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When I Take Your Hands

by Thomas Johnson

Whether on the fire escape
Among the busts of famous orators

Or across the table
Where the water in the glass, that pure tympanum,
The knuckle-rap of each boxcar
Hitting the switches

You hold up the same
And womanly face.

But when I take your hands
I find they are reins, and suddenly it is afternoon
In the mountains
And I am urging a pair of geldings
Past the bonfires toward which the plague victims’
Clothes are carried on long, drooping poles.

When our lips meet
I know that the poor woman hunched over the heater
Is dreaming of her first kiss
But this time the boy appears as a cockroach
With a sheaf of eviction papers!

Beneath the deceitful
Gauze of our Christian names
There is an anonymous longing
Made of Thursdays,
Misfortunes, griefs passed hand to mouth
Across whole continents
Of which we are but tiny nodes
Held an instant in a fused
And fleshly focus

That something much greater may make of us
Its relentless, scavenging bees.


Thomas Johnson has a chapbook, Footholds (Ironwood Press), and a full-length book, Homing Signals (Stone-Marrow Press). (Spring 1975)

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