Luke Johnson



My son swats a finch with his bat
and laughs

when my daughter swoops
the breathing bird in her arms

and runs toward the river.
There, she stitches

the birds torn wing with staples
and hangs it to a tree. All day

she speaks
as if she’s never noticed its shadow

swaying above the chanterelles.


I read of a boy in Birmingham
who set fire to barns along an empty interstate.

He trapped horses in stalls
and admitted, when questioned,

it wasn’t the thought of the roof imploding,
but the flurry of ash thereafter.


I want to tell you
how my daughter

laid the bird in a wood box
and dropped a match.

How she wept
as its wings went up in smoke.

But bear with me.

A little girl’s sorrow
is worth a hundred men’s lives.


Sometimes, on a walk,
looking for butterflies or fallen fruit,

I’ll send my son a few hundred feet
to scout,

and ask, when he returns,
whether the acreage up ahead

is worthwhile. If so,
we’ll eat until our stomachs ache. If not,

I’ll demand he go a little farther,
looking for fruit

without bruised ruts or flies, finch
in the foreground singing.


Last summer
a wildfire gnawed spruce
to snapping tinder. Silence lumbered

the sky’s carved dome
and came closer. At night it swelled
the blurred interior

like a lung of light. I’d wait
by the window, watching, wait
until sunrise. Listen for sounds

of my son’s feet
racing across the cloven field, forbid
him to pass through the gate.

—previously published in Narrative Magazine

0-26LUKE JOHNSON lives on the California Coast with his wife and three kids. His poems can be found at Kenyon Review, Narrative, Florida Review, Thrush, Valparaiso Review, Nimrod, Tinderbox, Greensboro Review and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Award and his chapbook, :boys, was published by Blue Horse Press in 2019.

Author’s note: “‘Finch’ uses imagistic leaps to show ‘failed’ sheltering from the speaker’s perspective and his children’s.”

Other works

Link to Table of Contents.