Nine Haiku from a College with Open Admissions

Poetry / Jessica Johnson

:: Nine Haiku from a College with Open Admissions ::

North horizon, clouds frayed
Parking lot, woman sobbing
on the steering wheel

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Grass tufts, winter-cut
Shrub-branch-tangle, winter-bare
Buried crocuses

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They weave through the lanes
hunting for parking, place-starved
blind to each other

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Outside class the rain
swirling, the sign revolving—
Taboo Video

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Hunched under his hat
a scabbed boy at the bus stop
Outskirts a no-place

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Words on the page like
unknown creatures in the brush
We guess at meanings

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Softening in sleep
the students’ fingers slip from
their cans of Monster

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I recall thinking
I’d receive a future as 
one receives a gift

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Toddlers in the hall—
bruised sidewalk cherry blossoms
the wind dying down



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

I teach full-time at a community college campus that serves East Portland, a long, flat grid of streets that was annexed into Portland, Oregon in the eighties but has not benefited from the services and urban planning for which Portland is famous. With the least expensive housing in a rapidly gentrifying city, the neighborhood absorbs longtime Portlanders displaced from the inner city, immigrant and refugee communities, and others arriving in the city with few resources. Like many community college students, ours struggle in concrete ways. During the school year, the part of me that can write poems exists in brief moments between deadlines. I wrote these haiku after stumbling on Tavern Books’ beautiful edition of Tomas Tranströmer’s Prison: Nine Haiku from Hällby Youth Prison, translated by Malena Mörling. Tranströmer’s haiku were part of a personal correspondence with another poet, written when he was working with incarcerated young people at a remote prison. Tranströmer’s haiku subtly invoke the shape of the young prisoners’ experience, and I found in them a precise meditation on what we do when we imprison people. In the space between my job and my reading of Tranströmer, these poems emerged.

 

Jessica Johnson is a community college instructor in Portland, Oregon, where she lives with her husband and small children. Her poems and essays have appeared in Tin House; Paris Review; Brain, Child; and Harvard Review, among other journals. In Absolutes We Seek Each Other, a chapbook, was recently published by DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press.