Poem of the Week | August 11, 2009

This week we’re proud to feature“Charlie” by Kimberly Johnson; the poem is published in our current issue TMR 32:2 (2009).  Johnson is the author of two collections of poetry, Leviathan with a Hook and A Metaphorical God, as well as a verse translation of Virgil’sGeorgics. Recipient of grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Sewanee and the Utah Arts Council, Johnson has work recent or forthcoming in the New YorkerSlateIowa Review andModern Philology. Be sure to check out the audio recording of this poem available through the “Read this Poem” link below.

This selection is from a twenty-six-page unlineated poem called ‘Siege Psalter,’ each section of which takes its title from a letter of the military alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, etc.). The poem represents an extended petition/complaint addressed to an absent figure who is simultaneously God and a former beloved. The poem’s epigraph is from George Herbert’s poem “Prayer (I),” in which he acknowledges the combative nature of prayer by calling it an “Engine against the Almighty.”


A new song.  A carol, say, to constancy — not the Northstar’s stubborn
pivot, boring nightlong through the pole, but the modest steadfastness of
the Big Dipper. Draw a line across its basin, star to star and then beyond
the constellation till you find, near-invisible, true North.  Selfless gesture,
at every hour to point and point away to some obscure and ever-fixèd
mark, to be prized for pure devotion,for how it bears the gaze away . . .
Isn’t that how it is, in love as in war: someone gets to pull the wagon, and
someone, girding his smallness in glittering mail, gets to be Charlemagne.