Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Valentine to You

after Marge Piercy

The pain is intolerable.
I can’t do it, you say, it’s killing me.

Implosion moments away.
End approaches,
Death hovers,
Personal apocalypse taunts.

Yet your veins still pulse
Your heart beats,
Lungs inhale.

Perhaps out of spite.

Perhaps merely to fortify you
For the next round of heartache.

Thomas Moore offers words of consolation
About the bounds of sorrow and heaven’s place.

They fall as flat
as the greeting card
on which they belong.

Your equanimity long gone,
Even Buddha’s thoughts seem over-rated.

You surmise
they lived too early to know true suffering.
that among its many accomplishments,
modernity must have advanced emotional misery.

Then your dear friend’s words
land absurdly near you --
Celebrate Valentine’s Day:
The day when a saint was beheaded
His severed body dragged
Through the streets of Rome.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Friday, February 6, 2009


I believe in the power of equilibrium in nearly all things.

Though my horoscope means blather to me, I find there is something to the Libran symbol of the scale. I see it in my two adopted children, once nearly stolen from each other. Even when I first met them and they were still little – one just two, one nearly four years old – they unknowingly balanced each other. They still do:
• When one is having an foot-stomping meltdown, the other becomes the epitome of perfect progeny.
• Where one feels the need to wash his laundry once per month (at most), the other loads the washer nearly daily with clothes barely worn but somehow in need of sanitizing.

It is not just in my children with which this instinctual, natural, unavoidable tendency manifests. I see it when groups are smarter than the individuals in it. I see it in what we are calling a “recession”, when, in fact, we are coming ‘round right after too long among the irrationally exuberant.

Another example, as certain as Swiss timing: should I stay up until midnight three or four nights in a row, one night to visit with my beloved, another to write a poem, the third to waste on insipid, yet enthralling, computer games, surely a sore throat and clogged sinuses will dog me into an early bed time. The more egregious the late night foray, the more likely a sick day from work will become necessary. The body craves health and demands its due.

The only place I do not see the pull towards equilibrium at work – and this is where my fervent hope and prayer come in, that my vision is limited by my earthy humanity – is peace. Out of defiant resignation, I only see us careening away from her, not arcing back towards what some say is a patient woman, awaiting our begging forgiveness.

I would like to write otherwise. I would like to write something to warm your (and my) heart, give you real sense of hope, give it to myself. But it is out of my purview and sometimes, even out of my imagination. I fear we’ve tipped too far this warming planet. Sad to say, I believe more the reports that say we are already over the edge than the ones that give me tips for reducing my carbon footprint.

Yet, somehow, -- and this is where Mystery enters in – this has not stopped me in my strides for peace. In high school, I began collecting quotes. Phrases, paragraphs, poems, passages which caught my attention. By college, I came across this passage by Elissa Melamed, the origin of which has been lost to me for several decades now:
I don’t know how long we have. We have to do this work because we believe in peace and in building peace. We start with ourselves, our communities: our circles get larger. If the bomb falls tomorrow, there’s something so valid about living this way, that we would live this way anyway.
I suppose that’s the rub, the saving grace, the zen koan. I still ride my bike, with its panniers to carry my groceries. I still buy many of my family’s clothes second hand as an act of recycling that also meets our need for frugality. I still garden organically, buy locally, keep the heat low in the house, write on scratch paper, write to my senators about Gaza, about bailouts, about government-sanctioned torture.

If the world is going to veer wildly towards its own implosion (something long ago depicted in Hindu legend…), a sure tipping out of balance, a ship’s bough rising skyward before certain plunge seaward, somehow I am one of those passengers running against gravity, sometimes racing frantically, sometimes ambling measuredly, in hopes that my little efforts might tip the ship back onto buoyant water, back to balance.

I pray to meet you, and many others, there.

Karen G. Johnston

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Don't Pick the Scab

And see how the flesh grows back/ across a wound, with a great vehemence,/
more strong/ than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses, /when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh.

(Jane Hirschfield, For What Binds Us)

I didn't much like you when we first met.

Enigma you were, you remain.

Drawn to you, yet, your tendency

towards shock for shock's sake

seemed self indulgent,

self-centered, self serving.

You are anything but self serving.

Don't pick the scab.

Momentary flicker of involuntary love,

diluted in the unkept promise of shared dance floor,

distilled in later spark of idiosyncratic poem.

I cannot help being anything less: air, freak, control, knob.

You, either: chaos, volume, noise, nondescript.

No rosewater to soften that scab.

Leave it on. I want that scab to stay.

I want to wrap the scab,

no common gauze but rather

linen bleached by sun,

softened by grit and grain.

I want to wrap you, your scab,

every inch of your proud flesh.

Hard-won, raised flesh.

May your skin may never thin,

may it never burst, be injured, explode,

freeze, collapse, implode.

My murmured blessing to you, Captain.

Don't pull off the scab.

Yes, you fall in love.

at every check out counter

I see this in you and praise it.

Knew that once I was your cashier

and blushed.

I see this in you

and I praise all of you.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston