Saturday Mar 25

JulieSwarstadJohnson Julie Swarstad Johnson is the author of a poetry chapbook, Jumping the Pit. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Cimarron Review, Crab Orchard Review, Nimrod, Zone 3, and others. Her book reviews regularly appear at Harvard Review Online. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, where she works as a library assistant at the University of Arizona Poetry Center.

She Dreams about the Exodus

Best day ever, everyone sent home from work by lunchtime because of the ants. They poured out of the vents, dropped around the edges of the ceiling tiles. Glossy black with plastic-wrap wings. “Oh, but the West—will anyone want to live there in twenty years when the water’s run out?” Tell me about your thirst, and I’ll tell you about mine. We had been talking about high desert magic: the way light bleeds away at evening, the wind-lengthened lines of plants, the watercolor gradations of distance. Would I give it up? The ants ended up in drawers, in boxes of paper, behind every desk leg, in the corners of the lunch room. Nothing to do but wait for them to die, the mating swarm mobbing our vents by mistake, maybe drawn to the water pooled on our roof from the monsoon the night before.They’re looking for a damp place, the pest control people said. A new colony. The monsoons seemed changed when I moved back to Arizona. Less wind-borne dust. Less Biblical plague. When God told Moses and Aaron to turn the dust into gnats, what did the dust think? Nowhere damp to go, their shimmering little wings forgotten, every ant nearly dead by the time they poured down into our office. Afterward, I saw globules of ants churning above the sidewalk on muggy summer mornings, shape shifting like soap bubbles.Tell me about your thirst, and I’ll tell you about the ants. Someone vacuumed up the piles. Dark little granules of earth stuck in the overhead lights ever after. 


Faith, I might say, is mostly a choice,
but what I really mean is that I know Elk Creek

flows into other creeks, which then flow into
the Susquehanna River, then the Chesapeake Bay,

which I’ve never seen, so I can’t describe
first-hand the dwindling oyster beds I’ve read about,

although I can imagine the murky water, the oysters’
filtering suck slowed from a week to a year.

I might try to tell you about the coldness of the water
where we swam under the old train bridge across Elk Creek,

or the perfect wide flatness of the stones upstream
where we basked in the middle, together or alone,

or about the mud that got on my shoes when we left
or the poison ivy I avoided as we inched up the bank

and stopped on the bridge to look at the light
touching the boulders on top of the ridgeline,

but what I mean is that a snake swam past us
there in the water, and only one person noticed.

I go back there, to the sun and the wooden trestles,
to the good poems we read aloud then or soon after,

and I don’t imagine there’s anything more
to the creek than that stretch near Coburn,

that there might be anything better than our unknowing
choice to follow the one who saw the snake.