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).