Friday, December 29, 2006

Malignant Lace

Do you recall those pegboard lacing tablets?

Smooth, uniform holes, rounded lace.
Dull repetition is what I remember:
Up, through, out, over.
Up, through, out. over.
Again & again, learning lacing & tying, but
incapable of untangling the board,
leaving behind a criss-cross mess.

That was the first image of your latest tumor,
threading its way along & through your spine.
Crimson colored, my brain has made it,
complete with plastic-encased aglets.

It poisons its way in & out,
each old vertebrae lending itself
without judgment or resistance,
holding the cord like those pegboard holes.
Much too resolutely.

Damn malignant lace.

What if instead of entwined
in the labyrinth of your precious body,
this wicked fastening festered
only on the outside?

Oh, that I could be chivalrous rescuer &
your cancer a century old
satin undergarment with whale-bone stays,
stretched & unyielding, squeezing breath,
the very life out of you.

Were it so, a corset strung too tight,
I would be your single-minded lover,
brimming with proper motivation.
Dexterous hands, nimble & eager,
pulling the last of the loosened trappings:

one fluid motion of sweet release.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Sunrise on the East Coast


Far from home, I followed my new South Shore friend.

Got up early, watched the sun rise over the massive sea.

Incredulous, speechless, animated in my loss for words.

A tried and true west coaster, the sun always set on the ocean,

not rose.


Three years later, college paths worn divergently,

she appeared late one long, dark night of the soul.

Shattered mirror left in her room,

bloodied fist at the end of her sleeve,

she huddled in the corner as incestuous specters captivated her.

Lovingly, by candle flicker, I sketched her that night.

Her arms, legs a barricade against internal onslaught,

angles of contortion drawing me in.

I asked permission, but have always wondered:

her mouthed yes was hardly full consent.


Decades later I do not know her, though that night inhabits me.

I wish I could walk this North Shore beach with her,

another east coast sunrise blowing my mind.

Every so often I toy with the idea of modern serendipity:

irregular Google searches never yield enough clues to find her.

Her name so common,

like her tormented history,

like this lesson, over and over,

of loss, longing, learning:

looking to light.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Sunday, December 17, 2006

West Cummington’s Minister

This afternoon, I attended the candlelight service at the West Cummington Church (congregationalist, I believe) in West Cummington, MA. This is the third or forth year I have attended this service, because either one or both of my children have sung in a school chorus that performs at this service (voluntarily, of course! Their school music director is the music director at this church...). It is a beautiful service, full of Jesus and full of Christ far more than I am usually comfortable with. But the minister has such a humble way about him. The small village church and his unassuming ways move me. This year, moved me to write this poem. -- KJ

Formidable, his voice booms

shoulders broad, jaw sturdy,

simple grey suit magnifies solid stature.

Yet his finger is bandaged

signaling translucent vulnerability,

his and our own.

He calls his compassion foolish &

invites us to join him.

Such gentle force straddling

earthly & godly realms.

In this church there is no scolding god

to fear, though Christ is everywhere.

No certainty in this message or

arrogance in the messenger.

He is of us, among us,

& his gift stands him apart

just enough

to ignite light.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Good Harbor Beach, December

Walking back,

already going the way I came,

saw what was to be seen.

Been there, done that,

so why look back?

Except when I do

[of course, it is a wildly

joyful dog who pulls me

out of focus]

the sky is on fire.

Cottony, molteny bursts inviting ecstatic immolation.

Then, at no specific moment, only a before and an after,

exploded magenta rays dissipating beyond my visual field

and intellectual ken.


The only word that comes close.





These are approximate names,

coarse, earthy, lacking:

equally worthy but still wide of the mark.




(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Her Fingertips at the Other Woman's Waist

Femme wannabe

sheathed in black velvet,

shapely curves suggesting

ample breasts, hungry

hips, silky thighs.

Black-haired butch,

suave in grandfather’s tails,

intent gaze charming

all in the room.

Her fingertips at the

other woman’s waist

exude heat as she

hands over a drink.

These two no longer

dance together,

but still she leads

this way and that.

Martini a false excuse,

the giddy femme follows,

her unspoken offer

tempting, but unheeded.

The host has already

moved on to other guests.

murdered martyr girl?

At the end of October, I gave a sermon entitled "Hope with Feet." (found at In it, I spoke about Tom Fox, an anti-war activist with the Christian Peace Makers, who was murdered earlier this year in Iraq. The statement of conviction that he and some members of his group wrote before going over to Iraq made quite an impression on me. iraq_team_statement_of_conviction.htm

In the sermon, I also spoke of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, one of my heroes from my Liberation Theology class as an undergrad. He, too, was murdered in the people's quest for peace and justice.

I worried that using these slain heroes as examples of inspiration and hope might not work for others as it had for me. But response to the sermon was positive.

The other day I was at my office holiday party. We have a tradition of "Secret Snowflake" (a failed attempt to make it not just about Christmas). One's secret snowflake leaves anonymous presents for a week, culminating in a party where one has to guess in front of everyone who is the secret gift giver (I am always wrong). Once guessed and revealed, one opens the "biggest, best" gift. Again, in front of everyone. This is the time to practice fake face just in case you get a present that may be beautiful in the eye of the giver, but not so much for the beholder.

So I'm up in front of everyone, opening a gift from a person in my organization whom I like, but barely know and with whom I rarely work. I tear off the wrapping paper to find a lovely hard cover book -- daily inspirtational writings from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I was ecstatic! I had just watched a great documentary ( about this man who came to Union Seminary to expand his theology and was rocked by the Christianity he found in Harlem; this man who was comfortable in New York but opted to return to Germany because he saw the rise of facism and knew he had to stand against it; this man who took part in an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and who was executed for it Another dead martyr!

My co-worker knew I have been "dabbling" in writing sermons but has never read one. He didn't know I even knew who this guy was (or that I could pronounce his name correctly, since I speak fluent German). He had no idea that Bonhoeffer was one of the heroes of the German family with whom I lived as a high school exchange student in 1984/5 -- the first Christians I met who were not hypocrites in my eyes and truly tried to live their lives according to Jesus' teachings. My co-worker had no idea that apparently, I have a thing for martyred heroes, maybe even martyred Christian heroes if you look at this list. I didn't realize it either...

Sunday, December 3, 2006

He cannot be flirting with me

my table in this crowded café at

wrong angles for his appraising gaze.

He’s not flirting with his wife – if that’s

who is sitting at the table with him.

It is overflow because he’s bored

with her incessant drivel or wasp-ish

at what’s going unsaid or distracted by

the news of his friend’s recent relapse.

Maybe she’s not his wife and it is

because he wants to jump her bones

and hasn’t yet found a way to let her know.

It’s definitely not the foot,

unremarkable in shape and size.

Or apparel, which borders on

aesthetically offensive:

white athletic socks, sturdy sandals.

It is itself: of itself, for itself.

…and utterly sensual.

It is the recurring sweep of the curve,

How when it reaches the top of

its simple circle, foot slows,

not out of hesitation,

possibly out of anticipation,

but most likely

out of sheer satisfaction.

Momentum suggestive of other intimate rhythms.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Everything everything

Why is everything everything?

Why is grace awkward?

Truth both shiny and dull?

How can honesty be humble and haughty,

sometimes hurtful?

Jane Hirschfield wrote

the world is a blurred version

of itself. There it is again: the thing

is itself and its shadow,

the fact and the perception,

perhaps even the interpretation.

Befuddled, bewildered, beleaguered,

I bellow, “When will this lesson stop?”

Amused, the heavens koan:

When it stops being a lesson.

While doubly true,

it is only half reassuring:

Ugly inside of beauty,

hunger entwined with satisfaction,

peace birthed of conflict.

No depth without surface,

not one without the other,

no shadow without light.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston