Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Love


Composing my Braided Double-Cross collection marked a turning point, one that came as I was getting my feet back on the ground as a poet after getting sidetracked into the demands at a shirt-sleeves management level and later focusing on novel-length fiction. Up to this point, my poems and, for that matter, much of my fiction focused on place – the outdoors, especially.

Personally, recovering from the collapse of a marriage and what I thought was better tomorrow on the horizon, I hunkered down back in the ranks of my career rather than trying to climb the proverbial ladder. I needed to catch my breath and nurse my wounds. This included a deep review of my life, the nature of relationships, the meanings of being male, connecting in contemporary society – and somehow, that all came into play when I came across an announcement for a book-length poetry competition by a university press. In some flash of intuition, I decided to do a 60-page collection based on notes I’d been gathering. Two weeks later, I was exhausted – but the draft was done.

It wasn’t the first time I’d done a poetry manuscript based on a focused theme. My American Olympus, conceived as a longpoem, had earlier tackled the Olympic Peninsula. But this was the first time I chose to work with individual poems of a general length and style, and it was a leap into love, not in the traditional vein but of a more brutal, realistic take on today’s interactions.

While I had already drafted a novel that would break out into Promise, Peel (as in apple), St. Helens in the Mix, and Kokopelli’s Hornpipe, its focus was more on marriage and trying to work as a couple or with other couples.

Now I was venturing into fresh territory. With Braided Double-Cross – and the subsequent Blue Rock and Long Stemmed Roses in a Shattered Mirror, each of which tackles the same subject in its own unique structure – you could say I was taking the “inner child” concept a step further. These look at love and loving from the perspective of an “inner teen” – one full of adolescent passion, defiance, anger, hunger, raging hormones, overwhelming loneliness. I wanted to record it in its fullness.

At the time, readers and editors under the age of 45 seemed to rave about the work. Those older were largely appalled. Somehow, I still find that telling.

Over the years, the material has also worked itself into many of my other poems; I do have a fondness for Baroque and a respect for the way Bach and Handel recycled so much of their composition. I think, too, that much of the graffiti mosaic or jazz infused energy found in my poetry takes off from this point.

Well, about three decades have transpired since all that. I’m glad I wrote the poems when I did, the way I did. Today would be a different story.


For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.


Words or appearances often mask deeper, contradictory currents. Sometimes, as they tangle, each knot becomes an aching triangle.

In the throes of romantic passion, a participant will choose one line of argument over the evidence of another. To call him or her a victim is hardly accurate, no matter the pain, even after the heart and mind conflict.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross arise in such obsession, the white-hot tension rather than in some cool quietude years later – the pursuit of a golden ideal and then falling. Call them love poems if you dare.


For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.


What the heart hears and sees may be quite different from what the mind observes and records, much less decides. These may be considered two strands in a braid, into which a third is woven. As for the third? It may be the beloved Other or some Unknown factor or even the undisclosed Rival. Each possibility leads to some distinct  tension in the series of overlapping knots.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross move through sexual attraction and passion into obsession, rejection, even betrayal. In the heated accusations and arguments between lovers, the dialogue – reaching into childhood, history, geography, career aspirations, and the future – invokes an absent, silent third participant, a recognition of the inequality emerging in the core relationship itself. Details of confession mount quietly. Truth becomes unbearable. At times a scream is silent. The braid ultimately becomes a whip. As Diane Wakoski has observed, “Rapunzel and the witch were always one / and the same.”

It’s what Ted Berrigan, in the American sonnets this set emulates, called belly-to-belly white heat.


Braided Double-Cross

Braided Double-Cross

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.


Anyone else wonder about the appeal of stories set in another century? Just what’s the attraction?

The future, of course, is one direction, a whole set of “what if” projections that for now cannot be tested against historical development. (Admittedly, Orwell’s 1984 certainly has become an exception in the years since I first read it, gee, was it ’64? As has the movie 2001.)

The past, however, seems to be the more romantic option, beginning with historic period romances and Westerns. I suppose it’s not that far removed from those who inquire of astrologers or palmists or mediums about their past lives, although what I’ve always found most fascinating there is how many people who do so claim to have been Cleopatra or Anne Boleyn or Helen of Troy or the like, rather than one of the common, suffering, exploited populace. No, the stories tilt toward royalty, court intrigue, the power struggles of the rich and mighty – the glittering elite far removed from everyday life. (Maybe that’s our fascination with celebrities, too, as if wealth and beauty leads to true love and happiness, not that it ever seems to hold over the long haul. In pure weight, tragedies trump over comedies.)

My wife sometimes jests that I would have been more at home in 18th or 19th century America, especially in a context of the Enlightenment, scientific advancement, and perhaps opera, along with a flourishing Quaker culture. (Never mind that the Quaker discipline of the time banned music and fiction as superfluous, vain, and untrue.) Again, though, the projection is toward a place of refinement, culture, and ease rather than the long, hard, physical labor of the masses.

So what, ultimately, is the attraction of historical fiction? Is there some time or place you’d willingly be relocated to, if it were possible, even if you could never come back? And, while we’re at it, what about the importance of location, even over time itself? Who and where would you like to be? Just what is it about other eras? Ah, the intrigue! To say nothing of the underlying connection.


Looking at couples, there’s an assumption the partners will be of roughly the same age. A combination of contemporaneous backgrounds and similar points of reference, for starters.

But there’s also the phenomenon of the December-May, affair, usually the older man and much younger woman. While it sometimes proves solid, it’s also the basis of a lot of Italian comic operas as well as a lot of gossip in real life. In our time, this frequently appears as the successful male who leaves the mother of his children for the (blonde) trophy wife. Go on and fill in the details yourself, with or without the red convertible sports car.

In recent decades, in part thanks to a handful of Hollywood box-office actresses, we’ve also seen an acceptance of the older woman and younger man pairing, even leading to the label Cougar.

I wonder if there’s a more insightful examination of this than Richard Strauss’ lovely opera, Der Rosenkavalier, with both its broad comedy and heartrending revelations.

In revising my novel, Promise, I found myself investigating a similar range of new tensions when I decided to make Jaya seven years older than Erik. Frankly, the decision opened far more to the light than I had expected.

All along, there had been those in my past who advised me to find an older woman as my mate. Maybe that’s what actually prompted the new element in this story.

Do you think age differences like this really thicken the plot? Can they enhance the relationship? Or are they essentially doomed?



In my pocket you would
put family photos, letters,
and religious tracts from the
1800s. In my pocket
with roots in Ohio’s sturdy
limestone soils you
would pour mellow oak
forest hiking and camping
on both coasts. In my
pocket your fingers thought
they knew what I wanted
when you would have
come away with me. In
my pocket is a piece of
velvet to roll in your profusion
of hair. In my pocket
I have wrapped a vial
of wild strawberries you
would apply as a trace of
eyeliner. In my pocket are
brass weights for the
laboratory balance your
oily fingers dare not touch.

Poem copyright 2014 by Jnana Hodson


The entire sequence of poems is finally available in a FREE ebook collection at Smashwords.com and other digital book dealers.


Finding yourself single after the dissolution of a marriage or the death of a spouse is bewildering, at best.

The loneliness and grieving can be nearly unbearable, and emerging from that into some kind of social scene is, well, a lot worse than high school ever was.

Trying to find the right place to meet appropriate potential partners is no less challenging. You hear all kinds of suggestions, from health club to Laundromat, and all of that’s problematic. These days, as a male, I’d look at a yoga studio, just saying …

Another of the complications is the fact – well, it was a quarter-century ago – that the available women were concentrated within the bigger cities, while the corresponding men were an hour or more away, beyond the suburbs.

In the time since then, a number of online dating sites have appeared, and I’ll let others relate their adventures and successes or failures.

But when I was available, the personals ads began to flourish. Out of necessity, I suppose. They even had their own free booklets, like TV listings.

Coincidentally, around the time I remarried, there was a blowup at my newspaper when the publisher went livid over a personals ad where one hopeful had described himself in opposite terms to the usual cliches. (He touted himself as fat, lazy, unemployed, and the like, as I recall.) It was enough to get me and now-elder stepdaughter (and fellow writer) to start reading the Boston Sunday Globe’s more varied ads for insights in the ways people perceived themselves or tried to portray their desires. Usually, they churned out short resumes full of contradictions or things only others could adjudge. “Beautiful” or “handsome” was common, usually preceded by “very,” but that’s something purely for the viewer to decide, thank you.

At any rate, a few entries would stand above the crowd.

One, for instance, described herself as a “Land’s-End kind of gal,” and you really do get a good sense of her in those five words. (We gave her ad a B+ or A-.)

The all-time winner, though, was along these lines: “Happy blue-eyed plumber in search of articulate, well-poised woman to bring (something) into my life. Children a plus.”

He alone could say if he was happy, and “blue-eyed” certainly told the reader about looks. “Plumber,” meanwhile, indicated responsibility and economic status. As for children? Few novelists deliver as much with such economy.

The ad, we noticed, ran just once.



To my mind, one of the great questions about the human condition is just why an individual is romantically attracted to one person but not another.

We can start with physical attraction, of course, which opens a whole list of possibilities. Since I’ve always been a heterosexual male, I suppose my checklist would start with blonde, redhead, or brunette, although I must confess that on a few women, bald can be incredibly stunning. By the way, I happen to love long hair, which to my good fortune my wife possesses. We can move on to blue-eyed, true green, hazel, or brown eyes. And that’s even before we get to height or shape or … you get the picture.

Of course, things get really complicated after that. How much do we want the other to share our deepest interests, even to the point of being a mirror image of ourselves, and how much do we want them to differ? Where are the crucial points of commonality and mutual life’s mission – and how much deviation can we accept or allow? And just how do our emotional styles work together … or clash? What about our attitudes toward money, time, wealth, possessions? How much risk can we tolerate? And so on and on.

For me, keen intellect is essential. One who reads widely, at that. And then there is the spiritual side as well as strong ethics.

On top of it all, one of my measures, if pressed, would ask if this is someone I’d like to gaze on over the breakfast table. And, I could ask, is hers a voice I would always enjoy hearing. Would she always have fascinating stories and insights?

No matter how much I once tried to refine the list, though, something was always missing. In all my years between the collapse of my first marriage and the beginning of the one that counts, I came across a few women who were top candidates on paper but, when we were together, nothing clicked. So what was the missing magic? In the end, I still haven’t a clue.

I come back to this question of mutual attraction when I consider the Apostle Paul’s counsel, “Better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:9), and ask, “What if heterosexual marriage does not quench the burning?” My examination of Scripture long ago led me to conclude that the ideal of Christian marriage is not so much the bearing of children but rather the “suitable helpmeet” and that, in turn, points toward monogamy and a unique kind of balance I see as more than an equality in the relationship. You can see where I’ve landed on that debate.

Of course, that also spurs another question – one that involves keeping the focus and the flame strong. Anyone have any suggestions there? These are, after all, central enigmas of our human condition.


Chancing upon a number of WordPress blogs tagged dating or romance, I find myself reflecting on all the confusion we, too, faced four or five decades ago. (Well, yes, and in the years between the end of my first and the beginning of my current marriage as well.)

Yes, there were “rules” back then, too, and while they seemed to be carved in stone, what time has shown is that a lot was going on clandestinely behind the scenes. If I’d only known! One thing I have seen in retrospect is how much the assumed rules damaged my early attempts at relationships, especially in some of the guy-to-guy advice on how to “keep her in line” in troubled stretches.

The rules also did little to encourage simply enjoying being together, especially when the suitor (how loaded that term is!) was neither a handsome athlete nor sufficiently moneyed. (Even then, in my high school years, a $5-a-week allowance didn’t go far, and jobs like McDonald’s were still over the horizon.)

For me, getting anywhere in the realm of courtship required jettisoning all of the Christian dogma that I’d been indoctrinated with, so thoroughly was it interwoven into a set of courtship constraints that remained far from the realities of what was actually expected or required.

Still, over the long haul, my outlook (reinforced in the yoga ashram teaching) was a quest for marriage and family rather than promiscuity. Put another way, youthful sexual pleasure was often accompanied by a second-guessing round of guilt.

A great what-if, though, would ask how my life would have differed had I early on been able to approach sex purely as recreational pleasure. The one-night stand or short affair, free of the baggage? Or is it really impossible not to have the baggage of unvoiced expectations?

The hippie outbreak certainly changed a lot of the dynamic. A number of alternatives to “dating” emerged, for one thing. But the underlying differences in expectations remained, as I relate in my Hippie Trails series of novels. Not everyone was getting laid every night, for one thing, and most of those who were found themselves in monogamous relationships, even of the serial sort.

The examination intensifies in many of my poems.

Johnny_BadgeMy newly published Johnny Badge chapbook takes a broken relationship as the starting point for an investigation of what was actually happening on the sexual scene, often in a gritty urban environment.

And now my collected Blue Rock poems add to the beat.

Blue_RockHere’s hoping they stir up some insight into the quest for meaningful connection.


With a ring of clear night, I entered
a corral of lions. Within a ring of electric blue
tunnel, I stood straight out from a framed
engraving of your face. In a ring of landlocked

muddy woodlands, I combated your mirage where
no troops would desert me. With a ring of your
resolute nipple, my heart tingled. With
your ringing broken promise set amid ripples

from an enormously forbidding inner tube, I admitted
basic problems allocating scarce goods and services.
With a ring of baby oil smeared in sunlight, Chinese
dragons wriggled from our flesh into summer water.

At last we were ringed by spice factory
peppers and cinnamon
modulating Chesapeake Bay
shrubs and flowers.

Poem copyright 2014 by Jnana Hodson


The entire sequence of poems is finally available in a FREE ebook collection at Smashwords.com and other digital book dealers.