The Blouse

We hardly ever call a blouse a blouse in these days of tops and tees and such. Yet in Mrs. Helsel’s 1967 eighth grade homemaking class (to which only girls were admitted – boys were relegated to ‘shop), we were required to sew an A-line skirt and a blouse. With darts, a tuck sewed perpendicular to the rib-side of the garment. I remember perusing Sears and selecting a dark-not-navy poplin for the skirt and a simple lightweight bedsheet-white cotton for the blouse, then eagerly combing through P.B. Carroll’s for just the right colored spools of thread while being mindful not to omit straight pins, crimson pin cushion in the shape of a tomato and a Dritz tracing wheel with indigo carbon paper. I still possess these items in my closet, though they haven’t seen use in decades.

For my care and precision, I received a duly protested B-minus at the end of the term. My garments were thoughtfully crafted if not perfect, but the teacher was adamantly unmoved. Mrs. Helsel,  a short woman with copper red hair set with foam rollers in a retro bubble style popular in the 1950’s, didn’t seem to keen to my dark eyes, snarky sense of humor and shapely curves. As homemaking was my only non-academic subject, she might well have been the only teacher who ever disliked me as a student. Her small rebellion was to give me the only B I was to receive in a sea of straight A‘s.

In those times and perhaps it remains so to this day, I could sense a teacher’s yearning for the occasional student who reflected their worth back to them as Educator, and I was known to provide good grist for that particular mill. Raised Mormon in a heavy-handed household, I knew how to play by the rules. But hormones had begun flowing in earnest, and I had my own trail to blaze which included, still includes, an eclectic choice of colorful companions. And though I savored these unique comrades like small victories each time I donned that simple A-line skirt, it wore me like a shortcoming and I eventually abandoned it to Goodwill.

As a post-script, forty-five years later with bouts of sewing in between (a Sesame Street Ernie doll for my eldest that was as tall as she, numerous custom Halloween costumes, a neverending stream of sewing and mending), I ventured across Hawaii island to a tiny import store. It was there I selected yardage from a few bolts of lovely welterweight Japanese cotton fabric, and within a few days began laboring over my sewing machine, turning out two Aloha shirts, one pair of wrap-around pants and a vest for Christmas presents. All gifts were received with great admiration, and my husband still garners the occasional compliment from admiring strangers. I would wager a bet I’m the only one in that eighth-grade class still sewing, much less enjoying it.

And no, I never went back to church.




I never told you I loved you enough, the only ones
to whom it might have mattered and mattered much,
how could I? There are certain things one apprehends
only with age, the fact that most parents were
mere children themselves when they raised us up;

Now when I look back, I am able to glimpse humanity
more humbly instead of simply placing familiar labels,
Mom and Dad, great brazen fire-breathing dragons
of the household, both admired and feared
for their outsized demeanor, similar to the church God
I prayed daily would grant me safety and comfort
in place of the warm arms I yearned to fold myself
into, though dared never trust;

Even with busy single parenting, I was not able
to reflect upon the scope of the job, absorbed
as I was in all things survival to comprehend;
too enraptured in my own harried drama to sit back
and draw parallels, to reconcile present with past,
dissolving patterns and resolving conflict between
what was innate and what absorbed in the confusion
of a young woman’s developing brain;

If still alive, I would tell you today of impressions
large and small, from the sycamore tree
in our front yard I watched dad set into ground,
to books and music and mom’s patience
not with children, but of sewing
that beige corduroy suit; the no small wonder
at flopping pole-caught fish in our boat’s hold
ferried back to feed progeny, of pigeons flying home
to mounds of earth glistening with geraniums and ivy;
how both culture and soil seared themselves
in memory like the grooves of the records spun
in the cabinet, Benny Goodman and Tchaikovsky
in equal measure, while and I listed and fretted,
wishing instead for the beat of my own generation,
the sonorous thumping of my own fragile heart’s desire;

I get it. I am here to button my lip and smile discreetly
like the Kuan Yin herself, knowing bountiful paths
with easier courses lie just alongside
the more arduous ones my own girls are taking;
though to make life worth anything,
they are theirs for the making.


This poem was written recently with my longtime Renshi poetry sisters. Renshi is a form of linked poetry; the last line of one poem becomes the first of the next, and so on. Thus are topics revealed. Image is the street in front of the house I grew up in, two of my brothers in the frame.

The Yoga of Christianity, An Easter Contemplation

The unity of the human race dictated by the global village we anxiously inhabit –
while still looking for a safer place to settle – is a unity that far transcends the sexual attraction of opposites. It is rather a unity that issues from a profound identity that needs urgently to be understood.
~ Marion Woodman, eminent Jungian therapist

If Jesus preached that the Kingdom of Heaven lies within each of us, how is it that two thousand years later many Christians are still searching for an external Messiah? We arrive into this world replete with bodies harboring an enormous drive for knowledge and creativity. Denying these innate impulses over time renders us impotent to inspiration and we languish, afraid we have lost our connection to the divine. What might be the genesis of this belief?

In The Four Agreements, Miguel Ruiz reflects on how our childhood need for acceptance from parents, authority figures and peers tends to overshadow our dreams. Once we realize this is fairly endemic to all children, however, we can utilize these agreements to move us through fear of non-acceptance into a world of possibilities, grounding us into an inner sanctum of authenticity:

1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.

As we throw off layer upon layer of familial and cultural conditioning, we evoke new depths of awareness. We transcend much of the background mental chatter, the voices in our head that keep us small and self doubting. The more we practice, the further we downshift into our bodies and away from feelings of alienation.

When Jesus was crucified and resurrected, scriptures note that he revealed himself to his disciples eating, of all things, fish and honey. In pre-Christian times, fish was only allowed to be eaten by priests during rituals devoted to the goddess Atargatis, in the belief that they represented her body (Wikipedia). Wouldn’t this seemingly bizarre act by their Master (and later to be replicated as sacrament in many churches) represent that holy teachings or wisdom needed to be internalized, that spirit required ingestion, digestion and embodiment, just so? 

To understand concepts in the mind is profound. To make manifest in flesh allows one to trust, to walk the talk, to encounter life on its own terms in this wondrous physical universe. Most of all perhaps, it helps us manage the quaking fear of existence, itself.

Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness
of the self; in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the
robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt,
and sometimes discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives
one the power to change one’s robes.
– James Baldwin

bj image: Keokea trestle


Is it familiar, the aching sentiment
when what seemed known becomes
assumption and once again melts
down, dilutes into watercolor illusion,
deceiving like a dramatic heist
of the pureness of Being;

All feels just until it ceases to be,
no more mistaking favor
for authentic regard
when we find ourselves ducking
into corners to avoid a situation,
as if fate could be averted this way
or that, only not today, we say,
not now, I cannot face it
in this moment;

We do not plan chance, it handles us
until we can no longer hide from who
or what we have revealed ourselves to be
aside from the ego’s estimation;
rightness or wrong of it matters not,
paste-up face turned to a world wrapped
in artifice does not sustain deep down
when we fail to confront the depth
of our own lack of congruity;

It is a gift, this, even though at the time
we feel cursed, abandoned by
the very source to whom we pray,
Please set me free from this dark wheel
of suffering, yet only we facilitate
re-cognition of our own innate liberation,
encountering what chance tosses daily
into a path provisioned by partnering
up in equal measure, shadow and light.

Chicken Water

Adrift in a sea of fog; no sign
of shore nor sounds of waves lapping;
only maddening silence.

I cry out for a god but hear
only my own echo, a desperate voice
of desire flung on the shoals
of a ghost land.

The life I have constructed is crumbling.
The new has yet to unfold;
the whys, hows and wherefores vanish
like mirages.

As kids we called it chicken water, cast
upon blistering asphalt, cutting
through endless miles of low desert scrub;
sunrise, sunset, nothing changed fast
enough for us then.

Now here I write from the comfort
of my chair miles from those desert sands;
yet and still, the road beckons.

Caked earth yields to concrete laid
down everywhere to accommodate
our leave-taking. My dry mouth waters
at the approaching oasis,
as nearer it appears and nearer;
then vanishes.

~ bj 2001, bj image Upolu Pt., 2006