It has been so hard to write,
let alone breathe. I go to work concerned
my son will find a phone in a field while
he runs from gunfire and forget my number.
Today, my wife attended my daughter’s
awards ceremony and sent a video of her
too afraid to stand, the look on her face:
confused. She wakes in sweats at night
and screams when bullets spill her mouth
like spiders and dissipate into the floor.
As a boy I’d watch my mother toss seeds
to city streets and wait until she’d arrive home
weeping for a brother I never knew, a boy
not born, his name a serrated knife, before handing
her water and a little blue pill, that put her
soundly to sleep. By Spring the streets would flare
with copper, bees arrive, and my mom would
walk with her hand outstretched as though holding
someone else’s. And now I hold onto what is
slipping. Ask my son to show me how he hides and
critique if I hear breathing. Demand my
daughter press her head to my heart and hold
until the static stops. The swell of our blood
Before my aunt died from breast cancer
she held dinner for her closest,
gave me wrapping paper laced with seeds
I couldn’t bring myself to sprout.
What gift is worthy enough to swaddle?
When my children were little, I wore them
in wraps, their tiny fists and elbows bruised
my breastbone and ribs, the straps secured
enough they wouldn’t slip. I counted their
breaths even, refused to let the world have
them, yet. Today, we watch lizards and marvel
at how their tails regrow if caught under tread,
or cinched between teeth. Powers we want,
in case. The closest I’ve come is the skin
around my c-section scar that regrew—a power
line, buried. The dig site, closed. I’ve read that
some schools, after shootings, remain open.
Others ghost into a vacant grief. I wish I could
tell you there’s a way to move forward, but I’ve
forgotten how to construct a prayer as if it actually
helps. I take photos of dead flowers instead, their
red—rusted deep, the jar of water tinged like piss.
A flower my son picked for me on the last day
of school. When he let it drop into my palm,
he asked how long it might survive.
“This project stemmed from both Megan and I feeling frustrated individually. We were both in a bit of a rut and wanting to discover new worlds and voices to build from. On top of all that, so much was happening in the world. Both being parents, this created a deeper vulnerability. This project allows our imaginations to braid while we break bread poetically and communicate these fears. Each call and response has been exciting and infectious, building off the previous one.”
– Luke Johnson
Luke Johnson lives on the California coast with his wife and three kids. His poems can be found at Kenyon Review, Narrative Magazine, Florida Review, Frontier, Cortland Review, Nimrod, Thrush and elsewhere. His manuscript in progress was recently named a finalist for the Jake Adam York Prize, The Levis through Four Way Press, The Vassar Miller Award and is forthcoming fall 2023 from Texas Review Press. You can find more of his poetry at lukethepoet.com or connect at Twitter at @Lukesrant.
Megan Merchant (she/her) is the co-owner of www.shiversong.com and lives in the tall pines of Prescott, AZ with her husband and two children. She holds an M.F.A. degree in International Creative Writing from UNLV and is the author of three full-length poetry collections with Glass Lyre Press: Gravel Ghosts (2016), The Dark’s Humming (2015 Lyrebird Award Winner, 2017), Grief Flowers (2018), four chapbooks, and a children’s book, These Words I Shaped for You (Philomel Books). Her latest book, Before the Fevered Snow, was released in April 2020 with Stillhouse Press ( NYT New & Noteworthy). She was awarded the 2016-2017 COG Literary Award, judged by Juan Felipe Herrera, the 2018 Beullah Rose Poetry Prize, second place in the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and most recently the Inaugural Michelle Boisseau Prize. She is the Editor of Pirene’s Fountain. You can find her poetry and artwork at meganmerchant.wix.com/poet.