For M.

I was 16
when I pressed
the trigger

of an air soft
and felt it
thrust forward.

And felt it
winnow when
the blue jay

forty feet
from pine

and started
like sparks

from a live
M-80. A burst
that blew

the thumb
from the neighbor’s

and later
him unable

to write
or hold his

It’s true before
I wept

I held
the bird
and examined

the pellet

but I refuse
to own the lie
that boys

find pleasure
in breaking things.
Believe me,

for days I
kept the bird
in a sealed

wood box
and before I
could bury it

begged it to wake,
to re-seed song
in its throat.

my son leads me
through the zoo

and points
to where piranha eat,
the heads

of feeders floating.
Fact: every year
in Argentina

three boys
fall in infested waters,
are stripped

while trying
to swim.
Fact: 90%

of amputees
still feel their
severed limb.

Sometimes we lose
what’s most
important to us

and fill it in
with phantoms.
Scientists call

it muscle memory,
the mind re-mapping

But what do we
make of those
we’ve lost

blurring in the rain?
When my father
died I smelled his cigars

could hear him
clear his throat.
If I play his

favorite hit
he speaks in parable,

hide and seek.
I’m avoiding
where I planted

the bird, M,
I’m too afraid
to tell you.

So instead
let’s watch
the feeders swarm

and awe at how
my son smiles
while pointing to a fin.





Luke Johnson is the author of Quiver (Texas Review Press, 2023) and A Slow Indwelling (Harbor Editions, 2025), a collaborative work with the poet Megan Merchant. Quiver was a finalist for the Levis Prize with Four Way Press, The Vassar Miller Award, the Jake Adam York Prize with Milkweed and the Brittingham/Pollock Prizes through University of Wisconsin. His poems can be found in various publications, including Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Narrative, Florida Review, and Poetry Northwest.

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