Spritely

That strong wiry body she wore
like a curse, smiling all the while,
nature diffusing her with passion
for dun and verdant, fruit and flowers
astounding nimble fingers, eyes darting
and dancing with delight not reciprocated
in a world of humans she tried to forgive
as we communed in silence, renegotiated
until endings inserted themselves
as they will, all gardens being temporary;

And refusing to take further insult
from a species short on integrity tried
to end it, booze and pills, vomit clumped
in a long tangle of hula hair, cradled
skeleton rocking back and forth, back
and forth, rejoin the living, meet us
again on terms of this earth, let us touch
the sparkle, share wisdom and laughter
while sifting  through mounds of harvest
heaped onto old unblemished porcelain
as we pass time reflecting on budding
cloves and sliding doors to worlds
beyond the veil.

Unmasked

We live, we learn, we dream ourselves awake
into this life, unfurl curling brain stems
in the brilliance of day (not the inky blackness
of night, save Cereus, her beauty known only
to those willing to stumble
onto her luminous crown, mind the thorns,
all beauty has its price);

What is accomplished, how is it learned,
as secrets reveal themselves, sly Geisha
smiles peering out from behind delicate fans
or points driven home like Roman spears;
either way, we mark time and are marked
ourselves by decisions, responses, pauses
in the dance to tend bruised knees
or reach triumphantly toward the heavens;

We conquer, are defeated, it matters not,
this theatre continues unto dying
where masks slide off and we confront
what persona no longer conceals. Naked
to the soul, we step onto the final launching
pad into worlds lesser known,
awaiting masters of uncertainty.

~ image, bj: Cereus, when she fruits, yields the delicious Dragonfruit

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Only Human

What can be grasped in the depth of one’s gaze
peering mysteriously through curtains
of illusion, how to ever truly comprehend;
I sit gazing at that image now, the one of you
and me on the water, snow-crested Mauna Kea
backdrop, you in your element and me
in mine, I suppose;

Presentation unfailingly graceful, care ever
in the details, radiance beaming clear through,
and yet tortuous as life was to you anyway,
it ended. Just like that.

Wincing at your self proclaimed ugliness,
shaming parental voices never stilled,
and more beautiful a being I have rarely met
(choice of verb flipping flash card ‘known,’
rejected out of hand).

Impossible to fully intimate another we bar
no hold on the ego’s livery, while I carry
on perceiving shadows and crevices furrowed
deeper than appearances. You harbored
no guile, yet all I could glimpse
in those luminous dark eyes was wisdom
and experience; timber solid as trees
and just as vulnerable to the axe.

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photo: Hipstamatic rendering of guava leaf – Pololu Valley trail, 2015

Into White


It’s complicated.

I think of her lying in bed alone,

ridged shit-stained fingernails

and the blue bulge of veins under translucent skin;

bony hands curved inward, silently cursing agility

they can no longer manage.

 

Silk lily of the valley embedded in white porcelain;

a Christmas gift from me,

daughter distant as a morning star.

Gazes at them blankly, even fondly,

appreciating, perhaps, their lack of need

at a time when she cannot caretake;

tending blossoms instead with her eyes.

 

Flowers that remain open like she never could,

not bending slender alabaster necks

just to wither and drop away;

no reminder of where she, herself is headed.

Angry at memories, pushing them aside,

currying instead morphia’s favor.

 

Don’t ask me to account for anything,

she seems to say;

Let me close my eyes at last,

into that blank slate of white.

 

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Avian

I have never managed to save one, not that I haven’t tried. All my life I have discovered fledglings, either crowded out of the nest or cast out, or injured in the attempt to gain instant knowledge of flight. As a child it was neighborhood cats who preyed upon nestlings situated high above the ground, but with three dogs in our yard, cats don’t pose a problem here.

I found another yesterday, quite by accident. Remanding garden tools to their shed, I spotted movement in the grass under a rough-hewn wooden skid. Moving closer, a diminutive red-tinged crown appeared, rallying a hearty  twitter of distress. Fishing the little one gingerly from under the skid, I inspected it, only to discover a chafed, raw spot adjacent to a left wing. The appendage appeared possibly damaged as well, though the little creature clung mightily with tiny sharp toenails to an extended finger.

I know my track record in such matters, and gently placed the little bird back where I found it, praying for a miracle. Frankly by morning I had forgotten the animal, in a rush to get our big chocolate Lab to the vet for a fractured tooth extraction. Later upon my return to search for something in the tool shed, I spotted the wee one. Mouth gaping wide open, it again perched upon my flesh. Remembering a water bottle I had left in the shed the day before, I dropped a minuscule amount into the chick’s yawning mouth. Almost immediately, its spirit took flight. Eyes glazing over, it folded that precious newly-minted body into death.

I dug a hole in my garden, placing the tiny carcass between two large leaves. Murmuring a blessing, a few silent tears glided down my cheeks to soak into turf below. Many thoughts crossed my mind, among them the ease with which most creatures release their hold on life when it no longer seems tenable. That, and the fragility of existence, itself. Covering the makeshift grave with earth and mulch, I pressed the damp soil down firmly but gently with my foot, lest something attempt to dig it up in the night.

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TKR: In Remembrance

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Everyone is so afraid of death, but the real sufis just laugh; nothing tyrannizes their hearts. What strikes the oyster shell does not damage the pearl.

~ Jelaluddin Rumi

There’s mystic beauty in the Kohala mountain range, visible through picture windows overhead. The bluest sky and the kindness of strangers contrast the polished wooden box of ashes draped with mementos and lei. It’s why we carry on, I suppose, with this push/pull paradox of living. 

Vigilant for justifications to persevere, we discover hearts strengthened by this young woman’s radiant smile. All that remains is her photograph, yet it still lights up the room. Here, mourning contrasts the clatter of the outside world, carrying on as it does with laughter and petulance; calibrations and artifice. Not yet pared to essentials, it is easy to take others for granted until empty arms no longer embrace the beloved, transcending worlds.

Thus redemption is discovered, not in an imaginary world none of us is sure of, but in the eternal love sensed in the cells, just as every tree and flower lean toward the light and effortlessly surrender temporal bodies to the soil. Our spirits are nourished by the compost of kindness; enlarged through a desire to reach out and comfort another. Grief shakes out the folds of insecurity and judgment, uniting us in what is common to the human experience.

None living are exempt from this cycle of existence. And so we bless you on your journey, dear one, and merge back into the traffic that is our lives.

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FLY AWAY HOME

Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire; your children all roam.

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Grief washes over me in surprising waves,
currents flowing into eddies
in the folds of my brain.

She fidgets in the nursing home;
picking feathers off false birds
needing no tending.
Beautiful colors for a dull room, I think –
scarlet and indigo reminders
of wild and winged things
she once loved and cared for.

Pick, pick, plucking plumage,
yanking out eyes;
destroying, yet somehow not destructive.
She needs something to do with her hands,
I tell my sister.
Tomorrow, let’s get her crochet needle,
a skein of yarn.

She won’t use them, I’m telling you.

I decide to press on anyway.
Sure enough, we bring them
and she is unable to make sense of the gift.
Distracted now by a floating feather
she laughs, beyond amused.
We blow it up and over her head,
again and again just to hear her mirth;
behold dull eyes lit up and dancing.
My sister weaves a chain of yarn,
causing Mom to smile and laugh out loud
at her apparent ineptitude.

These are the last days of her life,
though we don’t quite know it yet.

When we clean out her house,
boxes upon boxes of thread and yarn,
needles and hooks;
fabric and lace and paintings and frames;
ornaments and wreaths and tiny figurines
and every single letter and postcard
I had ever written her.
Every envelope, stamp and business card;
photos and silly little mementos
tucked into drawers and boxes.

I do not know what to make of these memories;
can not take it all home, across the sea.
What does it mean?
How to interpret signs left by this woman
who bore us, then
left us long before her body weakened?
How could she know, now or then,
that at sixty and beyond
we still feel helpless as little children?

With each stitch woven into doilies and dolls,
perhaps she was weaving bits and strands
of a heart so broken by life
it was all she could manage, to let us know
our lives mattered.
Years spent waiting on a better world
beyond this one merely
broke my own.

~ bj

Eulogy to My Mother

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My mother kept things.

She didn’t quite know what to do with people: seven children; two husbands; countless grand- and great-grandchildren. She also rescued or fostered several dogs and a few cats in her almost eighty-nine years. She might have made it to ninety and beyond, but no matter. She was not attached to life, but rather to bright and shiny objects; to record keeping; to sugar and solitude. Life disappointed her as often as people did, through no fault of its own. Existence was simply what it was, as was she: a confounding confluence of a much beloved matriarch who died too soon and a difficult father. Or so I’ve been told. Mom was good with information, as long as it was fact rather than feeling. To drag emotions out of her remained nearly impossible right up until the day she died.

The loss of Mom’s own dear mother seared grooves in her steely temperament, and she never quite smoothed out the scar tissue. My birth apparently helped, for before she got religion, she insisted I was her reincarnated mother. Yet the woman was as much mystery to me as to four siblings preceding. She presented herself more as a friend to have fun with, perhaps to ease her conscience about being too heavy-handed with the older kids. But none of us ever knew then any more than we know now about her innermost regrets. We only know our own.

And so it is that this week she left the confusion of a world that demanded too much of her sensitivities. Yet for some of us, this is the very essence of a full life: to dig in soulfully, to feel and know joy as well as heartache, to risk and be rewarded, to join or bask in solitude, to exist in a perpetual state of unknowing while loving the serendipitous, the unpredictable outcomes. To exist in a vacuum excluding these sensations seems inconceivable, yet I know there are others like her who cannot seem to break out of this particular mold.

Mom’s death was expected, and if it could have been planned and painless, she might have scheduled it sooner. I blew in on the winds of change to assist my sister who had been her sole caregiver for five years, allowing our mother to remain in her own home. When Mom was no longer able to maintain her hygiene by refusing to let my sister help, she had to be moved to a nursing home. She died three weeks later. I considered this a blessing, coming as it did on the heels of my sister’s phone call entreating me to come soon if I still wanted to count Mom among the living.

Going through her cache of keepsakes, it’s unsettling to discover forgotten bits of my own history: old hand-cut business cards – the vivid red of my eldest daughter’s teenage business venture crafting dream catchers when we lived in the Southwest; the bright yellow experiment in naming what I do for a living; a faded blue jewelry header signed with a silver felt-tipped pen from my husband’s silversmithing days. Paper is easier to preserve in southern California’s dry climate than in our Hawai’i home, thus these items dwelled for fifteen years in a corner of an antique desk drawer. How now to delegate these reclaimed treasures? And how poignant the sentiments such objects recall.

Like the crows my father despised and I loved, Mom tucked away glittery things: rings and earrings and necklaces and bracelets – far more jewelry than she likely even remembered she possessed. Then again, I might have underestimated this woman who gave me life yet remained such a mystery. My sisters and I – for Mom survived three sons and two husbands – divvied up what we could while feeling ill at ease about discarding numerous missing pairs in her considerable collection.

As a person who wears a gold wedding band and maybe a pair of simple gold earrings when going further afield than our own little North Hawai’i town, I’ve been sporting a sparkling five-gemstone-and-gold number on my right ring finger. I’ll have to wait until I’m back home to ask my husband if the stones are tourmaline or pink sapphire. For some reason that has absolutely nothing to do with anything resembling my own aesthetic, this reminder of Mom keeps me close enough to her memory until I feel as though her spirit has found expression in that broad face of eternity.

To Have and To Hold

She doesn’t want to let me go –
it’s in the blood.

Like cells, we divide,
move apart;
couple up with others,
and revel in the familiar
of an original template:
family.

Our mother is leaving us,
hysterical now with dementia.
It’s fun to watch her laugh,
as we know the other side:
disgust, apprehension,
downright terror.

We ourselves are dead or dying,
as one by one
she picks us off
like fleas irritating
a mind tossing darts
at her imminent demise.

When this passes –
and it will –
we will expand our love
to fill the void;
let it seep into the spectrum
of children, spouses, selves.

Affection and endearment
are ours to have and to hold,
from that day forward –
until we, too,
shed these precious skins
and flow back into pure light.

 

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Eulogy to My Father

Sometimes we give all that we can,

and it’s not enough.

Will never be,

unto death.

Other times

(and this may be a mistake)

We do not.

 

Wounded pride,

arrogance,

hurt,

sensitivity;

anger, fear, resentment

keep us from it.

 

We cannot give

what we do not possess.

There is only this

to forgive.