When the Moon Is Full, the Trees Speak in Unison

Sara Eliza Johnson

Here's a lesson: If you leave a hole in the forest,leave a mouth open in pain, astonishment or grief,something will come to fill it, blood or baby teethor tiny snakes, the cries of lost children, sunlightlooking to bury itself when it's seen too much.We say we have seen too much, felt too much.We say our hands have severed and regrownso many times over we can't recognize them.Those who come here want us to love themas their mothers did not, but our hands shakelike roots in an earthquake whenever we tryto hold someone, even ourselves. We say our handsare the crooked mushrooms in radioactive water,or snake heads with their mouths sewn shut.We say our hands have no duty to beauty, that landwhere the wild go to die, where they've slaughteredall the wolves and wear their skins as coats.They've slaughtered all the wolves and sowe can no longer be gentle. If you come, our answerwill be a fist of wind that blooms behind your eyeand opens the darkness there from which youwere born, darkness you hoped had forgotten you,and you will feel its touch as the forest floorfeels all the shadows of the leaves at oncebefore, unable to bear the weight any longer,it caves into a sinkhole, the way your mouth openedto breathe when you first entered the world,or the way your mouth will open in your coffinfor the insects to nest inside it. The lesson iswe're never empty for long, though onemoment can destroy you, so best keep yourtongue between your teeth if you're going to golooking for something else to be.

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Sara Eliza Johnson’s first book, Bone Map (Milkweed Editions, 2014), was selected for the 2013 National Poetry Series. Her second book, Vapor, will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2022. Her poetry has appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Colarado Review, New England Review, Boston Review, Copper Nickel, Ninth Letter, Blackbird, Crazyhorse, Pleiades, the Best New Poets series, Salt Hill, Cincinnati Review, the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day program, among other venues. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, two Winter Fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and a residency from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Sara Eliza Johnson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

cover of virginia quarterly review

Winter 2021

Charlottesville, Virginia

University of Virginia

Paul Reyes

Publisher & Executive Editor
Allison Wright

Poetry Editor
Gregory Pardlo

From its inception in prohibition, through depression and war, in prosperity and peace, the Virginia Quarterly Review has been a haven—and home—for the best essayists, fiction writers, and poets, seeking contributors from every section of the United States and abroad. It has not limited itself to any special field. No topic has been alien: literary, public affairs, the arts, history, the economy. If it could be approached through essay or discussion, poetry or prose, VQR has covered it.

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