Three Studies of Solvents /

……….i. with prodigal son

After the long season
for squandering it all
in a distant country,
there may follow
an arduous journey

Approaching return,
cross-eyed with the effort
of owning yourself,
the threshold
only looks like an abyss,
but this step is no step at all.

The space is no longer space.
You dissolve, along with all the words
you might have used to describe this
—no, not experience.

Something comes to fruition,
and it isn’t you.

……….ii. with bridge

Your favorite character was always Time,
the fifth elemental substance
latent in all things.

You aimed to chronicle its flow,
detailing refractions of brilliance
on the river and its bridge,
one forever changing
as the other reached
toward permanence.

Noting symbols in the shadows
where one overlapped the other,
the river, the bridge, their people;
hope of construction and tragedy
of collapse, your continuance
watered an incomplete permanence
in concert with these forms,
the eye a chorus.

……….iii. with portraiture in the dark

do not look,
but see.

To resist the heat lamp’s patrolling glare,
its megaphonic demands,
in favor of a posture of leaning
the ear into touch calibrated
to whisper shivers of recognition,
from earned denial of easy access

with elegant strength, holding
substance so rich that it can be
only misunderstood by a glutton of light,
and still deflect an impulse to break
the pose of perfect opacity—to correct,
as the saying goes, by shedding
some light.

How else could you photograph sound?
Here the wise shine of dark surfaces, opening
a full-throated praise song to unknowns,
unnamed; here a deft grammar of mystery.

How much to be,
how much to be imagined
in these shadows?


Stacey C. Johnson writes and teaches in San Diego County. She is a graduate of the MFA program at San Diego State University and creator of The Unknowing Project. Her work appears in Oyster River Pages, Pacific Review, and Fiction International, as well as various other publications. Her poetry chapbook Flight Songs is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press (February 2024). You can find her at and on Twitter @StaceCJohnson.