Back to Issue Thirty-Seven


2021 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


Laundry whirls in the machine, while homes
burn from brush fire, smoke shades
the hillside into darkness. A dog I haven’t seen

barks in the neighbor’s apartment until evening,

when the sun sets unseen
behind smog and ash, and the dog switches
to terrible howling, round vowels

burning through walls, louder and louder

until they seem to lose their center, until
someone could mistake them for laughter,
maybe. If you could go back in time,

would you want to? my ex-lover asked me

once, in a dream, while he held a tumbler
of milk that clicked with ice cubes. Someone
told me once that the Pacific is flooded

with gold, floating out there impossible

to extract from seawater,
glimmering without touch—unlike
the Los Angeles road map that finds me

lonely at the flea market. The map is evidence

of places that I know no longer
exist, the paper greased by fingers and torn,
an address that is meaningless to me

circled carelessly in green ink. If I drove there,

to 1081 Edendale Drive, would the house
I imagine still stand: a single story
rancher, the color of a linen dress,

or would I find only vacant lot,

a past lost to foreclosure, walls pocked
and split by stones, the empty home
of a family who once left in such a rush

they cruelly discarded their starving, barking dog?

I have abandoned things. Broken
plates, stained clothes, gifts I never wanted,
the voicemail from him I listened

to over and over, a loop of rage

and grilled chicken, that I repeated each day
until it became another language, until I
could listen no more; and I will keep abandoning.

Watch how easily I pull out my own hair

from the brush, strands brittle and blonde
in this light. How softly this old hair falls
outside my window, catches the breeze a little

and I don’t know where it will go except away

from me, drifting toward a dove’s nest or
sewer opening or the side of the freeway,
piled up with trash. At every window

in this city, people linger, thinking of minutes

they want to think of no longer,
and each face blazes with the dream
of abandoned, falling things.



Earthquake Weather

2021 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


Above his house, one star is visible.
That star is not visible from the dusty room where a woman now makes a bed.

A bed was unmade in the meadow of orange poppies,

where poppies fell across his skin like cuts,
like fault lines that would split and burn the homes of poppies.

Stranger, the home has a secret in it.

A secret for a grave.
A secret like a pearl earring sunk to the bottom of a pool

or a pool water-empty, filled with imaginary letters.

Letter with a train inside it, traveling west.
Letter with the still heat that summons tarantulas out before dusk.

Letters never written to a stranger.

I am a stranger to myself in the mirror,
a stranger to the woman in his house who is not my twin.

Is it true a twin is never lonely?

Alone, I put a knife through the face of an invisible star,
the star that lives between a home and me.



Red Tide

2021 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


Neon blue flash gives way to rotting stench as red tide sweeps California coast
– Los Angeles Times, May 2020


Western wind violates the streets,
twists the city into violent trapeze.
A hot spell, the sun a long vowel
algae blooms under, a red velvet dress
on the sea. I smell it even indoors.
From Baja to Malibu, thousands gather
to watch the waves at night, crashing
like lightning over the shore.


Once, in a desire to think no more,
I split my arm to see inside: a hot river
with pulse swelled, a red nativity.


The red bloom gives way at night
to bioluminescent blue, waves
outlined in neon light. You hold me
as we watch their electric tumbling.
My linen dress drifts away
from me like a kind of speaking.


Once, a high tide rose inside my body.
Valves and veins on fire, blood on the sheets,
blood staining my clothes. Saline
and iron-sick, my possible daughters
were sleek fish plucked out
of water, stolen without air.


As I listen to the ocean fold over,
I consider what would happen if I drank
the icy water, salt in my throat
This month I haven’t bled again, thin
as copper stolen from a piano.


Once on a street in a different city,
I walked each day by a house
with a rounded door, painted red.
I dreamed of entering it
and who I would be if I lived there,
children noisy, their coats on the floor.


In super bloom, life for algae is fleeting.
They die, splotchy freckles, on the surface
and are perilous to the yearling fish
caught in airless surrender, their bodies
tumbled, floating in the surge.


Once, in what felt like a dream
the body was an oyster abandoned
of its shell, slick and briny. My mind
searched for the pearl, the mantle’s
iridescent nacre, in the flooded
bedroom. Robeless, I tremored
in the flux, fleshy and shucked.


The palms unfurl their long fronds
on the lawn of the sea. We sweat,
blue waves crash restless before us.
I am vulnerable as grass, bent
backwards in the deep spell,
ribbons gone loose in my hair.
The water flashes neon, then nothing,
leaving us shivering on the sand.


L. A. Johnson is from California. She is the author of the chapbook Little Climates (Bull City Press, 2017). She is currently pursuing her PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California, where she is a Provost’s Fellow. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, Best New Poets, Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, ZYZZYVA, and other journals. Find her online at

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