Patricia L. Johnson – Four Poems

Northbound on Florida’s Highway 19

Fifteen blackbirds lift then circle lazily to the left of the road above our car. They glide in unison without moving their wings. They follow a slow whorl of air—beautiful—all musculature relaxed. Along the highway we read the signs for manatee tours. Billboards and roadside restaurants declare their shy presence. We drive; I tell my husband someday I would like to see the manatees. Andy tells me that when he was a boy of 12 he and a cousin took their rowboat more than a mile along Turkey Creek and drifted and fished. He saw ahead a body swirl in the creek, and mouthed in silence ‘alligator’ to his cousin. They followed the current and watched the animal surface, an immense hippo, not the reptile he first anticipated. It moved smooth as river rock, dappled with leaf shadows. The manatee grazed along the bank. The boys drifted past mute and in awe as the gray form turned to eye them, paused, then swam up current. The heavy body flowed in one continuous motion. Time seemed reversed, prehistoric, before men, before boys fished. ‘We called them sea cows,’ my husband adds. With my field of vision I follow the crows in the sky outside our car. Their outstretched black forms are now only visible through the back window. They still have not lifted wings to move; still circle the thermal vortex. We drive past faded turquoise signs lettered ‘come see the manatees, swim with them.’ Andy, the crows and I just did. Let the manatees graze, swim and catch the shadows of leaf patterns alone. Let us follow the manatee without lifting a muscle and circle around them in our minds.


Lines Pulled from Sally’s Letter

Come for a visit, the rain lilies are open.
See for yourself the white prickly poppy bloom.
All those flowers we gathered throughout childhood.
Come see again. In the rocky back acre we’ll look
for Green Eye, after petals drop the eye is visible.
On limestone hills we’ll find Mountain Pink. Bouquets
the pioneers used against fevers. How many mothers?
How many fevered children’s brows? I’d love
to have you visit. Bumblebees still swarm
the lemon mint. Course-haired, they fly their lazy arcs.
Open scrublands are still lined with wine cups
like those deep burgundies we found the summer
we were seventeen. Foxgloves were our fairy thimbles.
Remember how at dusk the evening primrose opens
its little lamps and glows? It grew all through last
summer’s drought, tolerant and strong. The swampy
grass pink on cousin Abel’s ranch is so scarce now
we will not find it like we did when we were young. But
we’ll see monarchs feed on the nectar of butterfly weeds.
And always the abundant verbena. Please come.


Prism Variation

Blue rests somewhere
between violet and yellow.
Will canoe or sailboat carry us
across this aqua lake?
You and I show variance
in how our eyes read color.
We reach the shore to find
a Navajo woman
seated on an outcrop,
stringing necklaces
from matched stones.
Far below marsh sunlight
reflects either teal or jade.
She hands me my purchase—
says it is a match for blue eyes.
Puzzled, I study the green
surface of the turquoise.
As we row home
twilight’s mineral sky
takes on an indigo tone.
I smile to see you haloed
in bluegreen light.


Second Marriage

Today we find ripe berries by our fence.
Choose from these few strays
the gray mockingbird has missed.
Some mottled, sour, small—this one
slashed in violet pole to pole—
though unseasoned, taste its sweetness.

Indigo Bunting, Grosbeak and Jay—
winged bodies match color with berries.
Each purple-frosted globe unique,
the first summer berry to September’s last.
You offer the epitome of fruit to me.
I accept simply in gratefulness.

Days begin to shorten as sunrays slant
through thin-leaved branches.
Show me again with your pocketknife
how the skin holds in all the blueness
until the berry is cut.