Plume

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)

 

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.)

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.

 

 

Eclipse

I don’t now know what to do with the grief
of parental disappointments,
how their lives entangled, ensnared,
dreams dashed on the shoals
of fragile egos glued together by obsession
with ‘fifties fantasies and too many children;

My mother once told me in the throes
of discovering my first husband’s
confused gender orientation, Oh, have
a baby! Have a Baby! As if stitching
this troubled soul to my side for life
could relieve a retinue of problems;

Schooled only to parental obedience
I might have been tempted, though thank
the gods he recognized the folly
in her entreaties (considering now her
solution then, multiplied seven times over);

How could I possibly have understood
what has taken a lifetime to sort out,
reflecting back on images of Mother,
then three decades younger than I am now;
what did I, myself know at that time,
Nothing! How could I have been equipped
to juggle betrayal, babies and bills
through thickly clouded vision,
ripe with hopes and dreams of youth?

Now I stand on the threshhold of my own
senescence, poised between their birthdays
and three eclipses, lunar mother and father sun,
and I wonder again how families fail one another
and how we fare, once festooned with illusions
now cast off, far from those turbulent shores.

Song of the Soul

I grew up amidst plenty, Depression-era
lack transformed into expensive Japanese
silk paintings hung above a cut glass table,
black lacquer chairs, raw silk seats reserved
for holidays unfit for seven children, dreams
of people I never really knew, though
they precipitated my life;

I might have preferred distressed plank flooring
and a wood-fired oven over cork and carpet
and all the confusion, byproducts of too much
striving and not enough stillness;
motivations well understood by me now,
having thrown myself into enough fires
to acknowledge and amend miscues, misdeeds;

Like Arjuna in the Baghavad Gita,
many have have beheld the face of divinity
as it exists in all creatures and life forms
everywhere, whether perceived as good or bad;

I, too, tremble at the feet of this knowing.

Reflective

 

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.

Buttered

Bread by hand is baked
in oven, tapped out gently,
further cooling, placed in storage,
bagged and ready, then is toasted
days and after, to a crisp
and even browning;

Edges blackened,
flash of silver knife is peeling
curls of butter loose from glass jar,
lying gently side by side
on sizzling surface, act of magic,
solid/liquid, freely flowing
into puckers, cut in quarters;

Teapot whistling, time is ticking
in the dance of daily ritual,
now and then the mood is settling,
moving forward, life revealing
many things, while morning
streams its sweet elixir
from which springs the chilly burst
that winter brings.

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