Allan Johnston teaches at Columbia College and DePaul University
in Chicago - Writng and Literature. He has been writing poetry and
scholarly articles for several years, and have published in Poetry,
Rhino, Weber Studies, and about 50 other journals. His book, Tasks
of Survival
appeared in 1996.


Sunlight breaks things slowly. Days and stones,
the constants -- rocks -- the instances
left to warp: the two big bottles
and the car, the bones,
the dogs and babies on the street.
The harp of sunlight plays

across it all, some strange kind
of caustic music
not thought of as such:
more needed this than rapture:
more the mind than music:
still, the sun is doing

much: and as it can to
foist the ruins and tunes
lying behind phenomena --
these ever-present, slowly eroding
runes of bravely blasted
rock, the deus ex machina

of each warm day upon us. Not just flouting;
stigmata, detonation. Sun goes on spouting.

Broken Sonnet

May each song
link to the artful
road the way
the travellers
have abandoned courses

to follow the endless curses
of a lord of instruments
retuned to measure bourses
or find the cost
itinerant in things

to level out the cause of all our caring
into the empty chambers of a king
whose deaths are acted out with grace and daring --
the king is dead, long live the king, they are crying

as if to spread
some pestilence

and we receive the news with sorrow,
flying away to rites that capivate
youth in this dark regression
of the selves
we implicate

and cling to, living by halves.

Old Town
Davis, California

This is the way the towns you leave
will leave you: leaving every street
the same, inchoate, while all heartaches
visit someone else

and all the promises and hopes
you left with meet at the edge of town
like dogs after any sign
of your return or leaving,

after anything to bark at,
as if this life were not yet enough.

So look around. The streets
gleam with clarity,
the dust and the cafes remain the same;
a building somewhere goes up or comes down,
a tree declines or blossoms,
and the fields continue bathing
in the pall of heat, the face
of nothing, unperturbed, unusual,

still, distinct. Coming from
the air, you realize how every dream

has left you, how every situation
lingers on in indecision.
You could turn back now
and walk along these streets
in unforgetting,
since all that's here has long
forgotten you. Each hope
dies in gardens bright with flowers,

and angelic lights of disappointment
everywhere direct their ashes toward you
until you must admit that you are here,
which means that you have to give up

and recognize what all this is:
a town, not one you left
or one that you return to,
but just a genuflection

to dwelling.
carries on
in life.
It lives in itself, and so projects you.
You come back to find it, confused,

amazed, detached, unreal, and yet still here.


In the circle the way
a group of stones might be
kissing each other just to
block the progress of
the spirit or just be
the stones here as they fell,
so to speak, or as earth
pushes them out of whatever

is under this land, I look
and know no stone will ever
stand for those whose ashes
have been cast on water,
I guess, since this is what
I was told the contract stated.
I wasn't there to verify.
I guess after the service

and cremation, the ashes
were taken on board the boat,
and out somewhere to the lea
of the Channel Islands and tossed.
That was as it should be.
Yet it seems so cold;
how could anyone act
in the way she did

walking along and dragging
me out in the wet night,
the house past the land for any
moment of any thought
that something could have been said
about how our lives had unfolded,
so that I doubt -- anger being
the precise instrument it is --

that any revealing will now
make my heart any better
an instrument for knowing
how to survive or fiddle
as everything is going
up in the burning or coming
out of me, as if
from a handful of ashes thrown
across the scattering waters.

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