Poetry Post: Juniper


The formidable old man threw on the lights

in the dimly lit conference room,

like house lights in a theatre.

Show’s over.  Go home.

“What the hell are you so damned afraid of?”

He bellowed before we left.

Then he ordered us out into the desert to hike

the red rocks of Sedona to find the answer.

And so I ambled that afternoon,

climbed high until I found it.

Not the answer,

but the twisted bark of a juniper

growing in red clay between two rocks.

Yes, it was growing.

Thriving , in fact.

I stood before it, filled with awe at first.

Then anger.

Growing in rock must be hard.


You have to fight for everything.

Fears.  I heard the old man’s voice again,

and his order to face them.

Obediently, they came out to dance, one by one:

Fear of being wrong.

Fear of being right.

Fear of failing.

Fear of succeeding.

Fear of being thought a fool.

Fear of being celebrated a genius.

Fear of being controlled.

Fear of being free.

Fear of dying.

Fear of living.

I touched the juniper bark,

beaten by the sun,

bone dry, peeled,

and shredded.

It had suffered greatly.

Then I glanced up at the gnarled branches,

outstretched and adorned with fine needles

and plump blue-green berries

that promised


against overbearing odds.

I sat beneath the tree and leaned my body against it

and it seemed to welcome me.

I wanted to damn the rocks that made things


But instead I drew a deep breath

and placed my hand on the warm red clay

and praised the rocks

for making the juniper strong.

© Maria G. Mandarino 2015


Poetry Post: ‘Cenzo and Bupe, A Love Story

This following is another Luxation Poem.

‘Cenzo and Bupe, A Love Story

How I loved to visit your house,

the small white ranch surrounded

by rose bushes

taller than I ever believed

I might grow.

I loved you, of course,

but I loved your dogs


and the way I knew

they would do anything for you.

You understood the wisdom

of the wolf,

so you named your first Doberman

Lupa, for the great pack animal.

I remember your barrel-chested pride

when Lupa finally caught

and you kept her largest pup

and named her Bupida, the thorn

in Rosa’s side.

Her ink-black hair tightly tied in a bun,

your wife would stir the pot of sauce and scowl.

                               “Bupida si chiame il cane.

                                 Io, solo Rosa.”

                                “Sweetheart he calls the dog.

Me, only Rosa.”

I dreamed of you

years after I grew

beyond your rose bushes,

when my world first began

to cleave open.

You sat on the altar

of an empty candle-lit church,

wrapped in a hooded brown flannel cloak,

like a Capuchin monk.

At your flanks were two Dobermans,

sentinels at your side.

“Don’t worry,” you had said,

“I’m going on vacation.”

Then, my dead grandmother

and some old lady in a white Cadillac

burned rubber outside the church

and I woke up.

The next morning my mother telephoned

and told me you had died that night

while playing cards at your kitchen table.

I wondered if Bupe had been there;

I couldn’t imagine

she would have let you die.

I recalled how she had saved your life

years before

when a man with fear in his eyes

and a gun in his hand

tried to hold up your fish store

during Holy Week.

You had told us the story

as you sipped your demitasse and anisette

after Sunday dinner,

Bupe, a statue at your side,

eyeing you like a young girl

in love.

To be looked at that way –

how must it feel?

© 2003 Maria Mandarino

Poetry: Security Lights

The following poem is one of the “luxation poems” mentioned in my earlier blog post

Security Lights

I saw an old friend the other day

who said I was looking brighter.

I told her that was a good word for it.

“My electrician rewired me,” I told her.

She raised an eyebrow.

I know she thought I was sleeping with him.

“It’s not what you think,” I said.

It’s better, I thought.

But how do you explain something like that?

That you were healed by an electrician,

a man who runs energy through conduction wires?

It’s not far-fetched though

when you think about Chinese medicine

and how the acupuncturist sets needles into points

to allow energy to flow through channels.

That’s what he did.

Not with needles.  Not even with wires and plyers.

He did it with his eyes, his smile, his quiet but strong voice

saying, “I want to do the right thing by you,”

giving me five sets of lights

for the price of four,

then shaving even more off in the end.

I had told him the whole story that morning as

we stood on the soft sod

in the uncertain warmth of an April sun.

The dissolving marriage,

my husband’s bitterness and rage,

the heavy-set bearded man he has following me.

Tears glazed my eyes

when I told him I felt like a prisoner

in my own home.

The electrician didn’t look away

as most men do when I tell the story.

Instead, his dark eyes penetrated mine

and seemed willing to travel miles

to uncover pain buried deeper than my words.

I had to look away.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said.

When I looked back at him, his glance remained bold.

“I don’t get why men do this,” he said.

He talked about a neighbor who discredited himself

by leaving poorly.

“Just end it the right way.  Do the right thing.

In two years men can rebuild.  It’s harder for the women.”

He looked away for a moment.  “No disrespect meant,” he said.

Yes, I told my friend, he was beautiful.

The gods knew they’d have to make him that way

for me to notice.

But it wasn’t about his burning eyes,

the Pat Riley smile,

or even the way he seemed to flirt a bit

when the job was done and he said goodbye.

It was about faith.

Faith that good and principled men existed.

That there were soulful men

who wanted to do the right thing by you,

who weren’t made uncomfortable

by a woman’s tears.

Who knew how to rewire the circuits

and open the channels.

© Maria Mandarino 2003

Blog post: Finding the Sacred Space in the Poem

Most of my blog posts are short.  This one isn’t.  You might want to grab that cup of tea or coffee now.

I’ve been digging up old poems, figuring out how to fit them onto this blog.  They are pretty old poems.  And I’ve been struggling to find exactly where the sacred space might be in some of them.  It’s there.  It’s always there in any art.  Like rests between notes in a piece of music, there must be space in the poem too.

But I couldn’t easily point to the space in these poems and so my posts have been slowing down as I’ve been struggling with this.  Then I looked at the dates when the poems were written.  During this period of my life, I had become a committed patient of chiropractic.  And after the first few adjustments with my neurology teacher, Dr. Brian Stenzler, all of a sudden my poetry took on a whole other tone.  A tone I didn’t recognize.  The voice was suddenly honest, bold, and courageous.  And that made me tremble.  I didn’t know what was going on.  But I knew one thing.  Just about all these poems tumbled out of me (with very few edits) right after Brian would adjust me.

Not having the guts to ask Brian what was going on (figuring he’d think I was crazy), I approached my myology instructor, Dr. Steve Lindner about this.  I handed Steve the first poem I had written, a poem called “Spoiled” (see below).  Typically not one to be at a loss for words, Steve got pretty quiet.  Then he softly said, “Brian is reconnecting you to your divinity.”

The man damn near made me run out the door.  I wasn’t bargaining for an answer that involved the word divinity.  Lindner was a highly left brained instructor and the toughest task master in the program.  I was banking on some good straight up neurological reasoning from him.

I went home even more scared.  And the poems continued to come fast and furiously. I hadn’t been as prolific in years.  My words were never so exacting and bold.  And for the first time since I could remember, writing was easy.

So why do I bring all this up at this precise time?  We’re going to take a little fork in the road here….

Astrologically, we are in a Mercury Retrograde period right now.  Mercury was the messenger of the gods in Roman mythology, and as such, the planet Mercury is said to rule communication, among some other things.  The retrograde is actually not a backward planetary movement, but the planet simply slows down a bit, and relative to the earth’s movement, it appears as if Mercury is moving backwards.  It is not.  It’s just a false perception.

As an acupuncturist, I practice an ancient medicine that is founded upon observing our natural surroundings.  This includes observing earth as well as heaven.  The Chinese classics teach that man reflects Heaven and Heaven reflects man.  In acupuncture, we even consider the phase of the moon when we treat our patients.  Nothing with regard to our physical, emotional, and spiritual health happens in a vacuum.  The ancients knew this.  There are many primitive cultures that teach similar principles.  Primitive cultures did not have Google to rely on, but only their surroundings and keen senses.

Given my training, I’ve come to view planetary movement as the acupuncture chart of the sky.  The planets are the points.  The lines between the planets are the channels.  And these lines create patterns.  There is a style of esoteric acupuncture based on sacred geometry: patterns that exist in the body that reflect patterns we see in nature, patterns that are thought to be sacred and of God.  And these esoteric treatments happen to work like a charm.  God speaks to us in the patterns within us and the patterns beyond us.  In fact, in Ireland, there are sacred walking paths that are referred to as “walking the patterns.”  Patterns simply lead us deeper into the mystery of the sacred and allow us to commune with God.

So when Mercury retrogrades, while some people go hysterical about communication and travel plans going awry, and computers and technology failing, the truth is a Mercury retrograde is a perfect time to soulfully reflect upon our old ways, old experiences, and old patterns. It’s a chance to rethink these things, to address inner and outer conflicts with compassion, to bow our heads in gratitude for the lessons learned.  It’s a time to be gentle and tender with ourselves and others (particularly those from our past).  And then with healing and new understanding in our hearts, we can seek to make things new.  And so, here I am, looking through old poems, trying to find the space in them, trying to find the light.  Light that with any luck will illuminate the path ahead as the journey expands.  We cannot move ahead without looking behind and honoring our past.

So, let’s merge that fork we just took a while back and return to my story about my poems and the chiropractic adjustments.

The goal of chiropractic is to correct a subluxation, or move misaligned bones back into proper alignment.  The word subluxation literally means “under the light.”  Not an optimal state.

When the subluxation is corrected, here’s the interesting thing:  there is now space between the bones.  Space which allows the neural system to open up and communicate harmoniously.  I think this is significant to my story.

One day when we were discussing my poetry, musing about whether the poems might someday turn into a book, Steve had said, “You should call them Luxation Poems.  Poems of the light.”

I liked the idea.  The bone is moved.  A space opens.  And light comes in.  A creative process ensues.  God collaborates with us in that creative expression.  At least I think he does.  I think he has to.  Artists love other artists, as Julia Cameron says.

I doubt these poems will ever turn into a book.  It’s surely not my plan. Crazier things sure have happened in my life though, God knows.  So, for the next few blog posts, and a few of the poems posted before this entry, here are my Luxation Poems.  The first one, “Spoiled” is found below.  I hope you find the sacred space in the poems and more importantly, that you always seek to find the sacred space in your life.

Maria G. Mandarino

© Maria Mandarino 2002


On the day you had called

I found the celery rotting in the Tupperware bin,

yellowish-beige, gelatinous, and caving into itself.

Just in from work, a full day of grief and aggravation,

needing to get the chicken in the oven in time for dinner.

“It’s a bad time, Grandma,” I had said.

You persisted anyway,

“When are you coming to see me?” you demanded.

I sighed.  Damn it.  Always a battle with you.

An eternity has passed since that day.

And still each time I open that Tupperware bin,

I think of you, fearful I will find rotting celery again,

relieved when I find it crisp and whole.

Guilt follows my relief soon enough.

I have a different life now, a new outlook,

some time on my hands,

and the wish that you were here now to share it.

You see, more things have spoiled in my life, Grandma.

That’s the word you used to use for things gone bad.

“It’s sperled,” that’s how you’d say it,

with your East New York accent

that used to make me cringe.

The day he left, I cried and cried.

Then I remembered

you did this too,


But it never ruined you.

“I’ve been through worse than this,”

that’s what you’d always say,

even when the doctor gave you a diagnosis

of lung cancer

with six months to live.

You beat it though.  Dying ten years later,

not a cancer cell in your body.

I don’t cry for him anymore.

I cry for your wisdom, lost,

asking you for signs to show me what to do next,

to tell me what you would do,

what you had done,

how to be strong.

But the only image I can recall is you,

gathering your patent leather purse

with the pearl clasp,

telling the white-coated doctor

that you had been through worse than this.


Poetry Post: On the Road to Dharmasala

This poem grew from a different kind of space… a space that opened up during an acupuncture treatment as I drifted off and had a brief lucid dream.  Many years later, I am now an acupuncturist myself.  We call these moments “Acu Naps” and they often provide moments of great insight, clarity, and peace.

On The Road to Dharmasala


At the open air market

in the small Indian village –

I was there but briefly –

I stopped to buy some incense.

I was only passing through,

but the hypnotic spiral

from the long stick burning

in the glass holder

made me linger.

I watched it dance, studied it,

and was certain it danced

in celebration

of my new life.

I had little time to waste

on the road to Dharmasala,

but the spiral drew me in.

I breathed in the heady perfumes

of wise men and kings

and recalled things that once captured me,

trappings so far from this simple place:

trinkets from Tiffany

Donna Karan suits,

acrylic nails,

and of course, you.

I chose three sticks to take on my journey

and handed my rupees to the man with the leathery skin

and the scattered smile.

I love you for what you taught me.

And I forgive you for what you could not be.

© M.G. Mandarino 2003