by Christopher J Johnson


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&luckier by Christopher J Johnson

Published by the Center for Literary Publishing at Colorado State University
Mountain West Poetry Series
In his first collection of poems, &luckier, Christopher J Johnson explores the depths to which we can know our most intimate friends, habits, and—even more so—selves. From a mosaic of coffee cups, dinner engagements, razors, walks around his city, and the wider realm of nature, the poet continually asks to what degree our lives can be understood, our joys engaged with, and our sorrows mitigated. In a voice that is at once contemporary and yet almost primal, these poems seek an affinity with the natural world, the passing of history, and the deepness and breadth of ancestry; they do not question the mystery of life but ask rather how we have become separated from and might return to a more aware place within the frame of it. These are poems rich with metaphor and music but also direct in their voice. Johnson exhibits a poetic tradition that—rather than employing academic allusions and direct personal statements—remains elusive in its use of the poetic “I.” The reader is never certain if they are reading about the poet, their friends, or themselves.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781885635518
Publisher: Center for Literary Publishing
Publication date: 11/15/2016
Series: Mountain West Poetry Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 76
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Christopher J Johnson lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he provides narrative content and live performances for the Meow Wolf art collective’s immersive 3D art installations. He also writes for and is manager of photo-eye Bookstore and is a book critic for the CFile Foundation. His poems have appeared in West Branch and The American Poetry Review. He is from Madison, Wisconsin.

Read an Excerpt



By Christopher J Johnson

Colorado State University

Copyright © 2016 Christopher J Johnson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-885635-52-5



    We have forgot our gods

    We have forgot our gods. They sleep in us;
    hoar-frost, the crocodile ### his tooth& oaks,
    figs in fig trees& fig wasps fucking in their depths,
    thunderbolts, all sleep in us as gods.

    There are plastic petals for winter& fall visitors
    but i cannot live alone thru man's riles& rigor,
    the industries of his hands& fingers;

    i am indebted to the sparrow, nasturtiums,
    nettles& pollen grain, i am indebted to each season,
    inert sand& the weather's whim.

    i came here thru the same table as the cockroach
    &couldn't have w/out his persistence.

    Bach could hear the crickets

    Bach could hear the crickets
    in their slow sets,
    their music of the spheres
    spilling skyward from the grass
    &Sundays he'd leak it into his neighbors' breasts;

    i've seen unbearable grief in the eyes of cats,
    having learned to read eyes like arrivals& departures,
    having learned them like airplanes
    — savage contradictions: seared with loving,
    proud with pain, lit with hope thru knowing defeat —

    i am some every —
    ... i don't know what —
    i am some all like air& dark matter,
    ... quasar& dirt;

    the dead i sow into myself,
    for the dead i bless the rocks.

    Do we pulse so strange

    Do we pulse so strange?
    More abstract than the cracked glass of winter elms,
    more erratic than the breathing of this unconscious bird
    so small in my palm;
    are we more intricate, more in-depth,
    are our ways less applicable to death
    than the oyster who is silent& never slanders?
    Than pressuring fathoms are we more vast?
    Than wild gardens, more numerous?
    &against the lightward vine do we have
    more craft, more genius
    or judging before we act do we have greater judgment
    than the lynx who is swift& accurate?
    is our precious substance to arrange the fork
    or cure the flesh, cheat at cards or lose interest,
    to stumble& fail to explain ourselves?

    It occurred to me

    It occurred to me life was something we wanted
    even deep in our wounds ###
    though it fall to something like the nothing
    before& after a serenade;
    we bring it roses& names, give it deity,
    &always say — are always saying —
    — we give word
    &parcel it in metaphor, ourselves just bits
    of the whole where we lay our awe &odes
    — black box of our travels.

    Our kindnesses& dourness, all of our faces
    will wash from the page. We will return
    like ribs to a ribcage.

    I am unlike nothing

    I never had a need for wine in my water jug.
    Against all improbability i yawned
    &danced &walked my little map.

    &i was wrong to ask what i am
    rather than what am i different from,
    sharing with space its startling depth
    &with the alligator, his smile& tooth
    &with the bark of trees, coarseness;

    &i wear them in the deep pattern of my organs
    in written words that are older than voices,
    in the unceasing chatter of my form;

    with the bark i share bitterness,
    with water i share sustenance;

    i regard everything, i give it a name;

    i am unlike nothing.

    Somewhere beneath this dirt

    Somewhere beneath this dirt
    the seeds are tomorrow —
    or choking; i don't know.

    &, really, i find it all so erased —
    what I've done,

    i mean who i was
    comes& goes
    &, sometimes, works out different
    than what i remember.

    It's gotten cold.
    Not every tree, not every limb
    will return.
    Familiar clothes are tossed down our arms
    &what could not is broken down
    to restore ourselves
    &smokes thru the woods —
    i know this better than i know myself;

    everywhere, always
    i am returning —
    i don't know how
    &i am not return-
    ing also.


    I am not return-
    ing; i won't leave.
    as i am, i am

    stamped in everything, the
    bends of my sleeves —
    i will not leave ...

    The miles i stamped
    w/ my heels, the miles
    i traced in thought& need
    are mine, are mine only
    &they are always.

    And we ought to consider

    &we ought to consider how we go on,
    how we lace& unlace the shoe —
    how we resole& how, eventually, replace it whole;
    we ought to consider how the skin sheds& grows
    &the bones build, the bones break& build& hollow
    ¬hing remains of our births but,
    we ought to consider the structure of our peripheral;
    what we see is not but we deem
    &what we love is not yet seems to be,
    what we love is not but changes always
    &grows&& shrinks& barbs or evaporates;

    &the words sd. are the words as a corpse
    &the words sd. are a string which frays
    &the single word is a bead rolled beneath
    &the words spoke are a broken clasp
    &yet we ought to consider how we go forth.

    All these gods that leak into the muscles

    All these gods that leak into the muscles,
    that lather us in their cloudbursts,
    we are their priests, their temples,
    a canvas stretched to the purpose of their use;

    theirs is a constant breadth, centerless,
    that slides from face to face,
    concealing or baring teeth;

    we're stock clips of their image:
    flinch, clench, blushing or otherwise red,
    folding in to our own flesh
    as if to jamb into a suitcase or umbrella stand,
    straightening our stance, crying out in ready action,
    sad, ecstatic or inert, bland;

    our emotions have us,
    we're golems of their whim
    &they stamp themselves on our foreheads.

    The earth, the mountains move

    The earth, the mountains move,
    they calm& rush like oceans
    everything is building& sloughing;
    if we could hear all time
    tinctured into this moment,
    it would not sing. time would scream.

    there is a moment that coaxed the birds to flight,
    in which the antelopes learned the grace of their legs
    &borealis bloomed like a bruise on the sky's face
    &i, too, from this lineage;

    i was exiled from god
    when I first thought on myself
    &what i was.

    What else?

    We sleep& wake in the bottleneck of it,
    always in the richest — heavy or light — moment;
    i'm glad to spend it by myself or
    within my dozens, pressing forth with hundreds.

    &i don't run from the blossoming of my blood
    or shy back from the thunder in my head
    &i don't stand afraid when the horizon is wide
    around me alone.

    the sky is my kin, i understand his storm;
    distance my cousin,
    understanding a want for separateness
    despite the impossibility of it;
    all of us, everything; what else?

    What words there are

    What words there are, who can say?
    What is said evaporates, freezes, or feeds;
    words spoken never keep their forms,
    suiting themselves to ears& evidence.

    Nothing assimilates& comes out sane.

    Days wreck in us, a confused lore of ships,
    specters& retired currency.

    The light eats up half of us
    as we walk away from any point,
    the rest go blind looking back.

    Yet our dust will rise& sing,
    be green, &star, &flesh
    thru many systems.
    Our dust will find harmony in bonds
    as rigid as calm.

    But all in all

    But all in all, all from that first breath,
    Erato, Clio, Calliope joined at the hips
    &of a single lineage w/ voice variants
    &the beetle has as many epics
    &the sparrow his lyric richness
    &both &more have left their hieroglyphs
    — all have come thru this sole passage,
    the ape, the man& oak, the dormouse each at their oars
    &so many more have cleft those waves before
    &still cleft thru our soil& arms;
    in pop, in Paleolithic song sung by chance& time;
    not sand inert or dust will miss fire& pulse
    nor fail to sprout& leaf
    &all will collapse& rise again in the steam
    &grow firm thru gentleness, thru rain,
    hurtling forth from the damp-footed forest,
    drift& morph in islands& chains —
    even as avenues stretch& shrinkv     &wear away or inlay the fields& deserts,
    eke out the ocean cliffs, homes bob& drift
    on the ocean's lips — follow tides, they skiff,
    or hitch by trucks, these are fractions short& lasting
    as migration outlives species' cunning v's,
    a rhythm on passing wings,
    as we in our immortal resurfacing
    do kiss& shift interiors, shift photos in their permanent frames,
    gather in or let the skirts hang, grow& crop the hair.

    What if what is to be has passed

    What if what is to be has passed
    &our consciousness is a deceit that arrests us?
    What if thought were the consciences of fate
    expiated on our frames?

    What if the fingernail-scale purple asters
    were already smeared across our summers' hills;
    the lithe fish in their clear streams — pan& bones;
    the finite trees proliferated, subspeciesed& deceased;
    what if we're as ghosts who yearn for souls,
    reflect somberly& scheme against our bodies
    as against crashed planes?

    What if our words are already stabbed& stumbled
    or don't exist w/ the weight we think they have
    &all are Sundays are spent, already, in sweat& white

    &what if each oar stroke were a solid gesture,
    a suggestion of a whir upon seas still as parking lots,
    the moon run its influence, sunk into the sun's death;
    this moment's shadows already sunk beneath themselves
    &stretched&& in the dusk dissolved?

    I am not a plotter of would'ves

    I am not a plotter of would'ves
    always forgetting what i've said to myself
    &, after all, there is only now&,
    possibly, some days after.

    I'm not sure what the significance of today is,
    i mean, i know its name,
    nocturnal& diurnal allowance; still,
    i'm not sure why i track this,
    today is just where i am.

    Today i made a dollar, ate well & slept,
    &performed the rituals of my flesh
    w/soap, i shaved;

    When i bare my teeth, when i am just intuition,
    what my animal tells me i can't say,
    though i know you know&
    are dumb as well.

    I lay in the sun, prostrate, stretched upon a rock;
    time tore thru me, matter, space& change
    &i lost my form, as i am always losing it,
    rising& leaving myself;

    &i felt sadness for the stones
    which, they say, are motionless;
    nothing is, not even Styrofoam nor
    dead trucks; i'm no plotter of would haves,
    i'm never satisfied with schemes (which
    are toward ideals); first, i notice it, then
    i admire the weather ...

    Where are the dead

    Where are the dead?
    How shall we make mention of them?
    Are they in the weeds& trees
    or some heaven of our heads,
    or do they pace the scaffolds of our world?

    Where do they sit& sip things?
    Where do they sigh& smother themselves in arms?

    How shall we mention them?
    Always restricted to past tense
    good & right
    or shall we give them our face
    to use as they wish
    give them the body slump or cautious
    or rolling back into sleep;
    shall we give them our bodies,
    our new days like tools?

    who are they anyway?
    Do they never change or change
    only in our minds? Are they me?
    How can they rest so differently
    in the labyrinths of our many throats& brains?

    I don't know.

    But we aren't just monsoons,
    downpours& fierce winds, seasons,
    but tributary systems;
    we are the arch of time& word
    &where i go, they will come too,
    &what i say, they've said also,
    &how they've smiled is in my smile,
    &when i've gone, i'll be with you.

    The moth floundered

    The moth floundered in the warm dust
    while the black widow boxed the locust,
    there was caution in the crow's movements,
    new shoots thru cement
    &fragments of their freedom in my pant cuffs —

    between me& all this is only nothing
    &an infinite distance, my view& many cold disinterests.
    Between the blank moon& the moon filled,
    thru its growth is my lean, slight shadow, clothes
    &my hands in their moods,
    between plans& the animal i am, only conception;

    &my hands are very sure things
    they work w/ a grace beyond me
    to wrangle like hawks out of free fall
    some object of instinctual longing,
    they have the surety of saints in their azure veins.

    There is nothing i could return to this,
    to all of it but its very clearness
    such as delights the feeble-minded
    or very young children; there is separation in nothing
    but the minds of men.

    The ruined wall

    The ruined wall           the stone table
    overlook river flow
    from the north (my right).
    Don't ask where are they now
    though their hands
    were fluid as birds
    about this masonwork;
    threefold: foundation, home, ruin.

    Our eyes cannot compass time,
    all succulence, all fullness at once
    ### builders moved thru this growth, their sons
    &all their concerns& further back
    ### the oar strokes thick as earth
    &, further,
    the ground too chill to break ...

    But all returns to our blood,
    there are none
    who don't sing in us now
    more thick than iceflow.

    Their passage is deeper than the hour,
    it's bracken round these stones
    &the dust that flows from their friction,
    seamless in all things,
    sustenance for the next question.


Excerpted from &Luckier by Christopher J Johnson. Copyright © 2016 Christopher J Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Colorado State University.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


We have forgot our gods,
Bach could hear the crickets,
Do we pulse so strange,
It occurred to me,
I am unlike nothing,
Somewhere beneath this dirt,
And we ought to consider,
All these gods that leak into the muscles,
The earth, the mountains move,
What else?,
What words there are,
But all in all,
What if what is to be has passed,
I am not a plotter of would'ves,
Where are the dead,
The moth floundered,
The ruined wall,
Local Transits,
Self Portrait,
I am not sure if I am no one,
Having thumbs,
Because everything,
I have sat upon café walls,
And what more can I give,
What a lush world,
Having shut the door on my extended facts,
I've hollowed out these lines,
And with these tools,
It is so. The devil ...,
I have kept, today, to myself,
I know my death,
Let's not bake bricks,
I would rather somewhere I never,
I am dark for —,
Even though I have done my best,
This morning in my posture's stick,
Ode to Ghosts (7th cranial muscle),
I don't understand how the father,
You might think it were made by the blackbirds,
Fragment (1–3),
Fragment (4),
On a photograph of yr face,
I scoff and offend,
The quick orchids my hopes is,
Local Transits II,
Not the falling stars of headlights,
Easy to forget,
All these ordeals of hips,
Once my lover'd angel-tipped,
And what of it,
Not marble nor stained glass,
They are just phantoms,
The night may change us,

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