VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Michael Lee Johnson

Frogs

Grow grass,

stone frogs,”

written on bathroom walls.

Hippie beads, oodles

colorful acid pills

in dresser draws,

no clothes,

kaleidoscope condoms, 

ostentatious sex.

No Bibles or Sundays

that anyone remembers.

Rochdale College,

Toronto, Ontario 1972,

freedom school, free education.

Makes no sense,

when you’re high on a song

“American Woman” blasting 

eardrums and police sirens come on.

(Note: Rochdale College was patterned after Summerhill School-Democratic “freedom school” in England founded in 1921 by Alexander Sutherland Neill with the belief that the school should be made to fit the child, rather than the other way around.)

Poetry Man

I’m the poetry man, understand?

Dance, dance, dance to the crystals of night,

healing crystals detox nightmares, night tremors.

Death still comes in the shadow of grief,

hides beneath this blanket of time,

in the heat, in the cold. 

Hold my hand on this journey

you won’t be the first, but

you may be the last.

You and I so many avenues,

ventures & turns, so many years together

one bad incident, violence, unexpected,

one punch, all lights dim out.

97, Coming to Terms & Goodbye

(An atheist faces his own death)

Wait until I have to say goodbye,

don’t rush; I’m a philosophical professor

facing my own death on my own time.

It takes longer to rise to kick the blankets back.

I take my pills with water and slowly lift

myself out of bed to the edge of my walker.

Living to age 97 is an experience I share

with my caretaker and so hard to accept.

It’s hard for youngsters who have not experienced

old age to know the psychology of pain

that you can’t put your socks on or pull

your own pants up without help anymore—

thank God for suspenders.

“At a certain point, there’s no reason

to be concerned about death, when you die,

no problem, there’s nothing.”

But why in my loneness, teeth stuck

in with denture glue, my daily pillbox complete,

and my wife, Leslie Josephine, gone for years,

why does it haunt me?

I can’t orchestrate, play Ph.D. anymore,

my song lyrics is running out, my personality

framed in a gentler state of mind.

I still think it necessary to figure out

the patterns of death; I just don’t know why.

“There must be something missing

from this argument; I wish I knew.

Don’t push me, please wait; soon

is enough to say goodbye.

My theater life, now shared, my last play,

coming to this final curtain, I give you

grace, “the king of swing,” the voice of

Benny Goodman is silent now,

an act of humanity passes, no applause.

*Dedicated to the memory of Herbert Fingarette, November 2, 2018 (aged 97).

Keyboard

Keyboard dancing, poet-writer,

old bold, ribbons are worn out,

type keys bent out of shape.

40 wpm, high school,

Smith Corona 220 electric ultimately

gave out, carrying case, lost key.

No typewriter repairman anymore.

It is this media, new age apps,

for internet dreams, forged nightmares,

nothing can go wrong, right?

Cagey, I prefer my Covid-19 shots

completed one at a time.

Unfinished poems can wait,

hang start-up like Jesus

ragged on that wooden cross,

revise a few lines at a time;

near the end, complete to finish.

I will touch my way out of this life;

as Elton John says, 

“like a candle in the wind.”

I will be at my keyboard late at night

that moment I pass, my fingertips stop.

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