Don Johnson is a professor and Poet in Residence at East Tennessee State University.  He has published three volumes of poetry, including Here and Gone: New & Selected Poems (Louisiana Literature Press), and has appeared in such magazines as Poetry, The Iowa Review, Shenandoah, and The Georgia Review. He lives on the Watauga River near Elizabethton, Tennessee, where he is restoring a log cabin his father and grandfather were born in.



Watauga Morning


River mist    song sparrow    sun

Limb creak   heron wings    ripple music

Honeysuckle  cloud shadow    wind

Blue wings   crane flies   trout splash

Kingfisher  waxwings   swallows

Pine green   sycamores   teal

Goose palaver   train whistle  crows

Leaf whisper  leafwhisper   leaf



Late April: First Snake


When I fanned the shirt along
the stretched spine
of the sunning rat snake,
trying to coax it
from the mower’s path,
it coiled, vibrating
its tail in a show of bravado.
It struck my second pass,
teeth telegraphing up
through blue fabric: the feel
of grit grinding to dust
beneath large stones
being levered home,
my callused hands
catching up like burrs
last night in our bedclothes.


Like Turning on a Switch

In a day and a night the leaves of all four
Gingko trees in the courtyard fell,
Fanned in one direction by a south wind
As if they had been deliberately laid out.
Even in half-light they glowed
Like a door had been opened
Spilling brightness onto the grass.
But there was no door, no room into which
One might lead, no light to shine out.
Just yellow leaves, four shadow-anchored
Boats, straining to pull away with the tide.



                  “Where you find one, you’ll find another.”
                                   Appalachian snake lore
After warm days and rain in April
they appear where they had been
the year before, in orchards long ago
forsaken, or under old oaks and poplars,
the bold ones occasionally shouldering
through gravel, easily seen.  But most
hunker under shoved up leaves, brooding
through cool nights, to be gathered only
by those who learn their subtleties and shape.

The later chanterelles, gaudy flutes, 
smelling faintly of apricots, murmur, “pick
me, take me up,” to the casual passerby. 

Morels, wrinkled and plain as solitary crones,
whisper their secrets in riddles
and spells beside dark cellar holes
where apples annually rot unpicked. 
Memory glides there over rotted sills,
noses through toppled stones to leaf mold,
pale nubs just crowning, a yield sometimes
more fully gleaned by looking away.


Back to Poetry