Noe Valley Voice November 2004

Night and Day

Poems by Roxane Beth Johnson

While We Wait for a Taxi Together You Smoke

And it reminds me of smoke blown from the mouth of my last lover--
That same dissolving silver now stirring the night air.
Smoke carries with it the remembrance of desire and so

when you place your lips on the cigarette's white stem,
lips round as the word blue, round as his, when your fingers
flutter to your mouth as if to whisper shhhh,
when you turn your face to blow smoke away from me,
as he did, baring your neck like a swan, sinews lithe as his,
I am already swooning with the tender pressure of you
so suddenly, fragrantly close,
I am already flinching with the pain of you letting me go.

Night and Day

There are many like this one, lying
nightgowned in dark's tangible thickness.
Wide lakes of thought, insolent & fluxing,
make busy paragraphs of worry.

Green numbers clock & shuck
what's past like fading scent of eau de cologne.
Morning finds you staring into sky,
coffee cupped and smoking.

There is beauty insinuating itself across the yard,
a coincident glimpse of lily pushing out a window.
A dog eating a fried prawn floats by.
Though you're more practical than most

there will be chances still, thin as fish-skin,
to praise being born to yourself each day.
To let time's withering heat boil you into new shapes--
cloudlike and strange.

Seven-Thirty Twelve Step Meeting

We sit knee to knee practically, monk like, week after week,
lined up orderly as coffee containers, our sloppy hearts leaking confessions.

Someone reads aloud from our familiar book, we chant along in our heads.
One of us looks desperate, though still as a clock. Waiting for her turn to talk.

When the time comes, she says her name and speaks of death, the fear of it.
Deeply, I breathe in the shabby air, its odor of pebbles, its aura of angels.

I want to speak, too, drench a few minutes with my own distillation of worries.
But she keeps right on talking, holding the silence to her like precious loot.

She rattles on about dying, the fear of it and now I am more afraid of it than usual,
thinking it sooty and cold as a cloistered black-out, feeling its utter lack of God.

But people in meetings say the most amazing things, too. Tonight this one guy stirs
the inky dark with: we weren't afraid to be born so why should we be afraid to die?

Blues for Almost Forgotten Music

I am trying to remember the lyrics of old songs I've forgotten, mostly
I am trying to remember one-hit wonders, hymns and musicals like West Side Story.
Singing over and over what I can recall, I hum remnants on buses and in the car.

I am so often alone these days with echoes of these old songs and my ghosted lovers.
I am so often alone that I can almost hear it, can almost feel the half-touch of others,
can almost taste the licked clean spine of the melody I've lost.

I remember the records rubbed with static and the needle gathering dust.
I remember the taste of a mouth so sudden and still cold from wintry gusts.
It seemed incredible then--a favorite song, a love found. It wasn't, after all.

Days later, while vacuuming, the lyrics come without thinking.
Days later, I think I see my old lover in a café but don't, how pleasing
it was to think it was him, to finally sing that song.

This is the way of all amplitude: we need the brightness to die some.
This is the way of love and music: it plays like a god and then is done.
Do I feel better remembering, knowing for certain what's gone?

About the Poet

Roxane Beth Johnson moved to San Francisco in 1994 after graduating from San Jose State University. "The plan was to write, write, write!" she says. Alas, San Francisco is expensive, so she got a job and worked, worked, worked instead. Currently, she is an MFA candidate in creative writing at San Francisco State University. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Zyzzyva, American Poet, Transfer, and Samsara Quarterly. This year, she was the recipient of the Associated Writing Program's Intro Award in Poetry and was also a Pushcart Prize finalist. She teaches creative writing at San Francisco State, as well as privately. Contact her at

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