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.


  1. Posted February 15, 2016 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Wow! What an extraordinary poem. I’m not sure I understand it, but I love it!

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted February 15, 2016 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Donnie: All that difficult and violent imagery sets the scene I think for her inner state after some altercation with a loved one. Then her trying to redeem the situation using the echo of Christ as redeemer (take and eat) with her offering of berries; the image of berry blood and her blood from the thorns. And then the gut-wrenching apology!

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