James Dean Johnson 


for Danni Quintos

After my father signed the papers,

I lived with him every other weekend

in his hilltop trailer. His home filled

with women as giddy and naïve

as cherubs, a string of thin blonde

paper dolls he dangled between

his index fingers and thumbs. 

They did their girlfriend duties,

fed me, kept his box home clean,

grew vegetables in his backyard

garden. They came into his home,

cleared away dying cucumbers,

squash, zucchini, replaced leftovers

of the women who came before 

with chili peppers or cherry tomatoes.

They each planted papery bulbs of garlic

in their inherited soil. They were never

around long enough to taste their 

peppers or tomatoes in my father’s

cooking, but the garlic lingered, staining

their throats, striking the air like the pluck

of a fiddle when they spoke, settling

into skirts, sliding into drains when 

they showered or washed their hands.

In my mobile home memories, they 

are sink-side specters tainting the air 

with their redolence, forever asking 

How big is the garlic in my garden now? 

I cannot answer them, cannot tell them

that the garden was never theirs; I cannot 

even remember their names. I call them 

turquoise, dried bone, the whisper of a feather, 

things I found at the bottom of my father’s 

sock drawer that never see the light. 


James Dean Johnson is a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky. He was raised in Russellville, a small town in southwestern Kentucky. He currently resides in Antioch, Tennessee, where he is working on building his writing portfolio. He enjoys reading, playing marimba, and drinking bourbon.

return to The Twenty          |          home