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)

 

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.)

Eclipse

I don’t now know what to do with the grief
of parental disappointments,
how their lives entangled, ensnared,
dreams dashed on the shoals
of fragile egos glued together by obsession
with ‘fifties fantasies and too many children;

My mother once told me in the throes
of discovering my first husband’s
confused gender orientation, Oh, have
a baby! Have a Baby! As if stitching
this troubled soul to my side for life
could relieve a retinue of problems;

Schooled only to parental obedience
I might have been tempted, though thank
the gods he recognized the folly
in her entreaties (considering now her
solution then, multiplied seven times over);

How could I possibly have understood
what has taken a lifetime to sort out,
reflecting back on images of Mother,
then three decades younger than I am now;
what did I, myself know at that time,
Nothing! How could I have been equipped
to juggle betrayal, babies and bills
through thickly clouded vision,
ripe with hopes and dreams of youth?

Now I stand on the threshhold of my own
senescence, poised between their birthdays
and three eclipses, lunar mother and father sun,
and I wonder again how families fail one another
and how we fare, once festooned with illusions
now cast off, far from those turbulent shores.

Mothers Day Contemplations

So here’s my Mothers Day suggestion:

Try (and this might be really difficult) seeing your mother as a fallible human being, acknowledging her own problems and struggles and faults. It’s hard not to have expectations or fantasies about an archetypal figure like Mother or Father, though possessing this kind of sensitivity far exceeds any Mothers Day gift you may be contemplating. It adds depth to your own character, and is a sign of great maturity.

I don’t know a mother past her fifties who is free from regrets about her own mothering. The struggles of an emerging adult who already thinks she’s fully formed take on a whole new meaning with the birth of a first child. Your mother is growing right along with you, either self aware or in spite of herself. We can’t always have the former, but the latter is assured, whether she likes it or not.

Be kind to this person who loves you so very unconditionally. Do not simply await her endless giving as though it is your lifelong birthright. Realize she is conditioned to sacrifice, and try alleviating her suffering. She will hold you in her heart until she dies, a rare quality to find in a partner or friend. And that is what we celebrate on this day.

Happy Mothers Day, mamas everywhere! me6mos

photo of me and my mother, 1953