Amaud Jamaul Johnson/ Number 83
Trace the line & move until the ocean turns you,
or when the northern hills begin to burn, or a squad car
herds you back to the neighborhood you clearly belong.
Once, rolling down the window, I felt the Santa Anas
pulling against my chest, and naturally, I imagined a jailbreak
of buffalo in a nearby valley, a rustle of names flooding my breath.
I could go the whole day in silence, wanting nothing. I could
sit for hours on a curb and listen to the tires tear at the asphalt,
or carry a woman’s footsteps down an empty corridor,
& not think of loneliness. I guess I can’t help but stare.
In the rooms men pay to enter, the bass drum & vernacular
alone are fantasy enough. So when the girl leans at the table,
& offers a dance, you say: you are pearl & metal-flake,
my love. You say: your eyes are gold-leaf & reflection.
Amaud Jamaul Johnson is the author of Darktown Follies (Tupelo, 2013) and Red Summer (Tupelo, 2006), winner of the Dorset Prize. Born and raised in Compton, California, his honors include a Wallace Stegner fellowship at Stanford and fellowships from Cave Canem and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. His poetry appears in Narrative Magazine, Harvard Review, Anti-, Eleven Eleven, VQR, The Southern Review, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.