Working Outside at Night

By Denis Johnson b. 1949 Denis Johnson
The moon swells
and its yellow darkens   
nearer the horizon
and soon all
the aluminum rooftops

shall appear, orange   
and distinct beside   
the orange sun,   
while the diamond   
flares in its vacuum

within. It is simple
to be with the shovel,   
thoughtless, inhabited   
by this divorce,
it is good

the luminous
machinery, silenced,   
waits, nice
that the conveyor
belts choked with sand

convey nothing.
When I return home to   
coffee at
7:45 the lithe
young girls will be going   
to high school, pulling

to their mouths stark
cigarettes through
Arizona’s sunlight.
These last few months
have been awful, and when

around five the roosters   
alone on neighboring   
small farms begin
to scream like humans   
my heart just lies down,   
a stone.

Denis Johnson, “Working Outside at Night” from The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly: Poems Collected and New. Copyright © 1995 by Denis Johnson. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1995)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Denis Johnson b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects Nature, Stars, Planets, Heavens

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Denis  Johnson

Biography

Denis Johnson was born in Munich, Germany where his father worked for the State Department. Johnson grew up in the Philippines, Japan, and Washington D.C. and earned an MFA from the University of Iowa. An award-winning novelist, short story writer, and playwright, Johnson published his first collection of poems, The Man Among the Seals (1969), at the age of twenty. Subsequent collections include Inner Weather (1976), The . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Stars, Planets, Heavens

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.