door photo
And Toward the Center a Vacancy One Knew
            after John Ashbery
by Jonathan Yungkans

They stopped making front doors like this three generations ago.
Almost square, wide enough to let a pick-up truck drive through.

Its brick or scab red paint reminds me of Civil War iron armor.
Its oaken composure predates the adjacent pines and sycamores.

I sit outside, comforted seeing something more solid than myself.
I eavesdrop for brass tumblers to turn. I swallow and breathe in.

Sitting in one spot is living in one spot, moldering into the floor—
dust to dust mote—and light in a dark room not one bit cathartic.

I’ve been a shadow some time now. While I could blame a virus,
before Corona, I had 20 years to hover like smoke, avoid mirrors,

keep within six feet of that door on days barely a clouded thought
passed through the air outside my head, rain and thunder inside it.
One pedestrian walks the paper’s front page across Grand Avenue.
The rest of the Whittier Daily News and downtown L.A. are ghosts.
Even the air is locked in ink. A glass wall reflects the vacant plaza.
Distant, City Hall’s pyramid spire looms to glower and sphinx us
into a three-part riddle for which I don’t even know the questions.
Green and green and green, down winding road and college quad—
Philadelphia Street void of brotherly love, dorms unconversational.
Not even Nixon’s specter is in sight. Much as I enjoy the birds

who punctuate this quiet sentence, never thought I’d miss his gloom
as he ambled black-suited across his alma mater. Green’s sole color
on black and white. Trees lead eye toward City Hall’s locked door.

Movement restricted in state. Traveling outside of home allowed
for food and medical care and to get exercise. As if anyone wanted
to stretch their prerogatives, give their fears a stroll, some fresh air.
I look from my front porch toward the front door, see the blood
that cracks through my chapped hands, washing after every trip.
I look at the pedestrian in the paper and recognize him as myself,
his reflection trapped between glass walls like microscope slides,
catching the sick instead of the sickness and conflating the two.
Wind counts bricks, rooting through a chimney.
Fingers trace Bach’s Goldberg aria on a piano,
reflected in the instrument’s polished surface.

The keyboard leads to yellow drapes, a window.
Only the pianist’s hands are visible in the video,
measured and exact as the phrases they articulate—

a count of assurance, a promise to wake from sleep.
I watch the video countless times. Not for Bach—
the hush, the light, the gentle rippling resonance.
Trying my best to rejoice in the Blood of the Lamb.
I’m locked into Jesus as my open door without a lock.

He’d look me in the eye, and say, Much as you trust Me,
pray with water and soap. Wash like a brain surgeon.

Kids draw a hopscotch with green and yellow chalk—
Hop hop turn. Touch the ground. Have a great day.

Next to it, written in green—We may all be separate—
and below it, in yellow—but we’re all in this together.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  This became a poem about many doors—literal and metaphorical, mental and emotional. The front door at the poem’s outset is indeed mine. I live in a house built in 1913, across the street from Whittier College, and both the college and the city have become virtually abandoned with the Coronavirus outbreak. The newspaper photo appeared on the front page of the Whittier Daily News on March 20, 2020; the lines quoted in the poem’s third section are the headline and subhead for the lead story, which accompanied it. The photo and overall situation only added to the isolative and depressive aspects with which I struggle to live every day. They in turn opened a door through which past and present intermingled, to my personal detriment but hopefully with some literary merit. The Bach video mentioned in the penultimate section was a Facebook post by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt to celebrate Johann Sebastian Bach’s 335th birthday, in lieu of a live concert she had been scheduled to play for the occasion. It became a door to a much calmer state—literally the eye of a storm.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Yungkans is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer with an MFA from California State University, Long Beach. His work has appeared in San Pedro Poetry Review, Synkroniciti, West Texas Literary Review, and other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and is slated for release by Tebor Bach Publishing in 2020.