stay out to sea
months after mating
biologists call all that waiting
suspended animation.

Which is to say that
making you took time.

From In Full Velvet​. Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Johnson. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Sarabande Books, www.sarabande.org.

From In Full Velvet​. Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Johnson. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Sarabande Books, www.sarabande.org.

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

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

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,