Revisiting Issue 52 – “Night Swimming” by L.A. Johnson

Night Swimming

At midnight, the ocean shakes and knives
            drop in the water. Little floods roil
this holy strip of mirrored coastline.
            We come cleanly to the shore, naked.
Our clothes abandoned, the linen
            blooms into soft white flowers.
Briny glass, the water washes over me,
            chill ceremony to my throat.
I dogpaddle to him, wanting to touch his hands. Once,
            I spent all day lying in a field
of clover, sprawled among the green
            with closed eyes. The air thrilled
through my chest like an avalanche
            of words whispered over the telephone.
I waited for something to happen,
            for a hoped-for stranger
to appear from elsewhere and lie
            next to me, lean and tall.
Instead, I listened to the clear floating
            of bees, how they clung and trembled
against each stem and powdery stamen,
            desirous of nothing outside
of their paradise of pollen. Tonight,
            we are two swimmers. A pair
of twins in this mirrorbox of vapor
            and liquid, your leg becomes my leg
kicking off nibbling minnows.
            In the dark, I confuse my lips for yours,
somehow separate but swimming toward you,
            both of us in brilliant, blue motion.
The sea breaks into forbidden laughter, my teeth
            crack in the chill. Our bodies
bend in the division between ocean and sky,
            while all that hungers hums underneath.
Mind blank, tongue curling, suddenly
            I am held within your voice. The water
quiet, we dream of a different shoreline
            where stars rain down on us
our faces upward with awe. Invitation to cascade,
            the bright world flashes
out. We spill into each other
            with freedom, float beyond, drift
only far enough away that we can swim back.

L.A. Johnson is from California. She is the author of the chapbook Little Climates (Bull City Press, 2017). She is currently pursuing her PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California, where she is a Middleton Fellow. The winner of the 2022 Poetry Prize from the Mississippi Review, the 2022 Robert Watson Poetry Prize from the Greensboro Review, the 2021 Rumi Prize in Poetry from Arts & Letters, her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in the American Poetry Review, Poetry Magazine, the Southern Review, ZYZZYVA, and other journals. Find her online at http://