Call It Moving On

She’s been dead a couple of years,
my soul mate. Lots of people’s soul mate.
That was her gift. She belonged to everybody
and nobody at all. She was very much
her own woman or the Goddess’ woman
or at least a powerful woman; no less
nor more than I, myself; but still.

We are stratified into more subtle layers
than most people care to discover,
a bit of fairy dust really, and yet.
It matters less and less only we did
understand one another, and upon death,
suddenly our work comes more alive.
People are searching for answers.
Our passing reminds them of this.

I keep wondering if I ought to be shaking
bits of her out of my body, but where
then do I put the pieces? I who am
daily reminded of footprints and planets,
the excesses of my own species. And still
I am reluctant to see those remnants go.

It’s not that I cannot let her progress,
she is doing that splendidly, even now;
and images come alive in heartbeats
out in the garden by the clove tree
which could never cast those memories
into fires of forgetfulness, knowing deep
as sap the need for proliferation of kindred,
her now-forgotten mace and nutmeg.

Holy-Daze

Christmas was ever my favorite time of year,
and though I knew brother John was shaking
sleigh bells just outside near the prized gardenias,
it did not matter, there was harmony, excitement
building toward that magical morning when,
tiptoeing, little eyes spied most of the living room
strewn with gifts of every size and color spilling
out from the bowels of the flocked and brightly-
lit tree never fake, always fresh, as music wafted
from the hi-fi stereo ensconced in its own polished
oak cabinet, Mantovani, Andy Williams, Burl Ives,
Tchaikovsky in colorful paper jackets sequestered
away except in this season where they would appear
as if by magic, all was in a dream and there were
leaflets of carols we knew by heart anyway
as we sang together in harmony and played
Mille Borne and rummy, legs crossed or kicked
out and back to the sides which I was told would
ruin my knees, but this time of year there were
no admonishments;

The tree perpetually chosen from its temporary
lodging place near Foothill and Rosemead, fir
and balsam smells confounding the asphalt
they were corralled in, strands of blush fiberglass
angel hair and clumps of cotton wool besmirching
a sign that might have read Santa’s Playland
or Workshop, memory fails now and there were
real reindeer sometimes discomfited in the heat
of the Southern California winter, strung together
in wood and wire wheeled cages decked
with red and green embellishments;

Then there was Santa looking resplendent
in fur-trimmed velvet with a long flowing beard
and we could sit and we could ask and fairly expect
that at least one of our dearest wishes would be granted,
though we dared not ask for much in a family so large
that it soon sunk under the weight of its own excesses
and insufficiencies;

Still, there was Christmas dinner with ham not turkey,
pierced with cloves and brown sugar, candied yams,
bright flush of crimson cranberries, a requisite jello
in garish technicolor hue shot through with ruby-red
seeded grapes and chunks of banana and chopped
dates, Grandma Howell’s egg white-topped sugary-
milky float, brown and white egg-glazed bakery rolls,
unremarkable canned green peas looking ever
so grand in antique bowls and serving dishes,
glass and glazed ceramic which our eyes beheld
only during the holiday season;

We ate at the glass dining table usually reserved
for special guests, sat in cream-colored velveteen-
covered chairs adjacent to the antique white baby
grand mom stripped and refinished and played
often, arthritic fingers dancing over ivory keys
smoothed by marching time and an observer,
should there have been such a one, would surely
have believed we were one big happy family
and it was true, on those sparkling holy days.

(Photo: Me in mom’s arms before our new home in the hills and two other boys came along to round out our family of nine.)

Progress

Money’s not love
and it isn’t respect,
it sure isn’t friendship,
it doesn’t buy that;

So retreat if you must
in a world overmuch,
when content and timbre
appear out of touch;

Regroup and resist,
the temptation is grand,
hold onto your vision
all else out of hand;

Only you cut the deck
while there’s magic afoot;
in the creases and cracks,
all trees start with the root.

After the Rain

As if there could be too much rain
in a water-parched world we head out,
two spotted canines jostling for space
in the Scion’s passenger seat chasing bright,
leaving gathering darkness behind;

Off the highway we turn downhill
toward a squall-rimmed sea, heavy mist
dispersing over adjacent desert landscape,
kiawe and natal grass greening
under amassing gloom as we knock the car’s
bouncing bottom on a rough path
and not for the first time; spilling out then,
tails swishing time to swaying seed perched
atop long sturdy stalks and they disappear
into it, diving deep below old rock roadbed,
popping up to spot us and if dogs don’t smile,
it was a good imitation;

Apace we head back, borrowing time from circumstance
as the sky brushes watercolors over the now-calm
Alenuihaha while the knobbly Kohala Mountains stand
rooted fast, decked out in their very best emerald velvet;

Then home we go, tongues lolling that good kind
of fatigue, to the best dark cacao squares
and sweet potato subji made this morning
as the two collapse onto a thick pile of rug
under our feet content, as it were,
with an evening well spent.

dog photo: Chris Johnson; landscapes: BJ



 

Confused

Hola! Greeting unfamiliar to those growing up
in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains
within a state claimed from Mexico;

1950’s meant minds were on other things
besides obviating eminent domain; 
fallout facilities beneath pristine stucco dwellings,
bomb shelters in backyards of escapees
from Nazi prison camps, indentured now
to military spouses taking deliveries
from milk trucks and bakery vans,
progeny anticipating ice cream on wheels;

Pine trees crested azure skies up
and down our street, baby birds the victims
of neighborhood felines overreaching
like their human counterparts extended
into mortgaged tract homes, beginnings
of credit designed for large families raised
on white bread and tempers of men
so recently returned from war;

The gods bred me to clean air
and brilliant sunshine, mossy feel of grass
beneath privileged lily feet ranging freely
for miles in safe neighborhoods,
ivy springing from split cedar rails, pungent
sweetness contrasting with perils of home,
entitlement of owning one’s children
as repositories for lust and rage and confusion
interjected with knowledge and culture
of the sort meant to create comfort
in white ties and tails of the opera house.

 

 

Love or Something Like It

I could spend the rest of my life ruminating:
this is why I do not create bonds easily,
trust takes years, betrayal ever ready
to sharpen its fangs on a tender heart;

I could say it’s because you abandoned me
and failed to protect us Mother, and it would
be true, in part; yet all parents disappoint
and damage despite love and sacrifice,
their own deep suffering notwithstanding,
due in part to perils children can never know;

I passed it on as well, I who least wanted to,
I, the diligent one who was going to get it right
still made mistakes, nothing critical and yet
here we are, frail silly humans, dragging one
another through chambers of ecstacy
and suffering and no matter what we do,
we err;

Love is the great leveler. If we love, we risk
its opposite; if we revel in delicious splendor
these bodies grant us as small compensation
for daily stressors, we cast wide the gates
for all of it, orgasmic bliss and the seed
of life perpetual when another loop is formed
in the tiny golden chain with a locket,
treasured keepsake, the same link that
when magnified darkens under the lens
like forged iron intimating opposites,
a hell of our own making;

And still we chance it and who could refuse?
Again and again the heart beckons
and we return singing Solomon’s song,
humbled into eloquence and beatitudes,
bowing at the feet of the beloved; I would
do it all again. Differently, of course. Yet
I beseech you, who among us would not?

image: Amanda Johnson

Barkskins

Listening to an Annie Proulx’s Barkskins on audiobook while painting today, I think I am no storyteller. A poet, yes. Fleshing out characters for a story seems intrusive somehow, as though I were borrowing another’s eyes so that I might view the world in a different way. And in return, the spirits behind those eyes would have a right to claim real estate in my brain, intruding on what little peace of mind I currently possess in these crazy times.

Yet I am ever enthralled by the talented storytellers among us. Proulx at eighty-plus must have spent years researching the late seventeenth century forward, telling the tale of how abundant forests of the northeast, along with their original inhabitants, were impacted and stripped of a way of being forever. First the French settlers who came to New France (now Canada) to seek their fortunes in the lumber business and how they related to its native human inhabitants (the Mi’kmaq, pronounced Mikmaw). Then as lumbering migrated south into Maine and New Hampshire, the English imposing settlements where they wished, nevermind the tribes who had lived, loved and traversed these places for generations. The horrors of eminent domain, as these interlopers insisted the land belonged to whomever worked it – and they could not fathom how living in harmony with nature and residing in wigwams could possibly constitute any rights whatsoever. For the part of the Indians, they could not comprehend the white man’s obsession with surplus. One elder simply could not grasp why white men had to build such large homes with such high roofs – did they expect visits from giants? Confusion also stemmed from the concept of land ownership, something I’ve struggled with for years while holding title to my own real estate. Stewardship has always been our way of life, no matter where we’ve lived.

The relationships Proulx entertains possess the power to pull me into the story to the point that I find it difficult to put it aside. After thirty-four years in the Maine woods in a place known to be summer grounds for Wabanaki tribes, I only begin to apprehend the fullness of history of that place thanks to Proulx, although I always felt the magical nature of the forest. Knowing the varieties of trees from lumber families in that region, things begin to click. The land’s profusion of hemlock and birch stemmed from the clearcutting of more valuable species like white pine, maple and oak, which I was aware of in a general sense. Yet to understand those markets in a richer way is to finally mourn the loss of place in the name of displaced wildlife and native people. And even though Hawaii is clearly our home now, how could I forget those formative years in which I was lucky enough to reside that close to the heartbeat of Mother Earth’s woody breast?

 

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