Echo Canyon

luke johnson


The first to arrive is an idiot uncle/who’ll drown

in the teeth of a river. His tongue a lolling/lapping

up echoes/hollowed by static & blame —




He made me stutter/speak with a drawl/slur

the name of the Lord. Pleasure myself on

the brindle rug/& cry as I burned to completion —




I shuttered my mouth & sated silence/felt

by maiming my skin. Let each smoke sit

a little too long/leaving behind a black divot —




Mom emerged with eyes like a rat/receded

into a salt bath. Asked if I’d like to shampoo

her hair/ then cleanse where scratches left wounds —




I softened a sponge & filled it with salve/prayed

as I pressed out the puss. Then wove a needle/

warmed from a flame/finished with expired glue —




Uncle said come/son follow me further/there’s

fun in the boarded up barn. A cat with a litter

of 23 kittens/her teets unwilling to sieve —




He handed me shears/made me bust through the lock/

then stomp deep into its dark. Moonlight slivered

through slats in the wood/throbbing the arc of knife —




Mother came looking/her hair still wet/afraid I’d

followed him in. Remembered the time her brother

set fire/with her & her sister asleep —




He dragged them out & stripped off their clothes/ kissed

the buds of their breasts. Bit at their marks left stained

from the womb/then thrilled as each of them struggled —




I lifted a cat & cradled it close/ its eyes still shut from

the birth. Uncle stood far/afraid that it’d smother/

stoking a clove cigarillo —




I lowered the cat & lifted my hand/ touched the muck

of his chin. Blessed each secret/stuffed in his pores/then

whispered to follow me out —




The two of us watched/ the skeet in the gorge/slide

on the surface/blur silver. Prey in the field/outpacing

the owls/blinded by panic alone—



Luke Johnson lives on the California Coast with his wife and three kids. His poems can be found or forthcoming at Kenyon Review, Florida Review, Narrative Magazine, Nimrod, Thrush, Valparaiso Review, Tinderbox, Cortland Review, Greensboro Review and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize and his chapbook, :boys, was published by Blue Horse Press in 2019.