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

Plume

Just get over it, she says,
words spewing like hot lava
from icy lips; intention beside
the point and yet how could I
have understood back then?
She would remain forever mute
on the origins of that rage
and I had the rest of my life
yet to figure it out;

Fifty-five years later,
soles of my sneakers burning,
legs quaking involuntarily, gazing
into fissures snaking red with liquid
earth, ambling along swirly hued
ebony rock cooled now into solid
only barely; to gaze, open-mouthed,
as fiery flows spilled forth, mauka
to makai, plumes of billowing smoke
arching high into the waning light;
stars swimming in mirages of heat
while the surf pounded incessantly,
though try as it might, it could not
beat back an expanding shoreline;

On the the path again, heads full
of wonder, while these feet,
long alienated from restriction
of canvas and sole, began swelling
and bulging like some alien creature
yearning to range free, and I am once
again struck by the irony in her words,
If the shoe fits, wear it;

But I’m tired now mama, and my feet
are blistered and raw; still I see you
more clearly through exhaustion
and defeat and your pain suffuses me
with sorrow for all who suffer this
volcanic process of purge and birth,
forging new land into harbors
for the heart.

(Kalapana lava flow 2017 ~ bj)

 

I’d Rather Be Bitten

It’s a scurrilous affair to be the target of an assault upon our humanity. Judgments, condemnation and criticisms all aim to reduce our opinions of ourselves, and are often successful in altering how others view us as well. We may well learn best through adversity, but none of us likes feeling attacked. It perpetuates suffering on both sides of the defenseless/defensive coin, especially when it’s of the insidious variety. That’s how the term backstabbing doubtless came into being, this feeling of being assaulted from behind where we can’t view the perceived enemy. And it’s a coward’s way out, this character assassination. It may temporarily grant the accuser a sense of superiority, but of one thing we can be certain; if we observe another engaging in this practice, it’s only a matter of time before they place us squarely in their sights.

I grew up with some fairly critical people, and would venture to say that years of habituation brought this trait out in me. I was an extremely sensitive child in a chaotic environment, and did not receive much guidance in handling the world with equanimity. And though I did garner some fundamental truths which would later prove beneficial, the chasm between what was practiced and what was preached was too vast for my child’s mind to bridge. Only later with age, experience and my own inevitable mistakes in parenting was I able to put the past into greater perspective. It’s still a process at midlife, so I suspect some lessons are deeper than mere conditioning.

As a teenager, I bolstered my fragile sense of self by finding fault with someone I thought better looking than I was, smarter, more talented or popular. Even if I shared these thoughts with no one else, a sense of smugness enveloped me like the proverbial warm fuzzy blanket. Eventually though, and it wasn’t too long in coming, that wrap felt suffocating. To something more decent inside of me, it just felt wrong. Hacking others down did not fill me up, nor did it give me any genuine or lasting sense of self worth. In fact it lent nothing of these attributes, it only carved a hole in my soul.

It has taken many years to rout the poison of criticism from my core. Like standing before a polished mirror, the presence of truth reflects back anything unlike itself. In this space, I am able to experience an up-swelling of compassion for the child that was me and for all the confused children in the world, trying as best they can to survive and thrive in adverse circumstances. Thus my ruminations extend to the child that lives within every adult, and it is easy to experience forgiveness and unconditional love, both for myself as well as for our deeply flawed yet simply human race.

 

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

More

Vistas of the inner mind expand
before me, always visibly rich,
effervescent with possibilities.
Some appear through a thin mist
while others focus cleanly into view
like adjusting the diopter on my camera.

Love makes allowances for horizons.
Now. When younger attending more
to immediacy, unwilling to pause
to more deeply understand, afraid knowing
more would disappoint, I did not trust
in futures, snatching at flesh and fantasy,
mutely watching as sand fell through fingers,
time running out, no litmus for self respect,
vision obscured.

Time alters perspectives, love’s presence
or absence sensed more acutely
with commencements and conclusions,
lovers and children and friends distinct
in texture and timbre, threads in an
ever-changing tapestry of bounding time
as the telescope pulls back, readying itself
for deep pockets on a chilly fall day;

Now. While we have this dance,
warm me love, I cannot be touched often
enough, animal hackles need soothing, help
in consortium, marinate us deeply into pores
unaccustomed to simple quenching.

Holy-Daze

Christmas was ever my favorite time of year,
and though I knew brother John was shaking
sleigh bells just outside near the prized gardenias,
it did not matter, there was harmony, excitement
building toward that magical morning when,
tiptoeing, little eyes spied most of the living room
strewn with gifts of every size and color spilling
out from the bowels of the flocked and brightly-
lit tree never fake, always fresh, as music wafted
from the hi-fi stereo ensconced in its own polished
oak cabinet, Mantovani, Andy Williams, Burl Ives,
Tchaikovsky in colorful paper jackets sequestered
away except in this season where they would appear
as if by magic, all was in a dream and there were
leaflets of carols we knew by heart anyway
as we sang together in harmony and played
Mille Borne and rummy, legs crossed or kicked
out and back to the sides which I was told would
ruin my knees, but this time of year there were
no admonishments;

The tree perpetually chosen from its temporary
lodging place near Foothill and Rosemead, fir
and balsam smells confounding the asphalt
they were corralled in, strands of blush fiberglass
angel hair and clumps of cotton wool besmirching
a sign that might have read Santa’s Playland
or Workshop, memory fails now and there were
real reindeer sometimes discomfited in the heat
of the Southern California winter, strung together
in wood and wire wheeled cages decked
with red and green embellishments;

Then there was Santa looking resplendent
in fur-trimmed velvet with a long flowing beard
and we could sit and we could ask and fairly expect
that at least one of our dearest wishes would be granted,
though we dared not ask for much in a family so large
that it soon sunk under the weight of its own excesses
and insufficiencies;

Still, there was Christmas dinner with ham not turkey,
pierced with cloves and brown sugar, candied yams,
bright flush of crimson cranberries, a requisite jello
in garish technicolor hue shot through with ruby-red
seeded grapes and chunks of banana and chopped
dates, Grandma Howell’s egg white-topped sugary-
milky float, brown and white egg-glazed bakery rolls,
unremarkable canned green peas looking ever
so grand in antique bowls and serving dishes,
glass and glazed ceramic which our eyes beheld
only during the holiday season;

We ate at the glass dining table usually reserved
for special guests, sat in cream-colored velveteen-
covered chairs adjacent to the antique white baby
grand mom stripped and refinished and played
often, arthritic fingers dancing over ivory keys
smoothed by marching time and an observer,
should there have been such a one, would surely
have believed we were one big happy family
and it was true, on those sparkling holy days.

(Photo: Me in mom’s arms before our new home in the hills and two other boys came along to round out our family of nine.)

Confused

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.