Monday, December 11, 2017

The Transient Heart






I've observed that new poems ... or their beginnings ... are like rabbits venturing out to nibble the clover at dusk ... tentative at first ... then a little bolder ...

Old poems ... at least my old poems ... wander in and out like ... well, like old men trying to remember where they left their hats. I should know ... I'm one of them now.

Today's poem "wandered in" while I was driving.

We were on our way home ... probably after attending a poetry reading ... or sitting in with a group of poetry-loving friends ... two of my most frequent alibis for "a late night out."

I was thinking, just thinking, as I drove into ... and out of ... a rain shower ... I watched the windshield wipers knocking the raindrops aside ... and then quickly running out of anything to do.

For some reason ... I guess it was all that sudden activity ... then inactivity ... on the windshield ... "The Transient Heart" came to mind ...


The poem:


THE TRANSIENT HEART

Fog had invaded
our street overnight,
leaving my car
sitting like a large,
cold melon, dripping
with potential.


Extracting my keys
from the usual
pants-pocket tangle,
my gaze drifted
to a heart-shaped
tracing vanishing
amid a cascade
of trickles
on a rear window.

A secret admirer?
More likely just
a stranger, a pupil
dawdling toward
school, little
suspecting that
such a tiny doodle
could send so many
thoughts rippling
merrily across
my morning mind.
© 1998

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: transient

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Play BALL!







Today's poem comes to mind each year as  ice-encrusted winter months start retreating and I resume walking past those ball diamonds waiting for crowds of kids ... or would-be kids ... to return.

It also comes to mind with the onset of nippy nights and chilly mornings ... a reminder that the things of summer will soon be put aside while we search for the leaf rake... and the dreaded snow shovel.

I like to store away sunnier memories ... something to tide me over in less inviting times, weather-wise. 

What better memory than a sun-drenched ball park?

There's one ball park in particular that holds a certain fascination. I guess it's because there's seldom anybody else around as we go strolling by.

I do pause there ... sometimes approach the backstop, and my fingers do grip the wire mesh like "some abandoned vine" ... while I think of days long, long ago, when I actually ran the bases a few times.

There's still that momentary urge to try it again. But I'm a little smarter now ... and a lot slower ... and I never do.

The poem:

Play BALL!

Standing behind
the sagging backstop
at the deserted field,
my fingers gripping
the wire mesh like
some abandoned vine,
I'm tempted to go
tearing around second,
sliding into third
in a cloud of dust;
instead, I linger
a few moments more,
enjoying the quiet,
 
just imagining that
roar of the crowd.
© 1998

(originally published in Capper's)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Only Tree






(A "family" of cedar trees which caught my eye on one of my daily walks ... and stirred some memories)

We are rooted in the places of our beginning.


Oh, we may develop tendrils as we reach for new ideas, seek new adventures, pursue careers. 

We may even become "tumbleweeds," traveling the countryside ... perhaps visiting ... and even settling ... abroad.


But our roots remain in those places where we began, and this is apparent to us when we sit quietly, thinking ... really just thinking.


One example, in my case, involves Christmas trees. Ours was always a cedar tree, because they grew so abundantly on the hills overlooking our home. It was a special treat to go trudging out with Grandpa ... a few days before Christmas ... to pick just the right tree ... not too tall ... not too skinny ... for our living room.


There was just something about the smell of cedar filling the whole house.


When I saw another kind of Christmas tree ... on my first visit to Chicago, which seemed so distant, like another planet ... I couldn't believe THAT was their Christmas tree.


It didn't look like OUR tree at all. Its branches seemed almost bare, compared to what I had been accustomed to. It didn't have that cedar smell. And it certainly didn't have the bird's nest which I had come to expect to find somewhere in our tree.


Oh, I've finally come around to accepting other kinds of Christmas trees ... even the artificial models ... but I still find myself thinking about those other trees from my early years.


The poem:


THE ONLY TREE

I grew up believing
that a cedar was
the only true tree
for Christmas,
plain, struggling
stubbornly
on hillside clay,
having so much
in common
with folks like us.
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: cedar

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Moment



























Memories. We can't live in the past, of course, but memories can help to make the going easier in the present.


Today's poem is based on earliest memory.


I find it hard to believe that I'm going all the way back to the cradle in recalling my mother's words ... not the specific words, but the memory of the sounds, enhanced, perhaps, by the distance, the years since I heard them.


Or I may just be imagining it all, the product of my wanting to "hear" them.


When I was about two years old, I went to live with my grandparents, who reared me to adulthood. My contact with my mother, over those years, was, by various circumstances, limited to a certain degree.


It would be natural for me to have more memories of my grandparents than my mother. Still, there is that connection, that need to go back as far as I can to those earliest days.


It's a wistful poem, a semi-dream poem. And I found a certain healing in the writing of it, a certain comfort in reading it again. It was originally published in Capper's:


THE MOMENT

In the moment
between sleeping
and waking,
when morning light
drifts strangely
through the trees
and sounds seem
borne aloft
by distant voices,
my mother’s words
come curling back
like wood smoke
on a rainy night,
and I am comforted
by that memory.
© 2001

Today's word: wistful

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Lattes for Two





(Just a photo of an old fence, you say? Oh, but I think fences ... old ones in particular ... have things to say to us, if we will just listen)
                                   
Meanwhile:

Each of my poems has a past life.

Sometimes that background is quite complicated ... though the poems are usually pretty straightforward ... ordinary subjects presented with few adornments.

This one, I suppose, might be considered as having a "complicated" earlier life. I'll try to present the short version.

When I started painting, I simply started painting. It was later that I decided it wouldn't hurt to have a few lessons ... maybe a lot of lessons ... but that's another story.

When I started writing poetry, it was much the same. Eventually, I signed up for a class.

Needless to say, I was an older student ... THE oldest in the group, even counting the instructor. The class was very accepting of me, though, and I really enjoyed it.

Among those with whom I became acquainted was a young student who worked part-time in a coffee shop.

Possibly because I reminded her of her grandfather, she one day gave me a couple of coupons for free coffees.

Phyllis and I couldn't resist. We were soon sitting under the umbrellas, sipping our coffees ... er, lattes. It was the first latte I had ever had. I found it rather nice ... inspiring, in fact.

The rest is history, as they say.

The poem:

LATTES FOR TWO

We're sipping vanilla lattes while sitting
beneath the umbrellas outside the coffee shop,


enjoying the soothing warmth of the cups
against our hands, the coffee sweet and gentle,


not aggressive, as it can sometimes be.
In my coffee and cigarette days, I slugged down


many a cup, always automatically topping off
after absently stubbing out another butt


and lighting up again, phones ringing, nerves
jangling, my paradigm of perpetual dependence.


But I've grown independent of such things,
an enforced laying to rest of my worst habits


in these years of summing up, a slow falling away
from a tendency to overindulge in so many


things that cheered me up or calmed me down.
Until today. Lured inside by the tempting offer


of a sample, I've wavered, weakened, lifted the cup
again, and after a few tentative sips to make sure

my taste buds weren't playing tricks on me, I think
I might be hooked, feel myself being reeled in.


Oh, if Eve had only suggested a hot, sweet latte
back then, what a different world this might be.
© 2005


(Part of a my third collection, Wood Smoke, issued by Finishing Line Press. To visit the Finishing Line Press site, please click here:


Thank you for taking a look.)

Today's word: hooked

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Hollyhocks






I hope you'll forgive my repeating a bit of ancient history with this posting ... the memories of those excursions to the bluffs to gather that rich soil ... those furry-jacketed seed, saved year-to-year by Grandma ... the resulting flowers.


They are such sweet memories. I still find great comfort in them ... and in the poem itself. No surprise that I share it at almost all of my poetry readings ... 


Yes, I do readings. You may have gathered that I really believe it when I say: Poetry is meant to be shared.


But relax. I haven't quite resorted to going door-to-door to inflict my poetry on the unsuspecting ... yet.


I do appreciate those, though, who stop by here to take a look ... to pause to listen ... to let the words wash over them ... to let me share ... and I hope they ... and you ... leave with a feeling of having dined on poetry ... or at least have an appetite newly whetted for more ... here, there ... everywhere.


Thanks so much for stopping by.


Oh, and the illustration today is a small watercolor I did some time ago. It also went on to bigger things ... becoming the cover art for my second collection of poems.


Now, the poem:



HOLLYHOCKS


We went to the bluffs,
up the narrow path
along the spine of the ridge,
up where the tall oaks
clustered among the rocks,
where the soil was dark
and crumbly, cool to our
digging fingers, and piled
that loose, rich soil
into a coal bucket,

lugged it back in many
trips to a dedicated circle
of depleted yellow clay
behind the house,
heaping this found food
there for furry-jacketed
seed from a deep pocket
of Grandma's apron,

and they became the most
sun-catching, bee-luring,
beautiful flowers
I had ever seen, almost
as though God had just
said: Let there be
hollyhocks.

And there were.
© 1999

("Hollyhocks" received an honorable mention in the Dayton, Ohio, Metro Library Contest in 1999, and went on to become the title poem of my second collection of poetry, published by Finishing Line Press in 2007)
***
Today's word: bee-luring

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Goodbye, Old Hat





Years have passed now, and the mystery of the missing hat is still unsolved ... although I do have "a person of interest" in mind.


The last time I recall seeing it was when I put it in the laundry. It never came back. That would seem to limit the number of suspects ... possibly to just one.


I have the feeling that one particular person, a very dear friend who used to pretend she wasn't with me when I wore that hat, gets the feeling that I think she did it. Not so. 

You're all under suspicion. Nobody leaves the room, understand?


It's possible, of course, that I ... of all people ... might, in a moment of delirium, have thrown the hat away. I'd hate to think I did that to my faithful, trusting, trusted old hat. I really would.


would sort of like to know what really happened to it though.


I don't even have a picture of it. The original had never, to the best of my knowledge, sat for a portrait, nor even had its photo snapped by someone mistaking its wearer for a celebrity.


So I had to resort to a stunt double to illustrate the poem about its plight ... and (sniffle-sniffle) mine.


The double, of course, is a younger version of the vanished one, but it's gradually becoming ... well, quite comfortable, like an old pair of shoes.


But now, the poem:



GOODBYE, OLD HAT


"My old brown hat is gone!"
I cried.
"When did you have it on?" she sighed.
"This year, or last.
Time goes so fast."

"The one rumpled, crumpled,
and torn?"
"Yes, yes! Tattered, spattered,
forlorn.
Twenty years my best buddy ...
all that.
My oldest, dearest friend,
my hat.

Now it's gone, left no trace.
I'm wild ..."
"I'm sure it's, uh ... someplace," 
she smiled.
And, looking me straight in
the eye:
"But it was time to say
goodbye."
 © 1997

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: vanished