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Sample Poems by Robin Smith Johnson

North Eastham

The winter I was seventeen
we lived in a home
with sculpted heads lining the garden.

Such an old place:
the wind shushing in corners,
the trace of other lives.

I made a world of small things.
In the low light after school,
I arranged the minutia of my life:

paper, pen, bookplate, watch.
I'd slip out of my body,
roam the spaces between walls.

Once I couldn't get back in.
My soul doomed to wander -
the air stirred with my shrieking.

A good girl, my teachers said.
What I couldn't see: the light
startling behind the mask.

Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter

She floats above me:
the mannequin in my parent's shop.
I named her Cordelia
after a storybook character.
The color of coral, her face held
the secret of my growing self.

That nudge of desire,
to own a thing that's me:
flesh to flesh, whittled down
to a dime store glance.
She held one pose and never strayed -
a form to fit in, not be.

At twelve, we wore the same size.
Faded skirts, lace dresses.
old petticoats. She spoke
of dainty things - caresses,
whispers, the promise of love.
All woman, my shadow twin.

A local artist bought her
for his landing dock -
a scarecrow to disturb the ducks.
They pecked her naked toes.
In the end, Cordelia sank
victim of a winter's storm.

Turned to sludge, she mars my sleep.
The sting of water rouses me;
I scream at my reflection:
that dark rag, bone face,
missing hair. Toad-green, my fear vomit.
She waits for me in sickness, old age.

Rolling down

By mid-January, I long for an open door,
clear empty light,
the rustle of my kitchen curtain
and the green breeze off the porch.

The drift of dust curling past my bedroom rug
and the dregs of tea in a forgotten cup
recall me to myself, sleepless nights now
fending off the weight of warmth

in rooms overstuffed with pillows or
overrun with blankets, piles of books
tempting me into other worlds.
Instead, I dream the lopsided pull

down a grassy hill at sunset,
five years old and sticky with juice.
There's a kind of grace in forgetting
or starting at the beginning

before storms riddled the dark,
before I knew what storm was
or sleep
or mercy.

Twelve

Barelegged, in gray shorts, white
sneakers - those long hours
spent walking the marshes,
the woods, the lazy perimeter
of paths and trails -

I was never bored.
Then, a sickness set in.
It was nameless but its mark
was all over me.
My legs hurt; my face erupted.
My body was a painting

I didn't want the world
to look at. I hid the flecks
of light and color.
I crawled into my bed,
willed the wallpaper to breathe,

to absorb me. Blue, blue
with bits of green like water.
When I slept, my dreams
like those of Bosch had me
skewered by winged insects and demons.
My old self stood apart.

On waking, I ran to the bathroom,
so thirsty I couldn't wait
to gulp down the cold water.
I knew this darkness
had to lift eventually

and fling me out,
a sunflower or moth,
anything in nature that could forget.