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.

 

 

Eclipse

I don’t now know what to do with the grief
of parental disappointments,
how their lives entangled, ensnared,
dreams dashed on the shoals
of fragile egos glued together by obsession
with ‘fifties fantasies and too many children;

My mother once told me in the throes
of discovering my first husband’s
confused gender orientation, Oh, have
a baby! Have a Baby! As if stitching
this troubled soul to my side for life
could relieve a retinue of problems;

Schooled only to parental obedience
I might have been tempted, though thank
the gods he recognized the folly
in her entreaties (considering now her
solution then, multiplied seven times over);

How could I possibly have understood
what has taken a lifetime to sort out,
reflecting back on images of Mother,
then three decades younger than I am now;
what did I, myself know at that time,
Nothing! How could I have been equipped
to juggle betrayal, babies and bills
through thickly clouded vision,
ripe with hopes and dreams of youth?

Now I stand on the threshhold of my own
senescence, poised between their birthdays
and three eclipses, lunar mother and father sun,
and I wonder again how families fail one another
and how we fare, once festooned with illusions
now cast off, far from those turbulent shores.

Everlasting

Who knows which of us first decided
to move on it, heed the call, answer
the pounding pulse in full presence
of the other;

The heart I hold tender yet firmly
in these cupped gardener’s hands
is revealed without guile,
a fistful of manna, food
for the gods overwatching;

We imagine, this passion play
of bodies too temporal and finite
as souls awaken from the drone
of not knowing, all experiments
performed well when young;

It is you, this is me, and we give
over to its shining pulsing rhythm,
merely as token of an everlasting
eternal love.

The Blouse

We hardly ever call a blouse a blouse in these days of tops and tees and such. Yet in Mrs. Helsel’s 1967 eighth grade homemaking class (to which only girls were admitted – boys were relegated to ‘shop), we were required to sew an A-line skirt and a blouse. With darts, a tuck sewed perpendicular to the rib-side of the garment. I remember perusing Sears and selecting a dark-not-navy poplin for the skirt and a simple lightweight bedsheet-white cotton for the blouse, then eagerly combing through P.B. Carroll’s for just the right colored spools of thread while being mindful not to omit straight pins, crimson pin cushion in the shape of a tomato and a Dritz tracing wheel with indigo carbon paper. I still possess these items in my closet, though they haven’t seen use in decades.

For my care and precision, I received a duly protested B-minus at the end of the term. My garments were thoughtfully crafted if not perfect, but the teacher was adamantly unmoved. Mrs. Helsel,  a short woman with copper red hair set with foam rollers in a retro bubble style popular in the 1950’s, didn’t seem to keen to my dark eyes, snarky sense of humor and shapely curves. As homemaking was my only non-academic subject, she might well have been the only teacher who ever disliked me as a student. Her small rebellion was to give me the only B I was to receive in a sea of straight A‘s.

In those times and perhaps it remains so to this day, I could sense a teacher’s yearning for the occasional student who reflected their worth back to them as Educator, and I was known to provide good grist for that particular mill. Raised Mormon in a heavy-handed household, I knew how to play by the rules. But hormones had begun flowing in earnest, and I had my own trail to blaze which included, still includes, an eclectic choice of colorful companions. And though I savored these unique comrades like small victories each time I donned that simple A-line skirt, it wore me like a shortcoming and I eventually abandoned it to Goodwill.

As a post-script, forty-five years later with bouts of sewing in between (a Sesame Street Ernie doll for my eldest that was as tall as she, numerous custom Halloween costumes, a neverending stream of sewing and mending), I ventured across Hawaii island to a tiny import store. It was there I selected yardage from a few bolts of lovely welterweight Japanese cotton fabric, and within a few days began laboring over my sewing machine, turning out two Aloha shirts, one pair of wrap-around pants and a vest for Christmas presents. All gifts were received with great admiration, and my husband still garners the occasional compliment from admiring strangers. I would wager a bet I’m the only one in that eighth-grade class still sewing, much less enjoying it.

And no, I never went back to church.

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Reflective

 

I never told you I loved you enough, the only ones
to whom it might have mattered and mattered much,
how could I? There are certain things one apprehends
only with age, the fact that most parents were
mere children themselves when they raised us up;

Now when I look back, I am able to glimpse humanity
more humbly instead of simply placing familiar labels,
Mom and Dad, great brazen fire-breathing dragons
of the household, both admired and feared
for their outsized demeanor, similar to the church God
I prayed daily would grant me safety and comfort
in place of the warm arms I yearned to fold myself
into, though dared never trust;

Even with busy single parenting, I was not able
to reflect upon the scope of the job, absorbed
as I was in all things survival to comprehend;
too enraptured in my own harried drama to sit back
and draw parallels, to reconcile present with past,
dissolving patterns and resolving conflict between
what was innate and what absorbed in the confusion
of a young woman’s developing brain;

If still alive, I would tell you today of impressions
large and small, from the sycamore tree
in our front yard I watched dad set into ground,
to books and music and mom’s patience
not with children, but of sewing
that beige corduroy suit; the no small wonder
at flopping pole-caught fish in our boat’s hold
ferried back to feed progeny, of pigeons flying home
to mounds of earth glistening with geraniums and ivy;
how both culture and soil seared themselves
in memory like the grooves of the records spun
in the cabinet, Benny Goodman and Tchaikovsky
in equal measure, while and I listed and fretted,
wishing instead for the beat of my own generation,
the sonorous thumping of my own fragile heart’s desire;

I get it. I am here to button my lip and smile discreetly
like the Kuan Yin herself, knowing bountiful paths
with easier courses lie just alongside
the more arduous ones my own girls are taking;
though to make life worth anything,
they are theirs for the making.

 

This poem was written recently with my longtime Renshi poetry sisters. Renshi is a form of linked poetry; the last line of one poem becomes the first of the next, and so on. Thus are topics revealed. Image is the street in front of the house I grew up in, two of my brothers in the frame.

Reflections in Blue and Green

Growing up there wasn’t a thing I liked about the color blue. Home was walled white with black and white Japanese hanging prints, glass topped tables and smooth black lacquered chairs upholstered white; white baby grand. In contrast, blue was the color of sadness, of the sky where the angry father god lived, white beard trailing through the ethers, accusing finger pointing straight at me. The wild blue yonder reeked of bombs dropping their pods of death onto victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I memorized color in nature; spinach-hued ivy leaves, viridian pine, the foliate domes of camphor, bucolic stretches of eucalyptus-lined seasonal streams. A fruitless olive wept over verdurous grass while the sycamore my father planted in a hoed-up hillock in our front yard, the tree I was told I’d have to wait fifteen years to climb, stretched tangled roots into dun-colored earth. The kelly green of three-leaf clover spread before me like a sea where I sat for hours as in meditation, picking through to discover the uncommon four, while the rhythmic kuff of my father’s shovel hitting dirt paced with vole-like intensity, carving out a fallout shelter beneath our home. In the face of the ‘fifties, green smelled of eternity, the future, something like hope my young self could aspire to.

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Only Human

What can be grasped in the depth of one’s gaze
peering mysteriously through curtains
of illusion, how to ever truly comprehend;
I sit gazing at that image now, the one of you
and me on the water, snow-crested Mauna Kea
backdrop, you in your element and me
in mine, I suppose;

Presentation unfailingly graceful, care ever
in the details, radiance beaming clear through,
and yet tortuous as life was to you anyway,
it ended. Just like that.

Wincing at your self proclaimed ugliness,
shaming parental voices never stilled,
and more beautiful a being I have rarely met
(choice of verb flipping flash card ‘known,’
rejected out of hand).

Impossible to fully intimate another we bar
no hold on the ego’s livery, while I carry
on perceiving shadows and crevices furrowed
deeper than appearances. You harbored
no guile, yet all I could glimpse
in those luminous dark eyes was wisdom
and experience; timber solid as trees
and just as vulnerable to the axe.

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photo: Hipstamatic rendering of guava leaf – Pololu Valley trail, 2015