by Susan Johnson

Measuring what we cannot measure
we tap out the river paddling stroke
after stroke while kingfishers rattle
and swans unfurl their sails.

Turning the page, there is always
a chapter on how to steer clear
of great white herons who only
appear to appear.  One remains

unclear about the wires overhead:
Brainstorm or high tension buzz?
One day both of us will be dead.
Or all day one of us will be.

It’s how the sun plays this planet;
it’s how a barn owl swoops through
the narrow opening of her life
to cross this field wet with moon.

In canoe-light we watch another
osprey seize a fish from a cloud
and count our blessings the way
a shoemaker counts shoes.

by Susan Johnson

What if everything were a map?  Diagram
of mind, of thought, each wave, word,
and whim.  If every bite of hope, stripe
of fear were chartered, even that hall
to nowhere you’ve been walking down
all these years.  They’d have you, wouldn’t
they?  Look, they’d say, here’s a map

of your afterlife even though your now life
is still under way.  You might argue
Jackson Pollock alone could map the state
of your emotions especially last Thursday
particularly at 4 o’clock and that Piet
Mondrian’s geometric abstract renditions
are maps of your imagination desiccated,

the experience of looking for water
and finding air.  But there’s no arguing
with the back roads that brought you here,
roads painted blue but that photograph
gray and vague as the monsters of the deep
drawn in at the edges to frame each moment
and keep the future from escaping.

by Susan Johnson

Hair braids her fingers
as the morning paper
reads her eyes spreading
itself across the table
whose legs support
the floor, flattening it
into an infinite plane
as the radio plays her ears
tuning her through another
day where a river soars
into geese.  An apple picks her.
An orange peels her down
to seed.  Wood sets fire
to the match in her hand,
giving light to the heat
in her stove as sleep curls
into the cat, curls into
the soil that returns to us
and the sky flies another jay.


Susan Johnson has a MFA and PhD from the University of
Massachusetts Amherst, where she currently teaches writing.  Her
poems have recently been published in
Hawaii Pacific Review,
Freshwater, Bluestem, Rhino, and other journals.

On “Swoop,” “What If Everything Were a Map?,” and “Hair
Braids Her Fingers”:
      “Swoop” is based on a canoe trip on Cape Cod mid-summer
when the place is crazy busy.  I was struck by how a little paddling
could take us to a quiet, undisturbed place, while ten minutes away
everything is crowded.
      “What If Everything Were A Map?” is based on my  love of
maps, real maps, imaginative maps, and how we keep trying to
map our lives,  how poems are maps, and how we never get it
quite right—there’s always part of the world beyond mapping.
      “Hair Braids” began as an experiment—what if I switched
the agent in a series of transactions?  Instead of writing about
what we are pushing against, what if I write about the world
pushing back?  And I just went from there.

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 7, Number 1
(Spring 2012)

Copyright © 2012
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.

What If Everything
Were a Map?
Hair Braids Her Fingers