No Vanity

There is green, and then there is the delicate
curled chartreuse ribs of a fern frond
as sunlight trips fantastic through the rhythm
and hum of a late afternoon, busiest time of day
for folding in fragments of lost time in preparation
for the long shadows of impending nightfall;

Meanwhile peachy colored bell-shaped blossoms
drop from angel trumpet trees, hibiscus hybrids
twist tight their once-riotous display and do
not contemplate whether enough eyes
have witnessed the shade or texture of what has,
for them, taken not inconsiderable time and effort
to pull together for all who would witness,
setting the stage for a repeat performance
on tomorrows yet to come, bold beauties
on parade, regardless.

River Watch

The river runs, swollen in spring
from a source high up in crevasses
of snags jutting skyward of tree line,
cracks perpetually harboring snowpack,
bald crags carved by weather and the
bare relentless blaze of a
beneficent sun;

Churning down gullies and sluices,
bounding over boulders and rocks
wrapped in tangles of gnarled giants,
arboreal elders rooted in gneiss
from ages past, feeding from that
pure crystalline source;

There is no stopping the flow
until inserted concrete bulwarks
cause it to fan out, curtain-like,
sparking jewels from midday shards
of refracted light, dancing through
branches and dying in the froth
of churning surge, foaming,
ever rambling, to the inlets
of the sea.

Photos taken while traveling over Stevens Pass, Washington State. ©Bela Johnson, 2018


And summer has arrived;
just like that, torrential rains
cease, a blazing sun streams down
to the great relief of pineapples
aching to convert starch to sugar,
sweeten and lighten their load,
prickly customers snapped free
from bending stalks;

Giant papayas ripen before the eyes,
bottoms waxing golden signalling
time to gather up before Mejiros’
delicate beaks tap in to suck
the sweet nectar, breaking way
for fruit fly infestation;

Pamplemousse hang heavy on boughs
only recently pruned, year-round
providers if one can wait long
enough after picking for ripening
before yielding up the sweetest
of citrus delights;

The entire yard exudes varieties
of gardenia; Paklan, clove and shower
trees rounding out an olfactory palate
with lavender, oregano and rosemary
undertones, stroll by scented Ixora,
banana shrub, citrus blossoms popping
in a garden of earthly delights;

Meanwhile off we trudge, dogs
in tow, down into Pololu Valley, end
of the road under ten minutes from
our gates, steep bony trail descending
into Ironwoods flanking black lava rock
and sand beach, flowing runoff stream
meandering from lush verdant forest
into boundless turquoise sea.
“Common Gardenia,” which is anything but!

Pink Shower Tree blossomingScented Ixora

Tropical delights: pineapple and a ripening Pamplemousse
We don’t have hummingbirds here, but the tiny Mejiro is a nectar feeder

No papaya under nine inches today!

The incomparable Pololu

~ all photos ©Bela Johnson

Pine Trail

The cabin was bought fully furnished from an elderly couple who left behind what would now be considered valuable antiques. Two small bedrooms replete with horsehair beds, a combination Glenwood wood/kerosene kitchen stove; round golden oak drop-leaf table poised beneath a large section of windowpanes overlooking a screened-in porch, curved-glass china cabinet. Depression era dishes were stacked on open kitchen shelves; warm woolen bedding, cotton sheets and quilts were folded neatly in open wooden cupboards. The bathroom was small but serviceable, thick rectangle of well-worn mirror hung with clear plastic art nouveau style clips; a metal stall shower with grommeted cotton curtain. A small porcelain corner sink with a metal corner shelf poised above. Perched atop the buttermilk painted wooden cabinet lay a matched set of the palest yellow and green celluloid brush, comb, hand mirror.

The sofa was circa 1940 and a lovely light shade of rose with carved cherry wood feet and armrest ends. An upholstered wing-back chair; braided oval rug. If you visited your grandparents and grew up in the 50’s like I did, you’d know how the place smelled musty with wool and mothballs, how items were carefully handled, stowed, preserved. Pots were aluminum, mixing bowls a glazed Pyrex glass. Even the silverware begged to be used like the round aluminum biscuit cutter with black wooden knob handle. The serrated bread knife remains with me still, unlike stamped tin baking pans and the round plastic black and white kitchen timer. A yellowing if accurate electric wall clock was likewise lost somewhere along the way.

Every morning except in winter, I woke to the lilting cry of loons and stumbled out to sun winking through white pine and hemlock as it rose over the cabin, shedding splintered light on the mountains defining the other side of the narrows. Every evening around four, the sun began its descent behind those same hills and the evenings cooled some ten degrees to accommodate comfortable sleeping. Then out to the small porch where I’d banked a single bed on a metal frame against the logs of the outer cabin wall and loaded it with several pillows as backrests. It was there I sat, sublime and attentive in the flickering candlelight. Senses tuned to waves gently lapping rocky shoreline; birds ruffling feathers as night descended with a familiar finality.

Then the moon rose over the water as shafts of light bounced and shimmied and fanned its calming surface, while a billion stars flickered overhead like carefully constrained fireworks seeding themselves in the inky infinity of the heavens.

Version 2

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)


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



In the silvery light of morning
when nothing else matters, save the thread
of a cock crowing in the distance; face
of my beloved etched stilly in that pale gleam
before sound, as might have existed
in the beginning, prior to clamorous tires
on asphalt; kettle set to boil dew-encrusted
leaves pinched shortly after sunrise
while the veil into worlds of the waking lifts
along with drowsy eyelids;

By the brilliance of high noon, ti blades
begin to droop, edges curling against
the intensity of tropical sunlight
while I contemplate the arbor,
uninstalled assemblage lying raw
and savage under dull tarps
and scattered leaves dropped
from deciduous overhangs, dappled
with rose and white blossoms lilting
on brisk breezes, harbingers of spring;

Come the waning shades of dusk, paragons pull
out paintbrushes to streak across
the heavens, sometimes carelessly,
though more often as if contemplated
from a distance, stroke here, blot there,
while white-winged egrets soar northward
to bed down in the ironwood-lined cleavage
of tiny cinder cone volcanoes decked
in velvety green.




Out of silence arrive conditions,
long-lost children of the aching heart
of creation, rolling over the dark and wide waters,
gathering momentum, building crescendos,
thunderheads threatening vistas swelling succulent
with potential, conclusions suspended in the wings
of soaring seabirds or crowded jet liners;

Then without warning, gushing headlong
into thirsty ground, mating need with desire,
soaking and stripping, freeing nutrients
from their long-suffering dormancy while buds unfurl
fragile heads, tentative at first, arching rainbows
glistening, straightening spines emboldened
as draping verdant luxurious velvet spreads
over scorched, scratchy burlap of earth.



Crystalline silhouettes contract and pucker,
kissed now by sun like a lover rounding shards
of earth where thundering hooves
of waves seek ecstatic ground, flicking fingers
of saltwater sucking themselves dry
in flat palms of lava braced against shoreline
above which frigatebirds soar without pause;

Pass it, shake it, pour it on, dive deep
into its briny depths, oh, carry me, bear me
forth on waters of rebirth and distant lands far-flung
and wide enough that I can breathe unhindered, miles
from cityscapes and crowded streets;
grant the comfort of stillness, of liquid earth rolling
thick and crusty into oceanic depths, billowing
into uncluttered atmosphere marred only
by thunderheads gathering for the thrill
of distilling wonder.



Unspeakable beauty,
the snow lies in drifts;
soft blanket cushioning fragile life
humming just beneath the surface.

Quiet contrast:
brilliant blue sky,
tree limbs cradling old nests
and the occasional flock
of chickadees scolding empty feeders
which must look like the mothers
who have abandoned them.

We all tread through scarcity,
lope through abundance as the heads
of crocus pop through the crystals.
How odd both are always present,
yet we respond to Nature in repose
or madly fecund,
as befits our own inner drama.

See the sky?
How does memory serve
when we juxtapose fear and folly
over such blatant beauty as this?