Chuka Susan Chesney – Poems and Paintings


Coffee with Jesus

Coffee with Jesus

Coffee with Jesus

Jesus drinking coffee
inside her heart,
camellias reach,
embracing the barreled ceiling with
mystery. The cups
line up with the
sandwich plates; and
she, a stranger, looks on as
Picasso’s dove
flies blithely through the kitchen window,
sent and invited.

Patterns waltzing with the sunlight
flutter above their heads,
starfish spin in tight circles,
adorning the room with Byzantine
heraldry. The dishwasher
hums itself to sleep; and
she, a stranger, wearing a white robe,
floats sublimely through the air,
blessed and beloved.

Descanso Gardens Visit

Descanso Gardens Visit

A Fragile Place

Substance and a thankful prayer for water glassed over –
a home, aromatic, a subtle display, exotic,
a fragile place that remains the Japanese teahouse.

(This is the same Japanese garden my grandpa used to take me to on Saturday afternoons
because my mother needed to stay home and rest. She was sick for many years.)

The bridges of the paths arch across the brook, persimmon bright in dappled shadow.

(My step grandmother who didn’t like children, would carry her purse, the strap over her arm, and stare fixedly downward at the cement path, adorned with small, oblong pebbles.)

The tiled roof of the teahouse rises like a blue triangle beneath the cherry trees.
In the rushing brook, a clear ribbon of bubbles trails behind a pulse
of sweeping koi, each fat with whiskers that flick against the current.

(My grandpa’s bolo tie curved downward and the metal ends clicked against the plastic
buttons of his starched, white dress shirt that he always wore, even on a Saturday.)

Here is a festoon of purple

(purple as the sparkling banana seat of my Sting Ray bike)

with plum blossoms adorning a koi-filled stream.
A collection of chrysanthemums dots the oak forest with beauty

(not unlike the lustrous, silver hairnet that cradled the silky bird’s nest
of my step grandmother Bertha’s precise, bobby-pinned hair-do.)

The flowers of the camellia forest curl beneath the canopy of trees, mostly oaks and sycamores.
The curtained garden is not so green as avocado; yet daylight filters through the leaves,
mixing all varieties of green, vivid with toned;
startling swatches of chartreuse upstage dark olive patterns.

(My grandfather’s eyes looked at me, hazel lights behind his glasses,
and they sparkled tenderly as he called me “Kitten”.)



Jane Eyre’s High Desert Honeymoon

Dear Edward,

Your Thornfield brow meanders like a crooked desert creek,
we’re nestled in this trailer park like cactus intertwined.
Crazed winds blow through the cottonwoods: the noisy roof’s a sign

that no Bertha in the attic with her frenzied face and mind
will ignite our chenille bed ablaze with mischief and mystique.
The desert stretches out below my snowy widow’s peak.

We dine on rainbow trout prepared with curried rice and leeks
on speckled, turquoise dishes, paired with aromatic wine.
Fierce gusts assault the trailer walls; your gruff voice calls me Jane.

The wild desert donkeys bray; they make us more inclined
to vacation in our Airstream for at least an extra week.
Your Thornfield brow meanders like a crooked desert creek.

We off road through the bushes in our Chevy pick-up truck,
and relax in sulphur ditches that repose in alkaline.
Crazed winds blow through the cottonwoods: their rustling leaves a sign.

We stroll out on the desert in the slanted afternoon
and foxtrot silhouetted by a sunset magnifique.
The desert stretches out below my snowy widow’s peak.
Fierce gusts assault the trailer walls; your gruff voice calls me Jane.

Striped Orchids

Striped Orchids

Take Five Christmas

Pots of red poinsettias swaying,
spinning like pinwheels under live oaks,
Our cousins visit us for Christmas,
Volkswagen van parked in the driveway.

We play a song, Sister plays piano,
we play “Take Five”, neighbor watches frowning,
you play the sax, guinea pigs are squeaking in the yard.

Blue pool is cold, pink camellias blooming,
pool toys are gone, dressing room is leafy,
pool gate is locked and the heater’s been turned off.

We hike up our steep street, slowly,
winter view high up in the clear sky.
a collage of empty lots like patches,
waiting for houses, above chaparral.

Nobody’s here, throw some dirt clods at me,
look down below, houses are so tiny,
let’s hike some more, hike up to the rifle range.

View of the hills, chilly breeze is bracing
Look there’s a deer, spotted fawns are grazing,

It’s time for lunch, so we hike back down the street.

You eat asparagus
We eat beef burgundy
You eat beef stroganoff
We eat zucchini bread

There are chicken mole enchiladas on the veranda,
served with arroz.
There are crispy bistek chimichangas on the veranda,
served with green sauce.

Kitchen is trashed, bowls and pans on table,
people are full, grown ups stiffly sitting,
but they still eat, stiffly sampling pumpkin pie.

Caramelized flan, then we open presents,
pose for some pics, then we watch home movies,
play with the cat, let’s play go fish in the hall.

Okay it’s time for you to drive on home now,
Volkswagen’s waiting, back to La Verne,
But our fathers talk forever in the driveway,
they just keep talking. It’s 10 pm.

The moon is out, and the owls are hooting
No one’s around, Christmas lights are blinking,
It’s time for bed, and you drive off in your van.

Dream of my street, quiet sky is starry,
canyon asleep, heater sighing softly
my kitty purrs, crouching underneath the bed.

Peacock Garden

Peacock Garden

Artist’s Statement on Beauty

For some a red rose symbolizes the concept of beauty or perhaps a Lamborghini or maybe a lovely face. Lately for me, beauty is the expression of concern on my brother-in-law Ira’s face as he looks at my sister who is battling her second round of mantle cell lymphoma.

Three years ago, when Sister was receiving chemo the first time around, the nurses told her that many husbands of women with cancer just give up and leave their wives. The nurses were amazed by the tender vigilance of Ira who sat and read while Sister sat in the lounge chair, hooked up to a cocktail of chemo drugs. One especially intense drug was nicknamed “The Beast” by the nurses.

That was before Sister got breast cancer and a mastectomy, before she broke her leg, before the mantle cell lymphoma came back, before she got pneumonia again, and before the second round of chemo didn’t push back the cancer.

Yesterday, I went to Sister and Ira’s condo. Sister was lying in bed, exhausted after spending four days in the hospital getting new, super duper heavy doses of chemo. Ira was wearing his green plaid pajamas and holding a phone. He was trying to get in touch with the emergency nurse. He said, “I can’t even go to the bathroom. I need to go.” I said that I would be in charge of answering the phone while he went to the bathroom.

Soon we realized that Sister would have to go back to the hospital. Ira changed his clothes and then stood behind Sister and held her around the waist. I stood in front of her. Sister slowly walked down the stairs. Each foot hesitated in the air like a drooping petal of a flower before it made the journey of stepping down to the next stair. Ira was so patient. Then we had to get Sister into the car. She didn’t want to have to walk all the way to the front passenger door; she just wanted to sit in the back seat. Ira said, “You have to get into the front passenger seat so that I can tilt the seat back.” Then Ira drove Sister to the hospital. He called me later and said that she needed a blood transfusion and that the chemo had caused her to have acute kidney failure. The number of Sister’s white cells was lower which was great news, but the red cell count was way too low. Ira stayed with Sister for hours and hours at the hospital. He sat in a chair and read and looked at his phone while she slept. He will be back tomorrow and always, as long as she needs him.


Chuka Susan Chesney started drawing, painting, and writing poetry as a small child. She graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and then stopped painting for many years. She and her husband owned a printing and graphics business which provided many opportunities in for her to continue to work in the field of design. In the past few years, Susan has taken up her art again, and has participated in many art exhibitions and joined three art groups including Women Painters West and Pasadena Society of Artists. Her art is displayed at Aarnun Gallery in Pasadena. In the past several months, Susan has begun to write poems and stories again.


Madame Peacock

Madame Peacock