Halvard Johnson: Transparencies and Projections

Copyright © 1969 by Halvard Johnson

For permission to reprint contact the author at halvard@gmail.com.


Theme and Variations
The Horse on the Hill
Moving Out
Dead Man's Float
Touch Stone
Things Make Funny Pictures

In Retrospect
The Complex
In Summer Wind
And Then
Slow Motion
From the Lakes
Only This
A Dark Door


"a sunlit unity,
desperately sought."

-Keith Wilson

For Barbara

this was
what it was,
till at night
it was dark in quiet rain

a measured step
in a dark place,
breathing, regular as footfalls
beneath the overhanging rock

sometimes, driving on the highway
between one valley town & another,
i will see old women in black
scratching the dust with sticks,
or a man walking beside the road,
followed by an ancient dog
that trots across his path
& glances up, eyes glazed

in the falling particles of light
the sudden sound of water flowing
over rocks, around, beneath
the roots of trees
in dark pools
at our feet

these walls need
not contain us

there is a door,
see, there are trees

beyond, I will
take your hand

if you are afraid

i like to think of my blood
sailing with Erikson
through the long and cold Atlantic night
having turned West
not in flight
but in casual exploration,
raising the green land at morning
foraging the sparsely peopled shore
and pushing West against the wind again.

we live
on the surface
of our skins

water sliding
in between,
the window

in our shower
open, neighbors
looking in

not looking in,
it hardly matters,
your breasts

slip from my hands,
we love
beneath the surface

of our skins,
in time & under
water, we

& sink
& swim

destroyed, she said her
heart had been destroyed;
the word came from her mouth
as from an old, yellow-paged novel.

a trace of honeysuckle.

                         weeds, growing in the rooms of an old house,
                         razed to the ground.


                         rooms, imagined, open to all weather.
                         secrets withering in the foreign air.

suddenly it opens
the whole damn thing

            a woman

i had never thought
of wanting, never

             in the sudden down

waiting, as though
it had been always

the fist, hard as rock
against my wish
from my fingertips

Theme and Variations

for Barbara
you are loved
trees in city streets
when not in clumps or rows
stand singly
shedding their leaves
on sidewalks
feet seen through
a basement window
moving up
or down a street
sometimes pausing
as though uncertain
of where they are going
or where they are
the uncertain traveler
moves through a landscape
in circles like leaves
rolling up the valley
sunday afternoon
each thing we look at
single and itself --

a single boll of cotton in a field
a splash of river in the sun

& all things moving
singly & together
you are loved
& not alone:
the cottonwoods, yellow
by the river
are with you,
cool & clear
october air
is with you
cool & clear
& at night
on the mountain over the city
i said some words to you
i had not thought to say
& feeling you tremble, knew
more than a name for you, Barbara

The Horse on the Hill
this was the time
he'd had enough --
                                        cold rooms &
                                        empty arguments
speaking, as though to a shadow

he wanted to give it to strangers,
cripples & misfits
collected from
all-night cafes

high above the house
he knew it was waiting
pawing the ground, tail to the wind

Moving Out

for Keith & Heloise Wilson
saying goodby
is no trouble:

a house is a skin
to be shucked

wriggled out of
room by room

closet by closet
until what remains

is piles of boxes,
a few empty hangers,

a heap of debris
on the kitchen floor

which never seemed so wide,
a neighbor's dog

who come to say goodby
from a respectable distance.

a desolation of friends
parting in the early evening,
dry voices under a closing sky.
she turns
to him, the one remaining, watches him
watching the other, moving away. her hand
at his sleeve, reminding and warning.

there will be times in the changing light
we cannot see each other's faces.


who depart
are always

and i
am the one
who stays
nights i go to the school
i make marks with chalk
on the green blackboard

say words
of a certain order
and consistency

at 10:00 i go home
take off my tie
say nothing

stroke the cats
the moon
high the
& throws
it back
walking with you
on the ditch-bank

                                    warm october air
                                    starting to turn

sad to think
one day we may walk here
pretending to be lovers once again

when the wind died

the rain fell straight.
when the rain ceased to fall

and we could no longer smell
creosote in the air, the other

odors returned. sweat and piss
and decay. the stench of dying

angels on the grass.

Dead Man's Float
milwaukee, wisconsin. sometime
near the beginning of the war.
a 4th of july parade, amid news
paper reports of bodies found
dismembered, dumped in trashcans
along the lake michigan beaches.

        we decorate our tricycles
        with fireproof red white & blue
        streamers. we pump along the route,
        waving our flags, grinning
        at patriot parents. later

that summer i fell in a lake
& survived. my too-old-for-the-war
uncle began to teach me to swim.
arms out. legs out. face
in the water, holding my breath:
learning to live, practicing death.

Touch Stone
feel it
ing at

your finger
tip, feel
the stress

line run-
ning from
its heart

to yours

the comfort i had expected
came to nothing

a hard dream, green
walls, black sea

the last wish for
an angel . . .


Things Make Funny Pictures

for Jim & Jolene Theis

we stood there,
figures in a landscape of our own imagining
wondering when to begin
                                                 probing our resources,
the uncertain foundations of our knowledge
& seeking to distinguish
what was ours
                              from the universal
underground rivers
                                     gave us sustenance
though we in no way sought it
& the room in which we sat
was floating free in the blackness of space
& us tourists at the windows, taking snapshots
fully expecting them to yield images
perfect & holy


you cannot dream
you are something
inanimate, he was told

but he dreamt, he
dreamt he was a stone
lying at the bottom
of a clear, cold, swiftly-flowing stream

& someone kneeling on the bank
picked him up, put him in his pocket, & carried him away

to a small town,
took him out of his pocket
polished him tenderly with a soft cloth
threw him through a window of a small house

where, on a living room carpet,
he was suddenly at home
there were things he could speak of
to no one
& having no confessor
he would write them in narrow-lined notebooks,
locking them first in a drawer of his desk,
then piling them on a closet shelf,
burning them finally & stirring the ashes with a stick

one night, on a bus to Montreal,
he unburdened himself to the wife of a man he didn't know,
who listened in the darkness
& carried it away
with her

(beginning with a line by Edward Dorn)
there is no warning, you won't recognize anyone,
the walls of their rooms will be bare
their floors, uncarpeted

if you look into their eyes
they will stare blankly into yours
until you turn away

& when you leave, if you leave
they will not say goodby
or warn you of where you are going
she knew the habits of his mind,
how in the basest of cities
he would prowl the streets

looking for god knows what
or avoiding . . .
                         would it be her?
& coming back to her
after three days once
spending his time
with who knows what seedy friends
in Lexington Avenue bars

coming back to her
without apologies
without, it seemed,
regret at having to come back

but only to be gone again someday
it was cold, he felt
that his flesh was rotting

the notion trembled
on the brink of war

yesterday's newspaper
lined his shoes

& the little boy
his hand in his mother's --

                   who is that funny man,
                   why is he on our side of the street
what she feared was a life
among strangers, among
those whose hearts
are unreadable in their faces,
those whose eyes say
you are not one of us
you are not from here
you are alien, foreign
even that you are
is doubtful
he liked to pretend
he was somebody else,
go up to a girl in the bus station

strike up a conversation,
buy her a beer, or a cup of coffee,
telling her he was a rich Texas oilman

maneuvering her to a nearby hotel,
listening to her life story
getting her to bed

before she wakes up,
not for a moment believing
she was who she said she was
no good, their trying for it,
they made love quietly
out of old habit

sometimes so close to
something, of which they dared
not speak to each other
so close
they could nearly
touch it --
having spoken, he would now remain silent
give them time to digest his remarks
& act upon them

if they chose not to . . . well,
that was their business

no fault of his
if they, through their own blindness
& stupidity, brought disaster upon all their heads

                                       give a fool his head
                                       & you give him nothing
the female animal-tamer
reclining on leopard-skin pillows
surrounded by an all-male, animal cast

                       the problem, he finds, is achieving
                       incident, without detracting
                       at the same time from the central voluptuary

teeth bared, breasts prominent, hips
curving toward oblivion
                                     whip in her hand

(beginning with a line by Robert Creeley)
into that consequence
of dreams
he had not knowingly

under the darkest
of moons,

to know
but the end

of it,
it was no night for me,
no night for walking streets, waking dogs
who always wake & bark at people walking
late at night it seems
no night for
looking for the window of a certain girl
more beautiful than any, a girl
who undresses for bed & stands
each night, in the light at her window
offering herself to the eyes of the first passer-by,
turning her lights off & slipping into bed
a fraction ahead of my lurching around the corner
just between us --
she doesn't understand me,
never has
                seems to want
a father, not a man
                              turns away
whenever we're in bed

so, you know, a little trip to Juarez
now & then
                    understand me,
it's not that I don't love her

she'd never understand
hearing him say it -- i love you,
two days in the country
an abandoned farm he knew about

the long bus ride
& him at the end of it,

awaking naked
hay in her hair
nipples erect in the cold sun

it seemed she had only dreamed it
& country was far away
between the beginning of it
& now, so much time
had passed he had forgotten
the purpose of it
                                                     the persistent anger
                                                     he wore each day
                                                     like a garment
there were times he could be caught out of it,
be caught in a smile
or a broken laugh

someone would point, & he
would put it on again,
feeling his nakedness
tonight he finds her unyielding,
remote & hard, not coy
                              you only
love me for my body, is what she says

which is the truth, but he
won't tell her that yet
coming across trees
parched & angry
deciding that she
deserves whatever happens
to her now, finding
water in the shadow --
to sleep then & wake
                                             conscious perhaps
                                             that some things were
                                             not as bad as they'd seemed

relaxing, forgetting
shooting a rabbit for supper
it was something about the shoes,
the way they pinched when she walked,
that brought her back

he fetched another pair from the rack
at the back of the store,
slipped one on

holding her right ankle in his left hand
wanting never to let go,
but letting go & never

seeing her again
the walk through the fields
they had looked forward to,
she in her way, he in his

at a certain point
he would take her hand
& lead her to a grassy spot

where they undressed, lay down, made love,
as they had each summer of their life together,
she, watching the clouds float

thinking --
things like this
should have their own & proper names
this full-grown, clown of a man
walking out with her
on the beach every day

telling her jokes
picking up colored stones
& showing them to her

did he like to pretend
he was her father

he liked to watch her
from the corners of his eyes

                      the half-inch of white flesh
                      at the edge of her bikini,
                      the gentle curve of her breasts

at the door of her room
he would have liked to touch her

she seemed suddenly angry

did she like to pretend
he was her father
something about the doctor's eyes,
a shiftiness perhaps, unsettled her
causing her to pause
in the ritual disrobing;
the window there was nothing
until, below, in the street, a bustle of traffic

he felt her recoil from the cold
of the stethoscope, he thought
she had called him by his christian name,
which was Charles

there were times that he wanted to kill himself
at times it seemed to him
that consciousness was all
there was to it, that nothing
further was called for

in such moments he would take pleasure
in recalling to his fingers
the feel of a knife
slicing into flesh

forgetting the feel of his flesh
straining toward the knife,
as though darkness
was all that was called for
the thing was white,
it had white eyes, white claws,
white hairy armpits

the sky & ground were winter white
as the thing crept toward him over the snow
slowly, flashing the whitest of teeth,
whistling whitely under its breath
during the night,
yells & screams, occasionally
the sound of someone running through the street

there was the knocking at the door, & then
he fell asleep, dreamt of a girl
he had known in another war

in the morning he arose & opened his door,
they were hauling away the dead bodies
hauling away the dead bodies
hauling him away
her two legs
passing each other with each step,
breasts, bouncing slightly

slightly smiling
at men who will never
possess her, their fond eyes

& instantly knowing
the sharp, bright eyes
that do not turn

(beginning with a line by LeRoi Jones)
in the image of themselves, to be
uncovered, shown for what they are
& never let to sleep without the dream
made for themselves

to be opened, as with knives,
their innards read for futures,
projected on the walls of a cell

sickening & dying
he spoke to her quietly
in a nickels & dimes sort of way
but touched
on the prospects before them,
hinting at problems
she was unconscious of,

                       she standing in their back door,
                       watching the sun set behind the mountain

thinking how lovely
it was in the evening there
after new year's,
back in the office,
telling them how it

had been, how he
had met her in
Times Square, at

midnight, as the ball
was falling, & buying
her a drink, taking

her home with him,
she, lightly laughing,
waving a hand, how

in the darkness she
bloomed, a pale rose,
opening, in the early

hours of the year,
accepting him, taking
him into her, & he

seeing in their eyes now,
they didn't see it
like it was
Bill & Joey were friends, they sat
next to each other in school,
read the same books, talked to
the same pretty girls, who couldn't
talk about either of them without
mentioning the other in the some breath,
the some breathless way

when school was over, Joey or Bill would say --
walk me home & then I'll walk you home

so, together they'd walk the sidewalks
between their two houses & all the girls
would envy each of them
in Juarez
one Pedro Morales, a civil servant
roams the streets, throwing poisoned meat
to the dogs, flinging
their deflated carcasses
onto the back of his truck

farther south
the Federales burn marijuana patches
& poppy fields

in many parts of the world
men stoop to the doors of ovens & furnaces
banking the coals, faces the color of fire

Pedro Morales watches
the burning of his dogs, the firing
of the oven, the flaming village

behind him
his shadow
takes on heroic proportions


In Retrospect
it was never like that,
our memories play tricks on us
in this place

the day you burned your hand, remember?
almost like any other but for that
& yet it seems less ordinary

* * *

but what does ordinary mean, when we speak
of the days of our lives
the living of our days

                            there were places that we liked,
                            the walks along the river, high
                            mountain lakes

                            people would come and go,
                            & we would like
                            many of them

rarely, a walk in the rain

* * *

looking back, we see it, see the peaks
& valleys of it, but without
the passion, the exertion of it

this place is another world & we
look out through the window of it
on the other, where we were, lifeless

The Complex

several moments of silence
& then the beginning:

               a hand raised
               & frozen
               in a gesture

which may have been
three days of rain-swept streets & sidewalks
people neither coming in nor going out

our meals brought in to us on trays
thunderclaps rattling the cups in their saucers
rumors of history
a blinding flash of light
the radios all silent now

too late for love, she says
& reaches for the sugar

In Summer Wind

the dead bird rises,
              the dead girl walks by the river

her breasts,
                                  her face
              more radiant than in life
& likewise here,
the living will walk among the dead & the unborn

    & their glances,
                         their curses,
from another time
                         which is the same time,
    shall fall
heavily upon our shoulders

And Then
the rear guard was massacred
under the eyes of the silent, yellow flowers

a bird
flew straight to the cottonwoods

                                         look                 come
                                         hear                 feel

                   october rocks the mind

Slow Motion
did something move,
was there a word
i didn't hear

                                 the sagebrush has come
                                 into flower
                       was there

From the Lakes
these same small birds
this rough-hewn wood
these figures carved in weathered stone

                                    it is unknown
                                    whether those
                                    living in this forest
                                    are priests or gods

             the man who lives in the cottage by the river
             claims that the forest is uninhabited,
             he worships the thunderer
             & the three mothers

* * *

                                   through the door we heard music
                                   though no one answered when we knocked

                                   looking through the windows told us little
                                   about the inhabitants of the place

                                   the kitchen was a clutter of utensils
                                   a fire was burning in the den

                                   a white, blue-eyed cat slept on the neatly-made bed
                                   the dog slept near the door, the bird on its perch

                                   there was no one there, we saw this
                                   & went back into the trees

* * *

riverman came from the lakes where the big stones are,
came here looking for people, looking for women

             riverman found two girls, abandoned in the woods,
             took them home, blonde, blue-eyed girls

                          riverman took his pleasure with them, took
                          his ax then, chopped them down

                                   a fire burning, at the mouth of his cave,
                                   this happened many times, fire burning many times

by the river
perfectly reflected
cottonwoods cottonwoods
reflected perfectly
by the river

Only This
a small sky, red shadows
opening the mountains
to the turning wind

a girl moving leaves
with a small foot


when i first spoke
it was in a park
it was almost sundown
i was hungry, i said to
she seemed to have heard
but turned
                                        her eyes followed the sun
                                        i said i hadn't slept
for three days
hadn't even closed my eyes

putting a finger to her lips, she smiled
& called me to her
with a sweet charity
i hadn't known
was in her nature

* * *

                         only the utmost restraint
prevented my rushing forth
to kill both of them
                             the two of them
wallowing in the grass
she, taking his cock in her mouth
like a common whore
                                 sucking it
until he came, shot his seed
into her throat
his people were a proud & ancient race,
they would never let a crime
against their house & name
pass unavenged

it was through the gray, slanting rain
they rode out, fifty strong,
armed to the teeth

the hooves of their horses
made sucking sounds
in the wet ground

three days later the women
saw them return: bloody,

* * *

the young boy watched himself
moving over the meadow to her

                      country girl,
                      sitting under a tree

                                  waiting for him
                      or another
for Drum Hadley

they were in this place where the land
stretched level for miles,
unbroken but for the raised stones,
an occasional prefabricated house,
a television tower blinking off & on

they were in love, riding along in
a second-hand car; there was something
in the air that made them expect
to see the sea come up over the horizon

the horizon came & went, another
took its placeno sea;
more stones, another grubby cottage

one country out of
many that they didn't know

A Dark Door

this is the place of torments,
the place where all things come together

this is the place of pleasure,
where all things come together
listen to what she said:

                            in the dark angles & secret places
                            of this room, where sea-wail can be heard
                            through chinks in the stone

                            in the deepest shadows of the night,
                            by the dripping walls

                            you may stretch forth your hand
                            & receive everything

This book was manufactured in the United States for New Rivers Press, P.O. box 578, Cathedral Station, New York, New York 10025
by Garrett Litho, inc. of New York in a first edition of 500 copies.

HALVARD JOHNSON was born in 1936 in Newburgh, New York. He spent his early life in various places up and down the Hudson valley, and since then has lived in the mid and southwest and most recently in Puerto Rico, where he teaches at the Colegio Regionel de Cayey. This is his first book of poetry, though he has published widely in little magazines.

LEONEL GONGORA was born in Cartago, Columbia and came to the United States in 1952. He has traveled extensively in Europe, and in 1960 went to Mexico where he has played an important part in the new movement in Mexican painting. He has participated in many national and international shows and is a founding member of the salon independiente of Mexico City. In 1969 he was a winner of an American Academy of Arts and Letters award. He presently teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Some of these poems have appeared Potpourri, The Poetry Bag, El Corno Emplumado, Monks Pond, Ahora, The Ninth Circle, Arx, Tolar Creek Syndicate, New American & Canadian Poetry, Sou'wester, Gnosis, and Grande Ronde Review.

Artwork by Leonel Gongora:
cover: "la vagina del mar" (l966 - oil, for expo 1967
frontispiece: "la condicion del ser tiene 500 anos" (1965) - oil, collection m. Obregon, Mexico
facing page 9: "rostro" (l965) - oil
facing page 19: "silence that covers up secrets" (1963) - drawing (ink and acrylics), collection dr. 1. salk facing page 27: "mujer flor" (l967) - drawing (inks) from series "el amor y la violencia"
facing page 33: "leccion de historia personal" (1965) - oil and collage
facing page 38: "la castidad rasgada" (1966) - oil and acrylic, for expo 1967
facing page 42: drawing (ink) from series "el amor y la violencia" (1967)
facing page 45: drawing from series "virgenes de cartago" (1963)
facing page 51: "pareja" (l968) - drawing (pencil)
facing page 51: drawing (ink) from series "el amor g la violencia" (1967)
facing page 60: detail from painting "sartre refuses the nobel prize"

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