Author: Sally J. Johnson

Sally J. Johnson’s poetry and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in the Collagist, Bodega, Weave, and Everyday Genius. Her essay, “Teach My Body How To Behave” was a finalist for the Redivder Beacon Street Prize. She can also be found on Twitter and Tumblr.

introduction to the humans of earth

             for Olivia and for people so unlike her they need the grace of their gods

1. we have spaces that are named. an example of such space is called the bathroom though no one uses the baths save for standing in.

2. showing our teeth means
             a. we are experiencing joy or
             b. posing for it or
             c. we are paying someone lots of money to look inside us,
                          i. to show us pictures of how broken we are,
                          ii. to give us papers telling us how much more it will cost to fix us.

3. we praise a man named Einstein because he named a thing called relativity which just means that violence, ignorance, genius, papier mache birthday decorations, dialogue boxes, manifest destiny, the hold feature on telephones, patriarchy, institutionalized racism, lace, grace, genocide, war, and beauty pageants all exist and still our* complaints and fears most days have to do with
             a. getting shampoo in our eyes, or
             b. our own money giving us paper cuts, and
             c. traffic.

3. * the privileged enough among us to be writing poetry after their day job is done.

4. we praise lots of women but I would need more asterisks to give their names.

5. fathers are people that have a specific type of sound to them.

5. mothers cannot be defined as easily.

6. sometimes, humans lose their voices when crying.

             here are some examples of people:

1. there exists a woman who watches videos of a crash test dummy opening and closing in on itself over and over again. she takes notes so as to cushion our future blows.

2. there is a man who aches over millimeters: the smallness of a lip on a saucer so our teacups click just right.

open letter to the gray body of a bird on the side of business 40

i have seen a fox up close four times
in the same night. she was pacing
the asphalt like the trail that licks the lake
was built for her. she was focus and fear; imagine
her babies in the bushes behind her, hungry.

*

because geese are so aggressive i avoid them.
because alligators exist i don’t swim.

*

how can i reconcile the amount of blood i have consumed?
how can i scold my dog for her dirtied nose horsing through
the entrails of the smashed up frog on the sidewalk?
it is a small, indecent thing: my arched back
over her bath, keeping my own body outside the tub.

My Collar, My Bone

behind my rib cage is a dog
with her head sticking out of a car window.
depends on the day if there is also wind.
if we end up in the vet’s
office or an ocean of grass.

I can’t ask my heart if she is a good girl
because she is not really a dog. instead
I can know this command: heal.
you are at this moment
as new as you are old.

people don’t know about how I lick
“1, 2, 7, 5, 6, 6, 26” over and over
under my breath to make me feel
like a human who knows control
is an illusion. Just some bones

I buried, here: the memory of me
telling my most recent lover I loved them
too early and eagerly; wanting
still the scent of my ex-girlfriend’s
shampoo, sniffing it out
in some stranger’s hair, that subtle
heartbreak; lack of canine loyalty.

maybe it is cruel but it is true
that I sometimes expect the worst
from my lover because of what old
lovers once did, what I once did
in the name of my selfish, sardine heart.
aren’t we all leashed to some rail?

knowing no sense of time, I will look forever
through my dog-eared dictionary to find out if
people know “nostalgia feeling like dirt
under the fingernails” as one single word.

we are only renters taking hammer and nail to our apartments

we pinned your father’s crooked backbone to our blank wall last night, pulling our fingerprints against the brick and plaster to find the old holes left behind by strangers. we ended up making new ones for ourselves: old song and dance of doing damage in order to create. we framed his ghost. we made him see through. black and white: his old xrays cut on that box of light I bought from the carolina beach section of craigslist. up like art, he was clear and simple and alive again. finally he was the kind of transparent you’d always wanted and needed him to be. neatly labeled and glowing imperfections. what a relief for you. he was smaller than life, than his own death. fully visible. in pieces. everything dated so you knew when he was this specific broken. when he was fixed afterward.

the rest of the night you were aching like our old heart pine floors underfoot. those scans like memories. like scalpels. like cutting your fingernails too short. I am sorry all I said was how beautiful it looked to have his bones beveled like that. I am sorry he was not so neat in his flesh. you have to tell me you are happy I never met him. sorry I never did. you have stories of him that are beautiful and fragile as rust. others that lack all air. absolve: lights have switches. forgive me for considering this as gift.

On The Anniversary of Your Father’s Death, Which I’d Forgotten

you say here is where i saw the black bear it stood
up and then ran but it was right here of course
I ask if you charged it or fled and you say
I put my car in park. we are on a mountain
you used to live on. we are going to take a picture
of the apartment that is now someone else’s.
everything is smoke blue looking out.
you don’t say it but I know you feel like dirt
under some child’s finger drawings,
waiting for the next pull and drag, erase.
that stupid nail clipping moon.
when you show me the screen of your phone
and it is your father’s death certificate, today’s date,
I feel like altitude on the inside of ears or a hole;
the space you leave in the story of the bear
so it sounds like you survived something.
On the way back down I look for them:
black and ash shapes to gasp at. we drive right by
because there’s nothing. I’m sorry I stopped you
from knocking on the door that used to be yours.