Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year 2008

Rummaging through the local book haunt

I bought a volume with the perfect poem

to read to you tonight.

Paid cash for it,

wrinkled bills & odd coinage.

I thought this apropos

since I had spent

the better part of the morning

worn from a teasing gauntlet

created by my children.

Shocked they were,

to see my feelings actually hurt.

So like children, always hoping

the invulnerable mother vulnerable.

Yet regretful, even fearful,

to discover it is so.

My ankle, hip ache

from the spontaneous afternoon sled ride

down the snow-crushed hill,

my children having watched

as I tumbled head

over heels over head.

Still I stood and smiled,

a bit dizzy but solid.

Now ink mottles the window pane

and the book is here,

on the cluttered dining table

I was supposed to set an hour ago.

I cannot find that poem

which called to me when it was surrounded

by a book-spine spectacular

flaunting itself.

The poem is nowhere to be found.

I have thumbed through it

several times; it is not there.

There are other fine poems,

but the one poem is gone.

The one perfect to read to you tonight,

this night, this last night before tomorrow,

before a whole new year begins,

the year you have proclaimed will be good:

More joy than pain (or at least equal amounts).

More recognition than invisibility,

more companionship than loneliness.

It will be better in so many ways,

better than so many past years.

Better, at least, than this past last year.

Joy, happiness, all that other stuff

will not be elusive, will not be figment,

will be found on the same page

each time it is turned.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Friday, December 28, 2007


It’s hard when

kisses sweet, sour, savory

touch so tender, tasty, textured

are waiting for the next available hour

unregulated by life’s obligatory flotsam.

Time when I might steal away,

invent some erroneous errand

that furtively finds my worn boot

navigating a dicey mixture

of ice melting.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

an attempt at haiku

Nearly barren trees
Rust-colored quarter notes sway:
Dangling symphony

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Dark Matter

It’s not so simple. Drawing parallels between dark matter in the universe, density generating gravity while speeding the flight of proximal objects, and dark moments leaking through the man’s twisted exhortations and baffled silences, resigned humor punctuated by rat pack skadoos. There is, it turns out, no vacuum in his life, in this life, it being a continual manifestation of human consternation: sustaining, depleting, restoring.

Like there is no vacuum in space. I can’t quite wrap my brain around such a concept, standing with my older brother (whom I adore despite the ways he refuses to grow, because he ends up growing anyway, against his better recalcitrance), both of us trying to erase the imprint of 40 and 45 years respectively.

Imprint of what space was, at least during the years of our elementary education, when our minds were aflame with this stuff. So here I am today, reading over and over the printed caption that tells us what space is now, how it is not a vacuum, but a fabric, dark matter smattered between the bright objects that still are stars (thank god for something to be an constant in all this). That gravity isn’t centered deep inside each planet (how I thought I was being pulled toward and kept somewhat safely on this terra firma), but is a pucker in the fabric catching celestial bodies so they roll, roll, roll like the donation games at aquariums and museums, not spinning so much as spiraling downward, echoing in circles.

But not like them because in the end, those contraptions pluck the nickel from its imperfect orbit, stick it into the coffers still not full enough, coffers never full enough to fund the public good. Damn the war machine. That would then be a black hole, that would be Iraq, and that’s not what I’m talking about. That’s a whole different lesson. Some later visit to the Planetarium. Some other love affair.

I’m still stuck here, standing in front of the edu-tainment designed for laypeople such as myself, a map of the universe in the simplest of language and brightest of colors. I get that Pluto is no longer a planet. I can let it go and sing hosannas in praise of discovery’s progress (or its revision). I can even see the coherences of the man taking my hand in his as he says he’ll never, ever get involved with any woman e v e r a g a i n.

Yet not only can I see, but I can feel the undeniable coincidence between how science, buoyed by Hubble, explains the universe’s birth, but Hindu myth, pre-dating it by millennia, illustrates it: creating, destroying, all in one elastic band.

Still, I can’t quite grasp that dark matter isn’t space. My heart grasps at it, but my head wholly misses the mark: that ashes we come from and to ashes we go. My eyes are dry as I say to my brother I am despairing of the life we have constructed – well, actually, destructed – for our children. Not theoretical children of rhetorical future generations in nauseating political speeches, but our children: his two boys so many years apart; my resistant son, resilient daughter.

Then, at the same time -- because isn’t that what we humans are? Concurrent contradictions, the love and the hate, the give and the take, the hold and the let go -- the tears cascade down, are confident joy that we – my brother and I, our children, the destined human race – will become the energy we once were. I am thoroughly convinced: our incorrigible absence will be no vacuum and my best guess is that it cannot become dark matter, will not just become warp in the weaving, but will be all of it, none of it, eternally, one.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Friday, November 30, 2007

Artifact of Provocation, Mischief

Flowing at absurd angles

beyond henna and hurry,

luminous hair

with hues surpassing

typical sartorial idiom.

She is twirl, shift, shadow

in the lineage of Saraswati:

destructive, creative

on scale according to breath.

And pulse:

momentary diastole,

actual systole.

Incendiary release

on streets made wicked

by grown children

lacking her laugh.

For every purple,

she seeks the density of clay.

For every green,

she approaches journeywork of the stars.

For every illuminated tangerine

that teases the tongue,

she scatters upward confetti

that trace city air:

A glorious night

of paper fireworks

igniting to wreak havoc

on the backsides of her knees

damp with lurid panting, pulling play.

No slow show greets her

near the edge of all abandon.

It is rush and random.

Opalescence cascading,

coalescing, acquiescing.

The dew, the dawn,

the smoke, the desert

all meet at her heat:

Opportunity to push,

to feel the edge

of her farcical, fanciful friction.

Uneasy balance of emerge,

a teasing moment of take

that glides into give.

She does not diminish,

does not turn to husk

or withered wisp.

Her life is a living artifact

of provocation, mischief.

She becomes




Eminent reminder

of her place

on and in and of.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fox Sparrow Teaches Patience

Lesson One:

Its absence.

Lesson Two:

Worry that longing, preoccupation

thwarted seasonal sighting.


Stories of missing

recounted to the new friend

who put her arm in yours.


Virtual image arrives unexpectedly,

a fun, perhaps flirtatious, gesture

from aforementioned friend.

There are many ways to have a bird in the hand.

Find joy in what is before you.

Then the lesson ends.

Or begins:


your head turns

to a window

stained with autumn glare.

A perfect perch of not one,

but five, materializes

for you to see,

what you were meant to see.

Karen G. Johnston

Friday, November 9, 2007

Praise Come Again

Praise the heady days

Come again

When young women

Full of themselves

In the best possible

Meaning of the phrase

Saunter boldly, playfully,

On cold winter sidewalks

In their own good company

Declaring among themselves

Loud enough for all to hear

There’s no room in my uterus for religion

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Demarcated Measures

Pumping gas I set my sights for the double zero.

It makes it easier to balance the checkbook

I tell my avidly observing daughter.

I aim for the same on the elliptical,

the digital display counting

minutes, even seconds, of movement.

Each day of exercise, I make notations

on the monthly calendar affixed

to the bedroom wall.

Lists of tasks at work or home, written,

rewritten, checks for those completed.

As if maturity, productivity, even

personal evolution, can be proved,

by graphite marks on scraps of paper

all headed for the recycling bin.

This is what I do:

make some tiny mark

somewhere anywhere

that denotes I was here,

that my meaning made sense,

was measurable,

was lasting.

I have unremitting desire

for demarcated measures:





inevitable decline

It does not disturb me

that I am already

halfway through.

It is enough to feign

knowing where I stand

in this segmented life.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Making Common Cause with the Losers

This morning I conducted (conducted? facilitated? officiated? led?) the religious services (9:15 and 11:00) at the Unitarian Society of Northampton & Florence, where I am a member. Its title comes from a quote by Dr. Paul Farmer in Tracy Kidder's book, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World.

I worked really hard on this sermon -- both in letting it come together and feeding my patience that it would come together before deadline, and then once there was far too much written, finding the cohesive message for this day. (In writing, I think I came up with material for at least one, perhaps two other sermons or homilies, but who knows if they will come to fruition...) I also put in much effort to make the whole service be of one cloth, to contain many internal references so that there was a chance to encounter recurring themes over and over: redistributive justice, neighbor, fight the long defeat, preferential option for the poor.

This was quite a thrill for me, in so many ways. To put into motion something I have worked on for many weeks (eight official drafts, but likely more). To be among my fellow congregants and have the chance to be a spark in their lives. To see the sea of faces, so many familiar to me, many of them known to me -- there were special guests there, which was a thrill of a different sort. I got to read story to the children of the congregation and I loved the chance to sit with them, to hear their perspective, to get a giggle out of them. I loved getting a giggle out of the congregation too, as well as some sighs of having said just the right word or phrase that resonated with the listener. That is quite a joy!

I am exhausted, not only from the exchange of energy in creating the whole service, but on the more mundane level, because I was so filled with adrenalin this morning, I didn't have my morning tea. So all day I've had no caffeine (since I can't drink caffeine of any sort after noon or will be up til midnight...) and I'm t i r e d...

As always, my sermons can be found at a different blog. The link for this one is (you'll probably have to cut & paste into your subject bar).

-- Karen

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tall is Tremont Temple

On street level just to the left

there is a stone façade,

a carved nameplate streaked

with decades of grime:

Christian Information Center.

Secular Mondays I pass by on foot,

scurrying from commute to work,

later from work to commute.

It is always deserted: no pulse,

no vibrance, no rousing gospel singing

I think must be there on sacred Sundays.

I wonder about this place, ponder its purpose.

Is it an information center for Christians,

full of biblical tracts and assessing glances

to ensure only the righteous access?

Is it a center with information about Christianity,

open to all -- in fact covetous of those

not saved, but might yet be?

I like to imagine it dispensing

all sorts of information

according to true Christian values.

I can just see the swell of humanity

on the early Sunday sidewalk:

Some jockey for position, cutting in line.

Dapper men, women dressed to the nines

tap well-heeled shoes, a rhythm section out of synch.

Young necks crane with curiosity, boredom.

Tattoos peek through the shirts of several women,

while others wear their hijab without worry.

Canes keep more than a few from toppling;

there are at least five barely awake

so soon after Saturday night.

Then there is movement

in the window of the CIC:

A mild-mannered man,

wire-framed glasses,

glowing caramel skin,

the hint of Haitian in his hum.

This sole staffer emerges.

In his hand a jumbled assortment of

gossip, time-saving recipes,

current events, ambitious poems,

dull cartoons, stinging editorials,

advice for frugal travel abroad,

and tips for the stock market.

The crowd hushes.

He walks the line,

appraising them all:

old and young,

able and stumbling,

linen and polyester.

His is an amble relaxed, intent.

He halts, distributes

the collection in his hand:

Of course, it is the meekest

who inherits the information,

the poorest most preferred

for this smattering of earthly news.

Yet it is not only the lamb,

who receives the message,

but also the lion,

and if I’m not mistaken,

there is also enough

for the leper.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Question

When his lithe

teen-aged daughter,

knocked on the door,

on the bolted door,

knocked to say hello,

was he alive?

Was he alive

when she shook the brass knob,

smudged with desperate sweat,

his volatile absence,

as she shook the brass knob

hollow, then heavy in her hand?

Like his older brother,

ten years before.

Just like him,

three daughters,

one and then two

in close succession.

Both men:

failed farmer,

lost land,

gone generations.

Yet not exactly alike:

not the shotgun

his big brother used.

Not how it rang out

in front of family,

abrupt ringing indictment.

Unlike his elder brother’s,

his was prolonged:

addict’s swollen face,

years of slow decay,

next chronic away,

then lonely chemical gone.

Let us tell her

he had already been long dead,

whether we know it or not.

Let us tell her

there was nothing

she could have done.

As we tell ourselves,

there was nothing

any of us

could have done.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Torture Device Otherwise Known as an Elliptical Trainer

Seven minutes into my exercise regime

I am sure I have cancer of the thighs.

After twelve minutes of working out

the evidence is conclusive even though

I’ve never heard of the disease.

Eighteen minutes provides definite assurance,

despite not knowing anyone with the malady.

The proof is as plain as the nose on my sweat-beaded face.

Twenty-three minutes

on the infernal contraption

provides a differential diagnosis:

Exertion Amnesia.

Each and every time

until that lovely endorphin rush

I forget that I will not collapse,

forget that I will survive

forget that not only

did I do this

just two days ago,

but that I liked it.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

My First Mother Poem

One day I will write the requisite mother-daughter poem.

Either the one espousing untarnished admiration

or the deeply embittered exposé

or the enduring ambivalence.

Not today.

FloPoSo Poetry Festival

Today was the third annual Florence Poets Society Poetry Festival, held this year at Look Park in beautiful weather. Over five hours of poetry from local poets! Also, the debut of the second Silkworm, a collection of juried and selected poems. For the second year in a row, my writing was given the label "Poet of Distinction," this year for my poem, Prayer for my Son. I read this, as well as four other poems: In Just That Order (formerly I Don't Write Shiny Poems), He Cannot be Flirting with Me, The How, and I Had Decided Against Saying Her Hair was Beautiful. The 2007 Silkworm contains two other of my poems: Tension and Wanting Willow (a reworking of Mt. Auburn Cemetery, August). My first chapbook, Struck Just So: A Collection of Sensual Poems was available for purchase -- 3 copies were bought! Time to break out the champagne! I know it sounds a bit dorky, but I'm totally thrilled.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 20, 2007

For Purposes of Print

It had become History; with it there was now

no variableness neither shadow of turning.

Isak Dinesen

Saturated with imperialist condescension,

she wrote of Native awe at the

written word making permanent

what had previously been unfixed.

I, who has been surrounded by written words my whole life,

in my childhood bedroom, with shelves

made from cinder blocks and plywood;

in my house growing up, with my father’s thrillers and my mother’s novels;

in my schools, with teachers fostering my gifts to climb up and out;

in this town now, with its abundant used book stores

where one can graze for hours of delight;

I am struck by that very same awe.

How my poet’s version of our lover’s quarrel

trumps your fading memory

for having put pen to paper.

Yes, history is written by the victors.

Yet written or otherwise,

my words will never bring you back.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I Wish I Was Bold

Bold on the outside.

Bold on the inside.

Bold athwart and bold below.

Bold in bed,

Bold in the board room.

Bold in the face of callous adolescence,

Bold in defense of Scaly Boy behind

the counter at the burger dive

during high school lunch hour.

I wish I were bold

In the chill of river water,

In the verve of leisure time,

In the solitude of last night

(All last nights).

Instead I mistrust myself,

Depend on others

Limit this, then that;

Narrow, become pale

Til I sit in this expansive

Cathedral of light and pine

Smelling so vehemently of home.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Monday, September 10, 2007

I Had Decided Against Telling Saying Her Hair Is Beautiful

Tight corkscrews of shaved silver.

Twisted gray clay.

Thick cloud of black wool.

A mottled, muddled melange.

I had wanted to tell her

how it suits her round face

how it makes me happy

how it shouts she is here.

When my sandwich is ready,

she hands it across the counter.

I change my mind. I tell her.

I tell her because it’s true.

I tell her because

I want to make her happy.

Tell her because

I want her to go home,

be enfolded in her lover’s arms,

and when asked how her day was,

I want her to say my hair was beautiful.

I think I am giving her a gift,

a small pleasure. Some unexpected joy

when minimum wage doesn’t offer too much of that.

She smiles.

I think her smile is the gift

I will go home with,

the one I will tell my children

at the dinner table

when we say how our day was.

I will tell them how

I made a stranger smile.

I will tell them how

I made a stranger

with beautiful hair


She responds:

It’s how it grew.

My face puzzles.

After the chemo.

And the radiation.

She shrugs.

It’s how it grew back.

When I ask her if she likes it,

her wider smile blesses us both.

Oh, yes.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Friday, September 7, 2007

Dance Gently, Vibrantly, then Bare Fruit

Even decent men feel diminished,

devise plots to ditch depressed wives,

…then don’t.

Good guys give into gall,

generate venom, temporarily viper,

…then beg forgiveness.

The best blokes battle with doubt,

banter & bluster, only to remain bound,

…not broken, but bountiful.

There are times when a fine fellow

will forgo all foundation, foster fiasco,

…then find his way forward.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Truth to Power: Poetry into Action

This morning, at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, I helped to facilitate our last lay-led service of the summer. For the past several years, this Sunday of Labor Day weekend has been a poetry service. Though it has had a poetry-nature for longer, the last several years have had a theme: inspiration, love, and this year, political action.

Today's service went swimmingly, even with the unfortunate last minute cancellation of two of our seven readers (one had a stomach ailment; one got stuck in Morocco). Interspersed with poems were three Sweet Honey in the Rock songs and two live-sung songs by Arjuna Greist (, which were funny and moving. Announced within the UU congregation always, this year it was also announced on a poetry calendar -- so there was a mix of folks sitting in the pews. That was rewarding.

For a list of the poems, including the text of the three of mine that were used, please go to (my sermon blog).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Swallows of San Juan Capistrano

svalow, svalow”

Put both my children

into a room full of strangers,

they become swallows.

San Juan Capistrano?

Soon-to-be discovered adopted kids.

Some enigmatic knack,

reliable as March 19

at the old Spanish mission,

compels them home,

knowing each other

in unknowable ways.

They won’t twitter about

their common bond.

Like their parents might,

adopted kids won’t talk shop:

How old were you?

Domestic or international?

Open or closed?

Sometimes they find

the kind of kid

who is a salve of belonging,

a consolation against freakdom,

a companion on this long journey.

Other times,

it’s the sort who picks scabs,

rubs salt in, makes sure that

misery not only loves company,

but makes more for good measure.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Book of Your Body

My mind’s eye

begins the story

of my needy finger tips

wending their way

along your arm.

I want to be blind & read you

like the Braille book that you are,

that you would be to me.

New chapters draw me in:

the roughness of your sharp elbow,

the musky forest where your arm

meets your utterly smooth chest,

the hollow where your ribs

meet well above your belly button.

You are a novel

I cannot put down,

will not put down,

will lie to my boss

& call in sick to finish,

leaving each page dog-earred

& meticulously consumed.

I am overcome

by the imagined sensation

of what each section

of your delicious body

would taste like:

the lull of sweet

as my lips graze yours,

seeking and confirming

our mutual delight;

the sting of your unshaven cheek

as my own cheek slides across,

then nudges, then pushes into yours;

the tease of sour as I nip, then bite,

the nape of your neck

& chew the lobe, my breath

hot & weighty in your ear;

the flirt of salt that lingers

on your shoulder blades,

each jutting out as I

grasp your arms behind your back,

an enticing resistance

urging us onward.

I see the moist notations

my tongue traces

in the margins

as I move downward

along your spine,

each vertebrae sighing

as my sweet breath hovers,

teasingly, there at that delicate place

where your one back

becomes two palmfuls of flesh .

My parted lips bounce over

the smooth texture of your hips,

solid & firm under kisses

as I turn your body

from back to front,

cover to cover,

bringing a swirling infusion

of tongue, lips, & breath

to your navel.

I am wet.

I cannot go on.

I blush at the thought

of putting to paper

what else my mind’s eye

has conjured.

Perhaps I have not made good

on my promise to complete the novel

of your enthralling body.

Or there remains a sequel

yet to be written.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston


Though I've been writing some new stuff, it's more a trickle than a stream. Not wanting to lose the habit of writing or nursing creative energy, I've been focusing on revision. Some are small and not worth mentioning, though I have made the changes on the poems in this blog.

Some, however, end up making a significant difference, worth highlighting here. For instance, two old poems now have new names and new form. What was once Honey-Tinted Treasure (and was one of my few prose poems -- it is still there, in November, 2006) is now The Book of Your Body, posted today. What was once Ode to a Good Fuck is now Business Meeting and doesn't exist on this blog in its previous state (Business Meeting can also be found in Novemeber, 2006). Both of these original poems were written before I started being more intentional about my poetry writing, before I started learning some formal poetry concepts (about which I still have a LONG way to go).

One of my pieces A Moment's Peace Apart was accepted for publication in the 2007 Equinox, but with edits. The original sits on this blog and when the Equinox emerges, I'll post the new version as well. There are other revisions, I'm pleased with this process. Learning alot.

Toodles. Karen

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Awkward dinner of new acquaintances,

multitudinous children surrounded us,

their delightful ways eliciting languid laughter.

We watched your son, then mine,

your daughter, then mine

place their flat palms solidly on the floor

to raise squatting bodies in ever greater feats

of upper body strength and personal fortitude.

This child’s contest done, you extended the challenge

and held yourself up an impressive length of time.

The children, having discovered distractions elsewhere,

only I was the admiring audience.

In the vibration of your straining forearms,

my own pulse quickened. I hardly knew you,

yet already bound by this bold tension.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Found Email Poems

Tonight at the Florence Poets Society, two poets read found poems -- one created from spam that made its way to her email address, the other from CosmoGirl magazine. It reminded me of two poems I wrote several years ago, chronicling a short-lived but poetically-inspiring love affair. Each is written following a different found formula. The first one, getting a little addicted to these emails, is comprised solely of phrases from a month's email correspondence, arranged to make sense, not using all the email.

The second, November, 2003, uses phrases from every email in that month's correspondence and are used in the chronological order in which they were sent and are in black font. Additional words and phrases are added (here in a different color) to make the poem coherent.

So here they are

getting a little addicted to these emails

all of a sudden I'm not

sure what the ground is

I'm walking on

drawn there, called there,

seen there, noticed, even held

pause on the precipice

what passes between us

might bring you to feel

elated and jittery

more than excited (phosphorous)

curiously shocking

i'm a little nervous

(ok really nervous)

melancholy bordering on occasional desperation

i went in shuffling and hunched over –

i came out renewed:

those woods held me

through staccato feelings and

thoughts bouncing in every direction

there are a number of reasons why

next week will be a little different;

amazed and not sure what it means

is it possible to reconnect with all the good?

yes yes yes

~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~

November, 2003

I wanted you to read this but you replied

I am out of the office.”

This is the metaphor, isn’t it?

Gone you are, not the first time, not the last.

But then you return and say:

we also talk, and i hope to talk with you

I send you a sweet tease, wonder

if you're not up to a flirt

but then

you signed "love"


(i honor the light within you)

and then confirm that

(yes, i did use that word the other day, didn't i.)

I wanted to give you the out

even wrote it over and over to you

but then we had time together, alone, at night:

thinking backwith all its starts and stops,

anxieties and constraints,

its intent and loving gazes.

our touching is a potent combination

of tease and promise

but there must be

space, time, and emotional readiness

there for all of it.

And that is not there now.

And so you leave.

We are involved

and I don't know how to do it differently.

I think we can

set boundaries,

we can decide not to be sexual,

we can stop seeing

each other for weeks or months,

and we would still be involved.

Each exchange with you sinks me deeper, endears you to me.

I am not a goner,

but I would be

so disappointed,

so sad,

if we were to stop now.

We did stop now and I am sad.

It would be fine,

It will be fine

when we need to slow or stop altogether

We did stop now and it is fine,

At least in the daytime.

It is night that brings on the tears

And sometimes in the day.

a small parting gesture

you are beautiful. (say that last word slowly.)

you told me

after you left one of those precious nights,

i did a little dance,

held your glass and just had a good time for a few minutes

savor the sweetness that was

and jokingly wonder

do you ever put

stuff in these emails thinking ahead

to the next monthly summary poem?

me neither,” you quip.

just in case we can't figure out a way

to make this work

I want to say

wouldn't it be nice

and then I must stop myself

because it doesn’t help.

I have re-read over and overyouremails and

I am filled with such joy,

such light, such delight,

I just want to shout and share.

I want to hope

And then there are times when

i'm angry, put-out, resentful

and probably scared underlying it all

I think that we have both, separately and somehow together,

slipped beneath the still surface of the well of grief

I am with you.

all the feelings are swirling and swelling

your tears are precious and

your tears are precious to me.

There is so much I will miss:

i want to be outside in a snow-drenched wood

with you, warm enough to stay for a long time, to hear you tell

stories, to watch your face and your beautiful, expressive hands as

you do, i want to watch you unawares, communing with the snow, i want

to find your enthusiasm contagious, i want to ride on your exuberance.

There is so much you will miss:

earrings dangling and

so much more I can’t begin the list.

would you be willing for more?

You know my answer.

I think into the future, envision us,

A bit disembodied, third person:

they laughed;


realizing that this is a big wonderful first

remembering the first rush,

the feeling of

how large is this universe we have entered

that even without our first kiss

i can be so consumed by thoughts of you

and know there is still more?

There are moments when I know

You will find me

Knowing you said that

I forgot my hat but

You will not forget me.

It's all in you, it's all there –

either whole already, or the ability to

get what you need to be whole

And there are other moments when

I can't figure out,

am distraught,

and once again my computer tells me

that you are telling me

I am out of the office

And our last email sits in a

a field of bleak

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The How

You can be

one mean bastard --

I didn’t teach you that.

Either you got it

before we met

or it’s fixed in your veins.

Since there’s no way

to prove it,

it’s up to you.

Before you choose,

allow fear

no safe haven.

Sit down and breathe,

long enough to drown the din

with heart-breaking silence.

Or sweat it out:

Splitting wood at subzero

or sitting with addicts in detox.

~ ~ ~

The How is always

more important

than the What.

~ ~ ~

No decision

stays longer than

its own moment.

It is time to choose.

It was time yesterday.

It will be time tomorrow.

That is the unfortunate

nature of this animal,

of your animal.

Deep of your veins

or something you can slough off,

you will have to decide.

Each morning anew.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Friday, July 6, 2007


Grey-muzzled dog sprawls on floor,

well-worn furniture, well-used mess.

All surfaces shrouded with books:

gnostic scriptures, Jesus, wild hope.

Boston accent lilts in each word,

giving away early geography.

There is more in what he speaks.

It is how he says her name.

Over and over, again and again,

with such solid adoration,

such evocative presence.

Yet no wedding ring.

It is the stale air he breathes at his pillow,

the morning coffee he no longer makes.

It is the socks no longer twinned,

laying orphaned on the bed spread.

It is the specter of his gone father,

with all that he left unlived.

It is how their daughter grieves gracefully,

while he ambles in his awkward, intent way.

It is his own skin and his own bones

more dire than before.

It is obvious now, how it hangs on him

like a mourner’s suit coat, wrinkled,

tight in the middle, sagging at the shoulder.

He will pack up this cluttered house and move away.

A full-time parish exchanged for a part-time country one.

It is the chance to realize one persistent dream

with the passing of one three decades long.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Stood Up

Left to read poetry

otherwise too esoteric.

There are worse fates.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Mad Courage

Honoring the 35th anniversary of Daniel Ellsberg‘s

making public the Pentagon Papers.

Who are our daring mystics?

Where are today’s bold seers?

In the midst of this misbegotten muddle,

who are our secret shouters?

Let us go back, nearly two centuries:

Virginia Prophet with visions,

mad courage Turned Nat

from shackled free man to righteous rebel,

yet it was a failed insurgency.

Nearly three decades passing: Harpers Ferry.

Brown’s mad courage against slavery

hallowed that river confluence, but

his zealous raid failed as well.

Yet eventual Abolition was made


Like Daniel’s mad courage,

a full century later, making Papers public,

then published under penalty,

hastening the end of a different brutality.

Let us know that lonely lunacy.

Let us wade these wild waters.

Let us decry deadly deception.

Let us stand here, let it be now.

Let us make mad courage.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Parental Pardon

In my head, I’m constantly writing poems that

my eventually grown children are meant to write.

They are clever, profound, widely read.

They are poems of genuine appreciation.

No hint of resentment taints them.

Bitterness does not inhabit them.

These poems are sophisticated and wise,

demonstrating a balanced perspective

regarding the inherent flaws of raising children.

They are not accompanied by outrageous future therapy bills,

neither do they reflect countless hours at workshops on

primal scream re-parenting your neglected child within.

There is, in fact, a steady progression toward clemency.

It begins in the adorable toddler years

with endless decrees of “No!” and “Mine!”

while moving to complete absolution

as the authors confront their progeny’s own

murky, moody, mean adolescence.

With a grace I have not yet found myself,

they pardon every last parental lapse,

including mine.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

A Second Ode to Africa

There she is again.

I think you know her:

Ailing dark-skinned

African child,

edemic belly bulge

or skeletal ribs,

take your choice.

Nearly always

the requisite fly feeds

at a corner

of her dry mouth,

doom resides

in her eyes.

She has become

literary device,

media poster child,

noble poet’s metaphor.

She is Africa.

She is lost potential,

cruel dictator’s refuse,

racist imperialism’s bastard.

Object of charity,

endless pit,

nameless victim.

Yet what of Monique Dembele?

Malian midwife with leathery hands, barely 33 years on this earth.

Little formal training, she earned more money than men in her village,

ushering new life, banishing health risks for the women of her village.

Undeterred in both curiosity and generosity,

until the irony of her death in childbirth.

What about this Africa?

What about Mustafa Kudrati, lover of both Logic and Spirit?

Born and raised in Tanzania, yet Pakistani family tree signifies

somewhere else to our narrowed minds.

What about his efforts: Kuleana, a center for street children,

where there is shelter, health care, education?

What about this Africa?

What about Mukuli, five year old Akamba girl?

Persistent, clever & blessed with apple cheeks.

Mango juice dripped so steadily from her chin,

I could take her skin color for orange.

Like she took mine for red, dust kicked up

on my ankles from long walks on dry dirt roads.

She never did believe me, that my skin was white.

When she threw water on my dusty legs, the color trickled down.

She was convinced even more I could not be trusted

regarding facts of skin color, in particular, my own.

What about these Africas? What about these ones?

(cc) Karen G. Johnston