Two new poems by Sarah Johnson

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents previously unpublished poetry by Sarah Johnson.


Sixth sense

Over a decade, your nerves
have mastered a new reflex
automated your terror into a response
triggered by a certain shift in his voice,

the pitch at which his rage
becomes incoherent.
It’s a hair’s-breadth recoil,
a minuscule tensing of every muscle

like the dreamtime shudder
of a child in deepest sleep,
barely discernible
unless you’re watching for it.

He sees it every time, that split-second flinch,
and it bewilders his anger
like the sudden blaze of a torch
in the eyes of the bear outside the tent.

His sullen, uncertain retreat
leaves you with a tremor
sometimes lasting hours:
your body’s effort to come to rest.

Tonight, you wish he would hit you
and be done with it.
You’ve spent a marriage
anticipating that blow:

mapped its possible trajectory
in every room of your house,
recalculated its likely velocity
as he’s grown heavier, slower.

Now you want the theory proved
his words made flesh for once and all,
made flesh and blood and broken teeth,
the child awoken, the bear unfazed by brightness.

You want the force of his fury
to finally recalibrate this system of fear,
to jolt this old, unfulfilled dread from your body
and allow you to come to rest.


You gave me a bunch of lavender

and with it yourself
in the early damp garden
your fingers sticky with scent

and all day that residue smoothed
into the hair at your temples
rubbed against the back of your neck

smudged across your wrist
below the shy fish of your birthmark
and brushed across your mouth

into the soft inflection of your lower lip
sharp as citrus
against myagainst your tongue.


Previously unpublished, © Sarah Johnson

  • Sarah Johnson lives in Cape Town with her husband and two children. She published a collection of poems, Personae, in 2004, and began writing again last year after a hiatus of nearly a decade. She is a freelance editor and proofreader.

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

Header image: Christopher Burns/Unsplash

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