Coming to Grips

Fifteen degrees on the outdoor thermometer, and I dread walking out to an unheated greenhouse, though he tells me I should, prepares me for what I am about to witness;

Tomato plants first, laden with unripened fruit, no fault, didn’t get the structure built on time, planting came late, and we agreed we were lucky to reap all we did;

Forty-two green tomatoes now line the windowsill in the sunroom, three acorn squash, four butternut; and we are fortunate, fresh zucchini, peppers, bitter and sweet greens every day, despite a gopher incursion that ended our beet harvest at four, despite not knowing what I was doing,
never having planted a greenhouse before;
And we agreed, if the season was extended
even a month, it would be worth it, likely
it will stretch to three at least;

Yet when I walked out that morning, gazing
dumbfoundedly at vine leaves hanging ragged as torn flesh in that dark blue-green transparency of frostbite, my heart ached, grateful I harvested most of the dicey crops; still, peppers hung limp and spongy on frost-damaged bushes, marigolds stood dead with seeds intact, geranium and gardenia still alive, though for how long, winter has just begun, there are degrees to descend into single digits yet;

Cleaning up vines this morning, I am pleased
with what remains, and relieved in a way now the shock has passed, snow will come and our woodshed is full, three days’ labor yielding enough fuel to heat through winter and spring, no more morning and evening watering, I can focus now on art and writing, indoor pursuits I miss when nature beckons me out the door and into the brilliant colors, the long days of spring and summer and yet another season to plant and thrive in the midst of my garden creations.


These slate skies are familiar, in a strange
illogical way; here, there are mountains,
no sea in sight, and though mists appear
like fog, it is high desert with rivers running
through forested landscapes, their waters
unreliable as winter ocean waves in Hawaii
or storms crashing upon boulders on the rugged
coast of Maine, though the danger here is that
these waters run nearly dry this time of year,
not that they will whip themselves into currents
that, to the unaware, can and do take lives
of lobstermen and surfers, alike;

Rains come to this dry landscape,
made fertile only through great effort,
time and patience giving rise to grasses rich
enough to provision livestock who, in turn, feed
many others in that final incarnation within
styrofoam and plastic covered containers scooped
up in supermarkets rather than on the farm;

When my girls were growing up, I would drive
from Maine’s woods and waters to the wide-open
fields to the west where farm families would offer
raw unpasteurized milk and butter, along
with freshly butchered meat, a practice
eventually made illegal by laws enacted
by greedy corporations spreading falsehoods
about the purity of these products
and something was lost in the circle of life,
the understanding of where our food comes from,
the sweat and toil it takes to wake up early
to milk dairy cows, the reverence or lack
thereof in the ending of a life meant to salve
appetites of others, the recycling of manure
to fertilize fields in which we later picked
strawberries, scooped up sweet corn, pumpkins
and other produce our own small plot and my lack
of skill would prohibit for a time;

And now here we are, eight billion and counting,
a planet in crisis and our own species learning
that we must rediscover the old, sustainable ways
of doing things if we are to survive and thrive
amidst too much urban sprawl, corporate corruption
and political greed; we must take back our power
to provide for ourselves and our communities
as we once again discover joy in simplicity
whilst tending to this precious planet and her
flora and fauna as if humans were part
of the web of life, as if we actually belonged.

My flower gardens still provide me absolute bliss.


Winds kick and gust, twisting limbs
and shaking foliage and branches loose,
culling the dead and startling the living
into a wakefulness that strengthens, even
as surely they flinch at the onslaught;

Large foot-long seed pods drop to the ground
in varying shades of mottled green and brown,
inserting themselves into garden beds amidst lilies
and flowers, comically stuck upright into places
unlikely to host them otherwise;

Yet without this early spring ritual, daily
gathering the giant leaves and shower tree pods,
a lush blush-pink gumdrop canopy and the plethora
of rich nubbly breadfruit peeking out from beneath
the shade of huge ulu leaves could never evince
such utter delight, and this abundant landscape
would give way to the monotonous green lawn many
prefer here, fearing high winds and the occasional
tangle of gnarled branches snapping suddenly
and startlingly to an indifferent ground.


Shower trees quiver blossoms
of shell pink or flaxen yellow
with ivory struck through, sucking
up abundant rainwater, tips a brand
new green in these late spring days;
shooting ever upward, obscuring,
as originally planned, any traces
of power lines stretched between
poles fashioned from dead relations
coated in creosote, convenient
for humans more dependent,
though little they might remember,
on the lilting shade provided
in the increase of summer heat,
stretched sideways now into spring
and fall, escalating;

I planted them all in the half-acre
lawn claimed as home, knowing
how they would reduce exposure
to relentless subtropical sunlight,
dappled respite for fragrant cattleya
and glossy-leafed anthuriums,
while wing-weary fliers seek shelter
and water untinged with roadside
poisons meant to choke back
jungle vegetation that simply
cannot be contained, conditions
being prime for proliferation.

All photos ©2019, Bela Johnson


Wound Mending

The crescent mark left by a garden knife
is slowly mending, unresisting as I cleave
yet another lifted layer of my own skin
from its center until a proper feeling
of softness returns to adjacent banks
of that once-jagged riverbed;

Like one’s own feelings repeatedly
disregarded, trauma inflicted by those
unaware of consequences, of actions
and words cast carelessly about
like roadside refuse, transformation
taken back by my own hands becomes
a thing of beauty, weaving words
into textiles for the fabric
of the soul, spinning veils
of verbiage into mantles fit
for undefended hearts.

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.