back toJacket2
AT icon

This piece is about 5 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Paul Foster Johnson and Jacket magazine 2010.
See our [»»] Copyright notice.
The Internet address of this page is

Back to the A Tonalist feature Contents list

A Tonalist Poetry Feature

Paul Foster Johnson

Seven poems

Bronx Safe Room / Reversible Destiny Panic Room / Palace of Youth / Underground World Home / Folk Education / Lapidary / Palace of Arts

Bronx Safe Room

Poverty obliges
a Bronx full of battlements.

Either the crystal city dispersed
or stayed fierce and polygonal
but probably dispersed
into apocalyptic slums.

Racing to the city
lent illusory plenitude
excitement with no object.

When I engaged my mother in my diagnosis
her words radiated mystery.

I may have synaesthesia
or a memoir eroded by stress
into so many pixels.

Crosscurrents of consumer desire
in the Harlem River
stoked from a distance.

Reversible Destiny Panic Room

                      for Stacy Szymaszek

We hold strong convictions
and collage them with homosexual graffiti
at comfort stations.
All examples are proprietary.

To cope with information scarcity
we visit an island
as husband and wife and also siblings
interlocking for warmth.

We funnel the good through the bad
suck out the sound
because it is important to do things
that are already done in our name.

You put your whole self in
telegraphing perversion at work. They who deprive us of sleep
embargo rooms until “room” becomes a noumenal
“interior of van” upholstered to anticipate clawing.

Cooing at the mention
of a proper name
telegraphs an aroused state activating
pleasant vacant dogma.

In a drearily appointed living room
the shells and nests
of a future containing the past
await perforation.

Palace of Youth

I was enthralled to
a cadre of guys for
whom Beckett was
an ideal father up
in their voids. My
favorite said she was
a lone wolf. I
saw her examine
the ground outside
then break into
a run. She could
not not not stop
adjusting herself
when chucked into
the force field.

Underground World Home

The treatment milieu is lush

soft earth strewn
with crutches left as testimonials.

A lack of commitment
has kept me from following suit.

I move through the narrowest
of openings and plunder

a bicycle. I come as a stranger
over a wall and find myself

among the setpieces of a travesty.
Behind the scenes

I shimmy
toward a ruthless criticism of everything existing

uproarious but no longer available.

Folk Education

Their singer suffered breakdowns and in their work
there was a sense of what it was to live there at that time.
There was one describing the dark around the military
vehicles between them and the cocaine waiting
in Gramercy. It was about the sepsis that followed love
or love repeated as farce, the neck neck neck
damaged by an anonymous hand unstringing guitars.
They got away with it and worked to abolish youth
by knitting and paying half-attention. I thought I was
in love because my sentiments were matched
by a generic, abiding sense of unfreedom. Nothing
survives lovers descrying the red flags of old flames.
Nothing is more relatable than an unreasonable person
operating subtractively, indulgently, out of exasperation.


When spirituality has recourse to cartoons, Christ
appears in German underwear or a dishdasha. This
does not not not cry out for examination since I have
turned to shamanic practice for empowerment.
Exhaustion could be better so I bear down on
your book of daily negations when I am among
the headless, surrounded by khaki. Shifting, I try
to nail nail nail the right carriage for the new maladies
of the soul. She says they must be broken in
as she inducts me into the chamber of wonders.
Oh the room is immaculate. She said it would be
a horn of plenty and it’s more like the obelisk
of everything existing. When I need need need more I
just point to what I want with this goatlike extremity.

Palace of Arts

In condemning Mount Parnassus as a sick joke
I am bad, dissolute, literally dissolved, unwilling
to be seduced by curatorial prowess, by rows
of bushes appearing as ground-glass opacities
in the lungs of the dead space. My bad unblocked
approach overruns it. I thought it was impenetrable
and should have known it was not not not from what
it exuded. I.e., the surrounding sky aflame with truth
receding to invisibility. Once in the booth I look out
through a one-way glass. The space was killed
by the lack of spontaneity of you-know-who.
His hidebound vision could not not not foresee
our being thwacked by hanging wires, our being
scarred for life in disassembled exhibition halls.

Paul Foster Johnson

Paul Foster Johnson

Paul Foster Johnson’s first collection of poetry, Refrains/Unworkings, was published by Apostrophe Books, and his second, Study in Pavilions and Safe Rooms, will be published by Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs. With E. Tracy Grinnell, he is the author of the g-o-n-g press chapbook Quadriga. His poems have appeared in The Awl, Cannot Exist, GAM, EOAGH, Fence, and Octopus. From 2003 to 2006, he curated the Experiments and Disorders reading series at Dixon Place. He is an editor at Litmus Press and lives in New York.

Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that all material in Jacket magazine is copyright © Jacket magazine and the individual authors and copyright owners 1997–2010; it is made available here without charge for personal use only, and it may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.