Melissa Fite Johnson



Melissa Johnson



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Melissa Fite Johnson, a high school English teacher, received her Master’s in English literature from Pittsburg State University.  Her poetry has appeared in several publications, including I-70 Review, The Little Balkans Review, The New Verse News, velvet-tail, Inscape Magazine, Cave Region Review, The Invisible Bear, HomeWords: A Project of the Kansas Poet Laureate, Kansas Time + Place, Broadsided Press: 2014 Haiku Year in Review, Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, and To the Stars through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices.


In 2015, Little Balkans Press published her first book of poetry, While the Kettle’s On.  Melissa and her husband, Marc, live in Pittsburg with their dog and several chickens.  For more information, please visit www.melissafitejohnson.com







The Dead

I wished dead the girl who told me

in third grade I was adopted.  I’d believed her

over my dad.  Four years later,

her family’s car ran a stop sign

and a semi blew into their backseat. 


I picture her at a table with my father,

a new Adam’s apple plugging

the hole cancer made.  They don’t talk

about the town.  They don’t talk about me. 

The dead don’t remember. 


I like to think he has a dreamlike idea of me,

and she of her father.  At the table,

she pours tea.  He tucks

the lace cloth into his shirt.  They’re together

because isn’t that nicer than sitting alone.   


Emily Dickinson in 2012



The DVR is at capacity again, this time

due to a Jane Austen marathon. 

I like Alan Rickman’s

Colonel Brandon, the way he

carries a dripping wet Kate Winslet

to safety.  Some nights

I’d like to sink

into the chest and arms of a man,


especially if he just happened to appear

in my doorway the moment

my fingers began their expert work

at the pianoforte. 

No happy hour.  No match.com. 

No goodhearted Dad

coercing me to the market

to meet his best stock boy, Paul. 



I eat lunch in my cubicle

with a book so I won’t accidentally meet eyes

with a well-meaning co-worker.   

Last time that happened,

Linda whisked me into the break room where

for weeks I couldn’t get out of my head


the smell of Tom in accounting

belching his Dr. Pepper breath

into the air next to mine

as I tried to eat my salad


or, at the counter where Kevin

in marketing was making a sandwich,

the sound of mayonnaise

slapping onto cold cuts

like a hand across a bare ass. 



After my parents have gone

to sleep, I open my laptop with the fanfare

of removing a tarp from a Porsche. 

I am a pianist

when I type these keys.  Some nights

I compose six or seven masterpieces. 


Around two or three a.m.

I print my newest collection of poems,

fold them up like love letters

I’ll never send,

place them gently into the hope

chest at the foot of my bed. 


Then I close each document

without saving a single one.








All poetry on this page
© by
Melissa Johnson, 2015



Ode to Washing Dishes


First, make sure your sink is under a window. 
Look outside while you fill the basin.  If daytime,

don’t scrutinize your lawn.  Do laugh

at quarreling birds or your own yawning dog. 

If night, be kind to your reflection.

Appreciate your long arms that disappear

at the wrists and the wrinkles at your mouth. 


Don’t think of this task as another in a hundred.

It is the reward when those are done,

the chocolate mousse after steamed vegetables. 

If the hot water and bubbles,

the lavender smell, the wine glass

to your left and soft terrycloth

against your bare shoulder are not a comfort

in this late hour, then you are doing it all wrong. 


Summer Wedding


Midwestern Bride advised drying

my bridal bouquet—tying the stems

to a hanger and letting
the sunflower heads dangle. 


But I couldn’t watch
vibrant colors drain like blood
from the face of a dying man.

I couldn’t intentionally harden

each petal into crumble

at the slightest touch.  Instead,

I parked my car across the street from

my father’s grave and sidestepped

the 5:00 traffic.  I said nothing and left
my flowers to dry under the Kansas sun.


Good Housekeeping



The mother of my childhood

is propped up by the vacuum handle.

Her arms disappear at the ends

into filmy sink water.

She scrubs the kitchen floor the hard way,

sponge instead of mop.  She’s tired.


She won’t stop

my father’s cancer from sweeping

through our tidy lives,

but she is armed

with spray bottles and paper towels.



My father’s smoking

transformed the bathroom vent

from flute smooth to caked fireplace ash.

I pictured his lungs changing texture,

his heart no longer a red flame

but the doused black matchstick.


I tried hiding his cigarettes.

He always found them.  Eventually,

I learned the joy my mother took in controlling

what could be.  I polished the vent

with a pretty white cloth,

tenderly as she did her collection of tea spoons.


Instructions for a Day Game


Eat two hot dogs instead of one when

someone else is buying; take five-minute naps

between innings three and six. 


Ketchup wins the animated condiment race,

and someone proposes on the JumboTron

while everyone yells “Say no!”


Appreciate extra innings; they mean free baseball

and 34,000 rally towels circling the air. 


Forget possible metaphors—

the glove swoops from out of nowhere

like a shark’s fin, 

bases are the stages of life or foreplay,

’tis better to have swung and missed—


none of that is important. 

The closer should come out

while everyone sings his theme song,

and your team should win

at the bottom of the eleventh. 


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