MN poetry: Jeff Johnson’s “Lake Street”

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, a joint project of the Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation.

Lake Street

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.