“They Said It Was a Weather Balloon” by Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson


Eileen’s daughter holds Happy Birthday balloons
at the bus stop when I drop off my daughter.
When I wish her happy birthday Eileen tells me
it’s not her birthday. She just found the balloons
and has been carrying them with her for three days
smiling as everyone who passes wishes her happy birthday.

But as the bus pulls away she releases the string
to wave it good-bye, and she cries as they lift
into the sky as the sun begins to scald the edges
of the morning clouds. Oh no, says Eileen.
The turtles and the manatees. When I look
to the sky I only see balloons. Not turtles. Not manatees.
Eileen sees balloons not as they are but as they’ll be,
as deflating foil and latex sinking into the ocean,
suffocating the animals at home in those silent seas.

I think of how a thing is a thing but also other things,
how we try and say what we mean with language
but words are as imprecise as a drunk sniper taking
aim atop a spinning carousel and how Ezra Pound used
fifteen languages in The Cantos in order to employ
the correct word to perfectly express his meaning,
deciding the three rippled hieroglyphs best expressed water.

As I’m walking home my wife texts me an eggplant emoji
and I can’t tell if this is a sexual advance or a request
to stop at the vegan grocery. Should I respond
with a thumbs up image or a meme of frustrated Nicholas Cage?

So much depends on whether the red wheelbarrow
is just a wheelbarrow or a symbol of American industrialism.

Behind the bushes of a neighbor’s house I think
I spy a giant great blue heron but it’s just a stupid
black smart car parked in their driveway.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018


Brad Johnson: “This poem was conceived while waiting with my daughter for her school bus to arrive one morning. It’s hard to account for thoughts that arrive that early.” (web)

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