Off-Key; Take Leave
By: Sarah Johnson
My husband sings in the car
Next to me; flame trees squeeze
Blooms in between ashen
Branches stripped from the typhoon.
Palms fly by my window, still
Halfway arched toward the water—
A neon-covered worker cuts
His chainsaw through a dead tree like butter.
I run my thumb in tight
Circles over my palm, rubbing dead
Skin onto the car floor. White-hot
Flecks of sun cover the water. I look
Straight into them, burning
Their quick dance into memory.
I rub my palm raw; my husband
What does it mean to leave
Five-mile wide island
Puncturing the blue Pacific—tree
Brown sea turtles cresting
Hands slicing quickly around Tuna sinew
Offering soft red slivers of meat to my lips?
What does it mean to leave the reef
Curling in soft Cs—when I reach
Island’s highest peak and the breeze
Wraps my body in soft heat—when I see
A mother speeding in bare feet over sharp white
Coral, naked baby gripped high in her hands
To wash its sticky heat off in the sea?
What does it mean
To leave cotton candy-colored water
Sunrise, neon green lizards stuttering
Over concrete—delicate white terns screeching
Into high blue skies, laughing at me
As I complain about the heat?
What does it mean to leave island—to nod
Silently when everyone asks if I’m sure
This is what I want—to stand
In grass up to my calves while the sand
Beneath my feet is lazily licked away
By silver-tongued waves, each a soft
Inhale of the shore this island has left
To give—to ask of it one more thing?
Sarah Johnson is a PhD student in Writing and Rhetoric at George Mason University where she also teaches Composition and is the Graduate Writing Coordinator for the Writing Center; her article about mindfulness and writing centers can be seen in Praxis: A Writing Center Journal. She received her MFA in poetry from American University, and her poetry appears in The Worcester Review, Bird's Thumb, District Lit, SCOPE, Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal, and others.