Numbers 14:18

I’ve never told you
how my father tied
a drunk man to a chair
and snapped the first four fingers
on his left hand.
How the moon,
a sickle soaked in milk,
hung center the window
cracked from frantic birds
and how the man, his dad,
howled like a stray in the hills
the boys’ bragged of maiming.
You might be wondering
what happened to the fifth finger
his thumb
and whether it stayed straight
or faced a similar form of fracture.
But none of that matters.
In the time it’d take
to detail a thumb pried loose, I
could move from the shed
to the house
a quarter mile north,
where my nana
swirls salt in soup
and sways her hips
to Elvis, John Prine.
How can she dance
when the dead crawl inside?
How can she dance
with a body branded,
owned by a beast, a belt
that blooms the tremors?
Believe when I tell you
the fifth was spared.
That my father
ran out of whisky
out of spite,
stopped soothing with blood
sought light
and stepped out
deeply hidden, an animal
crazed for water.
That he found in his search
an oasis,
and there
lapped stars until shame clotted
spread like yeast through
his heart.
Sometimes that’s all
that it takes. One taste.
One. For deadwind
to enter and eat
the insides
of a boy of a boy
of a boy of a boy
of a boy of a boy
of a boy—

Luke J. Johnson lives on the Coast of California with his wife and three kids. He was a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize, and his work can be found or is forthcoming in American Journal of Poetry, Asheville Poetry Review, Connotation, Cultural Weekly, Greensboro Review, Narrative, Nimrod and others. He's currently completing his MFA in Poetry at Sierra Nevada College