Literature 1-26-2010

mnLIT presents: Jeff Johnson

This week we've got a second poem from What Light grand prize-winner, Jeff Johnson - "Lake Street," selected for the 2009 mnLIT cycle by poet Connie Wanek.


Lake Street

Driving west today post-sunset,
the boys in the car, not a cloud,
oak twigs like capillaries in
the clean blue skin of the evening,
and I said Man, I love this time
of day at this time of the year.

From his quilted cocoon in the
back seat, the baby made one of
his wet friendly sibilant sounds.
The ten-year-old, though, beside me,
looked up and said What do you mean?
I did not say A sky like that,
the rose wash at the horizon,
the crystalline bigness, the grace,
breathes into me a quiet sort
of glory and does a number
on my tear ducts to boot.
I talked meteorology:
barometric pressure and the
great clarity of cold dry air.
Maybe I was really saying
Store this moment away, and when
you’re as old as I am now and
a December dusk is falling,
bring it out and remember me,
your long-gone oddball yearny dad.

And maybe he got all that and
didn’t want to think about it,
and especially didn’t want
to be told by a dead guy how
to look at an ordinary
winter sky. Over the river
we rolled in near-silence, the massed
trees black beneath the bridge railings,
the water almost bright with the
last of the vanishing day, the
baby the only one talking.
The baby: his carseat faces
backwards for safety. All he’d seen
was upholstery, and maybe
a slice of the deepening east.


Juror comments: Lake Street — the second poem by Jeff Johnson included in the 2009 cycle of What Light — was selected by poet Connie Wanek, who writes, “This poem explores the insufficiency of language. The image of a baby riding backwards ‘for safety’ is full of nuance, and brings another touch of lightness to the scene.”   

About the poet: Jeff Johnson is probably not the Jeff Johnson you went to high school with or the Jeff Johnson who fixes your car or that one Jeff Johnson who used to date your sister until she found out about his credit history. He’s definitely not the politician Jeff Johnson. This Jeff Johnson, who lives in Minneapolis with at least 100 other Jeff Johnsons, is a former magazine editor whose work has appeared in such journals as Intro and The Iowa Review.

______________________________________________________ is a joint project of the Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation

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Connie Wanek

I have been writing poetry, mostly, all my life.  Recently I published a small book of prose called Summer Cars.  My three books of poems are Bonfire, Hartley Field, and On Speaking Terms, and in the fall of 2015 I’m going to have a new collection: Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems, from the University of Nebraska Press.  Anyone interested can find out more at my website: Thanks! …   read more