Johanna Ely is the author of four poetry books, Transformation, Tides of the Heart–Poems for Benicia, Postcards From a Dream (Blue Light Press 2020), and What Still Matters (Last Laugh Productions 2023). She has also co-authored a book with three women poets titled, Love’s Meditation (Random Lane Press 2023). Johanna is an award-winning poet who has been published in literary journals and anthologies, including California Quarterly and The Poeming Pigeon. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and was the 2022 winner of the Benicia Love Poetry Contest. Johanna served as the sixth poet laureate of Benicia, California, and is a board member of the Ina Coolbrith Circle of Poets, one of the oldest poetry groups in California.
The Calligraphy of Winter
So quiet, this moment, as if a Chinese master had painted the calligraphy of winter on soft, grey paper. Rising up from morning mist, tips of branches brushed in black ink, and there, two snowy egrets sit, perfectly balanced. Between them, a tangled branch takes the shape of a mountain, a sign of strength, serenity. Below them, calm water reflects their silent beauty, the harmony of light and shadow. In this breath of stillness, the edges of the world disappear, sky and water become one, and I, too, become still.
The Japanese Maple
The woman has loved me for a long time— calls me the queen of her garden.
My gift is providing shade and the constancy of change, my seasons becoming her seasons—
uncurling my tiny red fingers in spring, my large green hands catching light in summer,
scarlet stars falling from my arms in autumn, the dark silhouette of my body, wet with winter rain.
My children scattered around— one growing tall and strong among the hydrangeas, the other confined to a clay pot.
I cannot change their fate, but every day I sing a song of fortitude, hoping they will listen.
There is one like me in the front yard. We will never meet, but the wind carries our voices over the house— secrets shared, warnings heeded.
I can’t tell the woman what she’d like to know— how many years I was here before she arrived— seasons and cycles my only sense of time passing.
I feel her watch me from the house, her mouth full of questions— how my barely moving branches speak a language she almost understands.
Every day, the light disappears sooner. This autumn afternoon fades like an old quilt— squares of past lives covering my skin, stories of redemption worn thin.
Ancestors, where have you gone? You have left me with no map for this journey. I have no stars to follow that hold the brightness of your eyes.
I am your daughter, your granddaughter, swimming down the long white river of the Milky Way.
Even though I am tired and lonely, I refuse to drown.
What’s left of you moves in leaf shadows on the wall of my house. I watch you dance until you disappear— see the stars I wish you were shine without remorse— silently call them your forgotten names.