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Robert 'One-Man' Johnson: POEMS

Autobiography - January 5, 2017




I don’t claim to be no renaissance man

Just trying to do the best I can

Jack of all trades, I’m the master of none

Living my life and having some fun

I like to cook, I like to eat

Play my guitar, Man!, life’s a treat

I like my beer and I like my wine

I love my wife, my life is just fine

Pride and Dignity - January 20, 2015


A man in rags
Cooks jiaozi
In a battered black wok
Over a smoky fire
In a 55 gallon oil drum.
He sells them to common folks
On a street in a poor part of town. 
He wears a clean, tall, white chef’s hat. 

A man in rags,
Who clearly has had a stroke,
Shuffles on his good leg
Between cars
At a stop light.
Dusting windshields with his good arm,
He sings out of the good side of his face.
He isn’t begging for money,
But, if you give him a coin,
He will give you a half-smile. 

Shanghai  2007

Bangkok/Minnesota - January 19, 2015


Hell-hot and steaming
And sweat-soaked silk-shirt
Beats stone-cold and shivering
‘Til finger-bones hurt.

Rain-water rushing
Down street-dog-filled-streets
Beats slipping and sliding
On snow-covered-feet.

Sweet-corn in a dish,
And friends and cold-beer
And home-made smoked-fish
And lakes, crystal-clear…
An expatriate’s-wish.

Bangkok 2010

An Island in Thailand - January 18, 2015

An Island in Thailand

Palm trees wave on a beach in Thailand
Full moon shines on a golden sea
In their darkness off-shore islands
Sing their Siren songs for me

I met a girl on a beach in Thailand
Smile so bright it lit the night
Hand in hand for a little while and
Walked till the world was out of sight

Little grass hut, cool night air,
Grilling fish on an open fire
Mosquito net, a single bed,
What more could two hearts desire?

Fell in love on a beach in Thailand
Paradise on a tropical sea
Sweet romance on the beach beguiling
Ever yours for you and me

Long-tail boat  rolling seas
Bouncing gently on the waves
Neon fish in the coral forest
Nature’s psychedelic phase

Late that night on a beach in Thailand
Night birds sing in the mangrove trees
We sent a paper lantern flyin’
Carrying dreams for her and me

Nevermore - January 18, 2015

An Obvious Homage

He lives a life of languid loneliness
And sails from shore to star-kissed shore
Oft off’ring thoughts to fools and thieves
‘Midst the nurture of buds and leaves
And wonders what this all is for
And what means the somber

He basks in love of one so fine and fair
The years cannot this truth deny
The pulsing pounding of his stricken heart
That sometimes seems prepared to fly apart
At word of love or oft-heard heartfelt sigh of

He ponders weary, worldly chores
And curses the Fool who sails to arduous shores
Fleeing from the fleeting feeling
That his dazed mind holds, reeling
In sad demure unseeming 
‘Til his fruitless life lies

50 Lakes Minnesota 2002

Ramazan - January 17, 2015


To be a witness
Was never my intent

As I turned the cobbled corner
I saw the muted crowd
I saw the fatted calf
Facing toward the sacred place

A hammer descended
A blade sliced quickly through
Prayer and song arose

As blood flooded the concrete

The smell of death
Surged through my nose 

I made my way shakily to my home
Past hovels of whitewashed stone

Soon the imam will lose the sight
Of the thread of black and thread of white
The minarets will glow their praise
The call to prayer will flow and raise
All hearts to celebration.

The gathered faithful will share the food
With those of lesser fortune
While I, cringing uneasily
With queasy stomach,
My evening meal.

Istanbul  1985

The New Age - January 17, 2015


The New Age

In an ancient city
Of crumbling ruins
Near a golden pagoda
Beneath the blessed
Banyan tree

A humble monk
In robes of saffron
Head piously bowed
Legs in lotus position
Texts on his cell phone.

Ayutthaya, Thailand 2010

Johnny and Ferlie - January 14, 2015


Poems for my Uncle and Aunt


Like my father before me, I reckon that mirth
Can ease up the pain of the folks here on earth.
Lives can be sung in an old country song,
Or honored in stories of right against wrong.
There’s plenty of time to labor and toil,
And candles to burn, and kettles to boil.
We’ll spend our future under the sod,
So, each morning’s light is a blessing from God.

Now, I see by your face that you can’t take a joke.
The horse you rode in on is tired and broke,
And you look at the world with an unhappy eye
And watch with a frown as your life passes by.
Forgive me my smile, the fun that I poke.
I mean no offense to you serious folk.
It’s just my way of getting along.
To be happy is different. It’s not really wrong.

Relax! Take it easy! Just kick up a heel! 
Remember how good the Good Life used to feel? 
Have a dance! Sing a song!  Slap a friend on the back! 
Proceed through your life on a positive tack.
It’s a tough road we travel.  It’s trouble and strife.
If you weaken and whine, it’s a difficult life.
But, if you open each day with a grin
And you make someone smile, how can that be a sin?


They say that I must stand by my man
Well, I am doing the best I can!
But, someone has to do the dirty work
Someone has to be the one who says, "No!"

Some days you have to get out of bed
Even when it's rainy and cold,
Though your eyes are blood-shot red,
Though your head aches and you feel old.

Someone has to change the baby.
Someone has to do the dishes.
Someone has to refuse and not say, "Maybe!"
Someone has to hold things together.
Someone has to keep control.
Someone has to face bad weather.
Someone strong must haul that coal.
Someone has to be the one to just say, "No!" 

Ken and Alice - January 13, 2015

Poems for my Ma and Pa


Dr. Naismith 
did not have in mind
The sport we see 
at the present time
In days of old 
a game of grace
Now a change has taken place 
Talking trash,
 slamming dunks,
The taunts and jeers of tattooed punks

Steroid use, 
unruly fan abuse
at the least excuse
Money talks
Million dollar heroes balk
TV commentators gawk
Fantasizing women stalk

We close our eyes with sad regret
Wish the glory days were with us yet


Waxy-taut yellowed parchment
Stretched over knuckles so big
On fingers so weak 
She stares into her silent coffee cup
Dreaming happily of other days

In her brown-sad patient eyes
A family resides
Five young boys and
Her handsome husband
Images living home movies
In faded Color By Kodak
Without sound track

Still skillfully she smokes
The filterless cigarettes
But she does not recall my name 

Tim and Marguerite - January 12, 2015


Poems for Margery's Mom and Dad


He closes and locks the office door 
Breathing an Iowa sigh and 
Leaves the day behind. 
He drives the elm-lined street 
Past the corn fields and the trailer park. 
Changing into white coveralls, 
He dons the gloves and the veiled bonnet, 
Ties the ankles and the sleeves and 
Grabs the smoker. 

"I have another life 
Beneath the trees near the lilac bushes. 
I live this life vicariously 
With my honeybee family. 
I marvel at their clean, white-housed society. 
Like me, they have little time 
For foolish frivolity. 
Everyone pulls their weight, 
Toiling from dawn to dusk, 
Dancing their directional dance, 
Flying until wings fray and fall. 
Bees have no time for ease 
They work without complaint. 
Their pollen paycheck 
Is their only compensation. 

Yet, where is their family? 
Larvae grown into worker and drone 
Where is their love? 
Metamorphosized into loyalty. 
Marguerite, I seldom tell, but 
I love you and our family  
Past love unto loyalty.
You are the queen bee of 
My busy existence.


Barefoot girl with cheeks of tan

Perched in the crotch 

Of a sycamore tree
She looks down at her world

With glad advantage

Waiting for her life to unfold

With the Iowa seasons

and the Prairie Life.

From her front porch

She spies her schoolboy hero
Little does he know

What fate awaits 

In her

Deep, dark eyes.

Pools of wisdom

Flow with honesty and

Compassion benign

A twinkle of fun
A joke...just a touch risque
Mixes with the

Strength in her face
She is

The earth's salt
A reflection of forbears

For whom she cares and

Whose memory she reveres

For her husband and children

Patience appears
The force of her life

Is as mother and wife

The strength of her heart is
The salt of her tears.

Oscar and Dianne - January 10, 2015

Poems for my Grandma and my Grampa


We called him Grampa Shine.  
He was smiling all the time
Always making others laugh and sing.

Wanted nothing for himself, 
just his friends and family’s health,

And for all of us he’d do most anything.

He had no hair upon his head, 
”It’s what’s inside,’ he said,

That makes a man more than just a man.

There’s no sense in feeling sad, 
Take the good times with the bad,

Live life to the fullest that you can”

Grampa Shine said to me, “Son, 
Your life is just begun

While mine is very nearly at its end.

You’ll find it works out best 
To be concerned about the rest

You help yourself each time you help a friend.”

We’d sit there all day long, 
as he told us in a song

Of his life and times upon the Al-Can road
As his stories grew and grew, 
his happy wisdom still came through

He tried to say we’d reap just what we sowed

Grampa Shine said to me, “Bob, 
It’s your most important job

To make as many people happy as you can.”

Well he isn’t with us now, but 
it was he who showed us how

To be good to others...
Thank you, Grampa Shine!


Ten nimble fingers flying
Tatting, Crocheting,
 Hooking, Pulling,

Lace doilies everywhere

Doilies on the sideboard.

On the table, on the backs

Of chairs and armrests,

Covering the pillows in the bedroom

And the chamber pot below the bed

Under the vase

Underneath the ashtray

Cozying the teapot

Festooned from the lampshade

Clicking, clacking knitting needles 

Sweaters and socks for the 
Boys in Blue

Scarves and vests

And birthday gifts for

Grandchildren and neighbor kids

“Oh Shine, now, leave me to be!

You dasn’t do that!  
I have to finish this!

“It shan’t be a moment before

The kids arrive!

Here, put that in the draw 
In the hutch over there”

Now stop it, Shine!  I mean it!”

Knit one, purl two,
Knit one, purl two
Knit one, purl two,
Knit one, purl two

Al and Lucy - January 9, 2015

Poems for Margery's Aunt and Uncle


I sailed the junk from Hong Kong
And sold it for a handsome profit.

A schooner with that gold I bought

And rigged with reefer and seaworthy kit.

My army cipher skills I used to overhear

Where industrial fleets were catching full,

And sliding close and trawling near

Their salmon from the depths we’d pull.

The high sea always seemed to be  

A place of comfort for Lucky and me.

We believed in the ocean free

And the womanly Goddess of the Sea,

And as I stood wheel in hand, 

The rocking of her womblike waves

Seemed soothing warm and soft and kind 

As when a child feels the mother love 

Coursing from her bosom.

Then, the quaking of the earth,

The shaking of the mountainous seabed floor.

The Ocean Goddess rose in her wrath

And as the wall of water approached,

I watched it toss my neighbor’s boat 

As a terrier flips a rat and plays its gruesome game.

I have no vision why we were spared.

For 24 hours I stood at the wheel

While Lucy watched, with ashen face.

And, when at last the tide subsided

And we returned to port exhausted,

I turned my back on an evil Goddess

Never to sail again.


I live to dance. I love to dance!

I can’t explain the places that I go,

But as in some transcendent trance

The music transports me with its flow

In ecstasy I turn and whirl

Until my heart pounds with delight.

Heels click and petticoats twirl

In the red lanterns of the Chinese night.

When winter comes and cheeks turn pink, 

The wooden dancer’s floor becomes

The hard, cold ice of the skater’s rink

And breath escapes my lips in visible joy.

My partner, Al, with a nose of red,

Swings me round and round in pirouette.

Thoughts of love fill my giddy head

In ways that I can scarce forget.

I am alive and love to dance.

I live to dance and  love to dance!

When I leave this earthly coil

And put behind my mortal toil,

If after-life's reward is still my chance
Dare I ask?

Al and I in an eternity of dance.

July in Minnesota: An Ode - January 8, 2015


July in Minnesota
An Ode to NOAA Emergency Weather Radio
(to be read aloud in computer-voice)

“High today for 50 Lakes,
58 degrees
Strong winds from the north
25 to 30 miles per hour
Chance of rain, 
Some lightning and
Golf-ball-sized hail
Tonight's low
In the low 40s..."

Trees bending, branches
Fill with wordless birds.
On a gray lake
White caps foam over
Clueless loons.

A Poem for a Child on a Sunny Day - January 7, 2015

A Poem for a Child on a Sunny Day

If I could be a bee
I’d choose to snooze in fields of flowers.
I’d snuggle my honeybee
And nuzzle her muzzle for hours and hours.
Life would be so free
If I could be a bee.

 If I could be a bird
I’d fly above the highest tree.
I’d whistle of thistle and sunflower seed.
You’d hear my warbled word
If I could be a bird. 

If I could be a song
The words would tell you of my love.
A melody so sweet and strong, 
Like birds that sing and bees that buzz,
A carefree life with nothing wrong, 
If I could be a song.

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