Little Key (Judy Johnson)

It could be almost anywhere      
               in the Middle East.

The result of war or famine
               or withholding of medical care.

But always he is there
               on the nightly news,

that young boy in the frame.

His collar bones rise prominent
                                             from a dirty singlet,

                the beaks of two canaries
pushing upwards, anxious
                                             at the barrier of skin,

                as though the suffering came
not from beyond himself
                                             but instead
                 from a poisonous mine within.

The clavicle is the only horizontal
                 long bone in the body. 

When the shoulder is abducted
                 it rotates along its axis. 

Hence the Latin clavicula…little key.

But think one step beyond anatomy
                 and there is melody.

Clavis strikes a chorda to become         
                 its own instrument: clavichord.

Clef too is from clavis
the object, to divide and enchain sounds
                               within a measured space.

A pied piper word, then.

But there’s no clever twists of meaning
                               to lead myself away from him.

That young boy, wearing the little
                 horizontal skeleton key

that lies just above his first rib
                 and opens no doors.

The two beaks of his collar bones
                 powerless to resist

rising up to meet
                 the day’s cruel music.


Judy Johnson has been writing poetry for over twenty years.  She has published six full length collections and several chapbooks.  She has won the Victorian Premier’s award and been shortlisted in the West Australian and NSW Premier’s Awards.  Her verse novel Jack was on the syllabus of both Sydney and Melbourne University.  Her latest poetry book Dark Convict’s concerns the life and times of her two African American First Fleet ancestors.