Alone and with Others
The forest began outside at the edge
of a small, close field and went, I thought, forever.
Like those voices in the room around me would,
for all I knew. I know better now, of course,
here, on the far side of a day gone past dusk
in the Scottish Highlands, with family I had yet to find.
My cousin Campbell’s about the age I was then.
He and I take turns running the bale wrapper
while his dad backs and swings the tractor’s headlights
to load each fresh one. Pull this lever and
the bale spins, round into the black wrap
like a dying star. Cut it with the razor knife
and tuck the end in tight. Pull that lever
to dump, leaving the smell of hay and emptiness
on the turntable, ready for the next. The boy and I
take turns, three bales each. His go is long enough
for me to leave the diesel growl and gear whir
and walk the narrow road alongside the stone wall
with the moon rising over ridgeline and turn
at the gate and cross the fresh-cut field that’s the floor
of this deep glen to where the moon sinks away
and the voices of the machines are small and far.
How can one life be one life? Where is then?
When I turn and walk back, I make the moon rise again.
Jonathan Johnson’s fourth book, May Is an Island (poems), will by published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in Fall 2018. His poetry has been published widely in magazines, anthologized in Best American Poetry, and read on NPR’s Writer’s Almanac. He migrates between his Lake Superior coastal hometown of Marquette, Michigan; his ancestral glen in the coastal Scottish Highlands; and Eastern Washington University, where he is a professor in the MFA program.