Luke Johnson

Late Quartets


At home, the deaf boy must spend his days
with a piano he does not play. His small white hands
stay tucked in pockets under overlong t-shirts
that brush his knees. No one in the house plays.

The boy avoids the room where the piano collects
silence, sees his mother as a woman recollecting
girlhood, her shape defining a sundress as she stands
fingertips extended toward the keys, understanding

again the texture of familiar sound, counting one,
two, and a pause here as if she were waiting for her son
to answer three, four. She cannot see him crouched
back-to-the-stairwell. She can only see out

the bay-window to afternoon. It must be fall. It is cold
and there are leaves. This is not music, but keeping time:
a way of acknowledging what we’ve been told
we cannot choose: seasons, ourselves, our family.


“Late Quartets” originally appeared in The Threepenny Review.

Luke Johnson is the author of the poetry collection After the Ark (New York Quarterly Books, 2011). His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, New England Review, The Southern Review, Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. His work has been featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, and has twice appeared in the Best New Poets anthology. He lives and works in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.