Thursday, July 31, 2008

After the Chores

A poem, sometimes, is an accumulation of memories.

This one is like that. It goes all the way back to my childhood, when I would sit on the steps and watch the sky in the evening. It was like magic, the way the stars would start popping out.

It was magic, too, the way the moon would come floating up over the hills, like a giant balloon set loose to spend the night with us.

Lightning bugs would emerge, and there would be a chorus of sounds from the trees and the nearby fields. Occasionally there would be the hooting of an owl, or ... somewhere in the distance ... the mournful call of the whippoorwill.

I thought of those evenings many times, when I was in places distant from that beginning. There weren't always steps to sit on in the evening, and it was often a day job, rather than "chores," that brought fatigue settling onto me at the end of the day.

But I found comfort in thinking about those evenings, so long ago. I still do.

And now, the poem:


Night voices rise

in growing chorus

as I sink to the steps

and sit, watching,

waiting like a child,

for a first twinkle

on that darkening

blue dome of sky.

© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: darkening

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thank you, Helen, for finding time during your travels to stop by for a visit here ... and for that electronic pat on the back. I'm delighted that you found this a comforting poem. Happy trails ...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

When, at Last, It Rains

I learned about rain, or its absence, at an early age. That happens when you grow up in a rural area. So much ... in fact, everything ... depends on rain, whether you have it or you don't, whether too little or too much.

That early experience shaped me, no doubt about it. It shaped my writing, too, when I finally took that up. It created the shape of my first collection of poems, published in 2003.

This particular poem requires little explanation, I believe. Except ... except that, while it is written as something which happened one evening, it is the sum of many evenings ... spent on the front porch, "watching the stars, counting the days since last rain."

It embodies my reaction to the ending of a long drought.

It could be taken further than that, if you wish, to a celebration, not just of the return of rain to the parched soil, but to the ending of one of the many kinds of droughts we endure in our lives.


I sense its talking to me in the depths

of my sleep, hear its melody settling

softly on my ear like a lover's whisper,

see it, with my mind's eye, falling

into a steady rhythm, slipping slowly

down the slope of the tattered roof

on the porch where I sat last week

watching the stars, counting the days

since last rain; then with a shout,

a slam of the screened back door, I'm

standing in the crusted yard, greeting

the rain with my arms outstretched,

dancing wildly with it, receiving its

healing kisses on my upturned face.

© 2006

(published in my first collection, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003; included in Common Threads, issued by Ohio Poetry Association, Spring-Summer issue, 2006)


Today's word: healing

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

That New Diet


I can't really remember how long it has been since that four-letter word, c-a-k-e ... not to mention all forms of my favorite food ... dessert ...  was put on my forbidden list.

Oh, how I remember the good old days when cake was my favorite food. Oh, how sweet it was! But no more. Not even a nibble.

But go ahead. Enjoy. I won't knock your serving off your plate. I promise. Nor will I sit up and beg, like I used to. And if I whimper a little, just ignore me. I'll get over it ... someday.

The poem:



On the pastry shelf

of my mind cake

doesn't exist now,

but my poor stomach

keeps insisting that

it does. How much

longer can I take this

constant bickering?

© 1996

(originally published in Capper's)




Today's word (thanks to a suggestion by Southernmush): float

Monday, July 28, 2008


Today's poem was written at a time when I was setting a particular kind of challenge for myself with my writing: Take a randomly-selected word and define it, not in dictionary terms, but in personal, human terms ... terms that readers would understand for having lived or witnessed some of them.

It helped that I had some experiences to call on ... the relative isolation of a rural upbringing ... military service ... being "alone" on a crowded subway in New York City.

It helps, too, to be able to block out present surroundings, for at least those few minutes of the writing exercise ... all of those things of the moment which are the opposite, in this instance, of the word you're trying to define: friends, family, companions, even the voices coming from the TV in the other room ...

The poem, originally published in Shawnee Silhouette:


It's not just

the hollow, echoing

sound of nights;

days can be

lonely, too,

with a consuming

emptiness spreading,

crinkling as it burns

the thin paper of time

on which we scratch

the names of our thoughts.

With no one to touch,

no one to hear,

no one to care

that we exist,

there is no breaching

the walls of that cell

in which we are locked,

listening as the minutes

slide into hours,

pyramiding themselves

into coldness,

the absolute zero

of solitude.

© 1996


Today's word: emptiness

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Quick, the Towel!

Some of you ... Chosen Words Regulars ... may have seen this one before ... and even my introduction ...

Because it happened again. What happened? Listen ...

It's almost automatic ... as I step into the shower ... that sudden intrusion of a most urgent thought ... that must be written down ... right now.

There's just something about the place, the setting.

It may be just an item for the grocery list ... or just a random thought ... an idea ... but that is a part of writing, I tell myself ...

I don't often interrupt the shower to commit these most urgent words to paper ... but I do try to retain them ... and that's sometimes akin to maintaining a grip on a slippery bar of soap.

If I'm lucky, I relish the shampoo ... complete the shower ... towel off, taking extra care with the toes ... and still have that special thought ... that idea ... as I reach for that little stack of scratch paper which is always nearby, ready, waiting.

Sometimes, if I'm really lucky, what I commit to paper is the beginning of a poem ... a thought that contains the promise of blossoming into something worth keeping ... and then I know this is going to be a beautiful day.

The poem:


There's something

about a shower,

the steamy,

needling water,

the quiet warmth,

something, that

brings to mind

an urgent thought

of some errand,

some left-over

chore, some most

urgent task, that

must be written

on paper now,

right now, before

it goes trickling

down the drain

of forgetfulness.

© 2000

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: needling

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thanks for those kind words, Helen ... and, ah, yes, I remember the bathtub days, too. How nice it was to slide into the embrace of a nice warm bath at the end of a rough day at the office.

Friday, July 25, 2008


(Sorry I'm running a little late this morning ... I was out late last night ... sitting in with a poetry group. I recommend it. It leaves you with the feeling of ... for that interlude ... being transported. And the next morning ... you may sleep in a bit, savoring the aftertaste ... but there's no headache, no hangover)

Only once in this lifetime have I experienced the sensation of a butterfly settling onto my hand.

I'm sure, as a child, I must have dreamed of such a thing, without ever really expecting it to happen. It was like lying on a hillside, looking up at the clouds, and imagining what it might be like to fly, literally fly, above them ... something to speculate on, but not to be attained.

Then there I was, an adult ... a very tired adult ... sitting on a hillside far from those amid which I did so much of my early dreaming ... and there was a butterfly ... sitting on my hand.

Had I known then what a haiku moment was, I would have declared that to be one. Instead, I simply sat, transfixed, watching, waiting ... and finally squinting to follow its path as it departed.

I suppose some will read into the poem a feeling, not just of the butterfly's departure, but of loss, too. I prefer to think of what I had gained.

And so it has been with the visits of those who stop by to take a look at "Chosen Words." It has been an adventure far beyond my imagining. I'm still trying to catch up on all the comments which have been posted ... I thank you all ... and my apologies for not being able to thank all of you individually.

Then the crowd moves on. There are other journals to visit, to explore, to evaluate and comment on.

It grows quiet here.

If I were to read "Moment" aloud now, I might be the only one listening. But I would savor the words ... I would read them carefully ... and I would recall the heat of that day ... the sun ... that butterfly ... just as I am now looking back on the past several months, savoring the words you have left with me.

As I continue reading your words in the days to come, I will remember ... your thoughtful comments ... the kind things you've said ... and I will think of all I have gained from your visits.

And I thank you for all of that.

The poem:


The butterfly sits so lightly

on the back of my sunburned

hand that I barely feel

its tiny feet clinging, tongue

tasting the essence of me.

I sit stone-still, watching

as it clings, seeing its tongue

uncurling to taste, feeling

my breathing subsiding

into the rhythm of its wings,

folding, unfolding,

sit savoring the reverie

attending the encounter with this

being that has flown to me

like a tiny fleck of fly ash,

but has chosen me, the most

unlikely of choices, and keeps

sitting here while I consider

whether I might seize it.

Then, as though sensing

my intentions, it lifts lightly

off, flying raggedly, majestically

across the sun-swept field,

perhaps pursuing a search

for someone more worthy,

leaving the weight of absence

pressing my hand.

© 1999

(originally published in Vincent Brothers Review)


Today's word: majestically

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thank you, Michelle, for sharing that experience. I chased and caught a lot of lightning bugs in my growing-up years, but I never had one approach me ... and land ... so you're ahead of me in that department. That, as you say, would have been a memorable moment, too.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Lost Line

There's something about the rhythm of walking ... especially alone, nobody to talk to ... which can set a phrase to coursing repeatedly through your brain. Perhaps it's something you recall from a conversation, or it may simply pop out of the blue.

The more you think about it, the more entrenched it becomes. Then you start hoping it will stay in place until you get back home, or find a curbside bench where you can sit, then commit that persistent phrase to paper.

Sometimes it's a series of phrases, thoughts that are beginning to shape themselves into a poem.

It was at this point in one of my walks, when I found myself in mid-street ... but let's let the poem tell the story. "The Lost Line" was originally published in ByLine.

The Lost Line

Walking, engrossed

in the troubling

task of untangling

a difficult line,

I looked up

at mid-street

into the whites

of the eyes of a car.

The startled driver

swerved and went on,

as did I, trembling

at the thought

of being cut down,


in such a way.

I left the line

lying there where

I had dropped it,

a broken lanyard,

the possibility

of starting

something big

scared out of it.

I doubt that I

can ever reclaim it,

poor frayed thing,

abandoned, lost,

turned to a frazzle

by tires that sing

without ceasing

on Wayne Avenue.

© 1996


Today's word: lanyard

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thanks, Helen ... rest assured, I'm most unlikely to come up with the missing words/line at this stage. I've had lesser distractions steal some thought that appeared to be headed in the direction of a poem ... maybe ... but only that once did it happen because a vehicle was staring me down in the middle of the street. What a surprise that was! Still, I managed to get something out of the incident. I agree about the word, too ... there's just something about all the images ... memories, I suppose ... it carries with it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Today's poem likely began life somewhat larger than the version I'm sharing with you today.

That's not unusual. When a poem ... or what may become a poem ... begins to present itself to me, I often just let the words just go trickling across the page. Sometimes that works. Sometimes not.

In between that kind of beginning, and publication, there is a lot of revision. That usually means tightening. Fewer words. More left to the imagination of the reader.

Does this one work? Well, the editor thought it did ... but I tend to think the reader has the final say on that.

If you've ever watched the sunshine come crawling (swarming?) through a window, the poem may work for you as it did for me. If not, well, ... it may still be food for thought:


See how the sun

comes crawling

through the window,

like hungry bees

on a single sprig

of goldenrod.

© 1997

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)


Today's word: crawling

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

I'm glad you stopped by, Helen ... and enjoyed the interlude. Hope you had a good session of swimming exercises, too ...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Heading South

I was out for my daily walk when I saw those geese rising ... stood watching them ... don't remember if I sat at the next bus stop to put my reactions on paper, or waited till I got home ... but I had a poem in the making, right there on that street.

The poem:


Just beyond the trees

giving up their gaudy

leaves of autumn, five geese

rise slowly, dark against

a mottled sky, heading

generally southward,

seeking those highways

that the wild geese take,

while I stand rooted

where chance has put me.

I shall think of them,

wishing vaguely that I had

their gift of flight

as I ride out the storms

of winter, waiting to hear

their honking again,

telling me the season

is breaking, melting into

spring, skein of renewal

linking those who can fly,

those who can only wish.

© 1997

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: renewal

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thank you, Helen, for stopping by again ... and leaving a comment. I had much the same experience of hearing/seeing the geese when I was a youngster ... witnessing their "bringing spring" when they flew north ... and giving us fair warning that winter was coming, when they headed the other way. Oh, and in my excitement at finding your comment, I hadn't even noticed the spelling of geese. Best wishes.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Good Deed

Picture from Hometown

I know ... I know ... it's too early for snow ... far too early, but this horrible July heat has caused me to think ... at least fleetingly ... about snow.

That, in turn, led me to thoughts of a good deed by my next-door neighbor ... and thus the poem.

My reaction, at the time the described even occurred, went from puzzlement ... to surprise ... to that pleasant feeling you get when somebody does a good turn for you ... and doesn't want, in fact, would refuse, anything in return.

The poem tells that story.

Oh, I suppose my neighbor was grateful for the small favors we did him and his family when they had a house fire shortly after moving in. But he didn't owe us anything for our help, either.

That's what neighbors do for each other.

He was grateful then ... and I was certainly grateful for all that shoveling he was doing for me. I had been waiting out the storm, dreading the task that confronted me.

Then, suddenly, there he was, the good neighbor.

If I were to go ahead with this, I'd probably become preachy ... so, I'll just say that this one was originally published in The Christian Science Monitor:


All day the snow

has come sifting down,

obscuring objects

in our shaken globe,

and I'm standing

staring out the window

when I see the shape

of a person who's

obviously been driven

wild by the storm,

who pauses and turns

into someone I know

... my neighbor,

shoveling my walk.

© 2003


Today's word: shoveling

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Folding the Laundry

Memories! Where would we be without them?

Oh, how they help us to keep our bearings ... pointing out where we've been ... and sometimes helping us to remain pointed in the direction we should go.

They don't have to be of the greatest moments of our lives. They may even be of moments that could have been easily forgotten.

What, after all, is memorable about folding the laundry? Something obviously was ... and still is ... for me.

I still remember how the sun played across the items hanging from that sagging line ... how the movements of those items reminded me of dancing ... line dancing, I suppose ... long before I knew what line dancing was.

And now, before I wander off in some other direction, the poem:


Still warm as though

just sloughed off

the bodies of wearers,

it yields softly

to my hands tonight,

recalling those times

Grandma and I pulled

sweet-smelling armloads

of hand-washed laundry

from a sagging line

in the back yard.

I feel the fatigue

again, bare feet

picking their way

among the honeybees,

finding little comfort

as she directed me

to look up, see

the clouds, which,

she insisted,

were somebody else's

laundry left out,

still flapping,

and now, an easing

of my tired back

as that memory

gently enfolds me.

© 1998

(originally published in Riverrun)


Today's word: flapping

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Enjoy That Silence

Today's poem was written at a time when I was thinking about my writing ... how I might improve it ... what subject to tackle next ... how to tweak some of the tons of things I've written ... and about how ... someday ... for me ... all this will come to a halt ...

That can be a gloomy thought, I know ... but I prefer to look at the bright side of the coin, even while knowing, all along, that the coin has another, darker side, too.

Today's poem deals with that other side, but in a way, I hope, that simply looks at reality ... with a dash of hope for the reader ... the knowledge that things will go on, as always.

This morning, though, the poem came to mind as I thought about another bit of silence ... my neglecting to keep up my portion of the conversation with readers ... namely, in "Afterthoughts," where I respond to readers' comments.

I feel it's important to acknowledge these thoughtful entries which readers make ... they've found time in their busy days, after all, to pay me a visit, to read what I've written ... to contribute a statement which often throws new light on what I've said ... which adds to the understanding of what I was trying to say.

I've been neglectful ... other things have intruded ... like my "excused absence" earlier this week ... the rapidly approaching publication date for Wood Smoke, my third collection of poems ... yard chores ... errands ... hunting for things I've lost ... oh, the list goes on an on.

But it always comes back to one thing ... to me ... to the fact that I've neglected to keep up my end of the conversation here.

I am sorry ... really sorry ... about that ... and I'll try to do better.

And I'm starting to work on Monday's installment of "Squiggles and Giggles" ... I really am ... I promise.

Meanwhile, I have been blessed to be able to write, and to be permitted toshare what I havewritten.

As much as the writing itself ... which sometimes comes in pauses and starts, and sometimes with difficulty, but always brings a certain satisfaction when it's finished, awaiting a polishing or two ... I have enjoyed the reactions of readers.

To say that I have basked in their comments is a vast understatement.

Still, I know it will all end someday. It must. It will.

This poem is about that. I think it pretty well tells its own story ... and I don't think it's a sad story, really, just an acknowledgment of the inevitable ... but also a celebration of the present. Thank you for being a part of that celebration.

(Oh, and a new installment of "Squiggles & Giggles" has been posted)

The poem:


When all the leafy

branches have closed

behind me and my

footsteps have drifted

into nothing, I hope

there will be no

searching parties sent

to seek new meaning

in what I was trying

to say. I had no hidden

agenda, no secrets

in my surface-dwelling

statements. So when

the silence descends,

as it surely must, please

accept it. And enjoy.

© 2006

(Published in the Spring 2006 - 40th Anniversary Edition - of ICON)


Today's word: inevitable

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Day for Flying

But isn't that always the way it is when you're in a hurry?

Well, for a few minutes at least, I'm putting hurry aside. I'm sitting calmly at the keyboard, serenely typing a few words which I hope will make their way into "Chosen Words." Not a worry in the world.

Like, yeah, sure.

Meanwhile, the poem:


Crisp autumn breeze sliding off

some unseen glacier, sun busy

burnishing the copper leaves,

as though trees were incapable

of doing it themselves, and not

a cloud in sight. A day made

for flying. Indeed, overhead

dozens of silent chalk marks

of planes drag themselves along,

blade marks slowly multiplying

on a blue rink, crisscrossing,

widening, turning into fluffy

cotton batting stretched along

the cold, these diaphanous

contrails abandoned in a flight

to somewhere, as though planes

of the world were gathering

on this day to make clouds,

being impatient for the regular

kind and for the needed rain,

the prodigal, dallying rain.

© 1997

(originally published in Potpourri)


Today's word: diaphanous

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cup of Memories

We never had a "drinking gourd," and I always felt deprived.

Instead, we had a common aluminum dipper (we all drank from the same dipper) beside the water bucket in the kitchen.

Germs aside, it offered a cool, refreshing drink, when the weather was cool, refreshing. During the summer, as I recall, we went directly to the source, the cistern just a few steps from the back porch, to fill the dipper.

The "drinking gourd," on the other hand, resided at a neighbor's house on a nearby hill. Judging from the frequency of our visits, they were probably distant relatives.

They had a well which, I thought, contained the coldest water around. And that gourd, that marvelous old weather-beaten gourd. I just had to have a drink from it, even when I wasn't thirsty. Oh, how I remember sipping slowly, dawdling, while enjoying both the cold water and the great shade of the tree near the well.

The poem:


The well water

was never colder

nor more sweet tasting

than when it was sipped

from an ordinary,

but memorably special

gray gourd dipper.

© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: dawdling

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thank you, Helen, for stopping by to take a sip of the poem ... the photo (a lucky shot, one of my favorites, too; wish I'd had a photo of a drinking gourd, but guess this one will do). I'm glad the combo pleased your palate.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Breakfast for Two

(If you dropped by "Chosen Words" yesterday and found nobody home, my apologies. As you know, I'm usually here ... at the keyboard ... stringing letters and words together ... sometimes throwing in a picture, too. But yesterday ... well, yesterday ... let's just say ... I had an excused absence.)

And now I'm back:

As is sometimes the case, I was not actually a witness to the crime depicted in this poem, but the information came from a usually reliable source (not, incidentally, Luke the Cat).

I've met both principals in this case. I can believe that one of them was, indeed, engrossed in the newspaper when the action took place. He's been known the work an occasional crossword puzzle. I find it hard, however, to believe that Luke would stoop to such thievery as is detailed here.

Still, it does appear to be one of those crimes of opportunity, and when opportunity knocks ...

Good news, though: I understand that Jerry and Luke, despite this transgression, remained good friends.

Today's poem, originally published in Capper's:


An unsuspecting

Jerry buries his

nose in the news,

savoring the paper

while Luke the Cat

pulls a little caper

with a stealthy paw,

takin' the bacon

from Jerry's plate.

© 1998


Today's word: stealthy

Monday, July 14, 2008

Air Like Fog

I'll always remember those bluffs, those canyons they embraced, the cool air on the trails, the kind of quiet that is only found in the woods.

Giant City State Park, located in the hills of Southern Illinois, seemed an almost magical place to go when I was a child. What a treat it was to trudge those trails, imagining all the others who had walked there before, when it was all wilderness.

As a child I relished family outings there, especially those which extended into the evening, when we'd sit around, watching the crackling flames dancing in a fireplace in one of the shelters, listening to the adults trading stories, hoping to catch some of the night sounds of the woods, too.

Later, I took my own young family there to camp, to go tramping down the same trails I had explored, to let them feast on the same sights and sounds I had enjoyed.

In more recent years, when there were just the two of us on trips back to the place where I grew up, we always managed at least a drive through the park. Those drives rekindled so many memories ... so many ...

This poem, which embodies some of those memories, is part of my first collection, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press:


Morning air clings to me like fog

as I enter the deep, cool canyons

that thread the water-rounded bluffs,

where I pause for a moment to look

about, to drink an ancient silence

that flows and deepens while lichens

struggle up the pocked, towering walls,

up, up toward a swallow's nest, high

where clinging ferns await the random

blessings of summer shade and transient

yellow light; then I notice soft-edged

flecks of light dancing on the trail

where others must have stood watching,

where they may have heard, as I do now,

a crow, distant, calling them by name.

© 2005


Today's word: crackling

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thank you, Helen, for that comment ... for adding to the collection of memories which abound with those who have ever visited Giant City ... but particularly those who were lucky enough to have grown up within striking distance of the park. Just strolling its trails always brought a sense of its place in history to me.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What a Gift!

It wasn't always thus, nor will it always be.

I'm not naturally a morning person, and I don't recall exactly what I had in mind when I wrote this one; perhaps I was trying to cheer myself up.

Perhaps I had just discovered the magic of retirement: No more punching the clock, no more deadlines, no more phones ringing ... no more ...

It may well have been that I was recalling my childhood outlook, that time in my life when each day seemed a new adventure, a new leaf, a new chapter in the book that was to become my life.

I don't know.

But I do know that I look forward to the new day now ... despite some of the concerns that always seem to have spilled over from the day before.

It does beckon like a new toy and, best of all, it comes with "batteries included," whether "just for me" or not.


What excitement

as I tear off

the wrapping paper,

open the box,

and find inside

a whole new day,

batteries included,

just for me.

© 1996

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: gift

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Unsinkable Tulips

The photo, I must confess, isn't my best. But it does sort of go with today's poem. I like the profusion of blossoms, even though they may be a little fuzzy, a little out of focus (actually, a lot out of focus, but you get the idea, right?).

So is the general outlook ... a little fuzzy, a little out of focus (but isn't that so often the case?) ... when I say with confidence, as I often do when we're struggling through another Ohio winter: Remember, we're another day closer to ...

Right now I'm reminding myself that autumn is not that far away ... with some cooler temperatures ... and those colors which I find so calming, comforting, healing.

Of course, I know that winter follows. It has some visual assets, too ... some snows can be beautiful ... but at the price of bitter cold ... and the cold seems to become more bitter as I age.

But then I keep reminding myself that we're another day closer to ... ah, yes, spring ... and I survive the winter.

Meanwhile, the poem:


We fretted over

spring's unseasonable

warmth, then frost, snow,

bitter, freezing nights,

and our hopes withered,

but here you are

again, reds and yellows

defiantly brilliant,

leaving us wondering

why we ever doubted.

© 2002

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)


Today's word: profusion

Afterthoughts response to your comments:

Thanks, Helen, for your comment ... especially since you were willing to forgive the fuzzy quality of the photo. I do that sometimes, in a hurry, thinking that the composition is more what I'm looking for, rather than detail, since many of my photos are intended just to jump-start a painting ... maybe a watercolor ... someday. I do appreciate your comments about the poem itself ... and typos? Hey, they happen. I make a lot of them myself, more than my share, it seems ... and I just hope I don't have to pay a penalty ... or a tax ... or something ... on all of them all at once.

Friday, July 11, 2008

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 ... (oh, and today's art ... the three-heart "doodle" ... is mine, too).

The poem:


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

Afterthoughts response to your comments:

I'm delighted, Southernmush, that you found this to be the "perfect" poem ... and I'm always pleased when my timing seems to be right on target ... but I have to remind myself that, as I often say, so much depends on what the reader brings to the poem. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and understanding that you always bring on your visits to "Chosen Words" ... and I wish you well in all things.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Seventy-Year Locust


Yes, today's poem is yet another one about writing ... at least writing was what I had in mind when this poem came together.

It was written by a young whippersnapper, contemplating the approach of his seventieth birthday.
Since then he has matured a bit. He's a little more sedate, a little more laid-back, and certainly not the ruler of any tree, although he has received a bit of recognition for his poetry.
He has a first collection of poetry ... Chance of Rain ... on a few book store shelves, and even in some homes ... a second collection ... Hollyhocks ... which came out last year ... and a third ... Wood Smoke ... coming out later this year from Finishing Line Press. (Stay tuned for word on that one)
His song is a little more subdued than it was when today's poem was first written. But if you listen closely you might hear it, not so much a rasping, buzzing sound now ... something more like a soft humming, as though to oneself, or to those nearby.
And I thank you for listening to today's poem, originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal:


I have lain dormant,
quietly mutating
into my present form,
and now I am
ready to cast off
that ancient husk
of my past,
emerge to my own song,
rasping, buzzing,
insinuating myself
into your consciousness.

I give you fair warning:
I am no June bug
on a string.
I am the real thing,
a rip-snorter
on the wing,
ruler of my tree.

Listen to me.
You can't help
but hear my song.

© 1996


Today's word: sedate
Afterthoughts response to your comments:
I know, Helen ... seventy is stretching it a bit in the locust's life cycle, but I'm glad you understood what I was getting at. Also, I always appreciate the comments which visitors leave ... especially in this age when everybody is so busy. Even if they don't comment, I can tell they've dropped by (the all-seeing counter) ... maybe just to see if I'm still here ... maybe (I hope) because they enjoy the quiet interlude ... like watching a sunset with a friend. Whatever the reasons, I do appreciate the visits ... the comments ... the electronic pats on the back which keep me going when it seems so uphill. And I appreciate your contributions to the continuing conversations in "Squiggles & Giggles," too. Do drop by any time. I'll keep a light in the window.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Paths That Crossed

After I retired from my "regular" job, I began looking for something else to do, something structured, something which would take me outside these walls on a regular basis, something to ease this void in which I found myself.

I found all of that in becoming a "temp," a temporary worker who had a variety of assignments, doing inventory, sorting, filing, things I could do without stress or strain.

Then I found myself assigned to a project which was expected to last a couple of years, maybe more. What a great assignment that was, working with people of a wide range of ages, from a variety of backgrounds, all of us learning the routines, growing, settling in, enjoying this adventure.

Then another door opened, an offer of "early retirement," which I took. But I didn't just walk away. You don't do that with a family of friends. I maintained contact (and it wasn't just for the monthly carry-ins for sharing tons of cake in celebration of birthdays), watched the others continuing their growth, celebrated their successes, shared in their setbacks.

This poem is an effort to capture some of that, to preserve some of it for myself, perhaps for them, too.


First the warehouse site,

then Newmark and Woodman.

How the paths of lives

came crisscrossing there

with the burgeoning work!

My own path veered away

at the end of '90, but

came back several times

as ever-widening circles

tested the boundaries

of my untethered life.

Now the grass reclaims

my old path, footprints

erased, nothing to mark

my having ever been there.

But I possess evidence.

The landscape of my mind

is alive with these paths,

tracks of those crossing

the path of my own life,

seemingly without design

or plan, yet unerringly.

These stored memories

endure on a gentle slope

teeming with paths strong

where crossings link them,

and likely to cross again.

© 1995


Today's word: paths

Afterthoughts response to your comments:

Thank you so much, Helen, for that comment. I found it rather late, but it still made my day.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

All Those Trees

Aha! I'm here a little earlier today ... but I'm running late.

How can that be? Well, it's a long story, and I don't have time for details ... (so what else is new?) ... so, let's just say right at this moment I should be pulling things together for watercolor class ... grabbing a bite of breakfast ... responding to yesterday's comments ...

But there I go again, getting you bogged down in details.

I do have a poem to share, though. I hope you'll find a cool spot where you can park yourself ... read the poem ... take a look at the picture (providing I've found time to post that, too) ... and ... well, just enjoy the day.

The poem:


We'd grown tired of winding

along with the other tourists

through the aromatic rows

upon rows of captive plants,

felt our own tendrils tugging

gently toward a nearby hill.

We had paused half-way up

when there was a sudden

flutter of excited footsteps,

the clatter of young laughter,

and we were swiftly engulfed

by a surging flood of children

racing tree-to-tree, so intent

on their game they didn't see

us standing there, recalling

a game we had played so like

theirs, savoring the memories,

and now, loving all those trees.

© 2001

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)


Today's word: aromatic

Monday, July 7, 2008


Sometimes, you may have noticed, I try to use an illustration that goes along with the poem.

I was stumped at first, when I tried to think of something to match today's little offering.

Then it occurred to me ... there it was, under my nose, practically ... the rearview mirror on the Little Red Car, famous among readers of my former weekly newsletter, "Squiggles & Giggles," for its many escapades.

And what is memory? Why, it's a looking back at things which are sometimes indistinct, blurred, reversed, or "closer than you think."

And now the poem:


I know I've stashed

scads of things

in the dusty attic

of my mind . . .

but in which boxes

are they hiding,

when I really,

really need them?

© 1996

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: hiding

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Line Dancing

Sometimes what appears to be one thing is actually another.

It's not really a secret ... a little surprise, maybe ... but not really a secret. There's a reason that I'm treading carefully with this introduction. I don't want to give away the surprise.

Perhaps I've already said too much.

Some of you will have figured out what the surprise is. I hope that doesn't spoil your reading of the poem.

And now, before I give it all away, here's the poem:


Movement trickles

along the line,

rising, billowing,

falling, undulating.

Dancers pause,

regroup, aligned.

Tentatively they

resume swaying,

echoing the moves.

Legs flick, snap,

arms reach, fall,

then reach again.

The line quivers,

flutters and flaps.

Sagging, it rests;

itinerant breezes

have glided away

to other laundry.

© 1998

(originally published in Moose Bound Press)


Today's word: swaying

Oh ... I forgot to mention ... a new installment of "Squiggles and Giggles" has been posted. Hope you'll take a look.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Impossible July

Today's poem is from my first collection, Chance of Rain.

As its name implies, the poems in it are about rain, certainly, but it's also about the absence of rain ... equally important to those who raise the food on which we all depend.

This poem is about that absence. It was written in an attic room so perfectly fitted for talking about the "blue flame of sky/ leaping horizon-to-horizon/ and back ... "

It was a room never intended for air-conditioning, a place where "A fan labors, but fails" ... amidst a promise of rain, but an empty promise.

Oh, how I remember those hot, rain-starved, melting days of July in Southern Illinois, where I grew up! And how I miss them now.

The poem:


End of July, and as far

as the eye can see

only a blue flame of sky

leaping horizon-to-horizon

and back to this room

so high, so near the sun,

that words have become

too hot to touch.

A fan labors, but fails,

to bring relief, while my

thoughts bubble and run

like tar on a lonely road.

And the sky flares up

with the promise of rain,

but an empty promise, full

of the heat of absence.

Wafting, shimmering lines

become a cruel mirage,

yesterday’s fading belief

that relief from this

might still be possible.

© 2003

("Impossible July" received a third-place award in a ByLine competition, and later became a part of my first poetry collection, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press, 2003)


Today's word: promise

Afterthoughts response to your comments:

Thank you, Helen, for that warm comment ... which reminds me that my impression of the heat was similar to yours ... I was aware that Southern Illinois could be quite hot and steamy, but I didn't have much real perspective on weather until I went into military service ... late summer, ummm, many years ago ... en route to basic training, we had a stopover in St. Louis ... naturally, we gravitated toward food. I remember being seated in a booth and reacting when my bare arm touched the table top ... it felt like I had just touched a hot stove ... hottest place ever, I thought. Oh, but hotter was still to come. We landed in San Antonio, and that was it. I absolutely roasted ... or so it seems from this vantage point.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fickle Petunias

I hope your celebration of The Fourth is going well.

Mine? I celebrated well into the night, thanks to a series of loud BOOMS which began late in the evening and continued into the wee hours of morning.

They weren't mine. They were coming from somewhere in the neighborhood. At first I thought somebody's house had blown up ... but I heard no sirens afterward, and decided it must have been fireworks.

It was ... and it continued to be ... well, for a long, long time.

Mind you, I have no objection to Independence ... nor to the celebration of it ... I think it should be celebrated every day ... in many ways ... most of which, it occurs to me, could just as well be nice, quiet celebrations ... free of bluster ... and BOOMS.

My own ... quiet ... celebration continued into dawn and beyond ... I celebrated by sleeping in ... and I recommend it. You should try it. You'll like it.

But enough of all that.

Meanwhile, there's a poem ... a quiet little thing ... lurking on the horizon.

It, like many of my pieces, came to me during one of my walks. As some of you know, I get out and walk every day ... even if only to go around the block.

This one is a little whimsical ... but I don't think that hurts ... even though it does go against a rule laid down by ... somebody ... about never, ever "personifying" things in nature.

Sorry, but I just find that one hard to obey.

So here we are ... finally ... that little poem:


I have a nodding


with some petunias

who bob excitedly

when I walk by,

but then they

do the same when

a stranger passes.

© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word:


(red, white and blue ... did you notice?)

Afterthoughts response to your comments:

Thanks for taking time out from holiday festivities to pay a visit, Helen ... you'll be glad to know that there's no extra charge for the early-morning chuckle.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


"Evensong" is a word picture painted from memory ... the memory of those times when the storms had passed and we emerged to assess the damage to the garden, our trees ... the neighbors' trees ... our house, their houses.

That was always the aftermath, that slow evaluation of what had happened to our world, what steps needed to be taken next.

It was almost as though the birds were doing the same thing, echoing our concerns, beginning to express their feelings after having survived another onslaught.

"Evensong" was not the result of a single experience, but a distilling of several, a boiling down to the essence of that feeling of kinship with the natural world, the world around us, a world, thank goodness, that had birdsong ... and still does, if we but listen.

The poem:


Dark clouds scud off

toward the east, while

twilight descends

onto hail-torn foliage,

then from somewhere

overhead, tentative notes

slowly gain strength,

blossoming finally

into full-throated

birdsong near a lone

figure who pauses

on the slope of the hill,

eyes searching vainly

for just a glimpse

of this small creature,

then turns toward home,

less burdened now

for having been given

this healing moment.

© 1999

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)


Today's word: healing

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Picture from Hometown

Today's poem is not literally true. If it were, it would be about the heat of summer ... like Southern Illinois was when I left home to go into military service.

I've looked back many times on that departure.

I had been awarded a scholarship to study at a large state university. Trouble was, it didn't include bus fare ... and I didn't even have bus fare to get to campus.

Oh, I had been assured that there would be part-time employment opportunities ... when I got to campus ... but I never got there ... not to that particular campus, at least.

Instead, I let the scholarship go to someone else ... and entered the only door open to me at the time ... military service.

It was certainly a turning point in my life, a new beginning. It was the biggest move I'd made in my young life. There were to be others. Many others. But none quite as wrenching as this decision ... which had been forced on me.

What I've tried to capture in this metaphor for growing up ... for that entry into what passes for independence ... is the feeling of loneliness that creeps in, the sudden sensation of isolation, the cold, of looking back, being torn between what was ... what is going to be.

The poem:


I looked back once,

seeing lights

grown small now,

and dim, silently

giving up their warmth

to the bare-limbed trees.

I kept walking

through the weeping snow,

my collar upturned

against any call

that might somehow

overtake me.

© 1995

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)


Today's word: loneliness

Afterthoughts response to your comments:

Thanks for that early visit, Helen ... and my apologies for the late response ... It's always good to know I've struck a responsive chord with the reader ... and maybe there is another poem somewhere out there ... to sort of "drop the other shoe." Time will tell, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Cool Hat

I know, I should throw it away ... at the very least, not wear it in public.

But I can't bear to give it up. It's my hat. We've been together so long, through so many things. It's like a part of me. And there it sits, "like a cabbage leaf on my head."

The poem began, as many poems do, while I was out walking, this time with Phyllis.

Actually, we encountered two young girls, strolling in the other direction. Strangers, but I probably smiled and spoke.

One of them smiled and said something in reply, but I didn't catch what it was.

After we had walked far enough that I thought we were out of earshot of the two, I asked Phyllis: What did she say?

Cool hat, she replied.

Cool hat?

That's right. Cool hat, she assured me.

That's when I had the impulse to toss my hat in the air and do a few dance steps right there. Who says I'm not in touch with the younger generation?

Today's poem, part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:


It has been



lost and found,

rumpled, crumpled,

laundered until

it cries for mercy,

and it sits like

a cabbage leaf

on my head.

But then she,

a young girl about

half my height,

flashes a smile,

says, "Cool hat!"

and for a moment,

just a heartbeat,

a quickened stride,

I feel like

tossing my hat

in the air

and dancing.

© 1999

(orignally published in Capper's)


Today's word: heartbeat

Afterthoughts response to your comments:

No, I haven't read Ghost Eyed Tree, Helen, butI'm putting it on my list of things to read (I'm particularly intrigued by the prospect of seeing watercolor illustrations) ... and I thank you for the tip. Oh ... and I'm delighted that you liked the poem ... "Cool Hat," that is.