The crescent mark left by a garden knife
is slowly mending, unresisting as I cleave
yet another lifted layer of my own skin
from its center until a proper feeling
of softness returns to adjacent banks
of that once-jagged riverbed;
Like one’s own feelings repeatedly
disregarded, trauma inflicted by those
unaware of consequences, of actions
and words cast carelessly about
like roadside refuse, transformation
taken back by my own hands becomes
a thing of beauty, weaving words
into textiles for the fabric
of the soul, spinning veils
of verbiage into mantles fit
for undefended hearts.
I saw her today, glimpsed her like a new creature
shining and bright, free of the heavy cloak of denotation,
bronze I have cast her in despite myself, all these years
of believing she could in any way be known;
Inside my own skin I remain a mystery, unfolding
like the lotus flower, each new leaf and bud tender
and unfurling, tainted only through these selfsame
definitions, assumptions; we all do this in the dance
of discovery, alone or in tandem;
And I really wonder at the fabric of existence, itself,
a morphing, unified body with attributes thought to be
self and self, unique only insofar as they escape demarcation,
for once named, limitations are imposed and wrapped,
neat little packages, box steps imposed on modern dance,
monotones seeping into a technicolor palette;
What if we could begin again and again, mindful
of past assumptions, apprehend the self and others, eyes
unshuttered, clearly seeing and without bias what lies
before or within us, without guile?
photo ©Bela Johnson
You may have read about it here.
After Chris has taken food to little dog every morning and evening for months now, he discovered this note yesterday. We don’t know who the writer is referring to; another person had been leaving a bowl of water from time to time, and likely a little food as well. In the end, the result is the same.
Little dog has a new forever home! Her efforts to defy capture must have meant that something inside of her little feral body told her to persist. She somehow must have known her special person was on the way. And we could not be happier to have contributed to the quality of this creature’s life. Yay.
Just get over it, she says,
words spewing like hot lava
from icy lips; intention beside
the point and yet how could I
have understood back then?
She would remain forever mute
on the origins of that rage
and I had the rest of my life
yet to figure it out;
Fifty-five years later,
soles of my sneakers burning,
legs quaking involuntarily, gazing
into fissures snaking red with liquid
earth, ambling along swirly hued
ebony rock cooled now into solid
only barely; to gaze, open-mouthed,
as fiery flows spilled forth, mauka
to makai, plumes of billowing smoke
arching high into the waning light;
stars swimming in mirages of heat
while the surf pounded incessantly,
though try as it might, it could not
beat back an expanding shoreline;
On the the path again, heads full
of wonder, while these feet,
long alienated from restriction
of canvas and sole, began swelling
and bulging like some alien creature
yearning to range free, and I am once
again struck by the irony in her words,
If the shoe fits, wear it;
But I’m tired now mama, and my feet
are blistered and raw; still I see you
more clearly through exhaustion
and defeat and your pain suffuses me
with sorrow for all who suffer this
volcanic process of purge and birth,
forging new land into harbors
for the heart.
(Kalapana lava flow 2017 ~ bj)
It’s a scurrilous affair to be the target of an assault upon our humanity. Judgments, condemnation and criticisms all aim to reduce our opinions of ourselves, and are often successful in altering how others view us as well. We may well learn best through adversity, but none of us likes feeling attacked. It perpetuates suffering on both sides of the defenseless/defensive coin, especially when it’s of the insidious variety. That’s how the term backstabbing doubtless came into being, this feeling of being assaulted from behind where we can’t view the perceived enemy. And it’s a coward’s way out, this character assassination. It may temporarily grant the accuser a sense of superiority, but of one thing we can be certain; if we observe another engaging in this practice, it’s only a matter of time before they place us squarely in their sights.
I grew up with some fairly critical people, and would venture to say that years of habituation brought this trait out in me. I was an extremely sensitive child in a chaotic environment, and did not receive much guidance in handling the world with equanimity. And though I did garner some fundamental truths which would later prove beneficial, the chasm between what was practiced and what was preached was too vast for my child’s mind to bridge. Only later with age, experience and my own inevitable mistakes in parenting was I able to put the past into greater perspective. It’s still a process at midlife, so I suspect some lessons are deeper than mere conditioning.
As a teenager, I bolstered my fragile sense of self by finding fault with someone I thought better looking than I was, smarter, more talented or popular. Even if I shared these thoughts with no one else, a sense of smugness enveloped me like the proverbial warm fuzzy blanket. Eventually though, and it wasn’t too long in coming, that wrap felt suffocating. To something more decent inside of me, it just felt wrong. Hacking others down did not fill me up, nor did it give me any genuine or lasting sense of self worth. In fact it lent nothing of these attributes, it only carved a hole in my soul.
It has taken many years to rout the poison of criticism from my core. Like standing before a polished mirror, the presence of truth reflects back anything unlike itself. In this space, I am able to experience an up-swelling of compassion for the child that was me and for all the confused children in the world, trying as best they can to survive and thrive in adverse circumstances. Thus my ruminations extend to the child that lives within every adult, and it is easy to experience forgiveness and unconditional love, both for myself as well as for our deeply flawed yet simply human race.
It’s facile to ponder fault
in others whose treatment of us
Then we glimpse suffering
in desperate animal eyes,
recognizing predatory illusion.
All the lessons of the Masters
fall deaf on ears that will not hear,
fearful eyes refusing to see
all the manifest Universe is God
or none of it is.
How can it be in this land of plenitude,
our fellows spilling out now
into city streets, smearing pristine glare
of glossy retail windows
with the crime of their insanity?
I walk and talk with open heart,
not from a place where vacant stares
meet hollow eyes;
hear his story, however true,
offer a meal he declines,
proud he is employed, no longer able
to dig holes, he says,
since someone crushed the back
of his skull with a rock.
Live long enough and it all seems plausible,
as we stroll along, talking unselfconsciously
in a throng of iPhone-toting trust fund youth,
oblivious to the suffering their lack of empathy
stamps securely on a world they inherit.