In Rome, where you can feel Saint Joseph’s pain,
I found myself in the maternity ward, facing
someone else’s child
as it wormed a way into this world
I like to call my own, my monastery of sorts

in which I meditate on mistakes, oversights
an emperor might think large enough to vindicate
exile, a solitary lifestyle, rife
with skipping-stones, projectiles
no fetching companion will return, walk back

like all the stupid things I’ve said, insults I’ve left
hanging in the air
like halitosis, that Anglicized Latin word
Listerine uses to manufacture psychosis, the fear
that we don’t work hard enough

to hide our imperfections, all the common faults
mad men use to compromise
our convictions, to hide the understanding
that we can make love, despite a world of problems
we took no pleasure in creating.

Johnny Horton teaches English at Seattle Central College. He’s taught creative writing at Richard Hugo House and in Rome. He also teaches classical literature to veterans. He’s published poems in City Arts MagazineNotre Dame ReviewWillow SpringsLos Angeles Review and Horsethief. He’s received a Washington Artist Trust GAP grant and his poetry manuscript has been a finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Anthony Hecht Prize. He lives in Seattle where he walks his dog and writes essays about higher education for Crosscut.