By Elizabeth Johnston
Hungover at a kiosk in the Albuquerque airport, I root
through bins of dream catchers, rain sticks,
plastic tomahawks, cryogenic scorpions in
fish out a palm-sized pouch of four thumb-sized dolls–
dum-dum heads sewn to swaddled
cotton tubes. Worry dolls.
No matter they’re made in Guatemala.
They’re weightless in my carry-on. And cheap.
Home again, I slip into my daughter’s bed.
She is young. Her worries many.
Tell them, I say, and scatter the dolls like dice
across her lap.
Always the skeptic she raises an eyebrow.
But I cross my heart and hope to die.
I am her mother, so she believes.
Kisses each face, whispers her fears,
then slips them back inside
the way I’d like to slip her back inside
where once I kept her safe and always close.
I cinch it tight.
Such is the weight we balance—
our children’s faith,
our fear it is unfounded.
Elizabeth Johnston teaches composition, literature, and gender studies. She also facilitates a writing workshop at the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester. Her creative and scholarly works tend to focus on issues of gender and sexuality. She is particularly interested in reimagining the voices of women from canonical literature and myth, and bringing to light enduring fictions about female sexuality and identity.
Elizabeth’s work has been widely published. Her essay, “Tackle Box,” about growing up in a conservative, evangelical household, was one of three finalists for Lunch Ticket’s 2015 Diana Woods Memorial Prize. Her co-authored play, FourPlay, which raises questions about teenage sexuality and consent, received honorable mention in Cahoodaloodaling’s 2015 In-Cahoots contest, and her poetry and plays have been nominated for Pushcart and “Best of the Net” prizes. You can read her most recent poems in New Verse News, Teaching English at the Two Year College, Excursions, and The Write Place at the Write Time. She has also has work forthcoming in several anthologies, including Veils, Halos, and Shackles: An International Anthology of Women’s Oppression and Empowerment, Memoirs of the Feminine Divine, and The Chronicles of Eve. Elizabeth is a founding member of the writer’s group, Straw Mat Writers.
Elizabeth lives in Rochester, NY with her husband, two daughters, and a menagerie of unruly animals. When she’s not writing, grading, parenting or wife-ing, she is training for half-marathons, hiking in the Adirondacks, gardening, and dancing whenever the opportunity should arise.