Amanda Johnston earned a MFA in Creative Writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine, and serves on the Cave Canem Foundation board of directors. Johnston is the author of a full length collection, Another Way to Say Enter (Argus House Press, 2017), and two chapbooks, GUAP and Lock & Key. Her poetry and interviews have appeared in numerous online and print publications, among them, The Drunken Boat, New Literati, Pluck! and the anthologies, Small Batch, di-ver-city and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South. She is the recipient of multiple Artist Enrichment grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Christina Sergeyevna Award from the Austin International Poetry Festival. Johnston has served on the board of directors for the National Women’s Alliance, the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, and is a member of the Affrilachian Poets. She is the founder and executive director of Torch Literary Arts and co-founder of #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, a campaign that unites poets and allies to speak out against police violence.
BOWING IN THE CHURCH OF BEAUTY
Hymns are swinging low
from a cassette boom-box
pulsing between dusty bottles
of curl activator and ancient blow out kits
made new in the contemporary retro wave.
Worshippers return from Sunday service
to their respective houses of beauty
where baptized kinks become straight
and narrow as the good books decree.
Jet – Old Testament
Essence – New Testament
O – Queen Winfrey’s Version
These sistas sing and shout
a joyful noise louder than the whirring
hairdryers blowing a hot freeze
over stylish bouffant crowns.
Got to look good for the week’s worst
they say and God don’t like ugly.
I know. Not wanting to be rude
my wild atheist hair bows at the sink’s edge,
if not for salvation, at least congregation.
Published in The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South
We Named You Mercy
after Gwendolyn Brooks
I count the years after you,
know your would-be ages and remember
the sadness that consumed me with the
bitter sound of you, my almost-children.
Could not conceive in conceiving you
our muted heat and all that got
through heaven’s gate to become that
half-wing that was your soul. Was you.
I saw your face once and, yes, I did
kiss your cheeks and cry for your sweet not-
quite nose, not-quite lips. Would I get
another chance to see you if I held the knife? Cold, the
sterile taker’s tools, my hands, bloody and damp.
In the darkness, I felt your toes bloom small
petals against my ribs. Your closed eyes, pulps
of possibility. Did you see me? The one with
empty arms stretching to embrace a
a silhouette of you? A ghost with little
more than hope for history. Or
did I make that up to keep you with
me a little longer? Did you stay until the no
I set upon your body untangled itself from sprigs of hair
and released you from the softness that tethered you to the
love in our cold mercy? Quieted blues, your singers
whose band tucked away their baritone horns and
my chosen grief. How those little workers
of sadness gathered me up, my heart, that
splintered with your hard stop. I will never
know the joy to have handled
your urgent cries against my chest or thirst for the
almost milk that did not swell, but was light as air.
When My Daughter Wasn’t Assaulted
She shook with fear, or was it guilt,
at the officer’s unraised hand and smile.
How she leaned away, slowly, when he called
a tow truck instead of backup.
How her tears fled when he showed mercy
over rage for the couple on the side of the highway,
flat tire wasted against asphalt. She couldn’t help
but look at her white boyfriend pacing
along this strip of road and wonder, what if
this was a different part of Texas?
What if this hero was a different shade of power?
Would she be so lucky, or was it luck,
if the absence of a known pain
is just a heavy hand in repose?
Another Way to Say Enter (Argus House Press, 2017)
Guap (self-published, 2014) [chapbook]
Lock & Key (self-published, 2014) [chapbook]
The Caribbean Writer’s Canute A. Brodhurst Prize in Short Fiction
Winner, John Edgar Wideman Mircrostory Contest
First Place, Detroit Writers Guild Paul Laurence Dunbar Poetry Contest
First Place, Oakland University Ekphrasis Poetry Contest
Austin International Poetry Festival Christina Sergeyevna Award
Finalist, 2015 Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism