Changes, Changes

Hawaii was a visual banquet. At every turn I couldn’t help myself. I visually grabbed until, overstuffed, I collapsed in sensory overload. Lush tropical foliage, expansive ocean views that ranged from turquoise to indigo, most set against jet black lava. A loop road circles around the entirety of Big Island, where dry lava desert gives way to breathtaking cliffs, verdant fields, and always Mother ocean below. Water was the main theme, not only in the ocean and tropical rains, but in the very air, itself. Yet after 15 years, I was ready to return to a land with four seasons.

Moving back to the high desert of New Mexico was like going on a diet. The terrain is sparse; it does not impose. Water is a theme, though in a very different way. Here, water is badly needed. At all times. A desert’s gifts are revealed slowly, with patience and attention to subtleties. Cloud formations can stop me in my tracks, and seem to exist here as nowhere else I have traveled or lived. Enormous ravens swoop through forests and valleys whilst elk roam close to the house in the wee hours, and colors of all sorts stand. Out. Large expanses of gently rolling flat will surprise with a sudden view of a snow-capped mountain range. Driving north into Taos on the main highway features the Rio Grande gorge split open like a melon. At its bottom snakes the river, green and rolling, more or less, depending on the season.

This morning brought snow, though very different than in what can be a very bleak New England, this time of year. Always, always the sun strives to poke through the clouds here, so within an hour, we had snow, brilliant sunshine, billowing dark gray nimbostratus, snow, gusting winds, and more snow. Tomorrow we may set feet onto bare ground.

Hope you are all feeling the spirit of the holy days. Don’t let the pandemic fear paralyze you. Stay safe however you must, but also strong by getting out and getting the blood moving. Breathe deep with an open heart. Nature heals. She truly does. Blessings, all.

Mothers Day 2020

Today I posted an apology to my mother, now deceased, on Facebook. Apologized for not being more patient, more understanding; in essence a better daughter. Immediately friends rallied around me, supporting and consoling in these shared reflective times in that way women do. My mother raised us in virtual self-imposed isolation. She sequestered her shame in a beautiful home with an abusive husband, her constant companions being sorrow and confusion at how a man she adored could turn so savage and loving, in turn. If social media had existed, I wonder if she would or even could have reached out for the comfort she desperately needed.

She was only eighteen, a child herself when she gave birth to the first of seven healthy children. I was fifth down the line, her baby girl, the object of her devotion through most of my childhood. It was complicated as she clearly favored me, which set up many years of resentment from my siblings. I was not aware of the repercussions when young, children take what love they can get. Later on I resented her in turn for causing such confusion and heartbreak amongst my siblings. And on it went, the baton was passed and I seized and flat-out ran with it.

I wonder how parent/child relationships would alter if we could time travel to the future, just far enough to consider what we are about to say or do. My child self had the luxury of few filters when it came to Mom. My father was unsafe at any speed, so what I stifled with him, I let fly with her. It was not constant, and I was not often unkind, but even after I left home, there were excuses not to call or visit except when it suited me. I was wrapped up in my own adult dramas then, with the challenges of an errant husband and two little girls to think about. Coping was just about what I could handle. Yet even when the girls left home, I called mom less and less frequently. She had found religion, and I tired easily of the conversion tactics. Had I more tolerance, I might have found a way around the touchier comments. Had I cultivated patience, I might have realized she was getting old and older, more and more frail and finally death overcame her non-resistance to it. She had suffered enough to consider it a benediction.

As I approach my sixty-seventh birthday next month, I don’t know if it’s mortality or the prevalence of pandemic-driven morbidity that tugs more assiduously at the strings of my heart. I feel tender and a little raw and a bit weepy. As diligent as I was about my own mothering, I made mistakes as she said I would. I don’t know if kids are even meant to understand, but parents are very much growing up alongside them. This, whilst trying to fill shoes of archetypal proportions. Mother. Father. Even with the best of marriages or parenting intentions, who among us can ever measure up to these impossible standards?

Wishing all of you mothers everywhere a blessed Mothers Day tomorrow and every day. It’s the hardest and paradoxically the most rewarding job on the planet. May we all support one another in sharing the kind of love we either received or lacked from our own moms. With genuine forgiveness, love and compassion flows like singing water. May we all attune to its frequency. Aloha.Kohala Mountain Road morning glories ~ bj

Clear Vision

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

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)

 

I’d Rather Be Bitten

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.

 

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.

Tangential

It’s facile to ponder fault
in others whose treatment of us
seems appalling.

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.

fantasy_universe-normal

Compassion

 

The spiritual center of the universe abides within me,
first person witness to miracles amidst the mundane.
Whose legs better equipped to walk the talk
synaptically steered from head to lips?

Only I possess power to halt trains of thought
before, derailed, they become runaways
screeching through the hearts and minds of others
prior to landing, disheveled,
amidst my own manufactured debris.

Search for gods and devils all you will,
we need affirmations in this hall of mirrors;
though be honest when blaming the reflection,
leaving Essence on the sidelines
bleeding forgetfulness,
not forgiving surrogates their own trespasses.

spiritual-center

Diamond

Somewhere along the line,

I learned to separate

recollection from reflection;

memories from lessons learned.

 

Once the needle was stuck in the groove

like an old vinyl LP,

scritching and scratching static

clear through to my core.

I could neither bump it forward,

nor hearken back to reconstruct

another track.

 

How the shift began,

where it seated itself at that long banquet table

measuring the breadth of life,

I do not know.

I am only grateful that it did.

 

All my life has been like that:

subtle shiftings and backdoor gatherings;

avoiding the grand entrance whenever possible.

Transforming and slowly polishing

stone to gem, porous black rock to brilliant diamond;

myriad surfaces picking up hues and subtleties,

refracting back to their source.

 

Precious gifts are useless when pillaged or ignored;

instead they are banked and trussed,

forming the framework of kindness

radiating silently from the cavern of the heart.

 

~ bj

 

Unknown

 

 

 

Outcaste

She greets them in alleyways,

meets them indoors;

she’s a mother’s sweet baby,

she’s somebody’s whore.

Her fantasies keep her

from going insane;

her children, her future

bound up in the pain.

 

And for us it is easy,

with lives full and sweet –

moving forward and backward,

eyes avoiding the street.

 

Her gaze sweeps the horizon,

she longs for a clue

how she got here,

where she’s headed

and it’s all up to you.

I know what you’re thinking:

she’s not mine; isn’t yours –

like the homeless and hungry,

despised and abhorred.

 

While the shadows among us

seep under our skin;

they becomes us, they fit

like white lies that unhinge

the most stoic and stolid,

where they come home to roost;

and we have to confront

our own human abuse.

 

~ bj

 

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