She had changed into things before.
A speck of stardust falling
into the waters, becoming
fishlike, uncoiling, big-eyed,
like the forms found in stone
at the tops of canyons.
She’d been the light as she’d seen it,
bright staring, staggering to her feet,
pulling apart from a mother.
She had changed from little girl
to big girl, from big girl to young woman.
Now everyone wanted her for her womb.
Even the gods, such as they were, looked down
from their cumulus bliss and were stirred.
Jarred. Made aware of something beautiful
they didn’t have. Apollo most of all.
The Big Man of the Elysian Fields,
he wasn’t used to a single piece
of real beauty outside of himself.
She liked him at first. She liked being so lovable
even the gods loved her. What a wonderful gift.
But then she couldn’t escape from it,
couldn’t be free of his incessant love-murmuring.
She would be so much, she would be his all,
she would be the ocean his river would find, etc.
She didn’t want to be those things.
She wanted to be who she was.
But even Apollo was a slave to time.
Each sun he dragged up
off the dark floor of the cosmos
was a little different than the sun
he had dragged up the day before.
So one day as he ran after her,
gushing his susurrus, she
(who had changed much from the girl
who had been flattered by his love)
fled and fled within the woods
and found her way to hide most deeply.
His soft palm found her soft, silk-covered haunches,
but even as his ardor grew, so did her bark.
From woman to tree, she became breathless,
her leafy face turned towards the light,
towards the clouds, which whitened
like marble before her, as she reached
most firmly into their brightness.
John Philip Johnson
John Philip Johnson has poetry recently published or forthcoming from such places as Rattle, Southern Poetry Review, Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium, and Ted Kooser’s newspaper column, “American Life in Poetry.” He reviews for Star*Line, and had poems come in second and fourth place in 2013’s Rhysling awards. He is currently working with illustrators on a collection of graphic poems.
Photo: Aubree Ross