Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A New Leaf

Picture from Hometown

Whoa! I know, it's not that time of year when we "turn over a new leaf" by resolving to do this, do that, to be a better person, be more constructive, persistent, kind, understanding ... whatever.

But when I looked briefly at "Chosen Words" this morning (briefly, because I had an early appointment) ... and rushed off without making a posting .... the mental wheels were turning at top speed.

As you may have learned, AOL Journals will be shut down permanently on October 31, 2008.

I had all day to think about this rather abrupt turn of events ... and I decided, late in the day, not to wait for AOL's action to take effect, but to act on my own.

As might be expected, I encountered some detours along the way. But here I am, in a new location for "Chosen Words." I guess it's sort of like turning over a new leaf ... or maybe it's just more like moving abruptly.

You may find things a bit messy while I'm engaged in unpacking, finding things I need, placing things here and there ... and I hope you will be patient with me while I settle in. Do drop by when you have a few minutes to spare.

Meanwhile, a poem.

I thought it might be appropriate, in view of recent developments. There's something about the "new beginning" (and this certainly marks a new beginning) that each day ... not just the first day of the month ... or the first day of a new year ... may offer.

I hope you like the poem:


How soothing the sound

of it, like the feel

of clean sheets, crisp

and cool to the touch,

hinting airy freshness

as we snuggle in.

How comforting it is

to lie here thinking

of this whole new year

fresh and inviting,

opening the prospect

that things might be

better, perhaps could

be, if we could just

approach each new day

with the same sense

of purpose we feel

at this moment.

© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: freshness

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Moon Tonight


I grew up in the country ... not on a farm, but in the country ... away from city lights.

As a result of that ... and hearing my gandfather talk so many times about the phases of the moon ... its importance in the planting of crops ... knowing about its pull on those distant oceans ... its effect on young lovers ... I was always intrigued by the moon.

The front porch swing provided a great vantage point for watching the giant harvest moon rising slowly over the hills.

I remember being so intrigued by the quarter moon ... the new moon ... the moon showing in the late daytime sky.

When one lives in the city, though, the moon can become a forgotten item ... unless it really asserts itself as we're coming up the driveway on a late-winter evening.

Then there's no denying it. I still remember that evening ... can almost hear a choir, singing a cappella, celebrating the rising of that moon.

The poem:



What a gorgeous sight,

lodged in the darkness

of the walnut tree,

the nearer maples joining

to hold it, glowing

in the late-winter sky,

broken, and yet whole,

like a stained-glass

window catching evening

light, holding it high

under the ceiling while

voices rise in song.

© 2004

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: a cappella

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Late Run


I have ridden a lot of buses. The bus was my main mode of transportation when I was in military service ... later when I started college ... still later, during a good portion of my working life.

There's something about a bus.

Absolute strangers will take a seat beside you and start telling their life's story ... at least that's been my experience ... and the drivers ... when you're the first one on the bus in the morning, as I often was ... or the last one off at night ... as I sometimes was ... they'll strike up a conversation ...

There's just something about a bus.

You can't help picking up information about people and places ... bits and pieces of information ... even if you're not a writer ... things, impressions that stick with you ... things that resurface at the strangest times.

That's what makes this poem what it is ... the bits and pieces. It comes together as though it's all happening along a certain route ... on a certain Saturday night ... on a rainy Saturday night ... a certain driver ... a particular bus. Not so. It's a combination of those bits and pieces, gathered during hundreds of rides over thousands of miles.

So it didn't really happen? Oh, but it did. Not in the neat little package starting at Point A and ending at Point B. But it did happen.

I imagine it was ... as is often the case ... a rainy night that set the memories into motion ... this gathering of impressions from the recesses of my mind ... the narrative that followed ... the driver ... rain ... the sweeping turn ... rain peppering the dead roadside grass ... all of it coming together to form a poem.

And that, I suppose, is an example of poetic license.



An almost-empty bus,

and I'm dozing as it

splashes down a lane

toward St. Leonard's.


Its headlights sway

as it makes a sweeping

turn, pauses, then goes

grinding off again.


"It's that way most

Saturdays," the driver

says. Then, glancing

at me: "I make that

loop, you know? Just

in case. But theres

hardly ever anybody

waiting." A pause.

"Now ain't that life?"


We jolt along, listening

to the wipers slapping

the rain aside, tires

smacking puddles, and I

ponder what he has just

said. The rain peppers

the dead roadside grass

and dances its lonely

Saturday night dance,

while I sit thinking,

tired and a little sad.

© 2003

(from my poetry collection, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press, 2003)



Today's word: license

(Oh, another installment of "Squiggles & Giggles" has been posted ... the welcome mat is out ... link to it in the left column)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Inscrutable Scrap


Oh, there you are ... actually, here I am ... running a little behind schedule ... about 12 hours behind, as a matter of fact. Nothing serious. Just one of those days.

But here I am ...

I have this thing about thrift stores.

I find it difficult to pass one without going inside. Once there, I have trouble getting back out without buying something ... at least a book. At the very least, a book.

Aside from the story the book may have to tell, there are other stories, too ... a note on the flyleaf from the person who originally gave the book to someone else ... marginal notes, sometimes ... underlined passages ... a bookmark indicating a favorite portion ... or where the previous owner stopped reading.

All of these are dividends, I think. I'm curious about people and their reading habits. I like to "know" who the previous readers were.

Then, in this one instance, I got an extra dividend. When I got home with my "prize," I noticed a bit of brown paper ... like a tiny piece of a grocery bag ... peeking out from the book.

I pulled it out ... and discovered ... and, well, that's what the poem's all about:



A scrap of paper

jaggedly torn

from a husky brown bag,

held prisoner

by the dusty book;

a frayed finger,

beckoning, pleading,

it surrenders

its shakily-penciled

long-lost message:

                 I LOVE YOU

but keeps its

secrets, too, like

who wrote it, and why

had she kept it

all these years?

© 1995

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)


Today's word: secrets 

Thank you, Westofthere. When someone indicates a pleasant aftertaste from sipping one of my poems, I feel I've really succeeded.

Friday, September 26, 2008



I think I tend to be too wordy. Not only in my poems, sometimes, but in my commentary, too. Sorry about that.

Still, I do try to boil things down ... to reduce them to their essence. Readers are busy, in a hurry, have other things to do, so many other things calling for their attention.

I owe them some brevity ... and the more I talk about that, the less I'm giving them. Right?

What I started out to say was that the poem simply attempts to express the feeling that, while it's good to get away ... on a vacation, or even for a few days ... it's good to get back, too ... to be home again.

I could have said much more than that, but I was under the mistaken impression that Capper's only published eight-line poems ... with short lines, at that.

For example, I could have talked about the curving gravel road leading to the barn on the place where I lived at one time ... about the lilacs and maples along that road ... about the big gray house ... the light in the window ...

More about that later, perhaps. For now, the poem:



No matter how great

the vacation, there's

no sweeter song

than a quartet

of travel-weary tires


on the gravel

of your own driveway.

© 1994

(originally published in Capper's)




Today's word: harmonizing

Thursday, September 25, 2008



Just as distance changes the perspective of things in the physical world, so does it change the perspective we have on distant events.

It's been a long time since I lived in "the country." By today's standards, it was a rather restricted life. We had no running water, no indoor plumbing, no central heat, no telephone, no car.

Ah, but there are other things I remember about life back then, and I still savor them. Actually, their flavor seems to improve ... like warmed over soup ... each time I bring up those memories.

Perhaps I've overdone it a bit with my talk about "that bit of heaven so far beyond the grasp of cities, and all their suburbs ... " but perhaps not.

The poem:



Those who have never been

lulled by a country breeze,

savored the scent of hay

lying in the sun, caught

the sweet, wafting hint

of honeysuckle, who have

never heard the raucous call

of a crow gentled, distanced

by the summer air, well,

they've never glimpsed that

bit of heaven so far beyond

the grasp of cities, and all

their suburbs still to come.

© 2000

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)



Today's word: grasp

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thank you, Sue, for your insightful perspective on today's entry. I especially like your stressing the aspect of the learning experience ... as time marches on.

I'm glad you found encouragement in today's poem, Mymaracas. Best wishes on that move to the country. Naturally, there are good reasons for feeling some tension as the time for the move ... and move ... approaches. I think you will find a certain calm, though, which comes with settling in, accepting the embrace of those new sights and sounds ... and, sometimes, simply a wonderful quiet, the peace to be found in watching a sunset.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Forecast: Rain


Those who've paid many visits to "Chosen Words" know that I write about rain ... a lot ... maybe too much.

I suppose that can be traced to my roots, which reach all the way back to a rural beginning ... not on a farm, really, but in a country home ... just outside a small town ... a very small town.

It was there that I first learned the importance of rain. Too much, and our garden would suffer disastrous results ... too little, and our garden would suffer. So would we ... since we depended on a cistern for our drinking, bathing, cooking water ... and our chickens and Grandma's flowers depended on water from the well.

Rain was important ... but it had other roles, too.

I still remember the songs it played on our roof ... how soothing the sound of it could be on a spring night ... how it washed away the dust which drifted in from the gravel road ... the cinders from passing freight trains ... how it made puddles for a little boy to go splashing through ...

Little wonder that I've written so much about it.

I thank you for your patience as I've explored the mysteries and wonders of rain.

And here I go again:



They said it would

come tumbling off

the slanting roofs,

go dancing down

the street, glancing

off the bare-limbed

trees, peppering

fields with kisses,

would greet us

in the morning and

be with us all day,

like a promise meant

to be kept, would

dampen our spirits,

but would sweep away

the lingering crusts

of winter, would sing

of the coming spring.


But it didn't do any

of that. It just

rained, and rained,

and rained and rained.

© 2006

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



Today's word: tumbling

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Evening Train


Today's poem is heavy with memories, even though it speaks of a summer evening almost sixty years ago.

While the evening described was certainly a low point of my young life, it was not to be the end of the line, as I indicate in the poem ... and as events have since confirmed.

I'll never forget that feeling of emptiness, abandonment, of having certainly hit bottom ... all because I had won a college scholarship, with its promise of good things ahead, but I didn't even have bus fare to get to the campus.

There seemed no way to turn, no way to escape, as I sat there alone on that darkened front porch ...

But then I enlisted in the Air Force, saved some money, and eventually began college - not, incidentally, the one where I'd had a scholarship and the offer of help with finding part-time work, "once you arrive on campus."

The rest, as they say, is history ... thanks to some hard work ... and a lot of help along the way.

I also remember the feeling of relief, of a load finally having been lifted from me, all these years later, after I had written this poem.

So, you see, poetry - the writing of it, or the effort put into trying to write it - can be good therapy.

The poem:



The swing’s creaking

heartbeat held me

captive in the dark


as I sat watching

those lighted cars

swaying up the grade,


green trackside eye

blinking to red,

a clear sign to me,


believer in signs

and good fortune,

that my young dreams


had finally melted

into that S-curve,

vanished in darkness,


and there would be

no college, not even

bus fare to get there.


It seems so long ago,

such a vague memory

now, scar fading like


a distant whistle,

that evening train

somewhere, echoing,


reminding me that

I finally escaped,

became who I am,


but never escaped

who I was then.

© 2000

(originally published in Waterways)


Today's word: escaped

Monday, September 22, 2008

Defying Gravity


Oh, wouldn't it be great to be able to rise above the everyday problems that continue to plague us?

I thought about that.

I thought about literally rising above them, sailing off as carefree as a bird ... or more like a big red balloon which had just gained its freedom.

Of course, I came back to earth, to the reality that things would still bug me, but I felt better able to cope.

How's that for a bit of therapy ... at least in the realm of things which, in the long view of things, aren't all that important?

Maybe if I practice on the little things I will be better able to rise above the larger, more serious hurdles which lie ahead.

It's a thought, anyway. Now the poem:



With practice, I fully expect

someday to defy the gravity

of situations that bug me now.


A promise broken beyond repair,

an umbrella gone inside-out,

the spilled beans of some urgent

secret, the hole in my sock,

a lost mitten, broken shoelace,

a bookmark gone astray,

my coffee cup gone stone cold,

things I’ve forgotten,

crawling out, feeling old.


I see myself like a giant

red balloon, rising easily

above them all. And dont you

dare grab the string.

© 2002

(originally published in Potpourri)


Today's word: balloon

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thank you, Helen. I'm glad you liked the poem. I had a lot of fun with this one ... and the string? That just came to me out of the blue, so I just tacked ... er, tied ... it on.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Carrying the Water


This is another poem based on childhood memories of that place where I grew up with my grandparents.

We had no running water, no indoor plumbing ... not unusual for that time and place. Our water source for the house was a cistern, with a crank and chain which brought the stored rain water up. It was situated just outside the back porch.

Water for other purposes, watering the flowers, providing drinking water for the chickens, the cats, the dog, was carried from the well, some distance from the house.

This was not easy work. Like most young children, however, I wanted to try it. Grandpa was willing. In fact, he probably took a certain pleasure in my struggles with that heavy bucket ... the water was so heavy, too, and it really wouldn't sit still ... I can imagine he also relished the memories that my struggles stirred, of his own young efforts at the same thing.

I simply couldn't fathom how he could carry water without spilling some ... while I always spilled a lot.

Eventually I learned the value of experience.

And now, the poem:



My grandfather could take

the swaying bucket

all the way,


uncertain as he was, from

well to house, and not

spill a drop.


The water sat, contented,

even though his hands

were trembling,


hisstep less steady than

mine, his eyes unsure

of the path.


But, hard as I might try,

I couldn't carry it

without loss.


Rising up against me, it

bounded over the top

of the pail,


splashing against my calf,

making dark splotches

on red soil


when I dared set it down,

like sins denied

but still mine.

© 2007

(honorable mention in a Sinclair Community College contest; subsequently published in Capper's, and now part of my second collection of poems, Hollyhocks, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, KY, 2007)




Today's word: contented

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Carrying water was a daily chore, Westofthere ... but I lived in another era. Do I miss it? Well, there are times ... quiet times when the mind goes wandering back to those sunlit hills ... that, yes, I do sorta miss it ... and it always comes to mind because water was so obviously important to us then. Now we just turn the tap ... and take it for granted. And I'll stop now, before I launch into a sermon.

Ah, that cold, clear water, Helen. What a gift it was! I'm glad this poem brought back some good memories for you ... of that Grandpa, who was so skilled at carrying the water without letting it dance over the sides of the bucket ... and of that portion of Illinois where, it appears, we are still rooted. Thank you for sharing.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Brittle Poems


Still another poem about writing, but without any technical advice. No how to-- piece. Instead, some sounds, some images painted with words. Add a bit of a twist with "fireflies ... looking for someone with a jar," and there you have it.

Many of my poems are "little thoughts" ... whether they blink on and off is another matter ... but they are ordinary little topics, depending a great deal on what the reader brings to them for completion.

Also, I keep saying that poems are meant to be shared ... so much depends on "someone who/ will catch them, enjoy/ them, let them fly again."

And there are so many out there worthy of being caught ... enjoyed ... shared.

The poem:



My poems are written

on brittle paper, little

thoughts that blink

on and off like fireflies

scouring summer nights

looking for someone

with a jar, a quick

hand, someone who

will catch them, enjoy

them, let them fly again.

© 2001

(originally published in Capper's)



Today's word: brittle

(Oh, another installment of "Squiggles & Giggles" has been posted ... with an update on the weather and The Little Red Car ... and a recording of my reading of "Bubble" ... and there's a link in the lefthand column) 

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

I like that scenario, Featheredpines ... I really do ... now if I can just figure out a way to set it in motion. I'll keep working on it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

After Ordering


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 them again), but the end result was a poem ... one that eventually found a home in a publication. 

The poem:



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

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

I know what you mean, Helen ... even when a person tries to tune them out, there's still that certain drifting of sounds, a blending, usually, but sometimes a distinctive sound, a word or phrase, will seem to assert itself. Usually those go barely noticed and are soon forgotten ... but this particular time was different for me. I wish you pleasant, if casual, listening in the future.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

There, Almost


On reading this poem quietly to myself again this morning, it occurred to me that the whole poem can be summed up in the 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:



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

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Solitary Candle


I hope you will remain patient while my computer and I continue our recovery from our latest adventure/misadventure ... I think the computer's working right, now (although the counter doesn't seem to be counting ... it stood at 40,164, yesterday morning) ... and that I am, too.

Oh, I still bump into furniture ... misplace my car keys (there they ARE ... in my OTHER pocket) ... trip on cracks in the sidewalk. You know, the kinds of ordinary things that ordinary people do as they pick their way through the fog of the day.

And I think I can once again see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have hopes of picking up the threads of the "conversation" we have going here ... of actually catching up on my responses to your posted comments (and I do find them helpful, energizing ... essential).

Once again, my apologies for falling so far behind. 

And now, if this machine is really working properly, today's poem:



My candle sculpts

itself in its corner

of the room, flame

gyrating in the draft,

tiny avalanches

of wax slithering

into the maw,

a fungible, seething

mass that labors

back up the wick

to sacrifice itself

as a bit of light,

distant warmth. It

flickers, warning me

that I shall soon miss

the warmth, its quiet

companionship, gently

flowing memories, its

solitary, sustaining

work of holding

the darkness at bay.

© 1996

(originally published in Anterior Poetry Monthly)


Today's word: fungible

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thanks for stopping by again, Helen ... and I'm glad you like the imagery.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008



Memories! How we cherish the good ones, make them forever ours, polish them, enhance them, store them away, pull them out to comfort us in our old age.

Such is this memory of our grandson, now becoming a young man, but barely a toddler then.

How proud I felt, watching him go to that window, pointing and pronouncing that word with all the authority he could muster: "Outside!"

I just had to write a poem about it. I know ... I know ... it would embarrass the life out of him, if he were to find out that I had posted it here.

You won't tell, will you? Promise? Then here it is:



"Outside!" he says,

tiny finger folding

as it touches the glass

of our dining room

window. "Outside!"


It carries the tone

of discovery, that ancient

"Eureka!" still echoing,

an air of possession.


He runs repeatedly

to the window, pointing

and exclaiming, savoring

this, another horizon

beckoning, a romance

budding, perhaps growing

until he's my age

and beyond, this love

of the outside world.

© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: beckoning

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thank you, Westofthere. I'm glad you like the photo. The tree stopped me in my tracks on one of my walks, made me back up a few steps and capture it with my camera. I almost said "capture it on film" ... and for many years that's the way I did my capturing, on cut film, roll film ... always film. But now I've joined the digital age. I miss film, but I like being able to see, right away, what I've "captured." 

Monday, September 15, 2008

Making It Count


(I'm running a little behind schedule today. Sorry about that. We're still digging out from yesterday's storm. Some property damage, power line still down, but we're OK, all things considered)

This is one of my "walking poems," written in my early retirement years, when I was in the habit of sitting down at the kitchen table after my daily walk and writing bits and pieces that I could share with Phyllis when she got home from work.

There's nothing profound about it. Still, I think it says a lot.

I like it for the economy of words, for the walking cadence which brought it to me, but also for the outlook: Not that there should be wild partying, as though each day were the last, but that the certainty of today should be seized, taken advantage of, used to do something really worthwhile, against the uncertainty of tomorrow.

I don't recall precisely where I was when it came to me, but I do recall how I felt the rhythm of the words beginning to arrange themselves as I strode along: "I try to do my best today ... "

I still do.



I try to do

my best today,

for I may not

have tomorrow.

© 1997

(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)


Today's word: cadence

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Late Night Serenade


I don't like giving away the poem in my opening remarks ... because then there's no incentive to explore the poem, right?

So, okay, this one is about a dog. He wasn't just a dog, but a special personality. Maybe I should just stop there.

We've had a lot of canine neighbors in the years that we've been here at Brimm Manor. There was one small one a couple of doors up ... whose favorite activity seemed to be running in circles and barking at the sun.

Then there was the one who deligted in galloping into the alley, hackles up, barking, barking, barking ... like he really meant business ... when I tried to move our trash container back on our property.

My favorite, though, was Houdini, who lived right next door. I remember how, soon after they moved in, Houdini barked at me. His owner spoke quietly to him ... I couldn't tell what he said ... and that was the last time Houdini ever barked at me. We got along famously.

Then there was this ... a situation which could easily become a problem ... but I detect a bit of sympathy in what I wrote about it.

The poem:



Sometimes at midnight, sometimes

three o'clock in the morning,

I hear him pouring out his soul,

and I know he's lonely, or lovesick,

or both, poor fellow, even though

I can't make out the words, just

the emotion of his mournful song

that goes on and on, rising in pitch,

subsiding, resuming, reminding me

of a gray wolf sending a message

somewhere in the wilds. He persists,

night after night, sitting beside

his doghouse, two doors down, nose

pointing heavenward, ears laid back,

howling, yowling, pitifully crying

his poor heart out over a lost bone,

a failed romance, the solitude

of the bachelor's way of life --

something that's obviously bothering

him. And it bothers me that he

doesn't start thinking about it

until I'm trying to get some sleep,

then howls the rest of the night.

© 2002

(originally published in Kaleidoscope)


Today's word: yowling

Saturday, September 13, 2008

In Praise of the Mundane



(Today's art is a cooperative effort ... my grandson, Thomas, did the construction ... I took the photo)

It seems like only yesterday ... but obviously was a little longer ago than that ... when I shared my poem, "Ordinary Things," with you ... and mentioned that it was an outgrowth of a rejection.

In response to my request for a comment on some poems I had submitted, the editor had scrawled something about "mundane treatment of ordinary subjects" on the rejection slip.

My initial reaction? I had hoped for something a little more constructive.

But I managed. As a matter of fact, I managed to get two more poems out of that comment.

Oh, and both were subsequently published ... elsewhere. I think there's an obvious lesson in that ... so obvious that even Professor Squigglee (remember him?) would be unlikely to fly into a detailed explanation.

The poem:



I don't howl at the moon,

read the entrails of chickens,

plumb the mysteries that reside

in the implacable eyes of cats,

nor take up strange, aromatic

cigarettes, sip unaccumstomed

teas, nor leave my body

to roam the universe.


I do write across the chalkboard

of my mind, or on a torn paper,

an envelope, about simple things

that come to me of their own accord,

quiet, mundane things that I welcome

and treasure as old friends.

© 1996

(originally published in ByLine Magazine)



Today's word: mundane

Friday, September 12, 2008

Handle With Care


Quite often, a poem, or the beginnings of a poem, will come to me suddenly, and in such a way that I will always remember that moment when the spark started the flame.

Not so in this case.

I'm not sure what the trigger was. Perhaps is was as simple as seeing a "Handle With Care" label on a package. Perhaps it was a quiet evening and I was thinking back to a time when I was quite young, swimming in dreams of what I was to become someday.

I don't know.

But I do know that I was struck by how fragile those dreams can be ... like a bubble glistening in its freshness ... a bubble so delicate that even a most careful touch can burst it.

I hope I stopped short of becoming preachy in this little poem ... and I hope to stop short of that in these comments.

I generally hope, when I'm writing, that I will end up with something that is thoughtfully assembled ... that it will be thoughtfully received by the reader ... and that it may have some residual, lasting value for that reader.

The poem:



There are few things

as beautifully crafted,

gilded or etched,

as magically alluring,

and yet so vulnerable

to the careless touch,

as the dreams

of a young child.

© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)



Today's word: vulnerable

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Giving Advice


I had a boss, many years ago, who repeatedly expressed his concern about "putting out the fire" ... of discouraging creative thinking and constructive effort.

He avoided that perceived hazard by not riding herd too closely on his employees. He didn't afford them free rein, of course, but he did like them to think for themselves, to offer suggestions and constructive criticism.

His admonition, "Don't put out the fire," stuck with me long after. It finally begged me to put it to paper. In doing so, I visualized an old man, quite unlike my boss, teaching a rank beginner to build a fire and to keep it going.

The old man is the narrator, and there is no two-way conversation: We don't hear anything from his young pupil, obviously a good listener. There aren't even any quotation marks in this piece. But, despite that violation, I think it works.

I think the poem works on two levels, and I like that. The poem:



Now be careful, he said,

or you’ll put out the fire,

the spark, the flame,

the desire that sprang up

and wavered, waiting.


Fan it too much, or pile on

more than it can handle

in its early, struggling,

starved-for-oxygen stage,

and it’s a sure goner.


Neglect it and it’s doomed,

too. Oh, it may flash up

and dance in the darkness,

but it’ll soon burn out,

without some new fuel.


It takes a gentle touch,

the hat back and forth

just so, a sure eye watching

for signs that it can

stand alone, in its own heat.


Remember, he said, plopping

his battered hat back on,

how it was when you started,

how you needed that touch,

that sweet warmth of success.

© 2001

(originally published in Kaleidoscope)


Today's word: success

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Finally, Sleep


Sleep, that blessed escape from the cares of the day, is not always easy to come by ... but I've slept well for two nights in a row ... and I woke up this morning thinking about a certain poem.

It's a poem about those mortal enemies - writing and sleep.

At least I've found them often directly opposed to each other. When I'm in the throes of writing, sleep is the last thing I want ... and then, sometimes, when I sleep before I've finished a project, I wake up feeling writing-deprived.

"This attic room" used to be the place where all of my serious writing took place. Excluding, of course, those frantically written notes while waiting at the bus stop, or in the doctor's office ... any place I had a few free moments and an idea that just wouldn't wait.

You know the story about that.

That place just beneath the eaves was peaceful and quiet ... and when it rained, I enjoyed rain's gentle cadence that accompanied the tick-tick-tap-tick of the keyboard, the rustling of papers, the stifled yawns, and ... finally, a bit of sleep.

But I've grown more sensible. It's only occasionally that I climb that extra set of stairs in search of that quiet place. Nowadays, I find other, more accessible places to do my serious writing.

Still, I miss those evenings up there. Especially on rainy nights ... I find myself pausing to think about those crinkling ribbons of light, the words which came streaming across the screen as I continued my quest for a poem, in this case:



Ribbons of light

crinkle across

the glass atop

this attic room,

moving slowly

to the cadence

of gentle rain,

then vanish

in the quiet

of these small

hoursthat call

me to sleep.

© 2001

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)



Today's word: ribbons

Tuesday, September 9, 2008



Today's little poem recreates a childhood memory of the sound of my voice coming back to me, not literally saying, "lonely, lonely," but giving me a feeling of being alone in those woods, with just that echo for company.

Of course, this was only a momentary feeling, for there were other adventures to pursue, other trails to explore, other bluffs to climb, other voices to hear ... either those voices answering me or those calling me on.

Still, recognition that, for the moment, I was all alone there, listening, not to someone else repeating what I'd just said, but to my own young voice bounding faintly back to me, was a feeling not easily forgotten.

I still think of it sometimes when I become immersed in a certain kind of quiet.

Memories! How we cherish them, make them forever ours, polish them, enhance them, store them away, pull them out to comfort us in our old age.



The sound of my voice

hurried through the woods,

past sandstone bluffs,

went running across

cooling ridges,

dipped into hollows,

then came back to me,


lonely, lonely ... lonely.

© 1997

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)




Today's word: repeating

Monday, September 8, 2008

Driving to Marengo


This is one of my favorites, largely because of the memories it has preserved of a young family taking affordable outings. We were living in Northern Illinois at the time, and Marengo was one of our favorite destinations.

Memories of those outings were still "rotating on the carousel of my mind" as Phyllis and I returned from a now-rare outing, a trip out of town.

Traffic had thinned a bit (all the trucks, buses and cars of the world had gone zip-zip-zipping past us ... because I always poke along at the posted speed limit).

During those few moments when we had only the humming of our own car's tires to keep us company, my thoughts drifted toward those summertime outings.

What delicious memories! I had no choice. I had to dig out "Driving to Marengo" and share it with you again today:



We urged the old station wagon

along curving country roads

toward that place just across

from the school, to consume

those remarkable foot-long

hotdogs with chili peppers

and onions, dripping mustard

and juices, filling the air

with an aroma that lingered

all the slow, dark drive home,

and for days afterward,

like a spirit moving softly

among us, implanting memories

still turning, slowly rotating

on the carousel of my mind.

© 1998

(originally published in Raintown Review)



Today's word: delicious

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

I'm glad you liked the carousel image, Helen ... and the photo of the Black-Eyed Susans. And I liked the imagery you shared of that country road bordered by flowers ... I've seen a few like that, but it's been a long time. I wouldn't fret about typos, Helen. I'm sure that even Professor Squigglee makes his share of them.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Catching a Wave

I don't think I was intended to be a morning person. Mornings have always been a struggle for me.

I know, I know. Morning is the best part of the day for the writer. Other concerns have not begun to intrude. The house is quiet. The brain is rested, ready to rev. Here's a whole new day beckoning.

But for me it's ... well, it's just morning. It takes me a little while to build some momentum.

I roll over, get one foot on the floor, then the other. I stand. I go teetering off in the general direction of the keyboard. I find the switch, flick it on.

By this time I have both eyes open. Things are starting to come into focus. And then, look out. Oh, look out! I'm starting to roll. I may be writing soon.

This one was first published in Capper's:


Down the avenues of my early-morning

mind zooms a flood of crowded, honking

thoughts that seek a place to park.

Im too tired to direct traffic, too stressed

to sort them out. That must wait till later,

tongue losing its taste of suede, on the

verge of talk. But then theyre gone, not

a thought in sight, not a word of that

early-morning roar. Perhaps tomorrow.

© 1999


Today's word: momentum

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Yes, Kelly, there are many times when those early-morning thoughts ... fodder for poems, I always hope ... converge to form a huge traffic jam. Then, later ...

Interesting, Helen, that a real morning person can also have the problem that I have ... "traffic" seems to start thinning out, and soon there's nothing in sight in either direction. That's my problem ... and there are times that I feel not only that I'm not a morning person, a fact well established over the years ... but that I'm not a midday person ... or even an evening person. But I keep plugging away, and try to ignore the time of day.

Saturday, September 6, 2008



So many times, it seems, poems simply come to me of their own accord. I think of them as gifts. They are definitely gifts to me ... and I'm glad when I can share them with others.

When this one came to me, it was speaking of those poems ... and notes ... random jottings ... scribblings ... items on their way to becoming poems ... all of which I will leave behind ... as someday I must.

I don't dwell on that a lot, but the thought intrigues me ... particularly the idea of these little poems ... or the notes written on scraps of paper ... thoughts which never quite made it into poetry ... being able to flit around, like butterflies released ...

I like that mental picture.

And now, the poem:




Someday they'll find

these little things

I tried to write,

things that might have

become poems, had I been

able to find the words

I needed for the beauty,

the sorrow, the pain,

the joy of what they

really were. Had I just

found the words.


I hope they will turn

them loose, let them

fly like the butterflies

I always supposed them

to be, free to find

a flower, another, and

ever another, across

the sunlit valleys

of thoughtful minds.

© 1998

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)





Today's word: sunlit

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thanks, Kelly. I'm glad you liked that butterfly image in the poem ... and I hope your sunlit day brought you some great, warm memories to pull out and savor when the snow starts falling. Oh, and I couldn't help noticing ... the counter has crept past the 40,000-mark.

I think you've got something there, Kelly ... I can see it now, a large neon sign on the front lawn of Brimm Manor ... "Chosen Words has served               readers." On second thought, maybe I should finish my celebratory dancing on the table ... then give it some more thought. Meanwhile ...                

Friday, September 5, 2008

Already Pocketed

"Writer's block"? I'm not sure it exists.

Oh, there are times when the ideas flow with the slowness of cold molasses ... there are times when the well seems to have gone completely dry ... but usually not for long.

I always carry a scrap of paper and a pen or pencil, just in case.

Then there are times when the thoughts come gushing forth ... and I wish I had my handy-dandy pocket recorder with me, so I could capture them in the midst of the heavy traffic that I'm trying to pick my way through.

Thoughts ... writing-related ideas ... are, indeed fleeting ... and the intervals between them can seem to be endless ... but "writer's block"?

I don't really think there is such a thing ... and I hope I'm right. I hope I can keep riding down this seemingly never-ending trail ... writing and sharing ... until ... well, until the very end.

And now, today's poem:



when I search

the rock pile

of my mind

for new ideas

to grind

and polish,

my hand goes

to a pocket

where one lies

already shaped

and shined,

just waiting

for a setting

worthy of it.

© 2000

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: pocketed

Thursday, September 4, 2008

When the Frost Comes

Most of my poems are pretty upbeat. Oh, there are those I've written just for myself ... a little less than upbeat in instances, I suppose ... poems that deal with pain ... and healing.

I find some release ... some relief ... for having written them. They are unlikely ever to be shared.

Then there are those like today's.

It's not an upbeat subject ... this matter of loss ... personal loss. Still, in coming to grips with loss, we sometimes do find a degree of comfort ... I don't know if that's the right word ... an easing, I guess, of the burden imposed upon us.

I hope that comes through in today's poem:


We miss the flowers

that kept us company

during summer months.

Well into the winter

we savor the memories

of their nodding under

the weight of foraging

bees, of their colors

lifting our spirits.

And so it is

with dear friends

and companions.

When they have gone,

we remember the bright

times we shared, how

we cheered each other,

and we cherish these

good memories, flowering

long after the frost

to give us sustenance.

© 2003

(originally published in Brave Hearts)


Today's word: sustenance

Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

I'm glad, Helen, that you found an upbeat aspect to the rather solemn subject of this poem ... I was trying for that, even while the poem was speaking to me of personal loss. I think it needed that little ray of light toward the conclusion, and I'm glad you spotted it.

Thanks, Kelly, for that reaction to the photo ... a snapshot taken during one of my walks (I'm always looking for an excuse to pause a moment or two before trudging on) ... and thanks for those kind words about the poem ... and, yes, I'm enjoying the week ... while steadily falling behind on my responses ... almost as though I nodded off in the midst of the conversation. My apologies all around. Oh, yes, we're, indeed, approaching that 40,000th-visitor mark! I never thought I'd see that ... guess we should have a celebration ...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tomato Patch

How long ago ... and yet how vivid the memories of those childhood summers helping in the garden that my grandparents had each year.

I'm sure I wasn't much help in those early years. That came later, when I had the stature and muscles to be an effective weed chopper.

Oh, but how I still recall how hot and steamy it was there ... how a bit of shade and a drink of water did seem to be so far, far away. But, as the poem indicates, those memories are still valuable to me ... I still treasure them.

Of course, memories tend to lose their rough edges over time. They become smooth and shiny ... much like the blade I remember, chopping those weeds, loosening the soil to help retain the moisture the plants so sorely needed.

The poem:


I found no poetry

in the tomato patch,

drone of a horsefly

drilling the silence,

drops of my sweat

salting the soil,

my hoe dispatching

smartweed, with shade,

a drink of water

so far away. Why,

then, do I miss

that seasoned handle,

so glassy-smooth,

sliding in my hands,

that dark blade

worn thin and shiny,

glinting like

treasure in the sun?

© 1998

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: glinting

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Summer Showdown

Think back a few mornings ... I was lulled into a sense of invincibility (OK, so I'm exaggerating just a bit) ... actually, I was thoroughly enjoying the somewhat unseasonably cool weather we were having.

I tried to contain myself, though, and speak cautiously about it, for fear of bringing it to a sudden halt.

Apparently I didn't speak cautiously enough ... story of my life.

The heat is back. As I sit here at the sizzling keyboard at mid-morning, the temperature is still rising. I can almost hear those eggs frying on the sidewalks around town.

Summertime is back ... at least for a curtain call ... and, personally, I hope that's all it is. I'm ready for some cool ... not COLD, mind you ... but cool, pleasantly cool weather ... ple-e-e-e-ase.

Excuse me, please, while I reach for another ice cube.

Meanwhile, the poem:


Summer suns so boiling hot

I can almost hear the soft

clinking of spurs, stealthy

creaking of the boardwalk,

a sudden, smothering silence

in which the buzz of a fly

sounds sinister, foretelling

a showdown on the sun-baked,

hoof-pocked, clatter-plaited

street, where a tumbleweed

pauses in the sanctum of shade

cast by a tumble-down saloon,

where I stand, suddenly struck

by a lightning flash of thirst.

© 2003

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger; now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher)


Today's word: tumble-down

Monday, September 1, 2008

Outside Ann's Cafe

Sadly, Ann's Cafe is just a memory now.

While it was there on Watervliet Avenue, though, it was an oasis, a welcoming refuge along the route of our morning walks.

During the cold months we sat inside, in the embrace of all those delicious cooking aromas.

On milder days we enjoyed the freedom of the tables on the sidewalk, the sounds of passing traffic, the wafting blandishments of wonderful baked goods coming from inside.

Oh, the memories, the sweet memories we have of that place.

The poem:


The cars

go purring past

while we enjoy

the morning cool

on the sidewalk

at Ann's Café.

It's too pretty

to stay inside,

we say, settling

into our chairs

like two tired

teddy bears.

The sweet smell

of baked goods

comes stealing out

to where we sit,

tempting us, but

we are steadfast,

unmoved by this.

The steady click

of our spoons,

the clunk of cups

against the glass

tabletop give

more than adequate


to our resolve.

But then . . .

© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: steadfast