Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Big Lean

The teacher says, we tend to lean into
the future
, into the what’s-next, into
the make-it-happen.

Of which “we” she speaks, I’m not sure.
Wannabe Buddhists? All Americans?
Some Westerners? Upwardly-mobile people
who’ve been turned onto slowing down?

I know it can’t be everyone.
I went to high school with people
still on their glory-days chase.
They lean back, not forward.

Let me be more specific: I lean into the future.
By which I mean to say, I’ve spent my life leaning into it.
I’ve gotten pretty damn good at it:
I make a decent salary.
We have a roof over our heads.
I escaped the alcoholic haze of my childhood.
Some good has come of it.

The teacher says, we lean into the future.
When she says so, it’s clear it’s not the way to be.
Nevertheless, there I am: planning for the worst,
having learned – only later in life, and with great effort –
to hope for the best. All of it: leaning.

Today, however, I sit on buckwheat zafu,
eleven hours among comrades
in the being here, being now.
I notice I have been leaning
into the future and now, I guess,
it’s time to straighten up.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dead, My Father

Part I

My life has been easier
in these two decades’ absence.
A calmer, quieter urgency
to understand all that he brought.

Part II

I spent much of December
anticipating the date.

Even the first days
of the new year
had it on my mind.

Yet today is the tenth.
The day came & went.
Slipped my notice.

Another indication
that I am a better
committee member
prize fighter
dog walker
candle stick maker.

Nearly anything
than daughter.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Vanishing Alice

I stand before her, talking pleasantries.
She does not recognize me.

She once sought out my poetic craft.
She once knew me as her daughter’s dear friend.
She once could place me without any effort.

No more.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Homage on the Occasion of a Church Engulfed in Flames

Hand-me-down hymnals,
colors mismatched,
binding worn nearly bare,
pages yellow, soft. Gone.

Cushions filled with horse hair, straw.
So much more went into them ~
inadvertent blood prick,
graciously efforted sweat,
ancient and renewed tears.
None, not even remnant.
All gone.

Gone, too,
the pulpit,
the piano,
the pews.

Gone, the quilt
called stained glass,
called healing,
called blessed.

I am no lover of Christ.
Yet there are times
I have found myself,
wanting to walk with Jesus.
I have found him here
among you.

I had come
other times,
twice so dire
when divine calling
was too much
for these bones
to bear.

Now, in winter shadow
of single charred edifice,
the Parish House gathers
its motley crew,
some here since dawn,
others not seen in years.

Through distortion
of clear window panes,
the firefighters sentinel,
pacing the smolder
of what was lost.

Shepherd poet preaches,
We’ll keep our perspective.
(And the bell.)

No Haitian rumbling here,
yet the sound
of singing together,
of sighing together,
of seeking together,
is deafening,

making mute
any poem whispering
from this pen,
offered as tribute
to the gift
you are.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How to Save a Life

Place compost closer
to the house,
not halfway down
the halfacre lawn.
Let winter say fie
to the effort,
the rotting food scraps
will be gleeful
in their internal
This year,
no worms will find
their fate as dry skins
on the cellar’s dirt floor.

Rake yellow asparagus
stalks away,
the blighted tomato
Do not burn.
Instead, place in
plastic bag, feed
the already-toxic landfill,
even if it sounds
very wrong
to do so.

How to save a life.

Get weekly news
from Peter Sagal and pals,
daily news
from Jon Stewart et al.
Laughter should outweigh
sorrow just enough
to keep the heart

Lay down sword
and shield,
lay down burden
by the riverside.
Then stop
the damn Congress
from funding more
troops to Afghanistan.

How to save a life.

(Okay, maybe not RSVP.)

Stay with him.
Comfort his clumsy
stumble-lorn despair.

Leave him.
Let him learn
the lonely lesson.

How to save a life.

Toss a coin.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Like Each Night, Wild and Inescapable

do you not close up
in hopes of opening again?
Do you not open,
in hopes that eventually,
if only temporarily,
you will close?

Life is treacherous,
stinging like the surprising
winter thorn.
It is bitter,
coffee on cold morning lips.
Full of empty promise,
adhering atmosphere
with the weight of its void.

Yet, thorns,
even those hidden
in the yarn of warm mitten,
and soft aging flesh,
avail themselves
to the tweezers' pinch.

And bitter taste at lover’s kiss
is not unexpected, thus
melts into pulsing honey.

Breath breathes
over and over,
dark or light,
day or night,
open and closed.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston


Even refrigerated,
the little pills --
two-decades old --
can’t bring him back.

They do, however,
ignite my story.

I am clear-sighted enough
not to tell his widow –
her need for dead-him
stronger than her love for still-here-me;
my not-need strong enough
for what-she-can, what-she-can’t.

So, instead I sit
with the fuzzy-headed
newly tumor-free aunt.
She grew up
in the same fear,
different damage.
She surfaces,
her sister sinks.

My uncle,
her husband,
walks, talks

The nitro
in his pocket
stands a chance
of working.

This is the one
worth keeping.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston