Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Friends in their Forties

for Tom

Shafts of Indian summer
warm your face,
my neck.

You speak
of your mother,
ever the parent,
even until the very end,
showing all of you
how to pass
with grace.

As we hugged good-bye,
I said with my truest breath,
we have only thirty years.

Only thirty years
to work out
some similar feat.

We should start
figuring out now
how to die.

I meant it.

I mean it still.
And I mean, too,
that maybe
we have
only until

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ode to Otis

Such joy, beholding this creature
attempting to scale river rocks
without success, yet he is not
one bit discouraged.

He and I have known
each other only
seven weeks now.
At first he found
all the gaps in our old
wire fence and he ran.

Ran he did,
just five days after we
brought him home from the shelter.
I spent a long hour in despair of his return.

Return he did, and now he runs less often.
We have repaired most of the escape routes,
but clearly not yet all.

Still he does not often run away,
he just lies in the fall sun, content.

This morning, Indian summer full upon us,
we walk along the pristine gorge.
Despite the sign’s order otherwise,
I have taken off the leash.
His harness and collar jingle ~
he is by no means a wild thing,
this boy who craves my love ~
but he chooses his own direction.

Much to my delight,
it is always
the same as mine.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Our Own Potter's Field

Thick scaly bark, these trees are old.
Impossible to know just how old,
since yew boughs hollow as they age.
Three make a canopy of bright berries,
crimson constellations suspended overhead.
As guides, these stars aren’t much use.

All parts of the plant are so poisonous,
save the dark seed within each red star,
that after ingestion, symptoms leading to death ~
staggering gait, muscle tremors, spasms ~
are often missed before terminal collapse.
Horses are most vulnerable, none but birds are safe.

Next to me, the cold bench memorializes
the burial ground this serene hillside might be.
I can’t help but wonder about the dying patients
from the State Lunatic Hospital at Northampton.
No rapid onset: only slow convulsed demise, largely unnoted.

Just a few days ago, I marveled at how the next field over
used to hold an abundance of pumpkins in September,
then late October, a bevy of children learning
the fine art of New England gleaning.
How one year there was a ragged La-Z-Boy ~
some collegiate prank or attempted performance art.
Around here, you can never be sure.
Now the meadow rolls, four shades
of green, one dappled lavender.

Some will not even consider purchase of a house
on the village hill two over from this one.
The collisions of beleaguered spirits too much
for the harmony of hearth and home.

Unsure if this is meditation or lamentation,
I set down novice feet, one after the other.
Heel, ball, toe. H e e l, b a l l, t o e.
Underneath: collapsed dirt has wended its way
from bone to soil, sinew to loam, flesh to earth.
I wonder how to make luminous these toxic rubies:
those just over my head in the sentinel trees,
those deep below my feet in each and every unmarked grave.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

At What Moment does Shadow Define Light?

Fox bisecting field
along snow-spattered wall.

Breeze moving lanky willow wisp,
trail of effervescent grey
on pond surface below.

That night, long ago,
when I held her hand,
long after the other
had given me her heart.

Some say
one does not exist
without the other.

If true, is it
each time I avert
my eyes from
a seeking suitor

my earlier betrayal
that makes more brilliant
this fidelity to you?

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

I am a Fool Touched by This World

When all the girls,
green and blue both,
drop to one collective knee
until the downed player
catches her wind,
stands wobbly but sure,
amid the applause scatter.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Peace Pagoda (September 16, 2009)

Brackish water
mottled with lily pads
the color of green beans,
rust, day-old dog shit,

A cluster shimmies ~
one, then the next, shakes.
This one pulses,
that one acts like a cog:
brief urgent forward,
only to settle back.

The Jesus bugs
are here, as hoped,
skimming water,
barely a ripple
reveals them.

The longer I look,
the more there is
to see.

Frogs I thought
curiously absence
are, in fact, not:
Just my ability
to perceive them
until a half hour
has adjusted me
to the quiet
of this place.

Decay, too, is here:
soothing and ominous.
Pine needles lost
from their mother tree
are now spindly floats
that will eventually sink.

Down is where
I cast my eyes
to find suspended forms
of agile orange
wend their way
in the water.

A single dragonfly
just entered
and exited
the scene.

And always ~
always ~
this wind,
this breath.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston