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I. The Boat is Tethered to the Floor

Salt is drying              Fuzz is thriving Kelp’s alive                           Space belies

The boat is tethered to the floor
The rum is in the chest behind the door,
and wooden-legged pirates are more real
than the “if’s” of little boys.

I will be waiting on the wharf,
wading distance,
whistling softly,
stretching my breasts
to hillocks.

Birch beer and watercress and huckleberries,
baby torrents under wooden ferries,
quahogs and clams and mussels.
That couldn’t be a truffle underneath the log?
The fog is in, shrouding this bay with mist.
Pound your feet on the wrinkled sand.
Lick the salty fingers of your hand.

An open window, an unlatched door,
berried seaweed seasoning the floor,
a spider swinging from the rafter.
I will wait today, the day after,
perhaps the next.
But if the moon is round, I may forget.

Come barefoot and ungloved.
Bring friendliness, less fragile and more versatile
than love.

And do not harness me to promises.
Let us reach separately in each other’s arms,

Unpin the wind.
Begin at the beginning—beginnings spin.
Any beginning.

If I could touch your garment
would I be calmed?
If you could savor me in your arms. …
I’m disturbed by words not clearly heard,
promises of.

How may I reach you, and know Love?
Where is the source? the toppled Force,
the once-upon-a-time?
What will I find?

Peace? Fear?
or the same threaded conclusions I find here?

Ah, for a higher degree
of together, we,
            especially “we”

            I’m morally tired of me.


Hoist me a la
while I am moist
and ajar

this is the spa,
the delicious “Ah!”

from the sea
helps you to

facsimile of yourself.
Take the Chinese, an amazing people,
nourished by kelp for generations.
They are discreetly prolific.

Eat what they eat.
Their size does not make them fertile and wise.
It is their diet.

Try it.

Never harness
me to a promise.
Leave me

I woke up alone.
The pillow in my arms did not stir.

will I wake instead,
your tangled hair damp on the bed,
and the pillow
wet with sweat,
breathing, on the floor?

Love swings like a tavern sign,
without the mind.
How do you feel about things,
How absolute,
how diluted?

I must know before
I dive into your sea

I, me, I = my together. Why?

I’m tired of saying I
I want to say we.
It’s not that I’m lonely, only
I’m tired of being just me.

I’m tired of putting me first in each verse,
Arguments won before they’re begun,
Me and me always agree.
What a tiresome bore I must be.
Me, get away from me.
Remove your hex from me.
Oh, for an us or a let’s,
Nothing complex;
a choice,
another voice—

“What’s your point of view?”
“Let’s warm up the stew”
“What can we do next?”
Any old “let’s”

For instance,
When I raid the frig,
the drumstick’s still there,
the milk and the pie and the cheese still there,
nothing missing.
And what fun is cindering the toast,
and burning the roast with no one to fuss,
like if I was part of an us?

A good fight’s nice before dousing the light.
I could weep blissfully while we made up.
But with no daring offender, or brazen surrender,
what could occur that I’d care to remember?
So I will sleep wistfully, with the shade up.


I am sick of me. Sick,

There was more pith in “with”
than this “without.”

I wonder did the pigeons come today
and did they fly away
when they found I wasn’t there.
I wonder did the sparrows come to play
and weave their nests from combings of my hair.
They’ll miss the window where we shared our crumbs.
The thing is done.
The folding walls are still and bare.
I wonder did the pigeons come.

(Most winged things smell

They came.

I think they knew.
I think they cared.

If you have someone to weep for,
you are blest.
If you bring a child, another’s grief, a new belief,
you are blest.
And when you seem again, it will not be the same,
for you will know a little more of everything—
shy you sing.

either boy

Everything is
somehow reverent
and irreverent,
a quandary
of becauses:
I love you because
I don’t love
you because
I can’t love
you because
Love conceives. The
pith of love is
love is love is
love conceives.
To evolve a fitting
little boy, we

revolve in
benevolent intent.
Love is the
embraced extent,
the Signature

Everything that
breathes conceives
Simply reason
We have a
little boy
not a symbolic
little boy
but a colicky,
little boy,
as real as porridge

Don’t bother to
be horrified
May I be a
mother, too
made in your
or would that cause
a holy scrimmage?
Is there a see-saw
or leavening
in heaven?

You heard me screaming
You didn’t miss a scream
Now it is too late.
What were you waiting for?

The trip
the fall
all of it.
I paid full fare
To where?
where to?

You were waiting for this to happen
You knew it would happen
You knew it would happen.
You knew all along.
But I survived.
I found the beat.
I’m Jason on two feet, in person,
choosing, fixing, building with Jason bricks.
Jason live! Scaling the pit.
Jason treating!

Look at all the
men and women

the kids with
the boards
with nails
the Latins smelling
of life
and the blacks
and the old
like pouter pigeons
and the young
whites spouting

waving flags
in their own parades
in accordance with
their own premises
deviates from
someone else’s norms
all glistening, listening
Look at all the
their eyes wise,
devising a
middle —

You only go ’round the one time
for sure.
No after, no before.
One spurt,
then dirt.
Best be hurt than undemanding.
The same fall for us all.
Only a different landing.
Bounce the ball!
You only go ’round the one time.
Be you as you go.
Say no to the cues.
Lose the script
Refuse the tableaux.
Try! anything.
Take a bead at the sky!
Bounce the ball!
The one trip—
The quick sip, or
the long swallow.
Be led, or follow.
Wallow in your I.
Bounce the ball!
Mount your my!
Cry I, I, I,
Bounce the ball!
Bounce the ball high!


Helene Johnson, 1931. Photo: James Latimer Allen. Courtesy of Abigail McGrath.


From Helene Johnson: After the Harlem Renaissance, edited by Emily Rosamond Claman as part of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative. Lost & Found publishes original texts by figures central to and associated with New American Poetry. Poised at the intersection of scholarly investigation, innovative publishing, and cultural preservation, each Lost & Found chapbook emphasizes the importance of collaborative and archival research.


Helene Johnson

HELENE JOHNSON (1906 - 1995) was an American poet.


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2016

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