Elizabeth M. Johnson

Open House

Color becomes apparent when light falls
on things
, my dictionary says; it is
a way that otherwise identical
objects can be distinguished.
So these
hues help identify each room. Youíll find
the foyer is a shade of Gumdrop green,
the living room and dining room, combined,
Old-Fashioned Peach (and yes, I searched in vain
for the New-fangled kind). The hall is red,
called Chinaberry, colored like a heart;
but the heart of the home, the master bed-
room is a dull, light tan, King Arthurís Court.
The bathroom is Pure White. And day and night,
the kitchen walls are painted with Moonlight.

The moonís light paints the kitchen, walls me in--
a seeming sweetness to the trap. I fix
our drinks. And by our drinks, I really mean
thereís two for me, since youíre asleep, post-sex
(or what passes for sex, these days). How can
you sleep? I tell myself that I can take
what you donít give, and these glasses of gin
slide past my lips, muting the things Iíd like
to wake you up to say. Since having two
martinis makes a girl a lush
(youíd note
if you were up), I pour some more, but throw
in tonic and some lime. Too much, too late:
courageous now, and trying not to fall,
I walk towards you, down the long red hall.

You wake, come towards me, up the long red hall.
This meeting in the middle used to seem
a sign that we could always make a deal,
resolving rancor, never placing blame.
Your words are softly slurred from sleep, and mine
from too much drink. Remember how we once
could speak at the same time, and somehow find
our common ground? So often now a place
where tired meets drunk, this hallís become instead
only for getting by or getting through.
Iíve had enough. So when you say, I need
to leave
, I tell you itís okay to go.
We move in slow motion. You take the glass
from my hand, move aside to let me pass.

You move out. And months pass. My handy work
never as good as yours: those pesky screws
fall on the floor, wires fray, and light bulbs break.
Comparisons are odious, Donne says,
but the light in the dining room is out
and has been for a while, the room barely
in use now that youíre gone. I mostly eat
while sitting on the couch, watching TV
(though if it broke, Iíd call someone to fix
it). Murphyís Law, my family used to say,
so if it jams, force it, and if it breaks,
no sweat, needed replacing anyway.
The lesson learned: repairs are hard to do,
sometimes. Iíll focus on replacing you.

My focus is replacing you. Most times,
fumbled encounters end at the front door.
But when you took our bed, I bought a Stearns
& Foster; seven grand, king-size, so far
above the floor, to climb in it I use
small stairs. I bought 800-thread-count sheets,
made of Egyptian cotton, and a goose
down-filled duvet. Oasis and retreat;
Iíve nicknamed it Venus Man Trap (although
my best guy friend, whoís way too interested
in girl-on-girl, thinks that name aims too low:
Why not the Venus Person Trap instead?
he asks). King Arthurís Court awaits its Lance-
lot. The ballroomís ready for the dance.

The bathroomís ready for romance. Itís lit
with candles, and heís filled the tub, turned on
the jets, added bath salts. This roomís a bit
mundane, for pick and clip, and tweeze and comb,
minutiae of the day and night. What if
itís that routine to fall in love
, I think,
for too long Iíve been making it too tough?
We strip, he pushes me against the sink,
then in the bath. Activity, then still-
ness; afterwards he gently soaps my hair.
Later undoubtedly weíll fuss at all
the water that weíve sloshed onto the floor,
but oh, I think, it could be this routine,
to feel so next to godliness, and clean.

For what comes next, his goodness clears the way,
opens this house. In the foyer I have
replaced the sign that said You: go away!
with one that says Welcome. Itís here weíll give
a kiss as we go off to work; and where
to call the otherís name on coming home.
The plank or stone thatís underneath the door,
the threshold is the level at which some-
thing will take place, but not below, the point
of entering. People once thought a curse
could trail the bride inside, thereafter taint
the home. Not here. (He carried me, of course).
Heís back at sunset. Through the window, all
its colors come apparent. Let night fall.

Silent Prayer

One night my aunt awoke but couldnít feel
her feet, and then the creeping numbness spread
up to her neck. Triage arrived; a hole
was cut to help her breathe. Young newlywed

now paralyzed, she watched her spouse and nurse
become too close. Somebody wheeled her in
the court for her divorce. These forty years,
just grateful to be breathing on her own.

God never gives us more than we can take,
she says. Yet sheís so frail, at sixty now,
the sling that hoists her out of bed once broke
her hip. She takes it. But I want to know:

if God propels that chair, why are her limbs
so still? Always in silent prayer: Praise Him.


Elizabeth M. Johnson is a practicing trial attorney in Chicago, specializing in commercial litigation. She studied poetry with Eleanor Wilner as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, where she received her B.A. with honors in English Language and Literature. More recently, she has studied formal poetry with Moira Egan at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. She holds a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.


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Meredith Bergmann: My work has always seemed cut out for me. I give myself assignments or I take commissions to find challenges to make heroic work in which the themes must be expressed with beauty and with irony. Light touches on dark subjects help me break away what's monolithic or opaque. No thing, for me, embodies mystery, gives life to clay, or conveys narrative enduringly as can the human form. Loving to sculpt and to manipulate ideas, I'm happiest when I can give new meaning to old urges, or can warm a concept into art that's worth its weight.
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