Three Poems by Yvonne M. Johnson
Selective Amnesia

One day, we were Palestinians living in Palestine. The next day,
we were Palestinians driven from a land called Israel.
Bashir, from Journey to Jerusalem by Grace Halsell

I was born allergic to
burnt skin and hookah smoke
rising from the west bank
like a prayer to a god
swiss cheese and the ninth planet
remind me that I am nobody
dreaming of a homeland
that no longer exists

the night I turned thirteen

when ima and aba spoke
of german cockroaches
and pest control
I realized the lessons
of hitler and himmler
trained our oppresssors

I couldn't sleep because

I was afraid
the world beyond
fighting for us
would fail
I would never see
the holy city or gaza
only miles away
invisible but loud

even after the bombs drop

so I must never forget
remember what I was taught
about roaches crawling
out of cracks and cages
I am deteriorating proof
of our erasure from this world
unapologetically and swift
with tanks and guns and words

the roaches survive


Passing from Libya to Italy

The boats they sell are cheap,
but it’s all they have. We had
to hope that crossing the sea
with a broken boat & a compass
was better than staying, better

than bombs & bullets & blood.
The hull kept filling with water.
We took the clothes from our bodies,
dipped them into the growing puddles,
& wrung them out over the Mediterranean.

I felt as if I had been doing this my
entire life. Dipping & wringing,
dipping & wringing with the waves,
with the others, with my own heartbeats.
A young Gambian man screamed

that we would never make it,
that we were all already dead.
I imagined salty water sloshing
down my throat while we pleaded
with him to stop. & when he did,

there was nothing else to say.
Just do. Just feel the sweat sliding
down our naked bodies as we
dipped & wrung, dipped & wrung.


the Peacock Angel is wearing blue

i haven’t seen my wife
or children in 43 days.

they left in a boat
too weak to carry

my tired body
across the water.

soon, i will leave
for foreign lands,

but for now, i will
pray with the sun

whisper their names
to Yezdan & the seven

angels, to every person 
wondering how i am lost

in my own homeland.
i will slowly take the slip

of paper from the bag
hanging at my waist,

tell them, that is
where my family is

that is where i’ll go.

Yvonne M. Johnson graduated from the University of Kentucky with degrees in English and Computer Science. As an undergraduate, she was inducted as an Affrilachian Poet, served as president of her university's creative writing club, and was managing poetry and German language editor of the undergraduate literary journal. She also holds a master's degree in cyber security from Lancaster University in England, which she completed on a Fulbright scholarship. Her poetry collection is I Am Woman (Accents Publishing, 2022). When she is not writing, she can be found riding horses, training her Labrador to find missing people, and legally hacking into her customers' computer systems. The three poems published here were inspired by her time volunteering in a refugee camp in Germany.