The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Joan White

Prague Spring, 1968


Looks more like November –
a sky threatening with gray clouds,
moving East to West.
Oppressive air broken by cries
of a counterculture of crows,
thunder of Soviet tanks in the distance.
The Plastic People of the Universe
have laid down their guitars.
Demonstrators stand in front of
the statue of King Wenceslas—
the rider’s face obscured by the horse’s head.
Two others in clergy robes flank it.
The discontented form a line between them,
holding up a banner in a language
I don’t speak. But the message is clear.
They want what all men fear: change.

In the crowd, a small young woman stands
between two men, shoulders locked.
Her hands empty save for heart line and lifeline.
Heart line broken in two places,
lifeline skidding around the hand’s heel
escaping the thumb’s grasp.
She’s standing on tiptoes
straining to keep the horse’s head
in the cross hairs of her mind’s eye.
Longing for the rider’s face to come into view.
Longing for the horse to rear up,
tear off like a guitar riff.
As he passes, he’ll lean low,
lifting her to the saddle—
saving her from this history
for another.



Joan White

In the Beginning


there was the filament, a string
a double helix turning in on itself
reaching out of itself—
the universe
stitched together by a four-letter alphabet:
A, C, G, T.
Seeking an interpreter.

Is the world already made
or do we create it?
Here a tree.
There an apple.
My brother’s fall from that building.

A is for asylum—Italians lift
Eritreans, Sudanese, Afghans
from the Mediterranean.
A woman grips a broken bowl
she’s carried across the sea.

C is for children--52,000 breaching the border.

G is for genes—thousands each
carried by 200 million,
fleeing across continents.
They scuff a serpent’s trail
through the shifting desert sands.

T is for turning against your own.

We are one part tree, one part apple,
one part serpent.
Turn us inside out
and the filament
threads itself with light,
mending the fractured vessel.




JOAN WHITE lives in Vermont where she works as a fundraiser, raising awareness for people in poverty, and funds to support them in their efforts to build a better life for themselves and their families in challenging times. She has been published in Cider Press Review, Midwest Quarterly Review, NPR's On Being blog among others.



Previous  |  Next