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

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.


Hola! Greeting unfamiliar to those growing up
in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains
within a state claimed from Mexico;

1950’s meant minds were on other things
besides obviating eminent domain; 
fallout facilities beneath pristine stucco dwellings,
bomb shelters in backyards of escapees
from Nazi prison camps, indentured now
to military spouses taking deliveries
from milk trucks and bakery vans,
progeny anticipating ice cream on wheels;

Pine trees crested azure skies up
and down our street, baby birds the victims
of neighborhood felines overreaching
like their human counterparts extended
into mortgaged tract homes, beginnings
of credit designed for large families raised
on white bread and tempers of men
so recently returned from war;

The gods bred me to clean air
and brilliant sunshine, mossy feel of grass
beneath privileged lily feet ranging freely
for miles in safe neighborhoods,
ivy springing from split cedar rails, pungent
sweetness contrasting with perils of home,
entitlement of owning one’s children
as repositories for lust and rage and confusion
interjected with knowledge and culture
of the sort meant to create comfort
in white ties and tails of the opera house.



Of Cycles and Metaphors

The waters of birth released me, dolphin-like,
into a realm of wonder and delight, only to realize
I was swimming with sharks; they, friendly enough
when sated, aggressive and dangerous when needy
and I swam for my life, filling lungs and stomach
and for the sheer sensation of viscous water
stroking sleek skin and oh, I kept on moving,
for once out of water I would perish;

The oceans were vast and dark and deep, caverns
and voids, brilliant colors and textures and hooks;
barbs dangling through refracted rays of sunlight,
tiny concentric circlets framing slender drop lines
nearly invisible, a too-tidy meal wrapped sinuously
around each of them, appearing not quite right
this fast food, still I was hungry and sampled the fare
and the hook jerked and jabbed, piercing my flesh,
tearing off bits here and there; it was painful,
yet still I remained at liberty to continue my journey;

On an on I swam, for what else is a dolphin to do;
each day the waters remained the same, each day
they changed, some tinged with toxic debris,
at other times those brilliant hues of turquoise
and indigo were balm to a weary heart and now,
decades later, I discover tiny hooks embedded still.
As I carefully dislodge each barb, there is
searing pain mitigated by relief; I am free,
if scarred. I am free.

Dust Devils

Swirls and curls picking up detritus
along the way and setting it down
elsewhere, never mind human order;
this is our mother the earth, and she is
magnanimous and destructive
in turn;

Whether we worship gods or devas,
the dandelion parts with her seed
on the same howling winds
that scatter ashes of the dead,
and what seems random
is ransom for living amidst wonder
on this swirling blue marble
punctuated by our paltry presence;

History drums out repetition,
victories in battle interpreted as favor
of the gods while peaceful coexistence
is again bitten back on blistered lips
of the poor and downtrodden, laboring
in dusty fields to eke sustenance
for strapping sons sent off to fight
once and over again;

While the sun rises and sets,
virescent rivers flow and great grey
oceans surge, tides rocking giant beds
of glaucous kelp, rolling coral bones
along endless driftwood-encrusted
shorelines as certain as our next breath
until it’s not, and we fall to the knees
in supplication, seeking forgiveness
for our lack of attention, too busy
to notice beauty, mossy life wedged
in tiny fissures, puzzle pieces
of a baby’s granite skull
as the earth continues on
in perpetuity with or without us.

This Sweet Life II

A sense of place … again and again we return to this puzzling concept. Wendell Berry, America’s best-known bioregionalist, says if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are. Does our actual physical location determine our ability to construct the life we yearn to lead?

Wandering from place to place, looking for our environment to provide us with the deep inner peace our souls yearn for may be futile. We have been culturally conditioned to look for what we need outside ourselves, making many of us road warriors, devoid of a sense of place and stewardship to the planet we call home. Committing ourselves to some corner of earth we choose to call home allows us to envision the greater sense of connection we share as planetary participants. If we live somewhere long enough, over time we begin to relate to our sense of place, to observe ourselves in the greater scheme of things.

Constant drifting has left many of us with an inner restlessness where we seem unable to sit still long enough to feel the rhythms connecting us with the lifeblood of Mater earth. This mater is substance, earth, our flesh, blood and bones. Place your ear to the ground, and soon you can synchronize your own heartbeat to the pulse of the planet. It is in seeking solitude that we discover this profound connection, not in isolation from our felt sense of connection to the whole.

Feelings of alienation can cause us to move around unduly, to seek a sense of place, purpose and inner peace somewhere outside the self. When we journey inward, the rhythms we attune to in the pounding of our pulse are the same as the tides, as the terra firma on which we place our feet. The isolation many of us feel is a product of a life spent paying homage to our individual nature. And isolation can only have merit in context and relation to other aspects of our being.

On examining the mysterious tarot cards, the solitary Hermit falls between the Adjustment card and that of Fortune. We are not meant to perpetually wander in order to discover that which we seek. This Hermit’s number is Nine, symbolic of turning inward before embarking on something new. Flanked by an Eight (Adjustment) and Ten (Fortune), our Hermit has relationships with both. Eight is the number of transformation and rebirth. Ten represents completion as well as new beginnings.

These Major Arcana cards of the tarot are symbolic of the Hero’s journey we all embark upon to become sentient and fully human beings. Knowing when to retreat seems appropriate only in context to the whole. The Adjustment card speaks to weighing things carefully before making a decision. The Hermit then compels us to retreat within ourselves to find what is true for us at the time. It cautions us not to become distracted with busy-ness or possessions. When we succeed, we move into the Ten card’s Fortune, where we realize that what we have been seeking is not to be grasped through consumption, rather it rests within our quiet imponderable nature. We discover an inner strength we did not perhaps realize we had and discover, often to our delight, that we possess the will to embrace life such as it is with simple and profound acceptance.


(excerpted from Inner Tapestry Journal, Bela Johnson 2005)