Sunday, November 30, 2008

At the Passing of Miriam Makeba

Don't label me
Don't you dare brand me.

She seethes fire,
her voice of years ago
now over the radio
on the day her heart stopped.

Shout South Africa to freedom!

Taken from this world
not at home, but abroad,
not home that had once been
three decades stolen from her.

Dance South Africa to freedom!

Yes, Mama Afrika seethes fire,
breathes fire, sings fire.
Also earth, air, water --
water that shimmers light on rock wall,
pounds the temples as it falls.
Air that shakes acacia leaves,
melts snow on pine boughs.
Earth that swings the hips,
clay dense under foot.

Sing South Africa to freedom!

She made it home, thirty years later,
a better version, a better vision.
Still flawed, yes, but all
air, water, fire, earth
belonging, finally, to all.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Miriam Makeba died November 10, 2008 at the age of 76 years.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ode to Joy (Scene One)

Pull into friend’s driveway,
emerge from car crooning
top-of-lungs loudly.

See unexpected carpenter
straddling slanted shingles,
grinning at the tone-deaf singing.
Awkward moment, must decide:
embarrassed or joyful?

Choose joy.

Greet the stranger boldly,
despite timid tendency.
See other workhead bob,
initially hidden by roof slope.

Turns out his scruffy head
belongs to the guy you chatted up
at a friend’s wedding
five years ago,
a hundred miles away.

You danced
with him,
discovered you lived
in the same town,
gossiped long
into the tipsy night,
never saw him again.

'Til now.

Karen G. Johnston

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hatless Courage

toward a new kind of love your life has never allowed
(Adrienne Rich)

As I read other poets’ words,
you sat in the pew,
your hat off,
your head bald,
shock of white hair gone.

I felt such love for you,
for you and your hatless courage
in our holy house.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Sunday, November 2, 2008

How We Met

At Kate’s recent 50th birthday party,
her story of how we met
differed enough from mine,
it left me confuzzled.

The first time I saw Naomi,
then pregnant with twins
who are now thirteen,
I imagined such fun
to befriend her.
It came years –
and one failed marriage –

Like the woman herself,
the conceptive moment of friendship
with Diane is concrete and clear,
traceable to one set of circumstances,
no grey area, no shade of doubt.

Even with Lew, who has been
so many things to me --
teacher, lover, ally, sustainer, foil,
and above all, friend --
there is one moment
of initial connection
neither of us can dispute.

Now that you are gone
it is left only to me
to name the how and when,
as well as the why.

I’d rather it otherwise.

Oh, just to sit across
the dinner table,
a fine tug of war
over soft butter & sourdough
from the Hungry Ghost,
Sandy as playful referee:
I’d gladly cede any right
to name how we met,
If only you’d come back
to hash it out with me.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston