Mother’s Lament

I’ve begun writing with yet another group of powerful women. Our theme is Mothers and Daughters, and while I was pondering my first submission to the group, this little ditty sprang into my head before I settled down to compose my ‘real’ piece. Thought to share it with you all here, in the light spirit of the summer season. ~ Aloha, Bela




For times I did not make it clear,

you’re foremost in my life;

remember well I spoke my love

amidst the stress and strife.


I cannot change what happened then,

though wish, I often do –

young mothers cannot grasp that which

their parents proved untrue.


I know how children learn,

for now I see it in their eyes –

observing trumps words every time,

the young, they are so wise!


Forgive all this, my daughters dear,

your lives mean more to me

than a hundred years more

were it granted me now;

for without you,

how could I be free?




Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire; your children all roam.


Grief washes over me in surprising waves,
currents flowing into eddies
in the folds of my brain.

She fidgets in the nursing home;
picking feathers off false birds
needing no tending.
Beautiful colors for a dull room, I think –
scarlet and indigo reminders
of wild and winged things
she once loved and cared for.

Pick, pick, plucking plumage,
yanking out eyes;
destroying, yet somehow not destructive.
She needs something to do with her hands,
I tell my sister.
Tomorrow, let’s get her crochet needle,
a skein of yarn.

She won’t use them, I’m telling you.

I decide to press on anyway.
Sure enough, we bring them
and she is unable to make sense of the gift.
Distracted now by a floating feather
she laughs, beyond amused.
We blow it up and over her head,
again and again just to hear her mirth;
behold dull eyes lit up and dancing.
My sister weaves a chain of yarn,
causing Mom to smile and laugh out loud
at her apparent ineptitude.

These are the last days of her life,
though we don’t quite know it yet.

When we clean out her house,
boxes upon boxes of thread and yarn,
needles and hooks;
fabric and lace and paintings and frames;
ornaments and wreaths and tiny figurines
and every single letter and postcard
I had ever written her.
Every envelope, stamp and business card;
photos and silly little mementos
tucked into drawers and boxes.

I do not know what to make of these memories;
can not take it all home, across the sea.
What does it mean?
How to interpret signs left by this woman
who bore us, then
left us long before her body weakened?
How could she know, now or then,
that at sixty and beyond
we still feel helpless as little children?

With each stitch woven into doilies and dolls,
perhaps she was weaving bits and strands
of a heart so broken by life
it was all she could manage, to let us know
our lives mattered.
Years spent waiting on a better world
beyond this one merely
broke my own.

~ bj

Living Loving (Drop the Maid)

Who would have thought that looking up one’s age as a number on the periodic table of elements would result in another amazing revelation? Yet here I am, just turned sixty, googling my element like a child on a scavenger hunt. Here’s what I discover:

Neodymium is the 60th element discovered by Carl F. Auer von Welsbach at 1885 in Austria. The origin of the element’s name is from the Greek words “neos didymos” meaning “new twin.”

The irony strikes me twice. Being born in June, my Western astrological sign is Gemini, or The Twins. The other synchronicity is that this year, my sixtieth, marks a once-in-a-lifetime Chinese Water Snake return to cosmic influences present when I was born. As this snake sheds her skin, the “new twin” emerges.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve doubtlessly realized I’m coming to grips with cutting away the dross; reframing relationships to others and thus, to the world at large. A different paradigm is in the offing; one that is a vast improvement over the sacrificing people pleaser I was raised to embody. While my basic nature remains intact, I am leaning further into balance, tuning into reciprocity. We women can tend to give to the degree that we end up casualties of our own lives. Just because we can multitask the pants off of men, for example, doesn’t mean that we should. Also our collective breasts seem under attack these days; cancer has taken too many sisters down. The do-it-all mentality is not healthy for me, any more than for those I come in contact with.

This theme brings to mind instructions given on every flight I’ve ever taken: should a mother and child be present during a cabin pressure failure, the mother is to take in oxygen first from the drop-down mask, then place the mask over the face of her child. That way, she is actually prepared to be of assistance. Or as Brewer and Shipley sang the year I graduated high school, We’ve got to fill the cup with love, and keep working on the well.

Better late than never.

For the entire Oliver Sacks article that prompted this post, click here.


Oh, and just in case it needs clarification, I realize some of you might miss the thrust of the title, “Living Loving (Drop the Maid).” This refers to an old Led Zeppelin song “Living Loving Maid.” Should you desire, you could google the lyrics.

The Good Life

I’m afraid of going home. Clad in layers of Sherpa wear purchased at an outdoor store to keep me warm and waterproof in Portland, I feel out of place boarding a plane bound for the Hawaiian Islands. While I’m homeward bound, excited visitors gather in flip-flops, shorts and aloha shirts, ready for adventure.

I arrived in Portland feeling similarly enthused, but the city’s cold breath knocked me into a tight shivering ball. My blood had thinned in the years since I last lived on the mainland, and it seemed nothing would warm my interior. My daughters drove me downtown, and I walked out of the shop with four layerable garments that, along with the warm socks and hooded rain jacket I had brought in my luggage, proved boon to the soul. I could now hike the misty trails above the city; marvel at the Craftsman architecture the town is well known for; pace tree-lined streets hung with vines and flanked with roses, flowering shrubs and raised bed vegetable gardens. Borrowing a Trek eighteen-speed, I bicycled into town and back; around Mount Tabor and the Hawthorne district. Being warm changed my perspective, as well as my attitude.

I’m on the plane now headed home, infused with the spectre of dread; a tiny background thing that lilts up and down like waves surging below the emerald and burnt sienna ocean cliffs near our home. I’d like to ignore the discomfort, yet it lingers. Is it shades of grief from my mother’s recent passing; from rejoining my beloved daughters and now having to leave them, yet again? How do mothers manage this distance, for it is a thing not easily reconciled, no matter the intervening years. What once abided within my own body surges further and further away like a toy the ocean pulls irretrievably out of reach and beyond, becoming a tiny speck in the distance and then gone: blazing rays of a setting sun pouring into the sea and flashing green as it slips below the horizon. I let go because I must; because their light must shine not only upon me, but on a world awaiting their sharing.

What the head conjures cannot ferry this troubled heart home. I will simply have to feel my way back to my own beloved half-acre of stewardship; to the peace and beauty on which we exchange paper and stake a claim. Earth sustains and nourishes; she grants precious birth and then slowly schools us to distance and eventually toward our demise. This growing and stretching; this holding tight and letting go is the nature of existence. Embracing paradox allows authentic happiness to penetrate the darkness of delusion, and I am ready to return to the good life, once again.


2013-05-25 19.04.56 2013-05-25 18.53.16 2013-05-24 15.39.48 2013-05-21 11.58.30 2013-05-21 11.58.11 2013-05-21 11.54.06 2013-05-21 10.48.27 2013-05-20 20.42.56

~ all photos copyright 2013 – Bela Johnson

Eulogy to My Mother



My mother kept things.

She didn’t quite know what to do with people: seven children; two husbands; countless grand- and great-grandchildren. She also rescued or fostered several dogs and a few cats in her almost eighty-nine years. She might have made it to ninety and beyond, but no matter. She was not attached to life, but rather to bright and shiny objects; to record keeping; to sugar and solitude. Life disappointed her as often as people did, through no fault of its own. Existence was simply what it was, as was she: a confounding confluence of a much beloved matriarch who died too soon and a difficult father. Or so I’ve been told. Mom was good with information, as long as it was fact rather than feeling. To drag emotions out of her remained nearly impossible right up until the day she died.

The loss of Mom’s own dear mother seared grooves in her steely temperament, and she never quite smoothed out the scar tissue. My birth apparently helped, for before she got religion, she insisted I was her reincarnated mother. Yet the woman was as much mystery to me as to four siblings preceding. She presented herself more as a friend to have fun with, perhaps to ease her conscience about being too heavy-handed with the older kids. But none of us ever knew then any more than we know now about her innermost regrets. We only know our own.

And so it is that this week she left the confusion of a world that demanded too much of her sensitivities. Yet for some of us, this is the very essence of a full life: to dig in soulfully, to feel and know joy as well as heartache, to risk and be rewarded, to join or bask in solitude, to exist in a perpetual state of unknowing while loving the serendipitous, the unpredictable outcomes. To exist in a vacuum excluding these sensations seems inconceivable, yet I know there are others like her who cannot seem to break out of this particular mold.

Mom’s death was expected, and if it could have been planned and painless, she might have scheduled it sooner. I blew in on the winds of change to assist my sister who had been her sole caregiver for five years, allowing our mother to remain in her own home. When Mom was no longer able to maintain her hygiene by refusing to let my sister help, she had to be moved to a nursing home. She died three weeks later. I considered this a blessing, coming as it did on the heels of my sister’s phone call entreating me to come soon if I still wanted to count Mom among the living.

Going through her cache of keepsakes, it’s unsettling to discover forgotten bits of my own history: old hand-cut business cards – the vivid red of my eldest daughter’s teenage business venture crafting dream catchers when we lived in the Southwest; the bright yellow experiment in naming what I do for a living; a faded blue jewelry header signed with a silver felt-tipped pen from my husband’s silversmithing days. Paper is easier to preserve in southern California’s dry climate than in our Hawai’i home, thus these items dwelled for fifteen years in a corner of an antique desk drawer. How now to delegate these reclaimed treasures? And how poignant the sentiments such objects recall.

Like the crows my father despised and I loved, Mom tucked away glittery things: rings and earrings and necklaces and bracelets – far more jewelry than she likely even remembered she possessed. Then again, I might have underestimated this woman who gave me life yet remained such a mystery. My sisters and I – for Mom survived three sons and two husbands – divvied up what we could while feeling ill at ease about discarding numerous missing pairs in her considerable collection.

As a person who wears a gold wedding band and maybe a pair of simple gold earrings when going further afield than our own little North Hawai’i town, I’ve been sporting a sparkling five-gemstone-and-gold number on my right ring finger. I’ll have to wait until I’m back home to ask my husband if the stones are tourmaline or pink sapphire. For some reason that has absolutely nothing to do with anything resembling my own aesthetic, this reminder of Mom keeps me close enough to her memory until I feel as though her spirit has found expression in that broad face of eternity.




I’ve been accused of this.


All woman, emotions flailing,

Body humming along –

Waves thundering to shore,

Grounding themselves

on something solid, like you.


Where do we meet?

You, so controlled and even,

like rows of perfect teeth

or corn planted sideways

along the linear highway.


I’m like the chaff

blowing from the winter wheat,

scattered everywhere

and nowhere in particular –


Sifting down between your

perfect rows,

settling into your gums

like rye seeds caught between molars,

providing texture and yes,

a small irritation, which,

given time,

floats free

to become useful,

once ingested.


~ BJ

… and the word is “Imperious”

I love the English language. Every once in awhile, a word will spill out of my mouth that I haven’t used or even thought of in a very long time. I then feel compelled to play with it. I know in writing groups, for example, there are ‘prompts’ – words or phrases a facilitator utilizes to stimulate creative flow in the participants. Since I only belong to one group here on the island, and since we only meet once every few months and write strictly Renshi poetry, I ‘prompt’ myself on my own as certain words pop into my head. Today the word is “imperious,” and the maximum length is 300 words. If you love to write but have difficulty getting ideas going, maybe you’ll find this little exercise helpful. And perhaps you’ll write your own bit of prose or poetry with this word, as a result!


She stood aloof – imperious if not dignified in a floor-length gown of seafoam hue, bellowing from her boy-hips and down around her delicate bare feet like the tide. If one looked closely, it could be determined that the hem of her garment was soiled and damp, dragged along the floor like a caveman’s conquest. Piled clumsily against the white plastered wall, undignified Louboutin heels, straps tangled and askew, dreamed of dancing.

All she envisioned was revenge – sad backlash to the sequined night’s new beginnings, now curled back and tucked into obscurity like the wicked witch’s shoes rolled up under Dorothy’s house. He had left her, cold and sulking – and who could blame him, really? She was mewling like a lost kitten, though her painted eyes, glaring steel blue through thick jet-black lashes, belied an annoying childish petulance. What he interpreted as intellect was instead a strong will, intent on capturing a golden goose.

Confident she equaled his worldliness if not his valor, he preferred women hard as ice on the outside, melting to a white light at their core under his caresses. Expecting any kind of depth from a drunken party encounter might have been a bit naïve, maybe even stupid, but this one seemed to possess it all. And he wanted that complete package as much as she herself sought to entice him into a web of intrigue. Truth is, he might have capitulated, innocent as a lamb destined for slaughter, without the fatal interference of alcohol. She simply did not know when to stop, and it was this yearning for more that he mistook as a lusty joie de vivre. It was her bottomless craving for oblivion he mistook for blind ambition, likened to his own. With her features etched upon on his memory, he sauntered home, alone and unfulfilled.




My generation of boomers was born to mothers who, for the first time in recorded history, found themselves in decision making positions independent of their men. Suddenly lives no longer revolved around how children dressed for school that morning, who picked Timmy up from baseball practice or what to put on the table later that evening. Collectively our mothers began to wonder about fulfillment in their own lives. They began questioning subjectively in ways that were not even conceptualized by objectified generations of women before them, except in the most avant-garde conditions.

It is to these courageous women I owe a debt of gratitude, for they laid the bedrock of a foundation my generation needed in order to rivet the rouged faces of females everywhere – get them focused back on their own inner lives – the wisdom, intelligence, energy and heart required for their own healing and, ultimately, in order to change the status quo. In light of this renewed awareness, renewed because it can be quickly forgotten in the crush of corporate globalization, we are, then, perhaps the first generation of truly independent women since the advent of patriarchy itself over 2,000 years ago.

As women we have always been suited to the task of supervision, both as mothers and functionally intelligent human beings, yet due to a collective dearth of early imprinting, we often lacked the skills necessary for discernment and prioritizing. These Saturnian qualities were notably attributed to the male of the species, or certainly men had extensive experience in practicing them for thousands of years. Yet just as men in modern times have been learning to cultivate the qualities better developed in women – those of connection, emotional expression and communication – women likewise have found ourselves facing these underdeveloped characteristics of reduction and delegation.

Of course there are women who have found themselves, either in the field of academia or in the corporate world, in positions of leadership and management. How long it takes us to build the skills necessary to fill those professional shoes likely depends on the temperament and constitution of the woman, herself. Whether or not she finds herself in balance is another thing. For if we gain the world and yet lose our soul, one wonders if the tradeoff is entirely satisfactory. Some of us unknowingly forfeit our sense of connection and relatedness in the mix, which, when it happens, can engulf our tender heart. It may then be awhile before we reclaim the familiarity of trusting our own flesh, once again.

If practice makes perfect, practice serves to help us learn – especially if we have no role models before us – to face the fires of our doubts, fears and anxieties and accustom ourselves to sitting and sifting before we act. Often it seems easier to pick up the phone and get relational with someone, anyone, who might help relieve our feelings of insecurity and uncertainty. This search for answers or positive feedback outside the self might likewise be interpreted as a throwback plea for those broad shoulders of patriarchy to provide the structure we feel is lacking in our own inner lives. And we can fake it ‘til we make it, but if we are to learn, grow and finally develop a true sense of healthy autonomy, we must painstakingly walk before we can run.

There is no regressing in time, one can only forge ahead. Similar to the advent of new technology, we are developing fresh templates every day. We are imprinting new awarenesses onto subsequent generations. And it is splendid, it is lovely, it is unique and scary and necessary. Our world needs balance and we are tipping the scales. And so we proceed – now as elders in society – with love, patience and understanding. And we grant these first to ourselves.


It might as well be my shroud.
Confusion of tapestry woven daily
in knobbly hues – threads pulled
straight when ease marks the course –
twisted and frayed
when impaired.
How many acres of worries
it covers! Like prayer beads worn
shiny with use –
stitched string upon
string until, alarmed,
I buckle under its bulk.
I want to conceal every footpath,
leaving no trace –
a sandstorm scouring
undulating desert dunes.
Instead, tracks are buried –
grooved deeply
into grey matter
waiting in my wings
seeking flight
on the thermals
of my liberation.
~ Bela Johnson