Sonnets Called "On the Sacredness"

Close by the jerkwater rancheros tonight, the round
gloom longs, a window in the gloom, an attitude in the window, a pleading
in the attitude, an unwitnessed
ravishment in the pleading. A man stands there in the window
thinking about how naked the water looks,
thinking the water looks like emptiness, it looks
like nothing. His heart
aches to think how many gamblers have broke down
on this highway? How many princesses of ice?
I know I'm suburban, I've got a shitty whiskey in my hand,
I work a job like eating a knife . . .
Everyone's sperm all over my life,
the sad waiting. Here's to the simple and endless
desperate person lifting this glass.
•  •  •

If you imagine you're at the base of a cross coming out of your chest,
that its vertical beam is a café
and its crossbeam a bar of inebriates running along the rear of the café,
that you're in a soft booth in the vertical beam of the cross
facing a blonde over whose shoulder you happen to glance
at the instant the TV above the bar
broadcasts the unmistakable image of fate,
the Vietnamese man getting a bullet shot into his ear,
then you understand that I had to stop
eating my squid stew. I started to cry.
Susan tried to make
some gesture, baby
playing in front of the cobra's den,
and it was enough: I was lodged in the moment, we were the treasure.
•  •  •

Sweet heat each breath of air,
sugar of fire, and yet
Dark said she was my date.
She told me Don't be late.
I guess it is our fate
here in the mental hospital
of passion and forgetting
to scream inside the dream,
put back the suicide,
stand upon the corner
starkly lit by the beam
of memory from the face
of a friend amid the glass
of a toast, and wait that wait.
•  •  •

But I always come back to the corner of feelings and the sponge of vinegar.
What is made with the hands rises up to seize us
and press every word to its service
so that I can never look at anything that hasn't
been talked about a thousand times already,
but I saw him screw his face up like a child in suspense
of some mischief, and they blew his brains out.
Your homework is more important than Cub Scouts.
His head jerks.
There's a blue-and-white menu by Susan's left hand.
He collapses as if full of sand.
You'd better settle down and eat.
At the next table before his mother
the boy in the Cub Scout uniform settles down and eats.


Denis Johnson, "Sonnets Called “On the Sacredness”" from The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly.  Copyright © 1969, 1976, 1982, 1987, 1995 by Denis Johnson.  Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc..
Source: The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly (HarperCollins Publishers, 1995)
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