Thursday, February 4, 2016

"Gods in the Wilderness" by Caitlin Johnson

Back Cover Blurb

In this, her first full-length poetry collection, Caitlin Johnson seeks to demolish the things that would tear her poetic personae apart and align herself with those that would give them power. Yet Johnson also embraces the pain, hoping to transfigure it into something useful for the reader. Taking her cues from religion, mythology, history, and literature, Johnson delves into her own psyche as well as the inner lives of a cast of characters as disparate as goddesses, non-mothers, and blue-collar workers in attempt to plumb the depths of literary possibility.

Book Excerpt

Leo’s Place

You & me at the yellow counter:
Philly, no onions, no peppers;
tuna salad sandwich with tomatoes;
a skinny bottle of Coke between us
& nothing else—
shoulder to shoulder, my dark brown hair
spilling onto your coat, your kneecaps

knocking into mine.

Weather Patterns

Sylvia, look:
you don’t owe me anything,
& I’m not going to ask why.
Besides, I know why; I’ve looked
into an oven myself, & the depths
of a bottle of pills waiting—just
waiting—to carry me off on a hazy
cloud of dizziness & momentary pleasure.
Sometimes life is like that:
uneven, pitching from creativity
to despair like an indecisive
summer storm. You lost your umbrella
long ago, & the replacement was full
of holes, wires exposed with fabric
flapping away in the wind.
I get it. You couldn’t patch the damned
thing up anymore. So you burned it,
then blew out the pilot light.

Misguided girls, especially precocious ones,
take you as an example, not for your words
but for your tragic life.
You & I know, though, how little glamor
there is in tragedy. & we keep fighting,
making our feeble attempts at recovering
what is washed away in deluges
coming over & over: waves
that won’t abate. Your tries
weren’t enough. I feel lucky
meteorology has advanced so much,
or I could easily be your twin.

The Confessor

You’re looking for a tabula rasa?
Not for sale here, my friend.
I deal in admissions of guilt;
what you want is intercession.
How many candles did you light?
Seems excessive to me, or maybe
I’m just the old-school type
who thinks you shouldn’t do anything
to be sorry for. Yeah, you’re
human. So what? It’s not
a pass, free country or no.
Sure, Jesus died for your sins,
but I’ll tell you the truth:
he was trying to set an example,
you heathen, not set you up
with a cushy life. You believe
in Hell? I think it’s gonna be
Jesus down there giving you
a disappointed look for all eternity
and you realizing what a jackass
you’ve been but never getting
a chance to crucify yourself
in penance. Let me know
how this all works out for you, yeah?


She never asks,
afraid to explore the depths
of the deluge,
the town flooded
to keep her out.
But she wonders
what streets ran through
your heart, what elm-
shaded paths
she might have explored,
how the home fires
scented the air
on chilly evenings.
All she knows
is that she drowned there
on your orders
before she touched bottom.