To Keep

To Keep

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Susan Johnson received her MFA and PhD from UMass Amherst, where she teaches writing. Her poems have recently appeared in Rhino, Into the Void, Trampoline, Steam Ticket, Front Range Review, and SLAB. She lives in South Hadley, MA.



To Keep

From WTP Vol. X #1

To keep an island, you forage the island,
just as to keep sane you clear a path, an opening
to the sea. You glean: beach peas, samphire

greens, gull eggs. Ancient rum. Whatever
washes up. You pull it from the surf,
through waves and against waves that 

always pull back. That try to take you
back, the you that has become part of
the island. Most days you just try to keep 

yourself.  Keep house, keep track, keep
your sights in line. No one knows how to
properly land on this cobbled coast. An island 

never settled because offshore winds kept
blowing boats away. Or astray. As if the island
was content just being itself. As if any of

us are. You work hard to see movement,
twitch of fern that could be fox sparrow.
What you need to work on is seeing stillness. 

On an island you live in two worlds at once.
One wave, one particle. One familiar, one
forever strange. Tiny fish hide in wrack, 

tiny birds hide under rocks. You don’t hide.
You search. Here’s a doll’s head wedged
between ropes and traps, its eyes permanently 

open. What did it see its years adrift? you
wonder. Where is everyone? its cracked
mouth asks. This is everyone, you say. 

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