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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, January 31, 2017.
About this Poem 

“I tried to write a poem of witness. Then I decided that, for me, the more honest poem was the one about what a witness can’t know about another person’s experience.”
—Jenny Johnson

Spaces

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 on my blue sweats
and white T-shirt. Call 911

please, she said.
When the officer arrived

I said, I found her there after the—
But she said,

No, that wasn’t what
happened.

What must be valued
I’m learning,

in clarity and in error,
are spaces

where
feelings are held.

Here—in a poem?
And elsewhere

Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 31, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 31, 2017, 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

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,

poem

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