Sometimes I awake with a headline stuck in my head: Doctor in Bangor Treating Elvis for Migraines; Pharmacist Completes History of Drive-InMovie Theater—and I write it all down in my little red notebook. But there are other nights when blood rocks my heart, and people I’ve injured or thedead appear, hovering above the ceiling fan. The city is asleep, the city is awake, the city is napping. Does it matter? I think, climbing insomnia’s creaky stairs to an attic that doesn’t exist, trying to remember what is good, what is right.Yesterday, my student fell from a tree and died. That morning I knelt before the dog’s crate and kissed her goodbye. I stopped to buy cough drops and a backscratcher. I was cut off twice and beeped at once. My student wrote a story about the Civil War, about heroism. He wrote about an uprising of Christmas reindeer, about a boy and his imaginary camel. He drew a cartoon called the “Devolution of Man,” and he once wrote: “Artists have to try, no matter how hard to love their enemy because it is up to artists to save humanity.” Because he believed in what he wrote, he wasn’t my best writer. He wasn’t a liar, he wasn’t waiting for applause. The clap of crows emptying a tree was enough for him, the simple architecture of an egg. He had climbed, I think, to gain a different perspective, like the hawk that mysteriously appeared today. I was walking to class and sensed his dracular presence, then heard a squirrel’s lament no more than ten feet away—a bone-crushing sorrow for life, for death.
This prose poem by Peter Johnson appeared in the first issue of Sentence. Peter's Rants and Raves: Selected and New Prose Poems is out from White Pine Press, and it caps off a sequence of four books of prose poems by one of the subgenre's most significant practitioners in recent years. Peter was also the editor of The Prose Poem: an International Journal.