Union Street Bridge 

I’ve crossed this bridge hundreds of times,
yet I saw it so clearly today—two snags,
as if the frame of a picture, curtains opened
to the world below. The homeless man
follows me with his shopping cart with all
he owns, telling me in his slurred speech
and watery eyes about the woman in his tent
who refuses to wake up, and it’s already
late afternoon. I want so much to stand alone
and write without worrying about this man
and his cart full of belongings that could fill
one cabinet in our garage; or the woman
in their blue tarp tent, and how I’d begin
to save her from all this, with my mask
and gloves and my Purell, if she’d only let
me in. The view through the window looks
inviting, opened onto a world I can peek
through, before retreating to a house
with a lock and key and a fridge that’s full.
The man wheels his treasures away, leaving
me his blessings in the waning bits of light,
like the prayer he’ll repeat before forking
the first bite of supper later at the Mission.
I see the back of him, as he moves over
the river, the money I gave him still in his fist.
All the things he could have asked me for—
money for booze, drugs, a smoke—but, no,
only directions to the nearest laundromat.
And I think of all the ways to describe
the soul of a place. How we mark time
before parting the curtains, seeing through
to the other side.


Photo by Vincent Parsons

Before Flight

……………………….Seabright Gardens
……………………….Brooks, Oregon

I didn’t know what I’d find behind
the parking lot, until their soft coo coo’s
brought me near their cage.

Archangel Pigeons, their golden heads.
How they hover near me, then away.

On the TV news this morning—
children behind a barbed wire fence
at the U.S. Border, crying for their mothers.

No matter that the pigeon coop
is in the shade, airy and clean,
I force myself to walk away—

so strong it is,
the urge
to free them.


A Poet Worships at the Little Altar 

It was my first time, this making
terracotta figurines—the red clay
caked beneath my nails, no words
written down. Children around me
as I fumble and speak in Spanish
with the woman from Oaxaca,
whose coiled base supports
a mini-skeleton mask, so realistic
it is, as if it could come alive
and dance, bring forth the dead.
Finally, I produce two offerings
to this Dia de los Muertos
community altar—an owl, for
the souls to fly, and a woman
with stones in her wide lap,
filled with her wins and losses.
I am not sure what possessed me
to come, only the need to bond
with others this morning, sun hiding
behind shadows, the candles from
my father’s Yahrzeit* barely melted
all the way down.

*Jewish custom of remembering a loved one
on the anniversary of their death.


About Marilyn Johnston

Marilyn Johnston received an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship for Writers and was the winner of the Donna J. Stone National Literary Award for Poetry. Recent poems appear in such literary journals as Cirque, The Poeming Pigeon, and Persimmon Tree; and her poetry publications include a chapbook, Red Dust Rising (The Habit of Rainy Nights Press), about a family’s recovery from war, and a full collection, Before Igniting (2020, Rippling Brook Press).