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

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 disorder
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 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