Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Romance


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.


bright brown irises
maybe a little too wide-eyed (available)
hair golden heartbreak. still

Duquesne University and Uniontown, Pennsylvania,
were places he’d been, he told her
requesting the next dance

there’s more than lightness afoot
driving these distances. Attraction, see,
flashes into conflict

“Quakers. They believe in Jesus, don’t they?” is how
she starts revealing she’s Jewish, from New York City,
but Ohio Boy steps back instead of forward, and misses

a third muses, “Relationships are weird. Always weird,”
while wondering if she’s sufficiently brainy to stay him
or just what he might be lacking

all the same, they cover their aces and wild cards,
map their terrain, and
reach out in the music for someone

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set,
click here.


In the early 1990s, when my writing focus returned with a vengeance to poetry, I found myself drafting in a fevered few weeks the 60 pieces that span the Braided Double-Cross collection.

Soon, I was drawing on many of the images and phrases for two alternative series, one of them being Blue Rock, with its own structure and style, and the other being Long Stemmed Roses in a Shattered Mirror, released last year.

Many of the poems, presented as “Crossings,” have appeared widely in small literary journals around the world. Now, for the first time, they’re presented complete, as originally intended.


Braided Double-Cross

Braided Double-Cross

Enjoy this collection and more at 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.


two blocks from my apartment, on the way
toward downtown
the Amoskeag Dam impeded the Merrimack
with a broad placidity I associated
with the upper Susquehanna
below it the roaring wildness of hydroelectric generation
or the snow-melt Yakima and its tributaries
why I didn’t just dump half my stuff way back
and start over before trekking through the marketplace
to rediscover how outrageously expensive all these goods
I need at hand can be? at last, though, my belongings
began falling into place where old mills extended
an eerie sense all too similar
to what I had created in one novel
to say nothing of the French-Canadian hilltop
on the west side of the river, neatly occupied
by descendants of Kee-beck, and an air of Kerouac
oh, how I’ve come through calculator-town
foundry-town, shoemaking-town, college-town
fruit-packing-town, sawmill-town, meatpacking-town
car-assembly-line-town, blast-furnace-town
summer-resort-town, and spice-grinding-town
on the harbor
to this ghost of a textile-town on the river where
the warehouses of my broken ambition overflow
once more, I arrived without a lover or children
for now, though
this life in a sleeping bag and cardboard boxes
fatigues and I long to get back to Owings Mills to pick up
the rest of my furniture and files so I can really move in
with essentials that include a toaster-oven and
the little red light on my answering machine,
items I’ve come to miss
but having a little cash in my pocket once more
feels wonderfully strange
and having seven book-length works
drafted and revised allows me to show something
more than a concept in my head or scattered notes
the arduous, tricky road to publication can take ages
usually eighteen months once a house accepts a work
and the contract’s signed, according
to the New York Times Book Review a few months back
In the meantime, my savings have gone
(the miracle is that they lasted as long as they did)
and it’s time to get back on my feet, financially

To continue, click here.
Copyright 2015


She liked to bite fingers.
She braided my beard.
Her nose and big toe were square.
Her tresses were thirteen years long.


She devoured the translation like a cheeseburger
and refused to understand me.

She spent her paycheck
on clothes she bought on layaway
while she was one unemployed
good dresser who had to do something.

She said Kayak poetry review
looked like a Sunday school booklet
with a cannon on the cover.


She didn’t like the antique silver fork
with the engraved W
I’d bought for a dime

– the yellowed marriage
whose bride was no doubt long dead
held no treasure in her eyes.

Why else would we have it?

To continue, click here.
Copyright 2015


She washed dishes so fast they’re still dirty.
Even then, she overlooked
the beauty of tarnished silver.

Adding cabbage to the garbage,
she insisted Kosher pickles are obscene
and cheap wine’s just funky venom.

When she visited my kitchen
she wanted to star in a detergent commercial.
All of it meaning we ate out often.

To continue, click here.
Copyright 2015


We were gathering her possessions
for our return to school when I came across

Hollander’s recording of The Tempest.
“Where’d you get this?” I asked curiously,

looking up to see her disappointed face
and be told: “It was for your birthday.”

Years later, another lover
would filch the album

amid another tempest.

To continue, click here.
Poem copyright 2015


When we met, meaning my first serious girlfriend, I’d already jettisoned the now-Methodist teachings and practice after finding them to be vacuous and false my senior year of high school – complicated by the fact I was the president of the largest Youth Fellowship in our denomination (before the big merger). So I smiled, finished my term, and quietly moved on. A few years later, in Indiana, my next girlfriend was from a largely nonobservant Lithuanian Jewish family, but much of our upheaval about the time of my graduation, with her taking flight around the globe, left an emotional devastation that led (in part, at her prompting) to consider yoga. One of the things I liked about yoga was that it wasn’t religious, at least initially. No more so than, say, sitting around a hookah.

With her, and my expecting to spend the rest of our lives together, I once mentioned something about converting – and to her puzzled “Why?” I must have said something along the lines of “for the tradition.” About the same time, someone else asked where I’d wind up religiously, and I blurted, “Probably Zen-Quaker,” knowing virtually nothing about neither religion! How curious the resulting path, then.

A few years ago, then, a longtime friend’s remarks about Swami came as a surprise. As I replied, “I had no idea. And you kept quiet about her influence! Remarkable.” Several years before that, I’d come across a Washington Post story referring to someone else who had been part of the circle and was now a Messianic comic. (I’m not joking – rather, he, too, came back to roots, to some degree.) We both admitted a sense of bafflement and frustration, realizing we had grown spiritually through the experience, yet being hard-pressed to say just exactly what happened, fully.

My novel, Ashram, attempted to hold the action in a single day, avoiding the guru-worship I’ve always found discomforting in the Asian traditions, on one side, as well as the scandal-mongering that eventually accompanied every major teacher of the time, as far as I can tell, on the other.

After my then-wife and I had moved to Yakima, Swami attempted first to order me to return to the ashram and then, failing that, to claim a large part of my small income. That obviously led (as later perspective shows) to my being ostracized – and free to move increasingly into the Quaker realm. It’s now safe to say that as an ashram, we were a renegade outfit. I must now admit she essentially had two sides – one that could be deeply connected to the Source; the other, coldly entrepreneurial and calculating. As I said, “They were not compatible, and I suspect that what you experienced arose from the latter – possibly because you were seen as a threat to my residency and service.”

As I revisited my earliest journals, I was struck by the fact I could have moved to the ashram five or six months earlier, but in doing so, I would have missed an important flowering in my life. Still, my delay puzzles – did I sense potential trouble, or was it simply a desire to be prudent and cautious?

As for handwriting, you should have heard their analyses of mine! I’m still scarred – despite my once adequate art student chancery cursive skills.

And then there was what they saw in reading the palms of my hand.

Still, any way I look at what happened, it was a breakthrough experience, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And that’s what infuses this story.



For the novel, click here.