Caroline Johnson has two poetry chapbooks, Where the Street Ends and My Mother’s Artwork, and has more than 100 poems in print. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, she won 1st place in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row 2012 Poetry Contest. Her full-length collection, The Caregiver (May 2018, Holy Cow! Press) was inspired by years of family caregiving. Visit her at www.caroline-johnson.com.
--after James Wright
The sun is shining
and spills onto the leaf-covered lawn
this late afternoon. The near empty trees,
gaunt like used toothpicks, foreshadow
winter and death. Outside the window I see
a green ladder leaning on the house like a sentinel
guarding the sun. Earlier, my husband had climbed
it, shaky like the autumn leaves littering
our gutter. He tried to empty the gutters,
but the ladder was not tall enough.
There is a trick to it. It is not rickety
and he did not fall, but still, like my cancer,
there was the fear.
A plane flies overhead, ferrying passengers
to the next life. I have wasted time
worrying about death and killing flies.
A dog barks from a nearby house.
At the end of the yard, a pipe pours
rainwater from our gutters into a muddy ravine.
I lean back onto the sofa, listen to the silence
and remind myself that he did not fall.
Published in 2018 Encore
Walking on frosted landscape, we hike alone.
The crisp January air melts our bones
as we make our descent to Maple Lake
with sunshine and tracks in the snow.
Slowly we reach the river of ice
now covering a home of native fish.
Even in winter men search here for fish.
Despite storms, they are not alone,
drilling holes and auguring through ice,
huddling in small shacks to warm their bones.
They sit and smoke and watch the snow
softly stroke its print onto the lake.
I follow you out onto the lake,
thinking of how young boys catch fish
here in May and June, and how the snow
keeps falling, each flake wet and alone.
I wonder if bluegill have cold bones
as they swim below the ice.
I take a step onto the ice
now covering frozen Maple Lake;
the wind seeps through my bones.
I think of what happens to the fish
when winter comes and water alone
is not enough to fight the snow.
You begin to skate on top of the snow
and leave your skid marks on the ice.
I turn north and leave you alone,
looking out upon the frozen lake,
a deserted moonscape except for the fish
which turn inward, embracing their bones.
Who knows how deeply it goes to the bones,
when skin starts to wrinkle and hair to snow,
and men grow wisdom as they begin to fish,
balancing each moment on bright skim ice,
hovering between reality and myth, the lake
a reminder of each lifetime alone.
Yet we are not alone; nature calls our bones
back from the lake; we listen to the snow
and petrified ice. Beneath us swim the fish.
This poem won 1st place in the 2012 Chicago Tribune Printers Row Poetry Contest and was published in the Chicago Tribune. It also won 3rd place in the Formal Category in the 2008 Chicagoland Poets and Patrons Contest.