Scents of Place

There is something profound
delimiting each place I have claimed
as home; the tar-pungent tang
of creosote bush portending rain,
sweeping sideways as though pencil-
sketched on dun-colored canvas
as it spills from oceanic heavens along
open stretches of Mojave desert;

The smoke of brush fires tended
by human hands breaking trail through
twists of hemlock- and fir-peppered deciduous
forests of rural Maine; freshly-felled poplar
hewn into cones by toothy beavers busy
harvesting food and shelter for an ever-
impending winter as nearby cattail-flanked
marshlands waft musk into nostrils aroused
by their complex bouquet;

Now home in Kohala, Paklan and varieties
of gardenia overwhelm the senses first,
while undertones of Cattleya and banana shrub
glide subtly on variable breezes spiked salty
from nearby oceanic cliffs as Pamplemousse
blossoms overwhelm the more subtle lavender
and rosemary, mint and oregano bedded in
to round out a complex tropical palate;

The eucalyptus groves of my youth fill gaps
in the imagination, painting scenes like
so many watercolors bleeding into one another
until, despite what I might have attempted
to paint, a more vibrant vision emerges
to sustain me;

Life turns capriciously on the unsuspecting,
contrasting signals drifting into awareness
as though conveyed along scattering winds,
yet in one stroke, certain odors bear gifts
both past and present, sliding the doors
of time like slices of glass under a microscope,
shifting blueprints of existence, mysterious cards
in a gypsy’s hand shuffling once, twice,
imparting significance to the present moment
only to calibrate again to situation and experience
as time extends itself into infinity.

“…Magnolia blossoms fill the air and if you ain’t been to heaven, you ain’t been there…”
(New Orleans ~ Guida and Royster; image: bj)

 

In the Clouds

Bring yourself, oh mortal, down
from strata high above,
perhaps we should remind you
that attention is not love;
It’s fine to think you’re welcome
here among us in our midst,
still, you might not care to hear
that you’re no better than the rest;

The boldness of your rally is
beyond what some can bear
while your brothers, sisters carry
all the stardust to your hair;
Let it twinkle deep inside you
so you know that you are blest,
while you eat and shit and suffer
in the galleys with the rest;

It gets lonely, I’d imagine,
you unable to decide
if those gathering around you
only jump on for the ride;
still, you yearn for fame and fortune
while the vacuum grows within
even thought at times you wonder
who’s the butterfly or pin;

On you ramble and you roll
exchanging favors for a smile,
and you know the jig gets hard
when you are dancing all the while;
never pausing, rarely stopping,
the insanity goes deep
and it fills you to the eyeballs
spreads like fungus on the creep;

Then the questions do provoke you
with self loathing and a jinx
when it strikes hard with a blight
you can’t endure like desert Sphinx;
that you’re drowning in delusion
feeling worthless to the core,
as your long-sought admiration
has reduced you to a whore;

Still, awash within the knowing
you’ll survive this, will endure
you await the dispensation
like some bounding, drooling cur;
let me say this with compassion
for your ignorance runs deep:
it’s time for pulling back the sword,
that journey is complete.

 

 

Bricolage

The body comes last as she bounds into chaos,
the day, to work on no breakfast for starters,
watching her weight as is the call
of her generation, Twiggy-thin or else
considered fat, little choice in the matter
but to subsume any physical appetites
which, by the way, include sex, employed
more to entice than to enjoy;

He doesn’t know where to begin, start
with the basics, try to be a gentleman
like his doddering father and wonders
why it isn’t working, generation gapping
all around his tired visage;

Why are women so unpredictable, masters
of emotional language he cannot grasp, even
with a lifetime of education and experience,
competence lending comfort and yet
here he is, fish flopping on the deck
of his own boat, sun scorching thin skin,
not yet dead but not wholly alive either;

Two halves of one whole, promise to love
and cherish and why is this one thing
so hard, this constancy; how is it
that love itself seems never enough?

Quench

Drip, drip, drip, the rains come
and drop from the ends of ti leaves
scorched yellow by ceaseless sun
even during this Hawaiian winter
while the rest of the country lies
deeply buried in drifts of snow
or snarled in turbulence
of another sort;

Drip, drip, drip and I count precious
beads of moisture, one per second,
and reflect how it is that by morning
the ground will be soaked through,
roots nourished, new growth pushing
out from centers of petioles;

One drop per second, 86,400 in a day,
and if the rain can manage it,
we might well take its lead
and spread love, one act
of kindness at a time, moment
by moment, day upon day in
this parched and thirsty world.

Missive on Missiles

Yesterday we had a shakedown for residents of Hawaii. A false alarm popped up on cellphones warning us of an imminent ballistic missile attack. I didn’t have my warnings enabled, but my husband showed me his phone. Our reactions were much the same. Well, what are we going to do about it? If it happens, it happens. We live in a crazy world. A provocative lunatic sits in the Oval Office. We would be surprised at nothing.

When this nation elected its current President, I could barely lift my head for days. I had the most ominous feeling of doom, not a sentiment easily conjured. Here we had finally raised a beautiful black man to the highest office in the land, something the flower child in me rejoiced at heartily. We were moving toward a more equal society. ‘Different’ people were crawling out of the woodwork to glimpse the sun, some for the very first time. It was not perfect, but it was a reason to feel promise in the bones. Then the Shadow emerged and is still looming large, insulting our humanity at every turn.

Jungian psychology might posit the Shadow to be a necessary part of the soul’s maturation. As we recognize the dark parts of our own psyches, integration is possible. We become more fully human and compassionate, understanding if for the first time that we all possess the ability to kill and to heal. Once we are mindful of our least acceptable traits, we are capable of choosing right action more often than not. I just mourned that it had to happen on this kind of scale in order to more fully awaken the collective.

So here’s the thing: What were your feelings? Your first thoughts or impulses? When one looks Death in the eye, priorities get quickly shuffled. The cards that rise to the top of the deck are those most worth noting. Did you feel fear? Anger? Outrage? Terror? Did your head spin, searching social media for a kind of discharge and/or comfort? Or were your contemplative feet rooted to the earth and did She give you a sense that there was nothing to panic about, knowing life itself is transient, that if this is your time so be it, it’s been a good life, no regrets, gather those you love close, I am ready to face whatever comes and I have taught my children to accept the same?

Knowing one’s last thoughts and sensations in the face of the worst happening is to know oneself more fully. It is an opportunity to embrace our own shadowy elements of anger and fear and really see how powerful it is when many occupy similar head spaces. Now that we are granted another glorious Hawaiian dawn, in Mary Oliver’s words, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

 

Unsure who took the pic, but this is our tiny town. The Clintons arrived the day after the missile scare event. Unsure if any connection.

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.