Topanga Fossil Bed
Up canyon, at a right
bend of road, the cut side
of a hill is spilling out.
across asphalt, old mud,
rock so soft fingers snap it.
It’s a Miocene formation.
For some reason — maybe a pocket
of depression – it stopped here.
These are shells. Look at them.
They could grace restaurant plates,
be products of factories –
clams and turritella,
ornate ovals and sea spikes,
pebble-smooth, each grained
like the other. Turritella,
spiral snail shells
seem magic dinosaur teeth
to the child, soft brown
and orange, a scent of canyons
caught in them. This is an alphabet
of a past. Slowly fossils
have started cascading
on the road cut through this canyon
during the Depression.
Gradually they are moving
away from cliff and hill
once again toward the sea,
tumbling to join fine silts
and younger cousins.
I’ve got time on my hands
It moves around like a small animal
It creeps into cracks where knuckles have played
against the wall — “knuckled in” as they say
with a watch on the Rhein or any river
we might call life
We twist its knob
to keep it going
but it does so anyway
It refuses to be
a Mobius strip
Time is on my side
having crawled up my arm
and twisted to the left
in the general direction
the nerve shock
from a heart attack takes
when it announces itself to the angels
By the electric pulse it repeatedly sends
to the constellations time announces
itself an idiot
though It is also
what teaches all
the waking of things
It is fortuitous
it fills the circuitry in the head
It wants to escape but that old skull
just keeps on rolling along to the tune
of “Old Man River” and other greatest hits
time itself being
the greatest hit
Cracked Crab: For the Union
. November 4, 2008
Nearly sixty, the first time I ate
crab legs in the shell.
They gave me tools—
a cross of spoon and toothpick,
pliers with nutcracker surfaces.
I had no skill, orange crab legs
slipped from hands like slimy twigs.
Anyway, the food was bad—
greasy vegetables, rewarmed fries;
not the place to celebrate,
despite the large and radiant fish
swimming beneath fluorescent lights
through the branching corals.
in the November
away from the polling place
to celebrate the vote we’d cast,
and as we ate
watched on the screens
as the states
flicked on and off,
bright as fish,
red, then blue,
as the tense, lovely night
stalled, then grew,
and Grant Park filled.
A first time for crab,
a night of firsts.
the parking-lot aquarium
described in the poem by Robert Lowell
about the Boston Commons monument
to Colonel Shaw and his men
and watched the blessèd bubble break.
After a poem by James Wright
“How is the moment to remember
bound to the touch that was craved so long?
What will be done with the dying ember?”
— This is the point of song.
“Will you be kind to all who listen
though other music fills their ears?
Will you embrace the right compassion?”
— This is the point of fears.
“One does not get the gist in direction
of this singing. Will you exact
elaborations in the confession?”
— This is the point of fact.
“All in all, then, to confuse us
with revelation, do you devise
a tone, tremble, or touch to use us?”
— This is the point of lies.
Allan Johnston earned his M.A. in Creative Writing and his Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Davis. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Poetry East, Rattle, Rhino, and other journals. He is the author of two full-length poetry collections (Tasks of Survival, 1996; In a Window, 2018) and three chapbooks (Northport, Departures, and Contingencies)