Sunday, September 24, 2017

Who Writes Poetry?





This is a rather whimsical piece which began when a certain intriguing question popped into my head and triggered a series of images.


I had fun writing it, I've enjoyed sharing it, especially with its eventual publication. Oh, and was I ever excited when it was called out for an encore appearance!


Marion Roach, whose program, "The Naturalist's Datebook," is heard on Sirius Radio ... Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius 112 ... read "Who Writes Poetry?" for her listeners.


In my seemingly perpetual situation, clinging by my fingertips to the trailing edge of technology, I didn't have access to Sirius Radio ... and I still don't ... but I was excited about what had happened to this little poem.


And today's art? It has no direct connection with the poem, but I liked the way the sun was breaking through the clouds ... a metaphor for a glimmer of hope, perhaps ... maybe just an interesting moment captured with my small digital camera ...


Meanwhile:


WHO WRITES POETRY?


Horses, standing head-to-tail
beside each other, the better
to swish the flies away,

are they thinking up poems?
How about cows, studiously
worrying their warm cuds?

Do mules stubbornly pursue
clip-clopping couplets, compose
sonnets, sestinas, villanelles?

Perhaps it's the tiny finch,
singing his easy promises
while she builds the nest.

But I think it might be
the solitary snail, crawling
through the night, leaving

lines going this way and that
on the sidewalk, evidence,
surely, of some kind of angst.
© 2000

(originally published in Kaleidoscope)

Today's word: solitary

Saturday, September 23, 2017

There's Fire Tonight



Today's poem is about picking up coal from alongside the railroad tracks. It's about the crackling fire those found lumps of coal brought to us during what we knew then, and recall now, as "hard times."

It was an adventure for a young boy growing up in the care of his grandparents. It was a lesson never forgotten.


But the careful reader will also note that it's a poem about writing. Take a look at the opening: "Words." Hold on to it as you follow the thread of the poem.


I do feel that words are, indeed, like those lumps we thrust into that burlap bag. They have the potential for heat, if we lay them carefully in the stove ... and ignite them with our own inspiration ... fan them into flame.


They will bring us comfort on long winter nights. They will warm our hands ... maybe our hearts, too.


This one was originally published in Southern Humanities Review, and has become the title poem of a manuscript in search of publisher:


THERE'S FIRE TONIGHT

Words, how like
the lumps of coal
Grandma and I found
along the tracks
where hopper cars,
lurching, loping
up the long grade
toward Cobden,
had dropped them,
each a gift
in our dirty hands,
holding promise,
as they were thrust
into the burlap bag,
of shared warmth,
soft, crackling song,
sooty smoke rising,
telling our world
there's fire tonight,
all's well.
© 1997

Today's word: lurching

Friday, September 22, 2017

Passages





Strange how ... and where ... poems sometimes reveal themselves to a person.


As I recall, I was sitting in the car in front of a Post Office, waiting for Phyllis to go in, mail a letter, and return.


I noticed the reflections of the vehicles going by on the street behind me ... how the warped window made them appear to be leaping ... like horses or hunting hounds ... bounding over a hedge.


I thought about reflections I had seen in store windows in my home town ... and of one window, in particular, on one of my last visits there. That store was vacant. Oh, the memories I had of that little country store!


Then the poem started asserting itself ... I reached for a scrap of paper ... always waiting in a handy pocket ... and began writing.


And now, the poem:


PASSAGES

The cars change shape
as they come and go
in the warped window glass
of a store that once was,
dusty now, this begrimed
keeper of secrets,
these windows that
have seen it all
in this small town: deaths,
funerals, weddings, births,
departures of its young
who sometimes come back,
stand beside a grave,
listen to an acorn falling,
slow ticking of eternity.
© 2007

(originally published in Waterways)


Today's word: ticking

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Milk-Soft Call







Usually, when I'm engaged in conversation ... or just sitting quietly with my own thoughts ... the words come together, clickety-clack ... well, usually with these pauses which have been a lifelong presence in my speech pattern ... but, otherwise, with virtually no effort at all.


But there are times that it takes some searching.


Like the time that I became acutely aware of a dove's call. Oh, I had heard doves many times before, had savored the softness of their calls. 


But this time, for some reason ... or perhaps no reason at all ... I wanted to find the words to describe what it was really like.

I remember searching ... for the precise words ... the ones which would help me to preserve that particular moment ... words which would help me to "say the unsayable" ... about that distinct sound floating to my ears ... carrying a certain air of mystery about it.


It's so unlike other bird calls, so soothing, so ... well, so milk-soft.


That's it! I decided that's the term I've been looking for, and I walked on into the woods, hoping I would remember to try putting it in a poem someday.


The result:



THE MILK-SOFT CALL

I pause where
tall swaying trees
verge the meadow,
billowing their
thick green
clouds of leaves,
for a stirring
liquid breeze
has carried to me
the milk-soft call
of a dove,
and I am seized
for that moment
in an amber block
of tranquility.

© 1997
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: tranquility

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Lost Pencils







Phyllis pretends she's not with me when I discover a pencil lying on the sidewalk. She knows I can't resist. I'll simply have to pause, pick it up and put it in my pocket.


I've learned not to do that with pens. Sometimes they leak.


But pencils?


There's something safe, reassuring about a pencil.


Even the most chewed up, stubbiest, disreputable looking pencil has the potential of a few more words, of writing a few lines, perhaps, that could someday turn into something big ... maybe a poem.


Here's one now:


LOST PENCILS


I find them during my walks
past schools, lying there, poor,
fallen things, pointing forlornly
to some vague destination.


Many bear the jagged markings
from anxious scholars' teeth,
some have been sharpened
to the point of extinction,


some are broken, and might not
write again, without my timely
arrival to bring them home.
Handling each with the care


one would accord a fallen bird,
I slide it into the warmth
of an inner pocket to keep
it safe, for this could be


the one I've always needed,
the one with something to say
that I really need to hear.
© 2000

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: potential

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Handeul of Dust





Oh, the memories ... how they come flooding back during quiet moments ... away from the keyboard ... no TV blaring in the background.

Today's poem deals ... seemingly ... with a single memory ... a single day ... a single set of circumstances ... and, when I wrote it, I was thinking about a specific day which stood out in memory.

Looking at it now, I think it's more than that. It must be. 


There were many times that I looked wistfully toward the crest of that hill, wondered what lay beyond ... wanted to find out ... wondered if I ever would.

Well, eventually I did. Oh, did I ever!

But now I seem to be rooted more firmly than ever in those beginnings ... dealing with those bittersweet memories ... finding that the emphasis is more on the second portion of "bittersweet" than on the first.

The poem:

HANDFUL OF DUST

I stood watching a breeze
moving toward me through
hazy green rows of corn,


listened to it overhead
whispering its secrets
to a wafer-dry box elder,


saw it picking up just
a handful of dust,
twirling it, letting it


settle quickly back
to the hoof-pocked soil,
remember thinking


that I might follow,
off somewhere beyond
those barren hills,


but stood drinking
from a rusty tin cup,
dribbled the dregs


on my thirsting toes,
went padding back
where I’d always be.

© 2002

(originally published in Capper's; now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher)

Today's word: twirling

Monday, September 18, 2017

Grandfather Writes





Who knows? Perhaps it was my early witnessing of my grandfather's attempts at learning to write his name ... the effort he was willing to put into it so late in his life ... the obvious importance he attached to it ... 

Perhaps it was all of these - or none - that impelled me to write.


I'm sure there were other factors, too, other lessons he taught me by example, as he and his wife, my dear grandmother, undertook the task of rearing me, of making me the person I am today.


I remember watching him, first at a distance, then a bit closer, and, finally, quite near as those shaky letters took form.


I remember the feeling of shared pride in this accomplishment, in knowing that the painfully written X ("his mark") no longer need be his signature.


It was a quantum leap.


My only regret, as I say in the poem, was that I neglected to tell him how proud I was of his achievement. 

But I think he knew. I think he always knew I was proud of him.


The poem:

GRANDFATHER WRITES

My grandfather sat
in sweltering shade
beside the house,
holding a pencil stub,
practicing, practicing,
ignoring the heat,
the droning flies,
straining to focus
with dime-store glasses
while his cramping
fingers sent the pencil
crawling on the page,
strange, angular marks
scratched on the back
of the sale bill,
letters later emerging
in more fluid shapes
as he labored to write
his very own name.
How proud I felt
of his achievement.
How I wish
I had told him so. 
© 2000

(second-place winner in the 2000 Ohio Poetry Day Contest)

Today's word: quantum