What’s Your Ecotone?: “What I know now are little things”

In celebration of Ecotone’s tenth anniversary, the first entry in a new series! Earlier this year we asked Ecotone readers and contributors to respond to a survey. One of the questions we asked was, What’s your ecotone? We wanted to know about the landscapes, bodies, cultures you inhabit—about your places of overlap and complication in the world. The answers we received surprised us, made us think, and made us look more closely at our own places. We published a few of them in our anniversary issue. In this new series, we’ll run additional selected responses from the survey and beyond. We’re lucky to begin with poet and former Ecotone managing editor Sally J. Johnson!

Here are just some of the ecotones I live in or that live in me:

1. I’m a Midwesterner living in the South; I say “y’all” now since I hear it so often but also because it’s more inclusive than my original “you guys.” I still say “pop,” even though most people around here would understand me better if I said “soda.” More than my home state and its glorious lakes, I miss how my family used to be all in one place. As my baby brother says, “We used to be so little.” I know he means young but he also means we were together then, taking up a smaller space than we do now, flung out across the country.

2. I identify as queer and/or bisexual. Right now, I’m in a heterosexual relationship which means if someone saw me on a date they’d likely assume I’m straight. That’s an ecotone inside me most of the time, one I try to write about to make less inside me, one I try to be mindful of when I make assumptions (good, bad, neutral) about others.

3. I live in a city that is brand new to me. The first time I visited, I was searching for an apartment; the second time, I was moving in. It’s difficult to feel you are making a home for yourself when you feel nothing in that place belongs to you: I don’t yet know this city’s history or its best and worst things or even what it smells like in June. I’ll learn all of that, sure, but what I know now are little things people from here might not—the way the shadow of the cigarette industry reaches all the way to the tobacco pulley in my apartment; the thick-accented woman who waved at me like we were old friends ever since she found out I was new; the endless art, not only in all the galleries, but in the glass bottle shards someone must have cemented in a wall when it was still wet—and that is a different kind of knowing.

Sally J. Johnson’s poetry and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in the Collagist, Bodega, Wyvern Lit, and elsewhere. Most recently, she was a finalist in Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize for Nonfiction and won Madison Review’s Phyllis Smart-Young Prize for Poetry. Find her online: @sallyjayjohnson.