Thursday, February 22, 2018

Encounter







(The illustration has nothing to do with today's poem ... I just felt like sharing my little watercolor with you)

It was such a strange encounter. I was startled, but not frightened. After all, it just took me a second or two to realize that what I was seeing was my own reflection.

But I'll never forget that feeling, as I turned slowly, not thinking about anything in particular ... perhaps about where my bus was, when it would pull up at that corner ... and there was this reflection in the store window, a reflection so much like the image of my grandfather, one I had carried in memory for so many years ...

I had never thought that I looked very much like him. Still, that first glance at the reflection was like seeing him again ... my reaction, as I saw it in that window, was like seeing him reach out for me ... again ... as he did when I was just two years old, and needed a home.

It didn't occur to me to rush home and write about the encounter. I wasn't writing poetry then. But, much later, when I began learning the practice of sitting in a quiet place, waiting for the words to come to me, these are the ones that made their presence known to me:

ENCOUNTER

There was no mistaking the slope

of his shoulders, the shape
of his head; it was my grandfather
staring from the store window
while I stood in sprinkling rain
waiting for an afternoon bus.


I recalled how it was raining
when I had stood in uniform
at his deathbed in that darkened
room, how I had wanted to say
things he could not hear, how I
had finally broken and wept.


And now, all these years later,
I watched as he reached his hand
toward me, the unwanted child,
then, as I stood watching his image
blur in the rain against the window,

we knew I had finally become him.
© 2003

(part of my first collection of poetry, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003)


Today's word: image

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Don't Dance on My Toes






Phyllis and I were on a day-trip, visiting Chillicothe, Ohio, and the magnificent, neighboring Adena.

Among those at our table during lunch were some couples who enjoy line dancing ... oh, do they ever. Their enthusiasm was catching ... almost.

I say almost, because my early experience with dancing was ... well, catastrophic.

I must have been in fifth or sixth grade ... we were giving a demonstration of some kind of historic dance for a school assembly.

Afterward, I was thinking that it had gone fairly well. But then my partner complained that I had stepped on her toes ... several times, I believe she said.


I still blame that early, scarring experience for keeping me off the dance floor to this day. I can only hope that my partner in that early dance wasn't similarly scarred for life. 

I suppose that first ... and last ... dance led me, eventually, to the writing of today's poem.

As those who know me will agree, I don't go toe-to-toe or nose-to-nose with anybody on any issue. It's not that I couldn't, or wouldn't ... nor that I haven't.


It's just that I've learned that it doesn't solve anything. Rather, it does create a new set of problems ... often far more serious than the original offense did. 

I prefer, instead, to take my frustration, disappointment, and, yes, sometimes anger, to the keyboard, where I can work myself through to a better frame of mind.

Sometimes this results in something like:

DON'T DANCE ON MY TOES

I don't care
if you’ve got rhythm
and grace galore,
please
don't dance on my toes.

I don't care
if you're wild as a daisy,
sweet as a rose,
just, please,
don't dance on my toes. 


I don't care
if you're rich, smart,
sophisticated,
and stuff like that -
don't dance on my toes.


'Cause, brother,
I've got troubles
and pain galore,
and I just
don't need any more.
 © 2000
(originally published in Art Times)

And today's art? Oh, it was done by an artist friend of mine, Thomas, who also happens to be my - our - young grandson. He was visiting us, probably waiting patiently for the meal to begin, when inspiration struck. In addition to pieces like this, he also does great drawings ... and paintings ... he is, after all, my - our - grandson.

Today's word: scarred

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Caught on the Brink





Have you ever found yourself in "the twilight zone," that location which lies vaguely somewhere between sleeping like a baby ... and being fully awake?

Well, I have. Many times.

Thank goodness, it has only happened to me a couple of times when I was behind the wheel ... and without serious outcomes in either instance.

Oh, on one of those occasions ... one very dark night ... I was pulled over by a highway patrolman somewhere in Indiana ... but that's another story.

But let me settle into my favorite chair ... with a favorite book ... and it's like I've been given a knockout potion. Soon the words become blurry ... the room seems to melt away ... the book grows heavy ... my eyelids grow heavier ...

Whoa! I'm getting ahead of myself here. I'll just step aside and let you glide right into the poem:


CAUGHT ON THE BRINK

Something I had just read
struck a chord with me,
sent sympathetic vibrations
dancing down the corridors
of my mind. I could feel
something stirring deep
within me, a new knowledge
coming like a rescuer's lamp
shooting fingers of light
this way and that,
drawing nearer in the murky
darkness, promising a sip
from the cup of understanding,
a way to come clawing out
of this abyss, into fresh air
and natural light. "Bob!" I
heard the distant voice calling.
"Bob! Put down your book,
take off your glasses, recline
your chair!" It was as though
the Thought Police had me
surrounded. What could I do?
What else? I surrendered.
© 2000

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: murky

Monday, February 19, 2018

Beyond the Reach

















It was today's photo ... of one of my favorite trails in a park not too far from home ... which set a certain train of thought in motion. 

Autumn ... I may have said this before ... is one of my favorite seasons ... actually, there are things I like about the other three, too.

I do like autumn's cooler weather after summer's scorching days and stifling nights ... and the changing colors ... I look at them as a struggling watercolorist might be expected to ... wondering how I might put them into a painting.


Sometimes I settle for a photograph, resolving to study it later, perhaps transform it into a painted interpretation of the scene.

Each season, of course, marks the passage of time ... each with its own characteristics registering that onward march.

Today's poem is about that onward march, with a focus on the seeming suddenness with which it sometimes occurs ... and that squirrel's nest "being parceled now by an autumn wind":

BEYOND THE REACH

I had walked there last summer,
pausing almost daily to enjoy
the shade, little suspecting
a drama unfolding overhead.

Then, overnight, it seemed,
the maples shed their burnished
leaves, stood starkly splaying
nerve endings against the sky.

High in the branches of one,
a nest beyond the reach
of muttering traffic noises,
made with no special plan,

yet an ageless pattern marking
nursery, rec room, school, point
of departure for another
curiosity-stoked generation

of squirrels, all of this being
parceled now by an autumn wind.
What a shame, I thought, a shame
to let the wind steal such work.
 © 1997
(originally published in Block's Magazine)
Today's word: parceled

Sunday, February 18, 2018

After Ordering












Some of you may have seen this "bridge" before ... and quite recently. Well, here it is again, ready for someone to go teetering across. 

One thing I like about writing ... poetry or whatever ... is the surprise element.


I never know when a poem ... or an idea for a poem ... is going to leap out at me. Those are the ones I really like, as opposed to the thought which keeps tugging at my sleeve, day after day, trying to get my full attention.


Today's poem came to me somewhere in Ohio. I don't remember where we had stopped, or where we were headed ... probably just out for a lazy afternoon drive.


We'd found a quiet place, studied the menu, placed our orders ... and then the sounds of the place, the orderly movement of people in and out ... all of the activity began asserting itself.


I don't even remember whether I started jotting down some things then, or simply made some mental notes (risky business, because I sometimes have trouble finding those again), but the end result was a poem ... one that eventually found a home in a publication.


The poem:


AFTER ORDERING


As I take my first sip
of ice-cold water,
I notice the sizzle
rising from the grill,
the soft clink of a spoon
hitting someone's glass,
an infant gurgling,
insistent, distant
beeping, then, at a table
just for two, a young
couple sharing a scoop
of vanilla ice cream
that's swimming
in a delicious, sticky
sea of strawberry syrup,
and I almost want
to change my order.
 © 2006
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: sticky

Saturday, February 17, 2018

There, Almost



On reading this poem quietly to myself again, it occurred to me that the whole poem can be summed up in its first two words: "I dream ... "


In the poem I'm dreaming of London, Rome, Paris ... places I've never been ... and I'm dreaming of actually being there.


Well, you'll see the details of that as you read on.


As my orbit continues to grow smaller, I continue to dream ... not just of those exotic places so far beyond my reach ... but of places close at hand ... places I would like to see, but probably never will.


But I don't dwell on the "never will" aspect.


Nor do I dwell, particularly, on the opposite side of that coin ... the possibilities, remote or otherwise. I live, after all, in the real world ... a world that contains obstacles ... impediments ... realities that we must all face in some form, to some degree or other.


And still, I dream ... Oh, do I ever.


These dreams are the magnets ... tiny though they may be ... which draw me along. They beckon to me in the morning ... throughout the day ... and even when day is done and I sometimes find that I'm so weary.


I dream ... yes, I dream ... and I hope you do, too.


Meanwhile, the poem:

THERE, ALMOST

I dream of London,
Rome, sometimes Paris,
strolling their streets
on a spring day,
listening to voices
spilling like clear water
over rounded stones,
feeling the whisk of wind,
touch of rain, the quiet
of a hailed cab, tires
smacking puddles
on the curving streets,
tasting the food
in a warm cafe, tables
draped and waiting,
as though they knew,
all along, I'd be there.
© 1997

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)
Today's word: smacking

Friday, February 16, 2018

Promises







I've often said that I can't rhyme worth a dime ... but here I go again.


I keep trying. For me it's something like trying to leap over a high picket fence ... uphill ... and on a slippery slope, at that. I have trouble maintaining any kind of a rhyme scheme while trying to tell a story ... if, indeed, I have a story to tell.


I keep promising that I won't, but I do ... keep trying, that is. It's simply the challenge, I guess.


The result? Today's poem ... a double-edged blunt blade, if you will ... a poem about the difficulty ... at least the difficulty I have ... with keeping promises, especially to myself ... a poem in rhyme.


And I can't promise you that it won't happen again.


I keep being drawn back to this difficult task. I keep thinking that this time it will go well and I'll end up with something I can share with others. But it seldom does.


Today's illustration, I suppose, speaks to promises unkept ... I prefer to think of them as promises I will keep ... just as soon as I can get around to them.


Actually, it represents things I should've done yesterday ... must do today ... but probably will still be working on tomorrow.


Ah, tomorrow ...


Meanwhile, today ... and the poem:


PROMISES


I begin my year
With high resolve,
But my plans, I fear,
Start to dissolve
As the new wears off
The leaf I've turned
And the flames flare off
Bridges I've burned.
© 1996
(originally published in Mature Living)

Today's word: rhyme