Poetry of Kansas Here & Now, There & Then

Posts tagged ‘Kathleen Johnson’

107. Frontier Bride

First year of marriage
in a one-room cabin on the prairie,
and for weeks on end it blows –
whirring at the windowsills,
rattling the walls, bending the creek willows,
billowing my skirts. Endless
gusts of wind I hear with each whipstitch,
with every broom sweep,
constant as my own
breath, whimpering around
the doors of my dreams until I want
to slam them shut. Only
sometimes, late at night
with him, a blessed hush,
when – wedding quilt slipped to the floor,
head thrown back, hair a silky tangle,
orange sickle of moon curving
through the window –
I’m lost
in love wild
as an autumn field.

– Kathleen Johnson

from Burn, Woodley Press, 2008

Kathleen Johnson is the editor and publisher of New Mexico Poetry Review. She received her BFA in history of art and MFA in creative writing from the University of Kansas.  As a freelance book critic specializing in poetry, she published over sixty book reviews in The Kansas City Star and other publications between 2002 and 2009. Her collection of poems Burn, published by Woodley Press in 2008, was selected as a 2009 Kansas Notable Book.  A fifth-generation New Mexican, she has divided her time between Kansas and New Mexico for many years. She became a full-time resident of Santa Fe in 2009.

69. Dust Bowl Diary, 1935

Silt on the dishes.

Rags under the doors.

Horizon coppered by clouds of dirt.

The sun, a dim smear.

No stars, no moon for weeks.

No shadows.

 

Our farm is sifting away –

only a bit of cornfield stubble

poking up through shifting dunes,

cedars chalked with fine dust,

half-buried fence posts.

 

Cattle are dying,

their lungs caked with mud.

Others, blinded by blowing grit,

stumble in brown blizzards.

 

Once my hair shone like corn silk

under the sun. Now it’s dull, dry,

wrapped tight in a bun.

 

After a while, everything

seems the color of vermin,

the color of moths –

dirty wash pinned to

the clothesline,

damp dishcloths

stretched along windowsills.

 

This spring, no lilacs;

no luster left in Mother’s eyes.

 

I’ve forgotten the true

colors of things. Even the sky

turns eerie shades I’ve never seen.

 

Tonight, before sleep,

I’ll lie still

on dusty sheets,

close my swollen eyelids,

and pray for vivid dreams.

– Kathleen Johnson

 

from Burn, Woodley Press, 2008

Kathleen Johnson is the editor and publisher of New Mexico Poetry Review. She received her BFA in history of art and MFA in creative writing from the University of Kansas.  As a freelance book critic specializing in poetry, she published over sixty book reviews in The Kansas City Star and other publications between 2002 and 2009. Her collection of poems Burn, published by Woodley Press in 2008, was selected as a 2009 Kansas Notable Book.  A fifth-generation New Mexican, she has divided her time between Kansas and New Mexico for many years. She became a full-time resident of Santa Fe in 2009.

24. To the Pilgrim Bard, in Gratitude

In honor of my great-great grandfather,

the poet Orange Scott Cummins (1846-1928)

I often see you wandering past buffalo wallows, across

black-willow swales, camped under cottonwoods on creek banks,

your mule cart full of bleached bison bones, the air alive

with whippoorwill calls, the ticking whir of rattlesnakes,

wings of wild turkeys rustling in river thickets. I imagine you

writing verse on stripped tree bark, crystallized gypsum,

and flat stones by fitful campfire light. In canyons, on hilltops,

or huddled in your dugout as a Kansas blizzard howls over,

you grip pen and paper with weathered hands under the pale wavering

of a kerosene lamp. In 1871, the Civil War still rattling in your ears,

a photographer’s magnesium flare caught that westward slant

in your eye, wide hat-brim circling above long, scout-style curls. Still,

your writing captured more. Poems about ghosts, buffalo herds, Indians,

cowboys, Scots-Irish ancestors, and sodbusters lie buried deep

in your descendants, colorful as the buttes and mesas of the Red Hills

where you settled at last. Fires, floods, family feuds – so much

gets lost. But because we have your words, the wonder holds.

Nothing, not even prairie cyclones, can whisk it all away.

—Kathleen Johnson

from Burn, Woodley Press, 2008

Kathleen Johnson is the editor and publisher of New Mexico Poetry Review. She received her BFA in history of art and MFA in creative writing from the University of Kansas.  As a freelance book critic specializing in poetry, she published over sixty book reviews in The Kansas City Star and other publications between 2002 and 2009. Her collection of poems Burn, published by Woodley Press in 2008, was selected as a 2009 Kansas Notable Book.  A fifth-generation New Mexican, she has divided her time between Kansas and New Mexico for many years. She became a full-time resident of Santa Fe in 2009.

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