Friday, January 25, 2008

Honey Creeps

I can’t stop asking friends, acquaintances,

strangers in line at the grocery store,

but nobody seems to know the answer.

I might have to wait until spring,

when the farmers market unfurls its umbrella

of vegetable seedlings, cage-free eggs

on the tarmac behind the library.

It’s possible I’ll never know.

Maybe I’ll ask the guy who sold me

this hefty six pound jar of sugary, thick sunshine.

It’s possible he’ll know, but there’s no guarantee.

He’s just a beekeeper and strawberry grower,

awkward, not the easiest guy to talk to.

I may never figure it out.

Just because he gathered the honey

doesn’t mean he’ll be able to explain the physics

of why each night, despite my careful wiping away

of the day’s residue, it creeps up the inside walls

of the glass jar, how it insinuates itself between

glass rim and tin lid, each morning irksome glue,

each morning making me work just a bit harder

for the perfection in my oversized mug:

black Assam tea leaves, whole milk, golden nectar.

Like I doubt he – or anybody

can explain to me why they sent her away,

14-year-old mother of one-year-old Sylvie

not the handsome, sweet-talking older cousin

who’d been pimping her for years.

The poet Rumi exhorts “don’t be the jar of water whose rim always stays dry.”

He wasn’t thinking of the slow upward sneak of honey.

He was thinking abundance, as in my cup runneth over!

He was thinking generosity, as in what’s mine is yours!

He wasn’t thinking they’d take his side, not hers.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Holy Heat

Holy heat

from deep inside.

Not where thighs meet

but earth’s great abide.

Tempting late night,

lake, woods, fields

becoming mosaic light

as the darkness yields.

Encircled in stone

once wet, once wood

hot crackle, hot moan

a fire here stood.

Tower of ashes

expands full height,

then collapses

glow takes flight.

Fleeting sparks

amid darkest blue;

flashing arcs

dispel the dew.

Left: aching embers

thrust apart,

now re-membered

what from the start

was log, even tree

before becoming

fiery geometry.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Friday, January 18, 2008

Spare Nest

This is the latest (final?) version of two poems originally posted on 2/12/07 under the title "Gudrun." I am pleased with this meshing. KJ

(Part I)

Lost in the neighborhood grocery store,

adoring husband of 35 years only ten feet away,

but not the five she required

to recognize her place in the world.

Her panic rising, next to her

beloved daughter no longer

familiar point of reference,

now one of the swarming mass of humanity

who terrorizes with disturbing strangeness.

(Part II)

Have you ever seen the hole a lit cigarette makes when pressed to unfolded rolling paper? Just at first, it is the exact size of the round embered tip. Then it grows, orange hair-line trim expanding the circumference unevenly, persistently, burning away the once-wood pulp, once-virgin forest, forever.

Lack of word retrieval, inability to recall unimportant facts. Then important facts, difficulty following multi-step tasks, like baking her fabled pound cake. Then as simple as boiling water or remembering that one must turn off the stove burner after one turns it on. Refined rolling paper, wood pulp, virgin forest: clear-cut, slash and burn, it does not matter.

(Part III)

No discernible intellect to sculpt

her animal essence, she had become

a spare nest of primitive emotion.

Hollowed, howling, haunted.

Ragged, roughened, ravaged.

Unrecognizing, unrecognizable.

No beauty transcending cruelty.

No reassurance to offer

nor metaphor to distill.

Just the harsh, relentless fact

that her body remained

too many years in ruthless bed.




These pitiful words

are all I have

to offer.

So tiny

that infinite amounts


fit in the palm of my hand.

Open or closed,

it does not matter.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Thursday, January 10, 2008

You Don't Write in Winter

The sorry excuse of a lamp sputters light

in the grey heft of the season’s air.

The daylight is too thin, your tongue too swollen.

Shoveling snow fatigues the muscles in both shoulders

encroaching upon your hand whether it types

or cradles a pen or wipes the steady train

streaking your cheeks, common jewels

glistening the length of your stubbled neck.

Your fingers bleed, but not all the way through

the interspersed bandages that fray as you split wood,

slip loose as you wash dishes.

Poets & therapists & the old guy

at the package store at Oak & Harlow,

they’re always looking for some word,

or phrase that gives it a better name.

A stronger name. One worthy of its might.

They say it is

walking amid molasses,

a recklessly-weighted hibernation,

an acrid sink hole.

All of that is cliché, old hat,

is been-there, done-that.

Still, how many times have you wished

for the reprieve a sink hole might offer?

A chance to descend into silent sigh,

no tether, no miracle ledge to catch you.

To sink, sink, sink

into something other

than this abrupt halt,

this cold metal curse,

this twisting stucco

taloned with unintention

that shreds tender fingers

offering to stroke its texture,

while insipid lamplight disperses only trivial shadows.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Portrait of Arrogance

You shake your finger, a private cha cha cha,

as you sashay your vacuum around the room.

Hardwood, area rug, it doesn’t matter.

You’re so sure of this one thing,

even alone in your living room,

you stew in your own satisfaction.

Glib is the expression on your face

& though you seem pleased,

you are less attractive for it.

Your simpering mother never begrudged you this;

your dementia-clad father could barely stomach it.

Your ex-lovers already know too well;

the one you're now dating is just about to find out.

It is the reason your older brother calls only on major holidays,

it is why your younger sister likes you best when you are in the woods.

Giddy conceit flickers in & out of your pupils,

a candle hissing in a mild breeze

from the attic window left open the night before.

It is good your acquaintances & neighbors cannot see this.

This is why walls are built, why curtains were invented;

it is the necessity that necessitated doors that can not only close,

but lock. Tight.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Come Play with Me

Lead you astray

Turn crystal to clay

Mix raw umber with oil

Giggle as you recoil

Smear your arm

No cause for alarm

Seek you out

Map the route

Roundabout way

Swerve, then sway

Bet a day’s wage

Can’t act my age

Define the context

Subvert the pretext

Seek raucous grace

Do an about-face

Imbibe all night

Make it just right

Add sugar to wine

Sangria tastes fine

Admire my toes

Discard my clothes

Invent your desire

Ride, ride, ride it with my fire

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Day 2008

It was after you decided but before you told me,

while I sat alone at the same table, again unset,

the game of hide & seek over:

I found the poem.

It was after you told me, but before it sank in:

I read it to you at the table strewn with books

of Chinese authors living in Paris,

Argentinean poets translated into English,

and the volume with the no longer perfect poem.

Both of us considering what passed between us,

what is next to come.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston