These three poems by Arnie Johnston reflect his growing engagement with the process of entropy in the universe. “The Universe and All That Surrounds It” muses lightheartedly on the longer-term journey of the whole shebang. “Cataracts” focuses one’s own aging, while “Sonnet for our Grandchildren” regards the threat of Climate Change…
by: Arnie Johnston1
The Universe And All That Surrounds It
With apologies to the creators of Beyond the Fringe (Peter Cook, Dudley Moore,
Jonathan Miller, and Alan Bennett)
“Without consciousness, space and time are nothing.”
— Robert Lanza
I know I’m biocentric, but I’m not
Convinced the universe has been apprised
That its complexity depends on me.
I don’t know what’s out there, beyond the stars
Or down among neutrinos, only seen
By other biocentered folk who seem
To work in ignorance of my vital
Role in the whole shebang. Why should I care
What they’re up to, or the whirl of planets,
Quarks, black holes, fish, ants, blowflies, all the rest
Of what I’ve dreamed up solipsistically?
It’s certainly too much for me: I’m not
Aristotle, Archimedes, Newton,
Darwin, Einstein, Hawking, the gallery
Of rogues I’ve learned about, or concocted
From the stir of my own small nucleus.
Violet shifts, dopplering, all the strange
Attractors flesh is heir to. But I can’t
Deny the universe goes on, with or
Without my help. At least that’s how it seems
To me. I think we’ll likely fall into
The sun. But I’ll close on a cheerful note:
From my heart, I hope that will not happen.
And who’s to say it’s not all down to me?
Drinking coffee at the Howard Johnson’s
I overhear an old man behind me:
“I can’t see. A cataract intervenes.”
He says his eyepatch doesn’t interfere
With sleeping, that he doesn’t toss and turn
In bed, and that he always sleeps alone.
His woman companion commiserates.
He’s grateful for her company, he says.
She says nothing. I watch them when they leave,
Note his tweed jacket, her pastel blue suit,
Hear her say, “Your fly is open, buster.”
That happened almost forty years ago.
Around that time, a friend said to me that
Our orchestra’s Japanese-born maestro
Confided to him, “I have cataract.”
My friend said, “That’s too bad, Yoshi. Which eye?”
The maestro grinned. “Not in eye. Over there
In parking rot. Bland-new Eldorado.”
Yoshi enjoyed playing his ethnic card.
Now I’m probably older than the guy
In the Howard Johnson’s, with cataracts
Parked in both of my eyes. My doctor’s name
Sounds like an alias, though it isn’t,
And he’s teaching me about lens options,
And why they make for expensive choices.
He removed my wife’s cataracts last year.
I tell her my HoJo and maestro tales.
She says, “Forget Eldorados, buster.
You’ll be fine. Dr. Doe will intervene
With a laser. And I’ll make sure your fly
Is zipped up tightly. When it needs to be.”
Sonnet For Our Grandchildren
We calculate the fits and starts of spring,
Feeling hopeful, though we see no sunshine.
The climate’s change has not become a thing
The ignorant believe in; but in time
The seasons will assert themselves. Our hand
Wreaks havoc on the Earth; the Earth fights back.
And while we think its fate hangs by a strand,
It will erase our scarred and beaten track.
The sun will scorch with its indifferent brand,
And we’ll inherit our deserved tomorrow,
Our trunkless legs stuck in the restless sand,
Unless we shift to beg, steal, or borrow
The means we see before us to keep blue
The arching sky and save the living dew.
Arnold Johnston lives in Kalamazoo and South Haven, MI. His poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and translations have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies. A full-length poetry collection, Where We’re Going, Where We’ve Been, appeared in 2020 from FutureCycle Press; his latest project is a novel, Swept Away, forthcoming from Atmosphere Press. His other books include the following: poetry chapbooks Sonnets: Signs and Portents and What the Earth Taught Us; The Witching Voice: A Play about Robert Burns; Of Earth and Darkness: The Novels of William Golding; and The Witching Voice: A Novel from the Life of Robert Burns. His many English versions of Jacques Brel’s songs have appeared in numerous musical revues nationwide (including the acclaimed Chicago productions Jacques Brel: Songs of Love and War and Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night), and are also featured on his CD, Jacques Brel: I’m Here! His plays, and others written in collaboration with his wife, Deborah Ann Percy, have won over 200 productions, as well as awards and publication across the country and internationally; and they’ve written, co-written, edited, or translated some twenty books. From 2009-2012 they were joint Arts and Entertainment columnists for the award-winning national quarterly journal Phi Kappa Phi Forum. Arnie is a member of the Dramatists Guild, Poets & Writers, the Associated Writing Programs, and the American Literary Translators Association. He was chairman of the English Department (1997-2007) and taught creative writing for many years at Western Michigan University. He is now a full-time writer.
- Header art by Katie Moore. [↩]