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Sample Poems by Larry Johnson


Alexandria Eschate

And then he left us-exhausted, the only ones
Abandoned to these scabrous desert heights,
Mooncold, but later seared in blinding suns
Making us sightless through both days and nights.
He crunched away down scaly, ocher slopes,
Flaming dust in our faces. "The furthest," we,
Alone with mudbricks, nomads-abundant hopes
Not marching to mouldy India, godroaring sea.
We heard his men squalled, mad in endless rain,
Revolted, faced hell's bowels just to walk west.
Now at Babylon he's clutched the final gain,
Olympus. We pray his ambition not infest
The gods' minds, begin celestial wars:
This east is terror enough-its crag-bound stars.


Complaint of Servilia, Mother of Brutus, Mistress of Caesar

My son has killed the only man I loved,
Ever. Viciously he stabbed in the groin,
Jealous, that flesh I so needed to join
Mine and squeeze strictly within; so gloved
It filled my slackened womb as if the child-
Homunculus of death-were still inside.
Men think they possess anything a smiled
Cunning lets them stick it into-dyed
In virgin's flow or benefactor's guts,
The dagger, carnal or steel, mimics their pride
In stretching out both sexes below them, ruts
To bring everything-even love-down to sweat,
Fleet comfort in sperm or blood-but I relied
Only on a lover's promise: not to forget.



Epilogue for Yasunari Kawabata

[Kawabata] . . . was haunted by the ghost of [Yukio] Mishima . . . the specter would visit him when he was alone at his desk or trouble his dreams.
-Henry Scott-Stokes


No note or death poem,
no moon fluent in water
glazing a silent

roar: just his bed/bath
for backdrop: ten million yen
mansion brooding with

Mishima's eyes-raw
swarming abysses-calling
him to perfect non-

statement, ultimate
nuance beyond the sordid
Western impedi-

menta of death: gas
hose in mouth, whiskey bottle
empty by the bed-

yet most mocking or
mawkish: wearing a polo
shirt, belted trousers,



no thought scraped in slant
mud of riverbank conscious-
ness: no lightning words.


Deaths of the Great and Good Composers

A pimple on Scriabin's lip turned septic:
Taneyev caught fatal pneumonia at the funeral.
Alkan was crushed by a falling shelf of books,
While Ketelby retired to an island and shot billiards
Until, seawinds howling, he scratched for good.
Vaughan Williams' last meal was English biscuits
And bananas. That night he dreamed forever.
Wallingford Rieger's legs became entangled
In the leashes of two squabbling dogs:
He fell and a concussion blotted everything.
Khachaturian gently kissed Shostakovich in his casket:
Three years, and the strong Armenian lay in his own.
Britten died smiling in his lover's attending arms
(Seeing board-thin adolescent angels converging above?).
Where have they gone, the great and good composers?



Fin de Si`ecle

Beetle of sun, crab of sun,
we saw Christa McAullife's stellar smile,
Judith Resnik's kinky, novaed hair
vanish in you-

Fusion, sun's crab, sun's beetle,
we feel feminine fire in us, never wasted
in its love, cry out for us all from these
women's craters on the howling hell of Venus-
call from that clawed image in the Florida sky . . .
fusion, scarab of all the stars' power,
save us.


For Donald Justice

Poems are made from words, not ideas.
-Mallarm 'e


Which narcotic do we hear in Debussy's
Violin sonata (morphine of the brain
Or poppy?), sweeping those fevered harmonies
Along with its mordant freight, killing the pain?
Such concord inoculates us with healing
Sparks of vibration, fluid as those bred
In poems, where similar tendriled, vital feeling
Comes only from words, as Mallarm'e once said.
Chromatic language, then, is how the writer
Makes drowsy ferns or palm-encrusted moons
Become euphoric, fused, frictional nitre
Fluorescing, like meteor trails on pitch lagoons,
To a cauterizing music with no name:
The match's strict concision into flame.


Remembering Jim Whitehead

"The sad parabola of morning sex"-
a line you spoke one time in workshop, which
I've kept for 43 years so now perhaps
this is the time to unveil it, all too late.
"Poem found under a rock," "six images
in search of a metaphor"-these just more of your wit,
and titles I've lusted to use but never found
poems to match until today. The first
time we met I said, remembering that picture
on your slim volume ("which was taken at
a hippie wedding"), "Hey, you've got a mustache."
"Yes, and I am acutely aware of its presence."
Those words I remembered through mustaches come and gone,
always aware of your presence through weeds, sweat, books,
like the force of nature you always wanted to be,
driving me mad as hell, then letting me
accept it all-just dust on a gravel road.