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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

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

Keeps singing. 

Take Leave

What does it mean to leave

Five-mile wide island

Puncturing the blue Pacific—tree

Brown sea turtles cresting

White-foamed waves—sun-hardened

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.


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