by Roxane Beth Johnson

A boarded-up house. Ransacked inside — broken glass and toppled tables, chairs overturned, books shaken for hidden money.

There are mouths in dreams full of gold teeth, chewing bread and meat. The body is hollow as flame and will burn down anything if pointed straight.

A bird flies in through the door, then flutters at the window. Although he is tiny, I am too afraid to help him escape.

I’ve made myself another house. I hum to fill its empty rooms. I fold in like saloon doors closing, then swinging out, keeping out thieves.

SOURCE: “Self-Portrait at Ten” appears in Roxane Beth Johnson‘s collection Jubilee (Anhinga Press, 2006), available at

IMAGE: “Girl in a Large Hat” by Mary Cassatt (1908).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Roxane Beth Johnson earned an MFA from San Francisco State University. She is the author of Jubilee (2006), chosen by Philip Levine for the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry from Anhinga Press, and Black Crow Dress (2013). Of African American and Italian heritage, Johnson has said that her early literary influences were the Bible and church hymns; later influences include the poets Anne Sexton, Wallace Stevens, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Johnson has won an AWP Prize in Poetry and a Pushcart Prize, 2007. She has received scholarships/fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Cave Canem, The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and San Francisco Arts Commission. Johnson’s work has appeared in the Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Image, Callaloo, Beloit Poetry Journal, ZYZZYVA, Chelsea, and elsewhere.