Poems and Erasures by Sonja Johanson

Laurel Hell, 1780
              (Kalmia latifolia)

It isn’t a circle. It’s a river,
and we walk the water, hemmed
on both sides by tangles,
hard wood woven,
keeping us on this path.

Our skin shines.
We crown each other,
lost laureates, reading
through a miasma,
choking on the lines.

The walls are watching,
strange and vegetative,
antennae springing back
from our touch, bloodshot
eyes open wider.

We walk, humid miles,
wet circles. Wives
across the ocean, children 
we may never see again,
cottages, walled gardens,
a thousand small balloons
                              lifting away...

Poke Salad
              (Phytolacca americana)

Annie stirred the greens,
pot a weathered helmet, silver
where her fingers shined it clean.

How fast the root grew,
thick as a fist in one season,
seeds sprinkled by the birds,

cells sprinkled in the belly.
How fast the cancer grew,
slender as a finger when she knew.

Strain the sallet, toss the water.
Boil again. Write your name
in disappearing ink.

Artist’s Statement

This series of erasures uses the Anne Rice novel Taltos as their source text. I elected to perform these erasures using plant materials as a way of celebrating and mourning our current ecological state; the breakneck speed of climate change and globalization is easily observed by those working in horticulture and conservation. In selecting materials for these erasures, I sought diversity of form, texture, colour, and botanical structures. This specific set of erasures represents plants which are native to the Appalachian mountain range; native plants and the ecosystems which have co-evolved with them are threatened both by habitat loss and by the non-natives that are replacing them.

Casting Doubt

I have
broken off
   the firm
darling  let’s not talk
        you have to leave soon

erasure, Anne Rice, Taltos, pg.40
entire leaf, underside, Northern Catalpa, Catalpa speciosa


                                                          things are
at a standstill
                no way to tell if
                it's           over
                                 sound           were clearing
       to                                       nothing

erasure, Anne Rice, Taltos, pg.60
macerated berries, Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana


          I am awake.
                                                       feeble little
           eaten away by fire
burnt off and blackened on the ends
            the path of rain
                                                    so simple

erasure, Anne Rice, Taltos, pg.460
seeds and coat hairs, Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca

Sonja Johanson has recent work appearing in BOAAT, Ninth Letter, and Poet Lore. She is a contributing editor at the Eastern Iowa Review, and the author of Impossible Dovetail (IDES, Silver Birch Press), all those ragged scars (Choose the Sword Press), and Trees in Our Dooryards (Redbird Chapbooks). Sonja divides her time between work in Massachusetts and her home in the mountains of western Maine. 

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