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

Complementary

Awake in the pre-dawn, the fields look empty,
vast; wild creatures have long claimed the night,
daytime unsafe for them in the company
of our species, and I know somewhere out there
is a fox leaping onto a rodent, a bear padding
toward her den in the nearby hills, mountain lion
retreating to the mountain cliffs she considers home;

Stars slowly fade as light emerges, tentative at first,
the black and white world retreating,
pattern repeated for as long as memory holds,
a glimmer, then a glow, and finally shifting gears
into daylight, shadows retreating, colors emerging
as if from slumber themselves, and I wonder;

If we are here to witness these cycles, to sync
our bodies in rhythm with those of the planet,
how is it so many court discord, mayhem,
dark against light, light denying dark,
when the brilliance of midday lacks contours,
thus interest, to my own camera lens?

Early Rise

Slipping under the covers last night, nestling
into his sweet warmth as we both gaze, astonished
at the crystal quarter moon, hung in the twilight sky
as if borrowed from a Saint-Exupéry watercolor;

This morning I awaken to the morning star,
ready to begin the day regardless of the hour,
observing the sturdy old adobe on the hill, standing
in stark relief to the distant rising sun, a behemoth
so devoid of sound or movement as to appear adhered
to the moving earth as she rotates on her illusive axis;

Elk graze silently in distant fields, nuzzling frosty grass
with their soft muzzles, whiskers lifting dew
from disturbed blades, as they have done seasonally
for generations and more, having just returned
from higher ground; they portend an early fall,
though one never knows at this altitude, frosty mornings
replaced by soaring daytime temperatures reaching well
into the eighties by midday;

We celebrate daily the return to the land of wilderness,
the tracks of deer, howls of coyotes, the surprise
of a snake stretched or coiled in the heat of the day,
gathering warmth for bodies lacking the ability
to generate it on their own; and await the return
of the resident Red Tail hawk, whilst rejoicing at the sight
of occasional Great Blue Herons or the honk of Canadian
geese down by the river; displacing these creatures
from their accustomed habitat would be wrenching,
and there is no plan as yet, this is protected forest land
at least for now, yet we humans must advocate daily
for this shared place we all consider home.

 

Coyote Blessing

When first I arrived ahead of him,
to put this new house in order
while he remained in Hawaii,
finishing up what needed done
in that place we had resided
for fifteen years, it was chaotic;

Covid had created seeds of chaos
that have now germinated
and sprouted into some sort
of angst-mongering monster,
sower of division, pitting fear
against dread, as humans question,
aloud or in private, the duration
of their own tenure here on earth,
stripped down to primal longings;

Sitting in this big ranch house,
back to the utter silence I craved
all those years on the islands,
surrounded again by forest and fields,
the glowing eyes of nighttime creepers,
tracks laid everywhere, elk, deer, turkeys
and other travelers, an alien weed
in fields of another’s familiar;

Lying in a bed left by prior occupants,
grateful for the gesture, yet not mine,
nothing ours, not yet, the tailings
of other soul paths, confusion accented
by harsh designs that agitated rather
than soothed my jangling heart;
and then it came, a series of yips
and howls, accompanied by a steady
bark, threaded through with eerie whines
looping through, a mad conductor
whipping up a frenzied forest symphony;

Coyotes circled the house, not once
but several times, bark, bark, yip, yip
and that unhinged high-pitched wail,
a beau geste causing hair to rise
on my forearms, thrilling as it disturbed,
while my nerves settled, bit by bit,
as, like faeries in ancient fields,
they performed their welcoming ritual,
bringing me back to the ancient tones
inhabiting a once-tribal land;
and I laughed along with them, howling
like a madwoman, while the sound faded
out of range, having accomplished
whatever they came to do,
despite my own interpretations.

 

Our backyard forest, populated by the healing herb mullein. ~ b

Sand Crabs

The ocean pulls up, pulls away, hisses,
leaving tiny air holes in the sand;
I am fourteen, in love with creation,
full of life and dreaming possibilities;

Still on the beach I lie, slim belly
pressed down against earth’s beating heart,
looking not at the tossing sea, the foam
and sand sucking out with the tides;

I am watching instead the minutiae
as it dances before my bright brimming eyes
trained on a world underfoot, place familiar
and yet not, Alice’s drink-me bottle
clutched in my imagination;

Out of tiny cavities pop the crabs,
size of my thumbnail, eyes swiveling
on longish stems, scuttling sideways
to a clear and shining surface;

What they are about I will never know,
for in the blink of a moment, back they dart
to the safety of the known and commence,
tiny clawfuls at a time, to toss up overhead
the sand encroaching upon their inner sanctum;

Then once again the sea washes ashore,
sweeping hand over flat hand,
smoothing sand free of footprints
while the crabs, for all I know,
seek retreat in the epicenter
of the earth.

all photos ©2020 Bela Johnson

Unity

The sea rolls out and cannot pause long before
once again seeking the safety of the shoreline;
children leave home until they sprout sturdy wings
of their own, only to one day return older,
perhaps wiser, with appreciation of rootstock
and richness of the nurturing ground;

Fingers of the infinite, we jump ship and land
on foreign soil, forgetting, longing to return
to that One Magnificent Tree from which billions
of branches have cleaved;

Yet why do we yearn for reunion before we have
fully experienced the capacity and magnitude
of a multidimensional self which ever informs
the One, expanding it, enlarging its own ability
to conceive a more colorful body of light?

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.

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