Orchard Light: poems by Julie Swarstad Johnson. Selected by co-editors Steve Bellin-Oka and Ron Mohring as Number 20 in our Keystone Chapbook Series, celebrating the work of Pennsylvania-connected poets.
Publication: May 21, 2020 [100 copies]
Julie Swarstad Johnson is the author of Pennsylvania Furnace, 2019 editor’s choice selection for the Unicorn Press first book series, and Jumping the Pit, a chapbook from Finishing Line Press. She has served as Artist in Residence at Gettysburg National Military Park, and she is the co-editor of Beyond Earth’s Edge: The Poetry of Spaceflight (The University of Arizona Press, forthcoming 2020). She completed her MFA in creative writing at Penn State. She lives in Tucson and works at the University of Arizona Poetry Center.
Sleeping at Gettysburg
Myself, I’ve chosen not to believe
in them, but what can I say when he tells me he sees
his son every night, sitting quiet
in the room with him. How can I account
for those long hours of darkness, the room empty
save for my elderly friend and the ghost of his son. Myself,
I spent a month alone in a farmhouse, talking
to God. I would not look at the maps that showed
where the thousands dead had been buried
where they fell after the battle. I refused even
to read about the house for fear of knowing
how many had been laid down so close to where I slept.
Every dusk, I closed the blinds before the colors
drained behind the ridgeline, guarding myself
against distance and aged glass, against the rise
of fog from the fields, its surge and seethe.
I prayed for light to fill every room, to fill the sealed up
old chimney, to touch the yard where
four men had been found dead, huddled over
a cookfire even as shells exploded around them.
My friend spoke without fear—was I into spirits
and ghosts?—as we stood drinking coffee
at the back of the church. I pray
for light to fill the open space
at the back of my mind, and he prays
for the unreachable loved body lost, his son
gone for years. The fog conceals nothing
but the dark fields, the clear voices
of tiny frogs calling out to one another
across all the distance between them.
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