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By Devin Johnston

We gathered in a field southwest of town,

several hundred hauling coolers

and folding chairs along a gravel road

dry in August, two ruts of soft dust

that soaked into our clothes

and rose in plumes behind us.


By noon we could discern their massive coils

emerging from a bale of cloud,

scales scattering crescent dapples

through walnut fronds,

the light polarized, each leaf tip in focus.


As their bodies blotted out the sun,

the forest faded to silverpoint.

A current of cool air

extended from the bottomlands

an intimation of October,

and the bowl of sky deepened

its celestial archaeology.


Their tails, like banners of a vast army,

swept past Orion and his retinue

to sighs and scattered applause,

the faint wail of a child crying.

In half an hour they had passed on

in search of deep waters.


Before our company dispersed,

dust whirling in the wind,

we planned to meet again in seven years

for the next known migration.

Sunlight flashed on windshields


and caught along the riverbank

a cloudy, keeled scale

about the size of a dinner plate,

cool as blanc de Chine

in the heat of the afternoon.


Source: Poetry (May 2019)

  • Living
  • Mythology & Folklore

Poet Bio

Devin Johnston
Born in Canton, New York, Devin Johnston grew up in Winston-Salem and received his PhD from the University of Chicago. A former poetry editor for the Chicago Review from 1995-2000, Johnston co-founded and co-edits Flood Editions with Michael O’Leary. He lives in St. Louis and teaches at Saint Louis University. A lyric poet influenced by Yeats, Johnston whittles the lines of his poems, compressing imagery that is at once allusive and immediate.    See More By This Poet

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