Restriction is a mindset
borne of concrete and steel and stasis.
Seen and not heard. Sit still in school.
Conditioned respect a static response.

Still, wander out into the countryside,
its very nature abundance.
Just notice!

Trees swaying wildly,
birds warbling boundlessly,
feathers and songs and petioles
exploding iridescence, vibrancy,
syncopated symphony
of wind and rain and streaming light;

meanwhile a blazing orb of fire slips
into the sea, molten body
capturing breath,
slowing heart rate,
surging open ventricles
pumping vitality into eyes settling
into sockets of slumber, resting
in peaceful, ecstatic repose.


Fern Forest


Suddenly vibrancy flashes a face,
ducking low and into a forest of ferns
so high they dwarf humans.

Anciently inspiring ecosystem grants us life
through our very pores and we don’t even know it;
do not think in terms of consequences
as men on machines clear
to house more invasive species.

Corralled now in fragments, we visit and learn,
if we are wise, the secrets held there;
begin reclaiming knowledge known only
to our bones, crumbling now into fragments of their own,
breaking down, as all must, to rejoin the filtering soil.

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She’s tender,

like rose petals in rain

before sun and weather draw

stalks rigid toward a heaven

filled with wonder and fear

of what lies beyond,

of then and now as small hands

trace feathery lines across his tired brow.


Trembling when confronted

with too many uncertainties,

taking comfort in verdant petioles

and azure heavens, seeds and soil

and lolling tongues of dogs.


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image: Bela Johnson 2013


Forgetting barren landscapes,

the vast deserts of the Southwest,

I head for home in three.


Three cold and grey, misty days

of late May in Portland town;

leaden skies pierced clear through

with explosions of color on the ground.

Blossoms unconcerned with human comfort

riot through streets,

spilling over onto sidewalks,

needing only space

in which to ramble.


Paradox surrounds me,

in city or in country;

in life as in death, whether noted or not.

Alone in its midst, I rally

to punctuations of light and dark,

tension and placidity;

scarcity and fecundity.


Embracing life on its own terms

allows me to love

even this chill as it penetrates my bones.

The imprint remaining may haunt

or be forgotten; the point being perspective

which, when cherished,

becomes my future.


~ bj


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Lady of the Lake

The hills lay sideways

like a sleeping woman,

hips colored now in showy hue

before winter strips her

back to bone.


Caught in waiting,

hair tipped with a million blazing stars

and fog laced over her crown;

steam rising from mouths

of fishermen, ignorant

of the sensuous body brazenly

revealed before them,

not amazed.


Yet a few unknowingly take heed

and, with each sideways glance;

each fluttered eyelash;

her variegated image registers

on the tipped lens of human retinae

and a patient vigil,

though unchanged to the eye,

lays tracks in the heart.


~ bj


On Turning Sixty


The hollowness of morning rain drums against a parched landscape. There is nothing sweeter than waking to its sound, especially after watering extensively last night to keep the orchids, red ginger and herbs; the flowering shrubs happy. The newly planted shower tree stands stark and leafless against a grey sky, bathing in the elixir of the gods.

We are blessed to live in this place, and there’s hardly a moment I take it for granted. To unwind at day’s end by walking a short distance down to surf thundering against ocean cliffs; to awaken to birdsong and the gentle clanging of wind chimes. In solitude, I wonder how tourists could possibly prefer the crowded beaches of Waikiki. But I don’t dwell on it unduly.

Sixty feels like fifty, only older. Age is a precarious companion, as the mind becomes richer in experience and wonder while the flesh becomes a challenge to maintain. I often observe those far older than me, knowing I will be in their shoes soon enough. When they dither and dally; as they struggle to remember or strike out in frustration, I strive to be more patient and understanding. For in those frail, failing bodies dwells a great treasure trove of history and passion. Inside these elders lies the lusty teenager; the harried young adult; the busy parent or the tortured artist. In the end, nothing matters but the kindness of others and the ability to remember one’s self well enough to function in a world one is about to withdraw from.

I cannot predict the future, but I can choose to live as fully as I am able, in the here and now.  As long as I draw breath, I plan on experiencing all I can of this beautiful Earth while returning gratitude in the most profound means possible. In a sacred dance with the Mystery, the journey ever continues.

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Making the Bed

My husband used to share this ritual upon arising. Decided years ago by both of us as an act of caretaking a loving relationship, making the bed has fallen to me of late, as he’s up and gone, often shortly past sunrise.

These are the rhythms of our lives – the waking, pausing to reflect, the taking in of nourishment and the launching into what the morning holds. At the end of the day, there is no place we look forward to returning more than this comfortable, spacious berth. It is a place of retreat and sustenance; an unperturbable sanctuary.

This morning as I make the bed, I think how like a prayer it has become. Removing pillows to the floor; noting the faint white streaks of slaver, markings of deep slumber. Small marvel, all the years this man has laid his head next to mine; the warmth of bodies and breath in benediction to the night that liberates us into other worlds. As my hands run over the bottom contour sheet, smoothing out the pleats we have eddied into existence, I pick off small flecks of lint and curls of chest hair; smile furtively at tracings known only to lovers.

Tucking in what has pulled loose; snugging the top sheet to lap over the light summer blanket, hands smooth the surface like a memory. Small movements bear benevolence; small acts, in sum, cement meaning to our lives.


The Constant Gardener

We contain it in consciousness;

Remember, so we do not forget,

and get on with our lives

or risk drowning in despair.


Each day pregnant with unknowing,

we risk all by walking out the door;

mingling with the masses

or digging in the soil.

Even there, shards of glass,

old metal and pottery

percolate to the surface,

surprising skin, unprepared.


Planting over and around the damage;

creating beauty is what I know –

Hands taking over

where the head leaves off;

Mind quiets down.


Mulching the surface,

softening soil to contain

life-giving moisture;

inviting breakdown,

the flowering of vitality.


What is this delicate balance,

how can the human spirit hold

a lifetime of soaking up

splendor that bursts the heart open;

joy in creating – then sorrow,

regret; the shame

in what our species is capable.


How do we sleep at night, cradled

in the knowing, the awareness

that we are doing our part;

contributing to the betterment

of a world in the throes of transformation?


Sowing seeds of loving kindness,

I garden.





As a child in less than ideal circumstances, life was filled with dread and despair. Yet I always felt I had an invisible confidant in a faceless Creator – a sort of tabula rasa onto whom I could project all my love and hate; all the repressed passions I could not otherwise safely express in a world of chaotic uncertainties.

As I grew into adulthood with more than my share of unanswered existential inquiries, the one constant that brought me again and again into alignment with the only stable sort of inner calm I have ever known was my forays into the wilds of the world. It was and is there that I discover complete acceptance – blessings and beauty always exceeding expectation. It was and is there I return, again and again, for solace and comfort and the deep awareness that I am a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars [who has] a right to be here (The Desiderada).

Where is God to be discovered for us mere mortals if not right here and now, wherever we may be? To be doomed solely to imagine the numinous is a fundamentalist punishment I have long since cast off as a snake sheds its skin, leaving a hollow ghost body behind. Not in any way meant to diminish The Mystery that confounds even the most ardent quantum physicist or cleric, my forays into nature infuse me with grace in ways both profound and sacred, insuring my place in the scheme of things. The interplay of light and shadow; the fathomless eyes of wild creatures; the miracle of each leaf and petal draw me into a dance with life, itself. If repeated on a regular basis, a divine dispensation imprints itself on my very being, much like placing small hands into setting concrete. It is an imprint that is not easily removed, once fully cured.


All images taken on the Mana Road of the Big Island of Hawaii – copyright 2012 by Bela Johnson

The Real Thing

How is it that a visceral memory of thirty years ago sustains itself so vividly in both the body and mind? Such is my experience of whitewater rafting – a rolling, jaunting, thrilling escapade down some of the wildest water that still exists in North America, albeit dam-controlled. Thirty years ago, it was the West Branch of the Penobscot River in Maine. Today it is the Deschutes River in Oregon, and I could hardly wait to get to the mainland from our home in Hawaii in order to experience this kind of water, once again. I love the ocean’s waves, but there is something about whitewater that captivates the imagination.

We don’t have to be on the river until a reasonable hour of the morning. Still, there’s frost on the ground as we don wetsuits and neoprene booties. Teeth chattering, I throw on my long sleeved rashguard for extra warmth. This in no way prepares me for the shock, however, as, on the second rapid, I am jettisoned from the boat, along with two others, into the icy drink. My god, I think, it’s early September! How is it even possible for water to get this cold, this quickly? The guide remarks that we are the only ones on the river, and even a week before, there were dozens of rafts with hundreds of occupants, waiting in the eddies for a turn in the roiling current.

Forgetting how flexible a twenty year-old body can be – certainly compared to an almost-sixty year-old physique – I lurch forward and knock my two front teeth into the back of my daughter’s head. No harm done, save for a fat lip for a few days – but I become wary, a feeling that is asynchronous to the memory I spoke of earlier. I wiggle and tug at the good front tooth that remains, after having an implant replace the other I lost to Hawaii’s unpredictable surf twenty years ago. My arm still aches and is oddly dysfunctional after being torqued out of alignment during my surprise tumble. I shift to the other side of the craft; paddle with the opposite arm. Still, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to strip out the pain with my other skilled hand. Eventually I am successful, but again I am uncharacteristically cautious, as I turn to the guide and whisper, Hey – I don’t want to bum the others out, but if there’s any way to keep me in this boat for the duration, I would really appreciate it.

The remainder of the ride is enjoyable, mostly because those I love are having the time of their lives. Vicarious pleasure settles in, and it’s okay. I have discovered balance, once again. My delts and biceps hurt less, but I remain chilled to the bone. I launched into this journey with a nagging cough, and cannot imagine how shivering all day is going to make it better. Still, the view from the river is extraordinary, and the water itself possesses a magic that is impossible to describe.