Poetry

Sestina Where Every End Word Is Lyndon Johnson

Sasha Debevec-McKenney

I am drinking water out of my dark green Lyndon Johnson
water bottle. I woke up this morning thinking about Lyndon Johnson.
I am only a third through a 3,000 page biography of Lyndon Johnson,
I saw a bird and it reminded me of Lyndon Johnson
because it had a nose like Lyndon Johnson’s
and hopped from branch to branch like Lyndon Johnson.

My rhythm is Robert Caro’s: wake up, Lyndon Johnson,
breathe, stretch, drink coffee, Lyndon Johnson,
walk down Central Park West, Lyndon Johnson,
dust off typewriter, Lyndon Johnson,
write about Lyndon Johnson, Lyndon Johnson,
die writing about Lyndon Johnson, Lyndon Johnson.

In August I flew to Austin, to the Lyndon Johnson
Presidential Library, and the Lyndon Johnson
Birthplace, and Grave, and to little Lyndon Johnson’s
one room schoolhouse, and to Lyndon Johnson’s
Texas White House, and I camped out in that Lyndon Johnson
Hill Country and I swear all the stars were Lyndon Johnson.

If I try to imagine a world without Lyndon Johnson,
it’s just the same world but I can tell Lyndon Johnson
is missing. And I think that’s all Lyndon Johnson
ever wanted: for us to believe no one like Lyndon Johnson
exists, or existed. But he was barely Lyndon Johnson.
So who was Lyndon Johnson?

He tried hard to hide it but if you look at Lyndon Johnson
long enough you start to see Lyndon Johnson:
gangly-dark-haired-know-it-all-Lyndon Johnson,
cheater-liar-refuser-to-read-a-book-Lyndon Johnson,
self-centered-fancy-dresser-Lyndon Johnson,
three-packs-a-day-three-heart-attacks-Lyndon Johnson,

I hate Lyndon Johnson until I love Lyndon Johnson,
I am eating Lyndon Johnson and sleeping Lyndon Johnson,
watching Lyndon Johnson watching Lyndon Johnson.

Sasha Debevec-McKenney is the 2018 Rona Jaffe Fellow in Creative Writing at New York University, where she is currently pursuing her MFA.
Originally published:
January 1, 2020

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