A Short Reprise – A Poem by Sara Eliza Johnson

American poet Sara Eliza Johnson

American poet Sara Eliza Johnson

Last year I profiled American poet Sara Eliza Johnson. For a link to that blog post click here. Because of formatting issues at the time, since rectified, I was not able to include a poem I had wanted to highlight in that blog post. Here it is:


After walking for many hours in the woods, I come
across a stag in a clearing,
                   breathing inside the cold shine,                   
                                     a voice paused on a note.
As I approached, it leapt
and caught its antlers on the light’s belly,
                                       spilling purple viscera
          everywhere. The stag broke
through bramble
                           and stream, broke an owl-
call to pieces, broke further
                       through the sun’s remains,
                                          trampling the organs
into black blood as it ran.
The forest was dying
                      around me. The leaves’ last
                                       shadows punctured my face
as hooves did the ground,
                       holes in the light’s skin.
                                     I walked a little longer
before turning back home,
carrying in my shirt as many berries

as I could manage,
          my feet blistered from my boots,
                      my arms bleeding form the thorns.
Do you understand now?
Please, take and eat these. I’m sorry I hurt you.

Sara Eliza Johnson from Bone Map, Milkweed Editions, 2014

Not just the metaphoric leaps that jump off the page of this poem , but also the utterly unexpected ending, make it a stand-out poem for me. How all the imagery of breaking, trampling dying, expressed with such beauty, ends with a image out of the Christian liturgy of communion (take and eat these) followed by an apology.

If this isn’t one of the great apologies in recent contemporary poetry I would be surprised. Hope you enjoy the poem as much as I do.