Heather Taylor Johnson: Three Poems

Not a Sonnet about Golfing

Nothing is missing. The outside won’t match no matter who you are.
(Some people wish they’d been born animals; is that any stranger
than wishing you’d never been born at all?) You might make odd sounds
when cold or scared but also music when you mate, if you like to fornicate.

Nothing is strange if nothing is normal & nothing is missing
if you look for it. Take these two eyes in their endless business
& place them above the knowing mouth that understands silence
& how the dam might burst & let there be fresh water

because nothing is missing; hands are for touching
scientists don’t need to tell us that & minds are for thinking
or hadn’t you thought of that? Some people wish
they’d been born someone else but someone else is wrong.

We are all a hole in one.
We all make music when we come.


Toward Pak Ou

Trust in the current of this slow brown river to carry you through the day.
Follow bamboo floating by like the future, both with purpose and without.

Know that beyond the mountains are more, and the same river,
its plastic-bag baubles and white birds.

Villagers wave you on your way, wearing the river like old and worn
sandals, like shorts that slip to their hips, like shade on their shoulders.


On Puget Sound

For now, water
the way it lays pain down on the blue horizon
where your child’s face is rip-lit, reflecting off your own
……………………keeping him near.

Because death lingers
in the quiet mourning of every evening
you do what you must, in the smallest way
……………………and sometimes it is water.

Just water for now
while there’s still a bit of sun. Soon a chill will fall,
your knees curling up to warm your breast, where the heart rests
……………………between its tiny aching beats.

Not far from the ships’ heaving
your body feels a kindred thing, hauling itself through the tides.
Thirsty birds dip their beaks into the traces of your grief
……………………then fly away, over water.


Heather Taylor-Johnson is an American Australian writer living in Adelaide. Her fifth book of poetry, Alternative Hollywood Ending, will be published by Wakefield Press in 2021, and a hybrid verse novel, Rhymes with Hyenas, will be out with Recent Work Press, also in 2021. She is the editor of Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain, and her second novel, Jean Harley was Here, shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Fiction and reviewed in the New York Times, has been optioned for a TV series. In 2018 she was Writer in Residence at the J M Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice at the University of Adelaide, where she is now an Adjunct Research Fellow

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