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In the North

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A blast off the Atlantic
snaps a flag in the Firth
of Clyde, while thirty leagues
away, the same synoptic wind
surges across this hillside
honeycombed with mineshafts,
sounding the unstopped slots
of a "G" harmonica left
to dry on the kitchen sill.
Snow charges a sky
in which the sun swims
and glimmers like a groat,
a turbulent space where owls
hunt by day but nothing
stands for long—bereft
of circumstance—beyond
the standing stones of
Long Meg and Her Daughters.

Through the night, like a stoker
on a fast express—the Hyperion
on its Edinburgh run—
you hoy buckets of coal
on the grate, only to see
its flames drawn up
the chimney, getting more
heat from hoying the fuel
than from its burning.
As a barnacle goose swims
against the dark, uttering
its terse honk, you pull
your favorite word, duvet,
close about your head.
Tomorrow, bailiffs may
take everything
not hammered down.

Source: Poetry (December 2007)

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This poem originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Poetry magazine

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In the North

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  • Born in Canton, New York, Devin Johnston grew up in Winston-Salem and received his PhD from the University of Chicago. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Far-Fetched (2015), Sources (2008), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Aversions (2004), and Telepathy (2001). His prose writing includes the critical study Precipitations: Contemporary American Poetry as Occult Practice (2002) and Creaturely and Other Essays (2009). A former poetry editor for the Chicago Review from 1995-2000, Johnston co-founded and co-edits Flood Editions with Michael O’Leary.

    A lyric poet influenced by Yeats, Johnston whittles the lines of his poems, compressing imagery that is at once allusive and immediate. “While his lexicon is rich and particular, Johnston's line is severe, unadorned, and keenly cut to measure out the subtle, counter-pointed music which so strongly marks these poems,” observes poet Forrest Gander of the poems in Telepathy.

    He lives in St. Louis and teaches at Saint Louis...

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