House by the River

Don Johnson Click to

donDon Johnson is a professor and Poet-in-Residence at East Tennessee State University where he has taught for the last thirty years. He served as general editor of Aethlon: the Journal of Sport Literature for 16 years and as poetry editor for the journal from 2006-2010. He is the author of four books of poetry: The Importance of Visible Scars (Wampeter Press, 1984), Watauga Drawdown (Overmountain Press, 1991), Here and Gone: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana Literature Press, 2010), and More Than Heavy Rain (Texas Review Press, 2014). He is also the editor of Hummers, Knucklers, and Slow Curves: An Anthology of Modern American Baseball Poems (University of Illinois Press, 1991).

“Earth is a door I cannot even face.”
James Wright

I read from left to right what the carpenters
have hauled out during the renovation
and stacked against the outside wall
of the garage: coiled electrical cable,
two five gallon buckets filled with rain,
the ripped-out front door, horizontal,
looking like a bulkhead for a cellar
that isn’t there, a vacant window frame,
the door again, since my gaze is dragged
back left, the way a focal point arrests
one’s gaze in a painting – a raised open hand,
or a face, made luminous with suffering —

the two dark holes, where the door’s knob
and dead bolt were, the eyes of a Jakob Kärcher
slave, one of six who built this house
two hundred years ago. All lie beneath
my rich bottom land, nameless, this gutted
structure their only marker. And now
one looks out from underground,
surveying what remains of the original
construction: the cut limestone foundation,
two hand-hewn walnut beams, the kitchen
fireplace where I’ll confront him, trowel
in hand, long after my hard work is done.