We can be pushed over like cows; we can be quivering in the crab-grass.
We can be pulled from the meeting and pulled from a ditch on consecutive days.
We can come undone when headquarters calls us. We can come undone
when someone from our family laughs at us.
We can be dreamt up, we can be photographed in cravats and crinolines. We can
slither, we can hyperventilate, we can pant away.
We can admonish a frog and cut a fish’s head off. We can be disinterested.
We can follow bombshells all the time. We can be comfortably sick of events.
We can calculate tolls in the back seat. We can scroll on any toilet. We can
We can go swimming and tell someone or tell no one at all.
We can watch the dogs. We can watch the infants. We can suffer and we can be
We can put up the flags, we can put out the wreaths. We can put things in order
We can see what an awful situation is and what it is to be awful, we can see
We can find the story about the beheading and we can find the story about the
meme of it twice as unbelievable.
We can return to a place and find it changed: rounder or squarer or flatter or
bluer or paler.
We can make of it a proposition, and we can make of it a defeat, and worse.
We can hear nothing in the voices of children that lowers their fidelity. We can
hear a high fidelity wind in the pine trees, moving through the corn fields.
We can stare at the foundry and we can stare at the levee: midnight, summer,
the four doors of the Pontiac wide open, lights on, the engine running.
We can draw up plans, romantic plans like all plans, bookish or cinemascopic,
that name a city and never know where the city is.
We can swim in a river devoid of fish, or we can walk in a moonlight devoid of
We can have deliverables without knowing where, in us, the deliverables are
We can be fonder of disassembled buildings than of bodies that many want.
We can stand outside a rally, we can be in a rally, with no idea what to chant.
We can imagine a river one day. We can imagine a train another day. We can
never stop jumping.
We can see how the clock refuses to be tempered, and we can see
how the sky refuses to shrink.
We can see stars as uncommunicative but enduring.
We can be circumcised, incised, elided and blinded. We can be treated
by others and betters.
We can grow smaller over time, we can fit into openings without a speech.
We can witness a turn of events, and we can understand it was this, a sentence,
greater than a period and less than an age, a brutality.
We can long for goulash, we can long for a truffle.
We can see ourselves in a distance that is more intimate, in a state
more tender than this one.
We can find the birthplace in one dream and we can remain in a later dream.
We can misjudge a fruit and squeeze out the ripeness. We can feel incompetent in
questions of timing, we can be pitiful in quests, small.
We can be where the raveling began or where the unraveling advances, and we
can feel our script being fashioned.
We can adjust the lighting too far and spoil these natural feelings of criminality.
We can walk to the patio’s edge and push a pinecone off with our toe.
We can remember that a sunset is never pregnant for us, that it is distinct, but not
We can be studied, we can seek answers that explain our disasters and the steps
that prepared the way for them.
We can trace horrors to a plate fork, a mailbox struck by a football, a doorbell,
a chain spinning on its own.
We can see all pinks and greens without conjuring their hosts, we can see red and
the obsequious little host of red.
We can be photographed in the country under a sign with our birthname, and we
can look venerable or damned and poor, depending on the taker,
depending on the day.
We can stop for chats, and we can be stopped for talks. We can feel stopping as
the human ambush.
We can feel the hour of the wolf, temple of the rat, year of the dragon, as facts.
We can be deep in historic brine, we can be drowning away in it.
We can alternate turning on and turning off a radio, we can spite any real world.
We can divine that loss has few limits or that boogeymen are timeless and
our childhood isn’t.
We can be reading, knitting, sweeping, and we can be among the gutted.
We can tell the story of how X and Y were lynched and how lynching outlasts
the story. We can remark the unbelievable resiliency of lynching.
We can feel the cake we find ourselves in. We can call ourselves subjects
of the cake, knowing how much of it is frosting, and how much sponge.
We can be the people inside when a motorcade passes or we can be the people
outside on the sidewalks.
We can say oh no, oh no, and oh no; we can never reach the intermission.
We can pass through the light in winter museums. We can feel at peace but
We can stop at paintings as if they were ours, fields and centuries, nymphs and
clouds, all ours.
We can walk down the mountainside and we can cross avenues, we can keep
going until we hit the sea.
By Brian Johnson
Brian Johnson is the author of Self-Portrait, a chapbook; Torch Lake and Other Poems, a finalist for the Norma Farber First Book Award; and Site Visits, a collaborative work with the German painter Burghard Müller-Dannhausen. His poems have recently appeared in Massachusetts Review, Court Green, Interim, Parhelion, and Literary Heist.