Two Poems by Jeffery N. Johnson

Last Ride

My elder brother was a Godly sight
riding that Shetland pony to the end
of the pasture and back – a smiling boy
on a galloping midget. She had legs
in her youth, heft under hair, and
enough stamina to carry the day.
When I grew old enough I saddled
her and forced the bridle between
those stubborn yellow teeth, but
the old mare wouldn’t budge.
She ambled only to the four-board fence
and tried to scrape the load off her back.
With Raskolnikov watching, I cursed
and kicked my heels deep into her flank,
but she just stood there hating me, and I her.
Our relationship went on like this
until I developed a system. I walked
her into the pasture, mounted, and let her
trot back to the barn lot to scrape me off
on the four-board fence. It wasn’t everything,
but it was something – a taste.
But one day she refused even that
and while I stood there brooding
in the barren pasture I began to notice
how the passage of time had affected her:
the mud-caked mane fallen to one side,
hooves curled and cracked, everything
about her drooping on four tired legs.
So I took to her with a brush and pulled
her winter coat, watched tufts of hair and
dander sail airily over our ancestral fields.
From nose to rump I went over her, recalling
my brother and the freedom together they
had exuded, streaking across the green field
as one. Her pungent dust settled into my
hand-me-down flannel, I left her there
in the barn lot, alone with her memories.

A Jazz Moment

Billy raised his horn and blew
notes like rays of light.
A genus loci of the mind,
creating a new space and time.

Notes like rays of light
warm the girl already bright,
creating a new space and time.
This one, Billy thought, is fine.

Warm is the girl already bright
as she spread her arms to catch the light.
This one, Billy thought, is fine,
as she swayed from side-to-side in time.

Spreading her arms to catch his light,
her husband stepped between them.
They swayed from side-to-side in time,
held each other, bump and grind.

The husband wedged between them,
Billy frowned, stroked his horn,
wed together, notes sublime,
joined together like a sign.

Billy frowned, stoked his horn,
but in her place a spirit shined,
joined together like a sign,
love’s fluid fleeting residue.

Then in her place a spirit shined,
a genus loci of the mind,
love’s fluid fleeting residue.
Billy raised his horn and blew.

Jeffrey N. Johnson’s poems have appeared in Birmingham Poetry Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Red Rock Review, South Carolina Review, and Roanoke Review. He was awarded the Andrew Lytle Fiction Prize at the Sewanee Review, and his debut novel The Hunger Artist was a finalist for the Library of Virginia’s People’s Choice Award.