In Full Velvet

Jenny Johnson

The title of this book refers to furry skin on the antlers of young deer, which most shed as the antlers finish calcifying. The titular poem mentions some whitetails that don’t shed their velvet, described by hunters as “raggedy-horn freaks” who live “long solitary lives, unweathered / by the rutting season.”

There are moments in this collection that felt too florid for my taste; I appreciated the more everyday, banal poems — about going to the barbershop and not getting gay married. But I enjoy the animalistic nature of Johnson’s work, where a “child is a little lion cub” and a “mouth is stretched panther-wide,” later someone else has a “dogged smile.”

from Souvenirs

I loved a woman who curated loss.

She was a sculptor. After we had parted

in rage at the corner of 16th and Dolores,

after our old bed frame slid off the car roof,

splinters flurrying down I-80, after I’d moved

thousands of miles away, she called to ask if

she might build out of sugar cubes a replica of my house.

She said, for herself, she needed to see it

but didn’t know the measurements.

I cannot explain my consent

that evening, alone, at home,

the yellow tape unspooling, I measured closet widths,

calculated the feet between hedges—

I wanted her to craft it perfectly to scale.