Kimberly Johnson (2005)
LUCY, you brightnesse of our spheare, who are
Life of the Muses day, their morning Starre!
Ben Jonson's lines of praise hint in their extravagance at his dependence on the Countess of Bedford's financial patronage. Four hundred years later, poetry remains (to quote penny-wise Jonson again) "a mean mistress"; lacking the largesse of modern-day Lucies, we poets must provision our muses by other means. I teach, and I love it. But teaching is itself a demanding mistress: enriching the soul, yes, but bestowing upon the mind a poverty of time, the dearest commodity in the creative life.
"Rare poems aske rare friends," Jonson's tribute to Countess Lucy continues. How grateful I am to have gained the rare friendship of the National Endowment for the Arts, whose generous patronage has allowed me the luxury of time off from teaching. Time in which my mind has been free to reflect, invent, and revise in the hope of producing some rare poems. Time to organize slips of verse into a coherent second book. And although I, forsaking Jonson's example, write no sonnet in praise of the NEA's fair eyes and "softer bosome," let me acknowledge with plainest appreciation the NEA's bountiful patronage, which sustains writers - has sustained me - in material plenty and in the invaluable gift of confidence. I am grateful for such brightness in my own small sphere.
Fifty-mile Creek in the extravagance
of June, a fullness of flowers: paintbrush
and larkspur, beeflower and attendant bees,
the cedars sough, the sunfired pines
forge filigree at the timberline.
My ballerina sister on the riverbank
poses, rod cocked to rearward,
released, and retracted, line tripped
terpsichorean by the weight of the fly.
Her flybox cockeyed reveals homemade
damsels: the Emerging Sparkle, the Orange
Sunrise, the Dark Scintillator, and a Green
Butt Skunk. A ridiculous scene, tableau past
clichÈ, with verdure and soughing
and blah blah blah. She hooks a splake,
flips him to shore, yanks her knife open,
swipes anus to jaw. With a finger inside
she slides guts, gore, and shit in a shining
red pile. She dunks him, lets the stream
clean the gash, chucks him to me
for the icebucket, and here the suckerpunch
of beauty: white vault of ribs in their arch
to the spine, one red vein bulging faithfully
skull to tail, red gills fragile, useless
beneath the operculum, ordered
like layers of vellum. Scales flake off
and stick to my palms like glitter. Like silver.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20506
Kimberly Johnson holds graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the University of California-Berkeley. Her first poetry collection, Leviathan with a Hook (Persea Books) appeared in 2002. Her poems, translations, and essays have appeared recently in The New Yorker, The Southern Review, Arion, and Studies in Puritan American Spirituality, among other publications. Her honors include an Eisner Prize, a Barish Prize for Renaissance Scholarship, a McKay Prize for Latin Translation, and an award from the Utah Arts Council. She lives with her husband and two sons in Salt Lake City.
Photo by Michael Greenfield