The Teaching

THE TEACHING

Schooled to the rigors of religion, if I took nothing else away
from those origins it was faith; faith that a child’s prayers
would be answered by forces unseen, and I took root
in that faith like fieldstone, anchoring my small body in cracks
and crevasses formed by flooding time, a snake secreting low
and tight, protection sought in the shade of midday,
giving nothing away, not a breath, shutting out the discord
of voices, dissonant sounds that soothed the ears of others
with that tinge of the familiar;

Sitting in newly-mown grass, breathing in the herbaceous bouquet,
eyes attuned to breaks in the pattern, movement underneath,
always underneath, what moved in shadow most fascinated,
pill-bugs rolling tight when threatened, millipedes threading
through miniature thickets, grasshoppers navigating the tangle,
smell of damp pungent earth drawing eyes and nose closer,
seeking level with a world unto itself, and I never ceased cringing
while watching careless feet stomping thoughtlessly upon
unseen realms, Jack and the Giant, gentry and the dispossessed,
disparity a background hum in the grace of my limited freedom;

Trudging up arid mountain trails or down into gushing streambeds
suited best, the mentholated air of eucalyptus mixing with the dank odor
of leaf mulch swirling in eddies and under boulders, fishing wet mats
out with my hands to bury my nose in that humid bouquet while the rest
of the world disappeared into a collage of confusion to which many
accustom themselves while a rupture grows like an aneurysm in the center
of the soul until that longing bursts forth like a swimmer breaking surface,
a yearning to gulp oxygen like life itself, that corporeal kinship
with the earth, a silent whisper, Return.
Return to me, and be whole.

images ©Bela Johnson 2019

Jewel

Be the hero of your own life,
gathering disparate threads
as a spider weaves her tapestry
into patterns collected in perfect
symmetry, harnessing dewdrops
of morning, bright dawn
of a new day;

Bending not breaking
through the winds of change,
then radiating like a hundred facets
of a brilliant jewel in the glimmer
of the sun’s first rays.

All photos taken in Sydney Harbor, AU. Playing with jeweled light.
© Bela Johnson

Day’s End

It’s three o’clock and the day
has brought a bad haircut, heavy
feeling in the air;

The hair will grow
back, the day will not; there is
no repeating what is done,
only trailing memories;

There is no walk upon the beach,
the sun burns boldly now, my skin
as fragile as a dove’s wing in a gale,
and though my feet yearn to wander,
it’s dappled shade I seek;

Looking out, the rain patters veins
of heart-shaped leaves, seeking
outlet in perpetually drenched soil,
the year having seen its share
of extremes;

Days roll forward into time
stretching out, downward
dog-pose kissing expanses of sand
the tide has soaked then abandoned,
shell-bones scattered amidst
neckless strands of kelp.

Photos taken on my recent trip to Whidbey Island, WA. All photos ©Bela Johnson

Pine Trail

The cabin was bought fully furnished from an elderly couple who left behind what would now be considered valuable antiques. Two small bedrooms replete with horsehair beds, a combination Glenwood wood/kerosene kitchen stove; round golden oak drop-leaf table poised beneath a large section of windowpanes overlooking a screened-in porch, curved-glass china cabinet. Depression era dishes were stacked on open kitchen shelves; warm woolen bedding, cotton sheets and quilts were folded neatly in open wooden cupboards. The bathroom was small but serviceable, thick rectangle of well-worn mirror hung with clear plastic art nouveau style clips; a metal stall shower with grommeted cotton curtain. A small porcelain corner sink with a metal corner shelf poised above. Perched atop the buttermilk painted wooden cabinet lay a matched set of the palest yellow and green celluloid brush, comb, hand mirror.

The sofa was circa 1940 and a lovely light shade of rose with carved cherry wood feet and armrest ends. An upholstered wing-back chair; braided oval rug. If you visited your grandparents and grew up in the 50’s like I did, you’d know how the place smelled musty with wool and mothballs, how items were carefully handled, stowed, preserved. Pots were aluminum, mixing bowls a glazed Pyrex glass. Even the silverware begged to be used like the round aluminum biscuit cutter with black wooden knob handle. The serrated bread knife remains with me still, unlike stamped tin baking pans and the round plastic black and white kitchen timer. A yellowing if accurate electric wall clock was likewise lost somewhere along the way.

Every morning except in winter, I woke to the lilting cry of loons and stumbled out to sun winking through white pine and hemlock as it rose over the cabin, shedding splintered light on the mountains defining the other side of the narrows. Every evening around four, the sun began its descent behind those same hills and the evenings cooled some ten degrees to accommodate comfortable sleeping. Then out to the small porch where I’d banked a single bed on a metal frame against the logs of the outer cabin wall and loaded it with several pillows as backrests. It was there I sat, sublime and attentive in the flickering candlelight. Senses tuned to waves gently lapping rocky shoreline; birds ruffling feathers as night descended with a familiar finality.

Then the moon rose over the water as shafts of light bounced and shimmied and fanned its calming surface, while a billion stars flickered overhead like carefully constrained fireworks seeding themselves in the inky infinity of the heavens.

Version 2

Stray

Why did we have to spot her?
By all accounts the gods know
we have done our best, taking
on one too many before, now
knowing our limits and that
of our yard and sanity;

Yet there she was, and we felt
before seeing, noticed slight
movement and heard a low
warning growl, coal black eyes
and fur to match in the inky
light of evening;

It had been raining, furiously
pouring down, thunder and lightning
and fear may have driven her
to hide under that massive machine,
its labors stilled until better weather,
and it might have driven her straight
into salvation for all we know;

So we fed her, not once but many
times, yet on that first, even
as voracious jaws began working,
she paused to look up and straight
into my eyes and I swear she gave
thanks;

Today she came out for the first time
to expose tiny dark shoulders caved
in surrender, great patches of missing
hair, eyes still imploring, won’t you,
can you please, I will be yours forever
and it breaks our hearts over
and over again that we cannot.

photo credit: Chris Johnson

For Jim

What is the lens through which we view another?
What color and hue, are they sister or brother?
Do we place them in boxes without really thinking
of sorrows and pleasures, the history winking
from under the furrows, aside from the layers
the total and sum of the person, not player;
To see them as how we would most likely wish
to be thought of, not pent in or judged
on or dished;

The circle is cast and who knows by what hand,
the scheme of our lives is thus simple or grand,
but these too are but fabrication and frail,
and are easily worn thin when piercing the veil
of illusion that obviates once we wax old
and cannot pretend to be cut from the fold
of the cloth that enshrouds each as death
draws us nigh, no longer the tailor or tinker
or spy; but merely a human as everyone is,
with hopes dashed and dreams and
the unfinished biz;

While the living continue the dance, as it were,
now without us to ponder, confront or infer,
and the wise ones among us reflect, as we must,
on a fragile existence wrapped up in a husk.

~ on the death of a dear friend last Saturday

Missive on Missiles

Yesterday we had a shakedown for residents of Hawaii. A false alarm popped up on cellphones warning us of an imminent ballistic missile attack. I didn’t have my warnings enabled, but my husband showed me his phone. Our reactions were much the same. Well, what are we going to do about it? If it happens, it happens. We live in a crazy world. A provocative lunatic sits in the Oval Office. We would be surprised at nothing.

When this nation elected its current President, I could barely lift my head for days. I had the most ominous feeling of doom, not a sentiment easily conjured. Here we had finally raised a beautiful black man to the highest office in the land, something the flower child in me rejoiced at heartily. We were moving toward a more equal society. ‘Different’ people were crawling out of the woodwork to glimpse the sun, some for the very first time. It was not perfect, but it was a reason to feel promise in the bones. Then the Shadow emerged and is still looming large, insulting our humanity at every turn.

Jungian psychology might posit the Shadow to be a necessary part of the soul’s maturation. As we recognize the dark parts of our own psyches, integration is possible. We become more fully human and compassionate, understanding if for the first time that we all possess the ability to kill and to heal. Once we are mindful of our least acceptable traits, we are capable of choosing right action more often than not. I just mourned that it had to happen on this kind of scale in order to more fully awaken the collective.

So here’s the thing: What were your feelings? Your first thoughts or impulses? When one looks Death in the eye, priorities get quickly shuffled. The cards that rise to the top of the deck are those most worth noting. Did you feel fear? Anger? Outrage? Terror? Did your head spin, searching social media for a kind of discharge and/or comfort? Or were your contemplative feet rooted to the earth and did She give you a sense that there was nothing to panic about, knowing life itself is transient, that if this is your time so be it, it’s been a good life, no regrets, gather those you love close, I am ready to face whatever comes and I have taught my children to accept the same?

Knowing one’s last thoughts and sensations in the face of the worst happening is to know oneself more fully. It is an opportunity to embrace our own shadowy elements of anger and fear and really see how powerful it is when many occupy similar head spaces. Now that we are granted another glorious Hawaiian dawn, in Mary Oliver’s words, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

 

Unsure who took the pic, but this is our tiny town. The Clintons arrived the day after the missile scare event. Unsure if any connection.