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Desire Breeds Expression

Desire Breeds

A poem by Allan Johnston

A chubby cuneiform, these sparrows,
changing configuration with arrival,
flight, arrival:

yet the message stays —
a face-to-face over crumbs.

In one simplification, this is nature.
The rich and the strong surrender nothing
if possible, and yet, here,
behind desire, the other:
a different, chirping message —

light breeds music.

For even the butterflies, silent to us,
fight for sunny patches,
fluttering up in their twirling spirals
throughout forests. Are they lost

in war or in a dance?
How do we know the difference?

Copyright 2006 by Allan Johnston


Allan JohnstonAllan writes:
The poem grew out of meditations on cuneiform as writing inspired by (of all things) the side of the Cook County Jail in downtown Chicago, where the narrow slabs of windows on the tall building made me think of Sumerian tablets. I also had watched pigeons fight for food near the Federal Building. Somehow, playing with images of cuneiform made me think of the imprint of birds' feet — hence sparrows — and how this itself becomes a type of expression of something — desire, whether for food, freedom, being. These images underlay the texture of the poem that eventually evolved. I can't remember if the actual poem generated spontaneously from such musings, or if I worked it somewhat first. I suspect the former.

Allan Johnston has published one book of poetry (Tasks of Survival, 1995), and his poems have appeared in more than sixty journals, including Poetry, Poetry East, The Modern Review, Rhino, Weber Studies, and Rattle. A recipient of an Illinois Arts Council fellowship in poetry, he currently teaches writing and literature at Columbia College and DePaul University, both in Chicago. Currently, he has two book manuscripts and one chapbook circulating. Allan can be reached via email at:

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