K. L. Johnson :: All Saints Day Savannah; In the Sandhills; Walking With my Ex’s Mother ::


Southern Legitimacy Statement: I’m an army brat, but grew up in South Carolina, the state that’s too small to be a republic and too big to be an insane asylum according to the politician James Louis Pettigru. I tend to agree, particularly about the insanity. I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in English and have been pushing nouns and verbs together ever since. My family has deep roots here, back to the 1600s, and every time one of us tries to leave, we get pulled back in by the pluff mud or the wind in the pines, by the bronze waters of the Savannah River and the morning mist in the cane brakes. This is my genius loci, and for better or worse, the South will not let me go.

Three Poems

All Saint’s Day, Savannah
After I pass the thin
veil, I return renewed,
the year begun in fire.

The bay is molten rose
gold flowing to who knows –
surface broken by wakes

of pelicans, early
risers like me. High tide
is a silken mirror

where gulls wheel upside down
in flame resting softly
on the deeps’ night stillness.

Mine for a few minutes,
gull cries and bird song weaves
the cantrip that turns the night,

flips the mirror shifting
to all the stretch and roll
of this day’s potential.

Generous, the exhale
of the night ash, breathing
the brilliance scrambling

upward, seen or unseen
behind clouds, in this day
blazing free, gift given.


In the Sandhills
Green creeps slowly in returning hours
of daylight. This spring the wood storks
wade like ugly angels in swamp
water, shattering reflections
of new leaves. The trees exhale gold
dust, merry bits of life floating
through a haze of tears. I should have
a lanyard saying Not Covid:

Sinus Allergy. Trees create
green in a thousand shades, shadows
of green that char tarnished
and tan, sepia and sweating
through summer nights, sticky and still
without the air conditioning,
my private concert sending me to sleep:
the oscillating fan humming,

the cicadas and the whistle
of the train one town over.
Scouting cooler weather
the yellow jessamine raises
up her tattered banner, lacings
of curtains in red oaks, tattings
of sunlight, harvest, nature’s strip
tease begins as she drops her shawls

of leaves, and the hillsides roll bare.
I walk cautiously. Even the
poison ivy dances in his
red shimmy shirt and the rattlers
in the cane breaks are stilled. Tired,
the lady of these hills lies down,
sighing in her sleep, beautiful
and nude, open hearted, cuddling

half sleeping beasts in dens and nests.
I store up treasures of silence
tucked up around her cold dreams.
The next thing I know is that
first warm winds are carrying
the crying of scissor tail kites
and the wood storks soaring in.
Around here, change is what I breathe.


Walking with my Ex’s Mother
I begin speaking of your son,
of your violets or your dogs,
anything to bridge this silence
swaying like a bridge of frayed rope
between us. I struggle with fear
of heights and your refusal to
meet me halfway or anywhere.

In the soft dirt between the peach
rows I double my stride to match
yours, watching your deft gestures as
you give me lessons on the fruit,
how red and gold give the sweetest
ones away, sticky, hot and ripe,
each fruit a furnace of sugar.

Never do you ask a question
and your answers are stubborn, slow
in coming like peach pits, sucked clean
and spat out. It’s my turn to be
silent, to wait, hoping for some
season when you may give answers
that you won’t keep plowing under.