luke johnson


I shuttered my mouth

& sated silence


felt by burning my skin. 

Let each smoke                


sit a little too long          

leaving behind a black divot. 




Each spot a wellspring

opened to ink


spotted the soft of my leg.

A cluster of stars             


left sap-like & sticky      

quaking like fly nests below.




Daddy gnawed spit

on mom’s suckled breasts


dosed her blood with H. 

Slapped her back


& bit her hips   

bruised from the foot to the spine. 





He made me stutter

speak with a drawl


slur the name of the Lord. 

Pleasure myself


on the brindle rug          

cry myself to completion. 





I carried a cross

in the palm of my hands


muted the devil, refused.

Delivered in short


a hacked open prayer    

paused when spirits said home.




Mom emerged

with eyes like a rat


receded into a salt bath.

Asked if I’d like to shampoo


her hair then wipe 

deep into the wounds. 



I softened a sponge

& filled it with salve


prayed as I pressed

out the pus. Then wove


a needle warmed 

from a flame & finished

with expired glue.



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.