Jim Johnstone

Jim Johnstone is the author of four books of poetry, including Dog Ear (Véhicule Press, 2014) and Patternicity (Nightwood Editions, 2010). He’s the former winner of a CBC Literary Award, Matrix Magazine’s Lit-Pop Award and The Fiddlehead’s Ralph Gustafson Poetry Prize. Currently, he’s the Poetry Editor at Palimpsest Press, and an Associate Editor at Representative Poetry Online.


Jack Chambers, Lunch, 1970-

Snow gathers in the unfinished square
beneath our dining room table,
snow advancing with the New Year,
tracked from yard to yard like light
arrayed in glass. This morning
we’re listening for church bells,
it being Sunday, and quiet except
for the branch of an elm scraping
the side of the house where my father
clears a path. It’s his unease
that keeps me tethered to my chair,
the expanding drift of his voice
that fills me in a way God never could –
not even as shadow-crosses
darken the edge of the east-facing
window, and snow is reshaped,
piled upon itself to reveal my name
carved into the ground below.
Snow is like a handwritten note,
the muscle memory needed to recreate
each letter on a ledger’s grid,
track ink from well to page.
Past noon he enters, his arms flushed
red, raw after laying the front yard
flat enough that Magi could move
across it to gather for a minor king.
In the light, everything beyond the table
sings – the ascent of a knife
withdrawn to stake a claim to reckless-
ness, to complaint, the scar
where a blade locked in my palm
and drew shrieks as I flagged against
the courtyard’s frame. I dropped the black
wave of the switchblade’s handle
as quickly as it opened, watched
its skeleton bloom like water under
the frozen sheath of a lake. The same blade
is lost now, set where my brother
inscribed the wet curl of my name
in cement. If it had happened otherwise –
father forfeiting his reign over our house,
as blind as Lear to Edgar upon the heath –
would we rise and preside over
this meal in kinship? At the window
a tourniquet of leaves mount
like revenants repeating the radio’s
incantations: we are His flock,
He doth us feed – the push and pull
of bodies reentering the sky’s
middle distance. There
church bells snarl with the clarity
of the father, son, and holy ghost.