Nutshells Notwithstanding

I could tell you a version of my life
that would be intriguing, but would it be
true? In just under seven decades,
memories are viewed through
a prismatic lens of dazzling colors
or in black and white depending,
and I think it has perhaps always
been thus;

To retrieve fodder from far back requires
I plumb the mind of a child, dazzled
by a world of human behavior she never
understood, coming in, as she did,
with a certain clueless high mindedness
and expectations of how things
ought to be;

And I was not perfect, not by a hearty
stretch, I recall both mistreatment
from others but also a secret meanness
in myself, cavalier with my mother in ways
I would never be now, safe to make fun of her
then, taking for granted that unconditional
love and acceptance; I could do little wrong,
and I know now how fortunate I was;

So easy to find fault with those we know
love us without reservation, so facile to treat
our beloveds with praise or scorn, parsing
out kindness like breadcrumbs for hungry birds,
not realizing, until perhaps too late, the nature
of our own blunders, products of an overinflated
sense of self importance in a world starved
for kind words and deeds given simply now
from a heart filled with the sublime grace
and benevolent perceptions of others.

With my brothers in Yosemite, 1959

Circle of Life

Nothing is ever a mistake, not even
what we toss into the maw of a waiting
donation bin, our acquisitions
and castoffs equally important to us
in their time;

And aren’t we a part of nature, bright
flowers blooming their prolific heads off
out there in the garden, then shedding
copious detritus once they’re done,
the difference of course being that
their kind of death contributes to life
and does not impinge on the health
of the planet by piling
up in mountains of landfill;

We also gather people to us in this life,
some challenge us, others delight often
in the same breath, unexpected, sometimes
unwanted, and our responding feelings
of joy or sorrow enrich this journey
into awareness, as deep as we are able
to dive in and emerge, again and again;

Mis-take, mis-step imply we have acted
in error somehow, and yet without stepping
on your toes in the proverbial dance, we might
not have met as fully and honestly as we did
and as we continue to do, day by day, year
after year, and now, some thirty years later,
we can laugh about what others thought
the boldest move, the grandest mistake
of our lives.

Vallecitos, NM ~ bj 2022

Out of the Blue

Fresh blooms of cirrus in muted hues of silver
punctuate the bluest sky imaginable, though
even northern New Mexico hazes over from time
to time these days, unlike thirty years ago
when we first touched earth in these north
by southwestern climes;

Cerulean heavens magnify in contrast to the splendor
of Ponderosa pines, branches now flanked with flocks
of blue jays as flickers strut up and down massive trunks,
searching for winter insect feasts while blue green grama
grasses rattle seed heads and silently tinge brown,
the not yet frozen ground speckled with bits of white
left over from the last snowfall;

Piñon jays are joined now at the feeders by their punk
rock-haired cousins the Stellars, and flocks arrive
as if by magic, now invisible in the heavens, now
appearing suddenly, recalling to mind deep ocean
diving, swimming along, turquoise waters shot
through with rays of golden sunlight,
then silvery flechettes darting this way and that,
then whole schools of pelagic fish appearing
as if out of nowhere, concealed in nature’s cloak
of invisibility;

What we don’t see is hidden only if we fail to attune
to subtleties, the pulsed calls and clicks of giant
humpbacks, the chirps and trilled screech of the red-
winged blackbird, the chickadee’s dee-dee-dee, the kee-
kee of red-tail hawks circling overhead, even the nuanced
eye language and restrained whimpers of canine
companions, bored at having to spend more time
than they would like indoors, frustrated children;
all of it, all, crying out in the perpetual need
to make themselves heard, to connect with fellows
of their own species, maybe including our own,
if we would but listen and open up
to this essential education.

Vallecitos, NM ~ bj 2022

What’s the Big Deal?

Stepping into that ladies parlor made me shiver,
reminded me of a rich friend’s house, her mother’s
shell pink bedroom with attached bath, gold gilded pink
tufted velvet chair she sat on to apply considerable amounts
of makeup and tease her platinum bleached blonde hair;

It scared the wits out of me how certain people live,
and I, her daughter’s friend, knew secrets she
of necessity would have to learn later, the pregnancy,
her firstborn running away with a beautiful Mexican
boyfriend to marry, something her mother would
never endorse in a million lifetimes;

And I thought then and I think now, what is this path
of exclusion, the shunning of dear family, friends,
people who don’t comply with another’s version
of what they ought to be, how things must look
in order to be acceptable and to whom I cannot imagine
if not themselves, the bitterness rising as gall
in the throat or feeding a tumor, black wad of hate
and resentment somewhere, now hidden, later
to be discovered somewhere in their own precious body;

We are all on this earth to learn unconditional love,
and experience schools us, molds us, polishes us like
diamonds from the roughest coal if we but accept
the tutelage, the sooner the better, in order
that we garner something of value to pass along
to a world in need of wisdom when our time here
is done.

mountains above Peñasco, NM ~ bj 2022

Too Soon Gone

Where on earth do I belong?
I have taken up space on this orb
for nearly seventy years, many
of these spent in utter confusion,
lost to myself, leaving many
others to wonder, who is this being?
As if I, myself held the answers,
aware of my motivations, I did not;

And I get it, perhaps I am not solitary
in these musings, perhaps it is a product
of age and experience, duration
in a life spent with memories,
reflections, condensation of thirty-
five years of living in the Maine woods,
a home my heart returns to endlessly,
though those days are gone forever;

Even if I could return, I would not,
desecrated forests, polluted waters
where once I swam and floated
without human observation,
contemplating the brilliance
of streaming light from heavenly bodies
not yet emerging into view, swimming
with loons, their young paddling
behind parents, my future not something
I contemplated, rather encountered
often haltingly, day by day, headlong
and too often blindly as if rushing
into blackness, life happening to me,
instead of crafting it, shaping it
into a thing of my own choosing;

And now I sit, watching clouds gather,
listening to birds and the distant thump
of a garbage truck going about its run,
collecting refuse we cannot use,
all the detritus left as a product
of living in the twenty-first century,
too many people, how has it come
to this where, despite wilderness
surrounding me, my thoughts drift
constantly to the unnecessary waste,
not only refuse, but resentments, pain
of those growing up, not knowing years
in human form are precious and short,
building castle walls of separation,
unforgiveness, and it will be gone without warning to all of us, in the blinking eyes left to observe what once seemed an endless, open, uncluttered road of possibilities.

High desert sky, northern New Mexico, 2022 ~ bj

Pause

There is a pause, before the rosy light of evening
blinks her last, as fragile hummingbirds cease
their whirling dance around feeders
and the incessant cackle of jays, the waterfall
trilling of blackbirds, retreat to the deep arms
of the forest as night creatures emerge
from hiding to seek sustenance;

Can they comprehend, these young progeny,
how invisible luminous threads connect us,
one to the other, in the busyness of the everyday,
illusions that prop up economies, small dramas
of striving toward loves we sustain patiently
without question, the push and pull drawing them
toward consciousness or away from the light?

Coyotes howl in the distance, owls softly hoot
in snags across the road, insects scurry about
seeking their own forms of shelter and it is
so simple, these rhythms of the cosmos,
the silent grinding whirl of planets in orbit,
moon and sun taking turn in the daily business
of living, the opening and closing of days
and lifetimes.

Piñon Jay, New Mexico ~ bj

The Consistency of Dirt

I always had dirt between my toes, beginning when I was old enough to toddle, and my parents did not care, having come out west from Chicago, land of the freezing, and I do not remember any scolding for it, surely I would if it existed, walked on blistering asphalt too, never caring if my feet hardened into hooves, all the better to play horse, romping and galloping around the yard;

I went to Hamilton Park bare chested in only white underwear, more like shorts back then, and I will never forget the boys that made fun of me on the merry-go-round, free as they likely would never be, instead targeting a smiling little girl, sun streaking her chestnut hair blonde, but you know, I never went without a shirt after that day, so it must have made quite an impression, the end of innocence, perhaps we all recall this in our lives;

Five years old and off to school, I do not recall rebelling at shoes, only the delight in learning, and walking with neighborhood kids picked up along the way, a small gang of non-thugs back then, the place was safe, ridiculously so compared to these times, our school tucked neatly into the arms of a huge mountain range; breathing fully, natural as a mountain goat, and to think city folks need yoga to teach them what came naturally to children raised
in sunshine and lush surroundings;

Moving to New England after high school gave me another sort of grounding, bare feet tucked into thick socks and boots, but oh, the forest! The lakes! I never missed those barefooted excursions, I would always be nature’s child, wild as the fisher cats and foxes roaming the woods, swimming with the loons and giant bass, naked as there was no one to notice; my new form of bare feet for over three decades, a dance with nature that would always be, both girls raised in the forest, free as too many children will never experience;

Then it was off to Moloka’i, the girls choosing public over homeschooling, local kids walking barefoot to school, their wide brown feet slapping red dirt roads and the one short sidewalk on the way up the hill from the ocean, no chastisement from teachers, families recently freed from pineapple plantation work, and who was there to mandate otherwise? Still I wonder, thirty years later, have the rules changed? Or will there always be places that subconsciously realize we need bare ground under our feet in order to heal this fractured species of ours?

La Même Chose

When I gaze out over the field
and spot a herd of elk, which
upon closer inspection
is really only distant
sagebrush; when I, in a flash
lasting no longer than a
millisecond, see my own body
as a juniper tree, I no longer
question it;

We are all made of the same
elements derived from this earth,
and I can be forgiven if I confuse
a log for a prairie dog’s alert body,
facing toward the sun,
a Muslim bowing toward Mecca.

Contemplations under the juniper and piñons ~ bj

In Memory of the Still Living

There are confusing encounters
leaving one gasping for breath,
the mind grasping for understanding;
such is the nature of life and death,
the latter being more recent
in my world of experience;

I eschew addictions, just as they
are sought to resolve what seems
unfathomable to others, and I know
in this life I am meant to demonstrate
more understanding than my petulant
inner child might conjure;
still, it is the most natural direction
in which to gravitate these days,
the world being as unknowable now
as it was then,
and who am I to judge?

Thus when I see this precious one,
once strong and vital, now weak
and yellow and skeletal and all
this happening in the span of a year
in a life too short to be terminal,
feelings arise, and more and yet
more questions on the meaning
of existence;

This time last year, we were wrangling
with thorny bushes that had become
trees, both cursing, he more ardently,
as this was not his first rodeo
in these mountains, and yet there was
laughter, good humor, companionship
of then-strangers taking the measure
of the other’s character;

Loved ones gather now, and I feel
not at all out of place in this tiny trailer
amidst people of a culture I don’t need
to understand; the old man’s body
the main event in the living room,
surrounded by photos of the past,
and who could know fifty years ago
how fate would hold them now
in its thrall?

Two weeks ago, he seemed empty
of life, yet his spirit still felt strong;
today that spirit had its due;
jaundice had receded, and flesh
had mysteriously begun reassembling
on his bones, and once again I marvel
at the same sorts of questions
I have asked all my life,
how does the journey begin
to make sense in the face
of what we are dealt?

Here and Now

The concert grand stands indifferently
in a palatial room built to house it;
Hardly anyone spends time here,
admiring frescoes and French lace,
worn Italian club chairs gather
in around no one, empty opulence
marking privilege of the lost
and missing inhabitants;

Halfway around the world,
a bustling marketplace explodes
with the din and stench
of the streets, sweat mingling
with rotting vegetable matter
and the smell of human desperation;
gnarled hands of laborers place goods
in the manicured hands of tourists,
a toothless smile exchanging empty symbols
for a better life, benediction
of the Foreigner whose life is inconceivable
as a spaceship from Mars;

Who can fathom choices, freedom the elusive
butterfly in a garden which must be tended
by honest sweat and toil which,
in the opulence of the parlor, slips quietly
into shadow like the ghostly curtain remnants
hanging limply on patterned walls.

 

Kilkenny Castle, photo ~ bj