Marilyn A. Johnson
The Broken Road
I live by a restaurant so hidden
only the lost can find it.
Cars show their taillights giving up.
Out by the dark of the broken road,
up a steep hill, that’s where
their creamed filets sit curdling.
Say, It happened.
That’s how long it took to happen.
She called from Mexico,
uncradled my sleep.
I dove into concrete, she cried.
Her suitcases found their own way
home. Seven bikinis. Strapless
dresses. Silk and lycra
back from vacation
circled the carousel
dreaming of her body.
I walk my neighborhood at night
on boots, on bone.
Hard steps crunch over
frost embedded in asphalt,
everything but music
making a kind of music.
The restaurant glows
useless through the pines.
The waiter quits waiting,
pitches slivered beans and
baguettes into the ravine,
serves the night.
The air hoarded moisture all day,
then just before dinner,
I raced the downpour and sat with a TV tray,
watching the sky turn black and
beat the glass doors.
Baton Rouge, not our city, each street
marked by hurricane. Mom sealed
in the house, Dad sealed in the Chrysler.
I couldn’t sleep there—the night
thumped with insects,
lizards dropped onto the roof.
Lashed to my bike by the smothering air, I felt like
the only live thing in a scarred country,
a Johnson among the Broussards,
standing on my pedals, pumping—
do you know what that’s like, only eleven
and able to tear a hole in the sky?
I remember riding into Memphis
on a corrugated bridge,
a grille of metal and air slung out
over brown water—nothing
between us and the Mississippi
but a thousand holes.
Sister leaning on my shoulder,
brother sleeping in my lap,
sprawled in the backseat
in the breathing dark, beyond
the red arc of his cigarette.
He drove us over that glittering bridge,
that rush of lights in the dark.
Not quite crying,
homesick at the sight of home,
I held the children up
away from the yawning water.
Marilyn A. Johnson has published poetry in FIELD and other literary magazines. She lives in New York.