Friday, March 23, 2007

I'll Tell You What Kind of Slow

So gradual

as to be incremental

as to be glacial.

But in the old-fashioned sense,

in pre-post-modern parlance:

Like the time before

Greenland actually became, well, green.

Like the time before

untethered icebergs the size of nations

floated sovereignly, exercising

some inalienable right to secession.

Like the time before

Kilimanjaro lost its status

as Old King Africa, white crown gone,

blown away by winds no longer

cold enough to keep him from balding.

By the time you express not just

your fiery passion for me, but recognize

just how far you have fallen,

I will be on my own: this harbor flown.

My sails unfurled,

traveling the world,

visiting ports of exotic call

each person I meet enthralled.

Lovers of all international ilk

showering me with opals & silk,

laying me in fields of fragrant clover,

will have declared seven times over

all sorts of intimate devotion

to this goddess of forward motion

that could have been yours,

had you just opened the doors.

My ship has already sailed.

This affair of ours, curtailed.

It's now you realize

with wide open eyes:

You’ve missed the boat.

That kind of damn slow is

your dawning realization:

You are in love with me.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Lesser & Greater Mathematics

despite fractional fear
inhabiting the cellular level
you must devote
your whole (self)
amid absolute dread.

the sum of who you are
will not be settled
by the current equation
(of us)

which is lesser than
your/my/our whole
being greater than this

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Eye of the Beholder

Just sometimes I feel that way:

one mundane object

an unrelated comment

some random gesture:

All I want to do is bed you.

Yes, the echo of your sighs

gone from my ear too many days now,

of course, that arouses me, too.

In the solitude of my bed

As I drive my car on errands

Sauntering among sidewalk crowds

smelling vaguely of you.

It is something like Billy Collins’ eye

beholding a painting’s racy charge

undetectable to even the most randy of

the general populace.

There are surprising prompts out of nowhere:

not just the shape, but the distant heat, of the chandelier torch

a child’s exuberant peddling full speed in the new spring air

the hard concrete corner on the Mezzanine with its luminescent glass floor tiles where quiet hovers, deceptively suggesting seclusion

It’s not all that often, not really that frequently:

just with each exhale and every other inhalation.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Saturday Sangha

Ample five year-old spies her way

through reclaimed factory

boasting renovated studios

filled with art, commerce, sacred space.

She peeks through door ajar.

Her proclamation lays to rest

a brief mystery: “It’s Buddhists…”

Her voice rings sweet pride at

knowing what this strange

constellation of sitting silents is.

Then simple, eager astonishment:

“…and I can see them!”

Mystery rising again and again,

living in this curious creature

who will peer into a multitude of other




May many more doors be left half-open to discover.

If not, may she be the key to open them herself.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Foreign Tongue Familiar

This is not unknown language,

wending its way along

the gentle of my inner thigh.

Not some foreign tongue

whose dialect I cannot discern.

This lingua franca, common between

two lovers, leaves me breathless,

yet still I interpret its meaning.

Some translations cannot be circulated

without the poet’s permission.

Grant me it. Now.

What manner of publication ~

not chapbook,

provincial local newspaper

nor high literary journal ~

suits this love we make?

Permit me my moans, rendering

expressive tonight’s version

of your familiar tongue.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

John Brentlinger has died this day.

An amazing man, one I knew such a brief time, so I only know the smallest fractional part, has died. A bright light (bugger the cliche) gone elsewhere, perhaps to void, perhaps to something greater than this morass in which we still find ourselves. Namaste, John.

Untitled (March 5, 2007)

My attempts are all gibberish,

intellectual blather,

grating grammar with lazy lines.

Heady formulations of distance from him,

his death at hand

(and mine yet to come),

the terror of Grace,

from Life larger than these

ultimately frail human vessels.

They are pedantic expressions

of that persistent pulse,

a sacred Morse code

from his comatose hand

to my attentive one,

a transcendent dispatch

I cannot yet grasp.

It will take




countless salty soaked sleeves,

scores, if not hundreds, of poems, to

translate the divine message,

render both form and content,

surrender to its Mystery.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Monday, March 5, 2007


My hand, his palm twinned,

firmly pressing skin to skin.

Electronic twinge




Repetitive reminder

of his waning existence,

pulse persistent, resistant

to attempts to distance,

beat weak, but consistent.

Despotic pulse declares intention,

demands my plural attentions,

commands each & all, large & small:

Tactile trace

His smooth face


Spiritual dwelling

Ankles swelling

Wish for history

Weeping thirstily

Ancient essence

Enduring presence.

Insistent pulse

at my fingertip.

I discard regard

for Sacred.

Replace with skeptical

scientifical quip:

Is this nothing more

than rhythmic score

of my life's own echo

throbbing through

tiniest threadways?

Dispel, deny, defy

as I may try,

Truth wins the day.

Glad I am

my skin

is thinner

in this way.

Not metaphorically ~

though that too is true:

laid bare to this

worldly pass-through ~

but actually thinner.

Keen sensation

of pulsation’s recitation:

I’m here.


let me go.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Basement Treasure

My grandparent’s farmhouse,

nearly shadowed by Mt. Hood,

held steep stairs,

cozy nooks in oddly-shaped closets,

a laundry shoot that led

to rows and rows of canned fruit

in the dank basement

which housed torture devices,

monsters conjured or real,

it didn’t much matter;

the border between the two

rather porous at that age.

There, too, the barren work shower,

where men washed up

after a long day in the orchards.

It mesmerized me with forbidden air.

I stole clandestine time there.

There were treasures

only a child could perceive,

branded by adults

as discarded or forgotten.

Some were commonly known

among the cousins,

others were my private cache,

enjoyed furtively, hush-hush

when others were around.

The most cherished cellar plunder,

valued by adult and child alike,

was the mysterious Pachinko machine.

Its colors vibrant, even garish.

Its presence, inexplicable,

only enhancing its worth.

It rained


steel balls

through an

obstacle course

of metal pins,


chink, chink

ping, ping

ringing throughout

the damp air,

a cheery resonance

declaring crisp


(cc) Karen G. Johnston

She Blew Her Top

When they left the farm, moved into town,
the tiny kitchen held only one prize:
Out the window, its summit visible
as my grandmother washed dishes.

Since men watched TV and women prepared food,
I came to know the view well:
blue Western sky, white conical mountain,
emerging from brown lesser hills.

Legend says St. Helens was an old guardian.
Rewarding her loyalty, Great Spirit transformed her
into the most beautiful of all mountains.

In 1980, it was enough.

Some promise reneged
or loyalty not properly rewarded.
Like any woman kept in place too long,
not able to move of her own free will,
she had to bust out.

She blew her top.

Only 12, a year into my womanhood,
I had already felt the early embers of rage:
relegated to restricted roles, place of no outward movement.
Had felt the urge to erupt, to destroy all that stood in my path.

She erupted, miles-high plumes of steam,
spewing boiling mud, grey ash.
Devastation tallied in
human deaths,
drowned animals,
downed trees,
demolished structures.

Years later, both grandparents dead,
me with my own daughter to raise,
I gazed at the still-sky, ever-hills, but gone-peak.

Initially scientists calculated what was razed.
A quarter century on, their point of reference
is not destruction, but what has since been reborn.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Bridge of the Gods

WPA-sculpted guardrails,

tunnels built of dustbowl sweat,

a road designed to “not mar

what God had put there.”

Is it revisionist memory that purports

my family told more stories on that road?

My favorite was the origin story of

the Bridge of the Gods:

Two male mountains fought for the attention

of a beautiful female mountain. Their conflict

erupted into hurled rocks, creating a bridge

of stones that crossed the mighty river.

Mt. St. Helens joined the winner, Mt. Adams,

on the North side of the river, leaving Mt. Hood

defeated and alone.

To lend more credence to this poem,

I availed myself of the poet’s modern tool:

Googled old Route 30 and Columbia Gorge.

It turns out my recollection fails: the story

either mis-remembered now or mistold then.

St. Helens was no victor’s spoils, but a spirit

rewarded for her loyalty, turned into

the most beautiful of all the mountains.

In my childhood’s version, the mountains

held European names, not




Names familiar to me,

but as my mother’s high school

or the amazing waterfall

in whose mist I bathed,

my six-year-old self believing

it existed only for me.

Daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter

of victors who wrote the History, I wonder

what else is lost,

given another name,

remembered through erasure?

What other six year olds will lay claim

to what does not belong solely to them?

(cc) Karen G. Johnston