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.