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Amanda Johnston

Amanda Johnston earned a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine. She is the author of the poetry collection Another Way to Say Enter (Argus House Press, 2017). The recipient of multiple Artist Enrichment grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Christina Sergeyevna Award from the Austin International Poetry Festival, she is a member of the Affrilachian Poets and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. Johnston is a Stonecoast MFA faculty member at the University of Southern Maine, a cofounder of Black Poets Speak Out, and founding executive director of Torch Literary Arts. She serves on the Cave Canem Foundation board of directors and currently lives in Austin, Texas.

By This Poet

2

We Named You Mercy

             after Gwendolyn Brooks 
 
I count the years after you, 
know your would-be ages and remember
the sadness that consumed me with the 
bitter sound of you, my almost-children.
Could not conceive in conceiving you 
our muted heat and all that got 
through heaven’s gate to become that 
half-wing that was your soul. Was you. 
I saw your face once and, yes, I did 
kiss your cheeks and cry for your sweet not-
quite nose, not-quite lips. Would I get 
another chance to see you if I held the knife? Cold, the 
sterile taker’s tools, my hands, bloody and damp. 
In the darkness, I felt your toes bloom small 
petals against my ribs. Your closed eyes, pulps 
of possibility. Did you see me? The one with 
empty arms stretching to embrace a 
a silhouette of you? A ghost with little
more than hope for history. Or 
did I make that up to keep you with 
me a little longer? Did you stay until the no
I set upon your body untangled itself from sprigs of hair 
and released you from the softness that tethered you to the 
love in our cold mercy? Quieted blues, your singers
whose band tucked away their baritone horns and 
my chosen grief. How those little workers 
of sadness gathered me up, my heart, that 
splintered with your hard stop. I will never 
know the joy to have handled 
your urgent cries against my chest or thirst for the 
almost milk that did not swell, but was light as air. 
 

Facing US

            after Yusef Komunyakaa 
 
 
My black face fades,
hiding inside black smoke. 
I knew they'd use it,
dammit: tear gas. 
I'm grown. I'm fresh. 
Their clouded assumption eyes me
like a runaway, guilty as night,
chasing morning. I run
this way—the street lets me go. 
I turn that way—I'm inside 
the back of a police van
again, depending on my attitude
to be the difference. 
I run down the signs 
half-expecting to find
my name protesting in ink.
I touch the name Freddie Gray;
I see the beat cop's worn eyes. 
Names stretch across the people’s banner
but when they walk away 
the names fall from our lips. 
Paparazzi flash. Call it riot. 
The ground. A body on the ground. 
A white cop’s image hovers
over us, then his blank gaze 
looks through mine. I’m a broken window. 
He’s raised his right arm 
a gun in his hand. In the black smoke 
a drone tracking targets: 
No, a crow gasping for air.