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.

No Small Thing

The dance we do, two partners holding
a thin sheet of paper between them, no hands,
just bodies aware of that small bit of substance,
mute as snow, drifting not crashing
into the weight of it;

The dance we do locks eyes and hearts as one
small thing, defining us, still unique, this closeness;
The space of a thin sheet of paper we do not drop,
it does not shift about but holds its own potential
there in the dark or in the light; no writing, no
scribble, no pictures, no definable substance;

It is blank but visible always, this thin sheet
of paper, fragile as an icicle, smooth as the surface
tension of water, strong as the atom and equally
inseparable.

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

Cascade #writephoto

A cat crouches low in the shadows
of the rectory, and it has been long since
I have been in the company of cats; dogs
sprawl lazily outside monolithic stone walls
while snakes coil under rocks and birds light
gently from branch to branch;

The sun rises, sets, rises again without
forethought or trepidation, simply and solely
to beam golden warming rays upon bodies
spinning within its orbit, conjoined with life
as life is with itself;

Like our own existence, creation
of a physical universe is comprised of flow
and ebb, light and dark; while we clip
and prune neatly manicured gardens
and lay flagstone pathways to enforce
our human imprint, animals being
the mitigating factor between a world
of nonresistance and us with a will
to manipulate all we behold, if only
to flex our considerable creativity;

And so we seek safety, a cup of tea,
a fire to warm quaking limbs, the kindness
of friends or strangers, connections sought
causing ripples in the fabric, influencing
events that cascade, regardless of intention.

All photos ©Bela Johnson

Written in response to Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt

 

Resurrection

He has lost her, or thinks he has,
forever from this realm; sadness knowing
no bounds, as it would, given over five decades
of devotion and dedication; hardly knowing
life without her in it;

I remind him, a gardener, hiker, animal lover,
father, much beloved grand and great-grandsire,
caretaker of this precious earth, that if nothing else,
nature demonstrates endurance, resurrection,
perpetuity; yet the questions linger, what if, how
would we, how do any of us move on with half
of our limbs and hearts missing, absent, lost;

The mirror held to us daily, our best self, the truest
of reflections; what now to do with a voice meant
to spark truth; who is there to hold us quite
like a lover, who has witnessed the dark spaces
in our soul and loved us still, without reservation?

How does advice fall on ears that will never again
attune to the melody of that familiar, how again to taste
the smell of that One’s touch, the subtleties of a glance
meant only for us, the sole recipient, repository
of shared hopes, dreams and visions;

And time does heal, and we might go on; still
the wise and earnest hopes of others for our future
land hollow in the ear and gut, one’s own demise
seeming preferable to echoes of ghosts of our own
making, and breaking time in time, damnable time
now the enemy, adversary, cruel master
of feckless fate;

Yet there it is, a look, a gesture, the shine in eyes
of the deer, delicate swish of a raven’s wing,
padding feet of beloved dogs, the bright, blooming
desert in springtime renewing itself beyond memory,
unlooked-for comfort on the long drive into town
while tears begin once again to flow, then cease
upon discovering duality’s illusion while we struggle
still for the breath that has failed us;

And we rise, rise like a dolphin from the depths,
rise like the phoenix from dull grayness of ashes,
arching into the sun’s first rays, open vessel spouting,
reflexively aspiring life into lungs weary
from submersion, even as we dare to smile and greet
another sun-washed day.

Lewis and Clark Caverns, MT Fire in the sky, Upolu Airport Road, North Kohala

Garden in the dying light, Dayton, WA
Setting sun, Kohala Mountain Road

Makapala sunset

I have tried here to depict through photographs what it must feel like to experience the death of a dearly beloved and then to begin emerging from deep grief. I cannot say I’ve done it justice; only that I have made the attempt.
(All photos ©Bela Johnson)

Little Dove

Anxiety for me is not a teeth-chattering,
nerve-rattling affair, rather the tendency
of an untended mind to flutter toward
the familiar always a heartbeat away
from cool, grounded sanity;

When you return at day’s end, I step
into your world for a moment of comic
relief, little blue dove riding thermals
of your mastered stride, little girl trailing
behind daddy and his toolbox, eager
to discover how things work;

Feeling the weight of chisels soothes
ruffled feathers, caressing copper, steel,
the oiled wooden handles which,
in your perfect patient hands, creates
both the smooth carved boxes holding
treasures as well as the home
in which we live, life-sized canvas
for my own design.

collaborative design: Chris and Bela Johnson with artist Deb Thompson

cremation urn made from reclaimed island hardwood – C.Johnson

designed and created by Chris and Bela Johnson

designed and built by Chris Johnson

Casting Shadows

What do we do when the words won’t come,
when we stand, stock-still, mouths agape,
dazzled by beauty and wonder and awe,
minds taking snapshots as if we might
capture a moment in time, whatever that is,
perception being everything;

What happens to us when we become unmoored,
tethers fraying, lone boat rocking, gasping
for breath, biting back deductions, holding
reservations, staving off fears of flying
away, over and out, yearning once again
for connection;

How then to manage without language
to provide signposts, a barometer of how
we connect, soul to soul, dot by dot
along an imaginary line drawn cleanly
through this maze of illusions;

When will we arrive at knowing more fully,
if ever, reasons we were drawn into this vortex
called relationship, whether mother or lover,
friend or companion, like spokes on a wheel
turning onto spiral paths to infinity,
diminutive footprints scoring that well-trod
alleyway to nowhere and everything.

all images ©Bela Johnson