Complicit

I read him Mary Oliver’s luminous words
in bed at night, perceptions written
nearer her end and yes there is sadness,
his eyes well uncomfortably,
who wouldn’t wish (were it possible)
to turn away from the degradation
of nature loved with the whole
of our hearts;

The loons on Goose Pond, circling
around us with crimson eyes, echoes
of their haunting cries tattooed
into memory, early morning and dusk,
nine chicks that year and two adults
and one would be hard pressed today
to hear a single pair if lucky,
human encroachment into nesting areas,
refusal to admit error in bulldozing
sacred spaces for greed and profit,
filling wetlands, giant killer bees
building, harmony absent, drones
taking over the hive,
and what are we, if not complicit?
None are blameless;

It seems a lifetime ago, smoke cannot
pour itself back down the chimney;
opportunity now lies in discovering
wonders of a pine forest far
from lake or ocean.
I must ponder more deeply
the meaning of water.

In Two, A Not-Too-Distant Memory

I

Sounds like a woman screaming.

Then I snap back from my twilight reverie,
Coyote is on the move, or calling the brood
in for the night; there must be a den of them
across the vast fields and rushing stream,
seeking safety in the forest about the same time
every evening now. I realize this, being my
sixth eventide on the mountain.

II

The elk are stalking me, noticing traces
of my passage along their own pathways
through these fourteen acres;

I have likewise lowered strands of barbed
wire used to top acres of fence line
where I notice tufts of blonde fur, revealing
fence-vaulting preferences; having no
serious tools with me on this visit, my gloved
wire wrapping will have to do until we are able
to make more permanent adjustments
to allow them passage, once again;

Someone once sought to keep them out,
but elk have roamed these mountains
for as long as time; I say let them pass;
one day we shall meet, Elk and I,
and I will know more about this majestic
creature than ever before.

Eternal

The poem that had to be written at two
in the morning; was it carried on the wind
building force in the night, pushing harder
on my head until, evoking surrender,
I turn the page and silently push the pencil,
watching words forming, shapes curving
alongside one another, forging bond
between graphite and sinew, seemingly benign,
but lest it appear deceptive, consider:

These words cast upon vellum one twilight
in the midst of my days will remain long
after this puzzle life breaks apart, leaving
only a specter which once I perceived to be me,
as if the I who loves you could be captured
on a page.



 

Flight

Once in a great while I detect glimpses, sensations,
impulses; what it felt like, those intrepid days
of youth, out of the house, seeding my own liberation,
or so I thought; I could dress up, casting spells
upon the dance floor, long wavy auburn hair flowing
about me, a radiant halo, mistaking those highs
for the freedom I sought;

Then transpired love and loss and love and agonizing
loss again and again, two daughters, lives to protect,
their well being my focus, my own maturation very
much linked to theirs though I knew it not, who does
at that age I wonder, if we are to be completely honest;

Inevitable cracks in the veneer, intimacy too complex
and so I perpetuated it thus, attracted a man that needed
nothing so much as fantasy though the world knew it not,
destined to dissimulate, propping up a ruse, the irony
of it all;

Waiting in the wings, my heart’s desire, nothing expected
or suspected, still it mellowed into rapture of sorts,
partnership longed for requiring years to clarify,
fleshing out the spectre of its origins, girls growing up,
leaving home for college, independence, meanwhile
what I had constructed lay in ruins all about, sparkle
gone, what to do with that kind of sorrow but crumple
into weeping until it appeared unending;

Decades later it has come, those winking memories linking
back to that sense of deliverance, only now it feels real,
and I must discover how to mend the gap, years inside myself
alone, isolation or immolation, phoenix readying for flight,
ashes of failures at my feet, leaden cloak shed
from tired shoulders and shrugged aside, free and clear
and entirely, if fairly late to the party, fundamentally whole.

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Mothers Day 2020

Today I posted an apology to my mother, now deceased, on Facebook. Apologized for not being more patient, more understanding; in essence a better daughter. Immediately friends rallied around me, supporting and consoling in these shared reflective times in that way women do. My mother raised us in virtual self-imposed isolation. She sequestered her shame in a beautiful home with an abusive husband, her constant companions being sorrow and confusion at how a man she adored could turn so savage and loving, in turn. If social media had existed, I wonder if she would or even could have reached out for the comfort she desperately needed.

She was only eighteen, a child herself when she gave birth to the first of seven healthy children. I was fifth down the line, her baby girl, the object of her devotion through most of my childhood. It was complicated as she clearly favored me, which set up many years of resentment from my siblings. I was not aware of the repercussions when young, children take what love they can get. Later on I resented her in turn for causing such confusion and heartbreak amongst my siblings. And on it went, the baton was passed and I seized and flat-out ran with it.

I wonder how parent/child relationships would alter if we could time travel to the future, just far enough to consider what we are about to say or do. My child self had the luxury of few filters when it came to Mom. My father was unsafe at any speed, so what I stifled with him, I let fly with her. It was not constant, and I was not often unkind, but even after I left home, there were excuses not to call or visit except when it suited me. I was wrapped up in my own adult dramas then, with the challenges of an errant husband and two little girls to think about. Coping was just about what I could handle. Yet even when the girls left home, I called mom less and less frequently. She had found religion, and I tired easily of the conversion tactics. Had I more tolerance, I might have found a way around the touchier comments. Had I cultivated patience, I might have realized she was getting old and older, more and more frail and finally death overcame her non-resistance to it. She had suffered enough to consider it a benediction.

As I approach my sixty-seventh birthday next month, I don’t know if it’s mortality or the prevalence of pandemic-driven morbidity that tugs more assiduously at the strings of my heart. I feel tender and a little raw and a bit weepy. As diligent as I was about my own mothering, I made mistakes as she said I would. I don’t know if kids are even meant to understand, but parents are very much growing up alongside them. This, whilst trying to fill shoes of archetypal proportions. Mother. Father. Even with the best of marriages or parenting intentions, who among us can ever measure up to these impossible standards?

Wishing all of you mothers everywhere a blessed Mothers Day tomorrow and every day. It’s the hardest and paradoxically the most rewarding job on the planet. May we all support one another in sharing the kind of love we either received or lacked from our own moms. With genuine forgiveness, love and compassion flows like singing water. May we all attune to its frequency. Aloha.Kohala Mountain Road morning glories ~ bj

Seagulls

I must keep reminding myself,
this is not just about me; nothing
I have done or failed to do,
it was timing, good or poor,
none of us could have predicted
just how and when the changes
this precious earth needed
in order to cleanse herself
of one species’ avarice and greed
over those of all others, well,
it was bound to come;

I sit here contemplating seagulls
I once used to sit and watch
on the causeway to Mount Desert
Island with her icy emerald waters,
tides flowing in and out,
leaving small crustaceans for them
to pick and peck, dashing
these hapless shelled creatures
upon granite boulders again
and again, breaking them
Apart;

A metaphor, a sign, an understanding
that the shell of my own seclusion
contains tiny cracks and, if dropped
from the great height of self importance,
bursts open, freeing its vulnerable center,
naked and helpless in the face
of what cannot be known by a mind
desirous of plans;

Timing may be not to my liking,
but surely as the cycles of nature
assure me that change is inevitable,
so we shall soon be on our journey
to another place where, surrounded
by forest and stream, a homecoming
of sorts awaits to stitch us back
into rhythms of season and soil.

photo: Chris Johnson

Dreaming Awake

I had to look twice, glancing
out the kitchen window as the flutter
of a mynah bird’s jet black wings
jogged my vision into memory,
the giant frond of a Queen Emma lily
flung carelessly by a kicking wind,
bent not broken into a shape resembling 
the appendage of a giant blue heron,
yet how could that be, here in Hawaii?

From one shore to the next,
one continent of time sliding
into present tense, images juxtapose
into a full fantasy life, fronds and wings,
shadows of pterodactyls still roaming
the earth, nothing ever really vanishes
as some aboriginal tribes would vouch,
though we can claim obliteration;

Reach back and forward into the now
of memory, let the mind slip and slither,
producing its own version of what
is perceived, and it might astound you
or not; yet how can one explain the impulse
to wander out to affirm, grounding self
in solidarity, or is all but illusion?

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

Of Death and Magic

Cracking through his crusty skin,
the butterflies await therein;
In trembling light, antennae perched
in front, ahead, and primed to lurch;

The quavered sense that life’s amiss
somehow obscures the hours of bliss;
the chores and drudge originate,
perspective laid upon his plate;

It stretches out, then snaps again
around a fix-ed clutch of ken,
persona-non-so gratified as truth
confirmed with startled eyes;

The darkness plunges overhead,
a trembling, aching fear and dread;
As sensate options push and shove,
pure mercy fills him with its love;

The spell is cast, illusion broken,
he lives no more like pawn or token,
and from a trusting, willing mind
white magic steals in from behind.

Butterfly House, Botanical Gardens, Albuquerque, NM ~ 2019 Bela Johnson