Jeff Johnson writes fiction, poetry, and essays. For many years he worked as editor of Minnesota Monthly magazine, where he founded the annual Tamarack Award short-story competition. In May 2010 he was named Best Magazine Columnist by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “Lake Street” was part of his winning entry in the 2009 What Light poetry competition sponsored by mnartists.org, a joint project of the Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation.
Driving west today post-sunset,
the boys in the car, not a cloud,
oak twigs like capillaries in
the clean blue skin of the evening,
and I said Man, I love this time
of day at this time of the year.
From his quilted cocoon in the
back seat, the baby made one of
his wet friendly sibilant sounds.
The ten-year-old, though, beside me,
looked up and said What do you mean?
I did not say A sky like that,
the rose wash at the horizon,
the crystalline bigness, the grace,
breathes into me a quiet sort
of glory and does a number
on my tear ducts to boot. Instead
I talked meteorology:
barometric pressure and the
great clarity of cold dry air.
Maybe I was really saying
Store this moment away, and when
you’re as old as I am now and
a December dusk is falling,
bring it out and remember me,
your long-gone oddball yearny dad.
And maybe he got all that and
didn’t want to think about it,
and especially didn’t want
to be told by a dead guy how
to look at an ordinary
winter sky. Over the river
we rolled in near-silence, the massed
trees black beneath the bridge railings,
the water almost bright with the
last of the vanishing day, the
baby the only one talking.
The baby: his carseat faces
backwards for safety. All he’d seen
was upholstery, and maybe
a slice of the deepening east.
– “Lake Street”, by Jeff Johnson. Reprinted here with permission from the author.