Jean Johnson

Walt Whitman Visits the Civil War Hospital in the Patent Office (Now the National Portrait Gallery)

My progress from bed to bed
has taken half the night
but no soldier has been ignored:

a pencil, stamps, a lemon – a hug.
Sometimes I think it is my own health
that helps them most to be soothed.

Tonight I brought horehound drops
to the boy from Iowa, he has typhoid
but his sore throat hurts him most.

I held him in my lap to suck the drop.
At last, alcoved between glass cases
waiting for me, two boys from Brooklyn,

one with his leg cut off above the knee
the other bandaged like a mummy,
but they grin when I embrace them,

careful not to hurt. In the case at their feet
is the field camp of General Washington,
tents neatly rolled, his chair, and even his wig.

Mother has sent the Brooklyn Eagle
and as I read, they interrupt to recall
escapades along that stream,

people they know and some I know
as well. Their eyes begin to shine
as they remember their mischief

So few months ago
when they were boys.


Originally published in The Whitman Issue, Vol. 6:1, Winter 2004.



Jean Johnson (January 1918 - September 6, 2018) is the author of Forgotten Alphabet (SCOP Publications, 1994), and individual poems were published in Poet Lore, Larcom Review, Potomac Review, and Hampton-Sydney Review. Johnson attended Yale University, and lived in Germany and Austria when her husband was a civilian employed by the U.S. Army. She taught English at the Goethe University and at Walt Whitman High School (Montgomery County Public Schools), and raised a family of three children. Her honors include fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Jenny McKean Moore Seminar at the George Washington University. To read more by this author: Four Poems, Vol. 1:4, Fall 2000.