Linnea Johnson

Books by Linnea Johnson for the Backwaters Press

Augury Augury

Author: Linnea Johnson
Format: Paperback, 104 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-935218-12-8
Published: November 2010

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Critical Praise for Augury

Conjured from hen scratches and devil’s tales, from family stories and ancestral songs, Linnea Johnson’s poems migrate
from a landscape of elegy to roost in the cliffs of lyric transformation. In musical lines that narrate both the natural
history of birds and their folklore, as well as her family history of Swedish immigration to the midwest, Johnson explores the darkness that leads to light. “It is flesh which remembers, bones which are/remembered. . .” Who would not believe her?
—Catherine Anderson

The poems are patently autobiographical, revealing a life of complex ups and downs, giving the reader a journey that seems to stop at every station between the lows of betrayal andabandonment, and the highs of complete erotic fulfillment. There is a remarkable ambition here, and even more remarkable accomplishment. Augury is broad in its concerns, both personal and metaphysical. The poems are honest and candid, beautifully
and variously crafted.
—James McGowan

Linnea Johnson’s poems are passionate in their hunger for knowledge, their quest to envision the immigrant past, their love of animals, and their love of love. They radiate the energy of a full life. Reading them makes everything—from mourning loved ones to revisiting fairy tales—more intense and alive.
—Adrienne Su

Read Ann E. Michael’s review of Augury at Rain Taxi

Poems from Augury

FREYA’S  RAVENS

They are not, I am told, Freya’s fortunetelling ravens, these chickens
on my father’s farm in Sweden. This summer I am ten and visiting, and I am,
Faster Karin says, to learn this, as well as to learn to stop talking with her chickens.

Older than Odin, Freya is leader of the Valkyrie, my father’s stories tell.
Odin borrowed, then stole, Freya’s prophetic raven; bartered some
and stole the rest of what he learned of magic and divine powers from Freya.

The birds who live on this farm are divinely sleek, iridescent black,
and they do seem to me prophetic. They do not wait until Christmas Eve midnight,
for instance, to prattle to me, to tell me how it is here on this ancient place
these years since the farm’s child—I am her  namesake—is dead,
the rye bitter as the orphaned father and mother who grow it still.

It is, Faster Karin thinks, the birds’ futures she foretells. If
they do not start laying eggs soon again, she says, her arms all leather red,
skin like butter wrapper paper, they will no longer be hens, but stew. Keep her, meaning
me, away from them, she instructs my father

then goes to add her tears to the vinegar in the filebunke, which is
gathering spores into its milky self for tomorrow’s pre-dawn breakfast.
She has seen me in the henhouse and suspects things about us, the birds and me.

This is not the side of my family who likes me best, these people
keeping ravens they think to be chickens, these people who will
neither listen to nor tell the old stories, who will talk to almost no one
about almost anything but past poor rye and old abiding bitterness.

My mother’s father’s sister, Ruth, gathers me up into her lap
like an egg into an apron, and calls me “Min lilla hona,” “My little hen,”
poaching me away to be her own fortunate daughter for an afternoon or two
of Swedish songs in her imaginary parlor at her bogy piano,
a voice like a boiling Jussi Bjorling, stories like spangled summer nights.

Tonight my father and I will watch Northern Lights blaze
at the edge of the Kattegat so near the old dark farm.
He will promise me a horse like Freya and the Valkyrie women ride.
He will tell me stories until I fall asleep like a raven on his shoulder.

What if these birds are not Freya’s ravens and are actually Karin’s chickens,
so what, my father will say. You know as well as I do
that ravens and chickens are just each other inside out.
If you learn anything else, he’ll say, fine, but don’t stop talking to chickens.

 

TRYING ON BEAR THINGS

Goldilocks is an old woman in the original 1834 story,
not the girl she is now, young at the threshold of change. If

in youth she is not capable of old wisdom, still,
she is about to come into her ability to know
as certainly as she is to enter the Bears’ house:

innocence into knowledge, that change of women
which first and deeply elicits fear in men

as age elicits, last and deeply, the loathing.

Perhaps it is because this first change comes around the time
of first bleeding that men imbue women’s blood

with magical power. Or, maybe

it is because women’s blood is power, life: garnet
incarnate, amulet kept in for creation, let for renewal.

Remember, once upon a time, it was men writing
tales, the cautionary tales, the warnings to women away
from curiosity, away from evolving innocence into knowledge,
from a trying on of bear things, away from

women knowing what the forest spirits eat,
seeing where the fetishes lie down to sleep,
studying what makes wisdom comfortable,
imagining what comprises the daily life of those capable
of alteration and change, of altering and changing.

Goldilocks, as a storygirl, ventures into secrets
and she is just old enough to begin to understand.
In the original, the storybears punish the oldstory old woman
for her curiosity: they impale her on a church spire, inspire her,
for getting into their secrets—what christians have always done
from story one to women with desire: the likes of such want women to
not know hairy spirits, agents of change, secrets of alteration.

Maybe Goldilocks is also Red Riding Hood,
a drenching period of menstruation causing the color of her robe,
her basket filled, perhaps, with secrets, or more blood:
her basket, her uterus—the hidden power,

the second heart, all bloody, too: the one men don’t have.
Red Riding Hood was, is, maybe, a shape-shifter, a bear-sark,
that fighter changing into a wolf, a bear. In preparation for battle.

I think: Fired
for attempting to unionize, Red changes into a hugely incisored wolf.
Injustice, as many-faceted as a fly eye, inspires Red to become an avenging bear spirit

those nights she does not have to drive her daughter to softball practice,
her son to Cub Scouts, or herself to any number of worthwhile meetings,
lectures, and dinners with friends: anyone can only do

so much. Maybe
the wolf at the end of that story is her grandmother
about to teach her red secrets from the inside out.

I have never believed that the bears or the wolves
in stories would hurt Goldilocks or Red Riding or me.

While I feared Robert Southey, the Brothers Grimm,
and the christian church who thought the stories, wrote the stories,
then relished mothers reading those stories to their girl children,

when I was Goldilocks, when I was Red Riding Hood,

the Three Bears were two womenbears raising a daughter
and then they adopted me: I could still sleep all winter
left undisturbed. While I loved the storyporridge,

really what we ate was what we gathered—no garden, no cooking,
a good thorough back scratch at tree trunk just the thing before naps.
With Grandmother I went willingly, falling into her stories
as malewriters had Red Riding Hood falling into the jaws
of the wolf in grandmother-clothing. Grandmother’s secrets

were less shape-shifting and spells and more Hannah Arendt and resistance
along with tales of wild nights and wild places: she whistled, hummed,
and sang like the wind, her ancient eyes a source of light and hope.

I will tell my daughters, my granddaughters, wolf stories and bear stories,
stories of change and blood, stories I have read and changed since I was young blood
innocent, and I will live until I am old with wisdom, stories in the folds of my robes and skin
and spirits.

If you are not a bear or wolf but can shape-shift into bear or wolf
to fight the dull, the incurious, the punishers, the christians, the impalers,
the adult male bears more likely to kill and eat cubs than they are to befriend them, us. I say:
gather possibility, hunt change. Eat berries. Howl and growl and tell stories.
Do not let the fearful silence you or keep you from trying on bear things
or stop you from learning what the spirits eat, or from knowing
where the fetishes lie down to nap, or from imagining
what makes those said to possess great wisdom
and knowledge comfortable. Study the dishes,

porridge, chairs, beds, tables, homes,
and daily lives of agents of alteration
and of great bloody red wolfy bare change.

 

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