Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by L. A. Johnson






Unrequited lover,
I didn’t want to desire
your palm tree orchard
or your wildflower
garden, concealed
behind wrought iron.
Winters you dreamed
from the deep shade.

In the heat of July
I call to you through
car windows, whisper
your name at nightfall
as the streetlights
flicker on and off. All

the nerves ache
in me for your lush springs,
to follow you down
your private Palm Drive.
I want to bring wine

and fire, to swim
naked in the lake
from which the whole city
drinks. I’d skinny dip
and laugh beneath soft
echoes of clouds.

I’d touch you
in your perfect loneliness,
use my fingers to speak
the come hither motion
within your clear pools.
It would be enough

to let the day float away,
let time pass in faithful
speechlessness. I bathe
in the chill. Under
a placid exterior, you quake
with the weight
of 10 million gallons.

I don’t know if a paradise
for one is a paradise at all:
twin bed, bad things,
eggs enough for one.

A life so private,
there’s no one to overhear
my laughter, to see me
sleeping empty-headed.
A life so private,

it would take me to the grave.
In the dark, I wait
for summer poppies
to sleepily shut, for tin music
of a slamming car door,

for the coyotes to slink in
through the gaps in the gate,
howling, dragging
their furred closeness.
What is it that makes us want
to hurt each other?



If before I imagined a gorgeous lake,
by now it would’ve trembled empty.
            And in those last drops of freshwater,

a final breath would float inside a fish,
rising like a cloud. Instead, his faraway
            fingertips touch my voice,

from an elsewhere bedroom. The wraith
lake is only a lonely city in my ears.
            He aims his gun and fires it

into the sky and I say: I had a dream
about you, where we whirled
            in circles on strange steel swings

above the earth, taking turns jumping off
into ocean below. Our leaps arced,
            we sailed in wind as thin

as memory, our hands together like prayer.
He laughs and murmurs with hunger,
            a cat begging for milk,

and my bed is broken, my bed is on fire,
and it hasn’t rained in so many months
            there’s no water to put it out.

He says: I had a dream about you,
that we were in a red-lit bar.
            All the bottles were broken

so we drank clear liquor out of our palms,
doing naughty things, and I know he lies
            into the telephone, as his sweat pools

under his knees in the blotchy shape
of clouds, naked in his bed. Suddenly,
            phone static. The smoky meadow spreads

California between us. He aims his gun
and fires it into the sky, like warning. Miles
            away, I pull the bullet out of the night.


Photograph of L. A. Johnson by Lisa DeNeffe.

L. A. Johnson is from California. She is the author of the chapbook Little Climates (Bull City Press, 2017). She is currently pursuing her PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California, where she is a Provost’s Fellow. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, Best New Poets, Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, ZYZZYVA, and other journals. Find her online at More from this author →