“Oakbrook Estates” by Joel F. Johnson

Joel F. Johnson


When the mayor, who is black (our second),
reviewed the subdivision plans, he asked
about lighting, curbing and lot size, about square footage
and average price before he asked, as if in passing,
what about the old oak, will it have to go; and I,
older than the mayor, old enough to remember its name,
knew which oak, and said possibly not, we could keep it
for green space, and the mayor, walking me to his door,
said it would be good to have green space, this pleasant
chocolate-skinned man never acknowledging
the oak’s name, though from his question,
from the carefully casual way he asked, I think he knew it,
that he had been told the name by a father or grandfather
though neither could have seen it, as I did, or been there,
as I was, when last it was put to that purpose,
and I, the lesson’s last witness, then a boy of seven or eight
watched how the feet turned, twisting first left then right
then left again in car light, the head obscured, dark
above the beam, though I strained to see it, wanting
to see how the neck looked, how the rope looked,
the dead face, trusting as a boy of seven or eight will trust,
that it was just, that my elders had taught a necessary lesson,
but wondering if it might have been more
just to have selected someone older, since this one
seemed in my eyes, in a boy’s eyes, watching
the body twist in The Lesson Tree,
in the stark light of Buford Neil’s station wagon,
too small, too young, almost still a child.

from Rattle #39, Spring 2013
Tribute to Southern Poets


Joel F. Johnson (Georgia): “I often write poems using an assumed voice. In daily life, I tend to be pathologically nice. Writing poetry provides a refreshing opportunity to be bitter, angry, peevish and cruel.” (web)

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