Jeffrey N. Johnson


I sit a cross-legged fool,
thumbs plied to middle fingers
upturned to God in either respect
or obscenity – I do not know.
Thirty years of failed focus
finds the spine falsely curved,
the center out of balance,
the mind overwhelmed with anxiety.

      Ommm, goes the chant,
      God Help Me, morning mantra.

This path to serenity fails me.
The grey matter is conquered daily,
from the first sip of coffee it is screwed.
To empty this gourd of mangled matter
I might place it in a vice,
turn the cold steel handle
and watch the demons fly
screaming from my eyes and ears.

Now travel me back over thirty years
above the snow-line at 11,000 feet,
the bane of the world below and forgotten,
the closest I’d been to exiting this pale blue rock.
Just a few feet further and I’d have arrived
not to any ring of heaven, but to starlight,
free of stone and worry, the desolate landscape
left beyond my flow and inconvenience.
The place where snow meets stone
in the first week of August was no better place
to level one’s mind and empty it of demons,
if any truly existed at that naive age.

But here I remain among vice and pain,
headlines and deadlines and starlight vague,
the ridge once climbed now an aimless trail.
The sky beyond reach, labored breath,
vision spent,
I speak my morning mantra:

      God Help Me, God Cleanse Me
      God Help Me, God Cleanse Me

The voice cracks and throat rattles
until a flash of enlightenment unexpected.
This is not my fault, this cluttered mass of my mind.
Strange is the grey matter I was dealt.
No one has what I have and there are few I would envy.

So I redouble my efforts, cage my demons
and twist into lotus, flipping the bird
to 11,000 feet in a crystal blue envy,
just a few blessed feet from stardust release.
Stars, by God. All space and time
and the crystalline deep, inviting me,
teasing me, nudging me just a little closer,
a little higher.

Jeffrey N. Johnson’s poems have recently appeared in the Southern Poetry Anthology: Virginia, Birmingham Poetry Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Gargoyle, and Santa Clara Review. His Ippy Award winning story collection Other Fine Gifts featured the Andrew Lytle Fiction Prize winner from The Sewanee Review, and his his novel The Hunger Artist was a finalist for the Library of Virginia’s People’s Choice Award. His recent poetry film, One Old, One Young has been an official selection in eight film festivals.