Sunday, November 30, 2008


Have you listened ... I mean really listened ... to children laughing?

They are so completely given over to it. They can't help themselves.

Things are not just a little funny, eliciting a polite chuckle. They are really, really funny. There's a sudden explosion of laughter, and when they try to control it ... the more they try ... the more it comes bubbling out.

Even the most confirmed grump is likely to find a certain contagion in the children's laughter, may find himself beginning to smile, inwardly, at least, may find himself joining in ... remembering a time when things were just so unbearably funny.

Originally published in Capper's:


What luxury
the laughter
of children,
the champagne
of sounds
the glasses
of those nearby,
their noses.
© 1996

Today's word: contagion

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Shall Write

Here's what I said about "I Shall Write" when I posted it on "Chosen Words" before:

I usually make my postings in the morning, but today was a bit different.

I had to make a medical pit stop - nothing serious, a quick tire change and I was right back into the race. But I didn't pop a wheelie and head directly back to the keyboard.

It was such a beautiful day that I frittered much of it away on an outdoors walk which included a pause in the shade to do a couple of quick sketches.

But here I am now, rather glad that I delayed today's posting. When I finally meandered back home, I found the mail waiting. I don't often get good news in the mail, but today was an exception.

Waiting in the box was a copy of ICON literary magazine, containing two ... count 'em, TWO ... of my poems. I'd like to share one of them with you now. It's nothing spectacular, but I do like the sound of it, as I did just before I sent it off to seek its fortune early this year.

I had hopes, but I've learned not to bank too heavily on those.

It's another poem about writing ... about the determination to continue writing. I still have that, thank you very much, and I'm glad I do. It helps to keep me going between those pit stops.

The poem:


When all light has settled
into a darkness that steals
the sustenance of birdsong,
when day is a mere flickering
across the screens of minds,
when paper has retreated
into the corridors of memory,
I shall approach the blue
smoothness of water, and lie
there beside it; savoring
its wavering coolness, I shall
write upon it as someone else
may have done before words
began making poetry, before
there was music, before
love and understanding
tried to live among us.
© 2006
(Published in the Spring 2006 - 40th Anniversary Edition - of ICON literary magazine)

Today's word: determination
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Thank you so much, "This and That," for that enthusiastic response to the poem. My first impulse was to argue with you, but then ... nah. I'm glad you liked it, and wouldn't want to spoil things by arguing. Best wishes.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Hard Times

Not all of my poems are about sunsets, the beauty of cobblestone clouds, the wafting scent of roses. Life has a gritty side, too, and some of my poems reflect that.

This encounter came a long time ago at a bus stop, a favorite trolling spot for panhandlers. There was a time when I would almost automatically hand over a bit of change. I could remember tough times, too.

But I had grown tired of being hit up day after day. My initial response was not very charitable, I know, but I relented. I imagine there's a lesson in there someplace, perhaps having something to do with the poor sparrows of this world.

The poem appeared in Pebble Lake Review's Fall/Winter issue of 2005, and now is part of a manuscript (Strawberry Wine) in search of a book publisher.

And here it is:


Suddenly he's in my face,
dirty, wind-blown, muttering,

Spare a quarter? Refusing to let
his question assault me,

I turn away. Then back. My own
No, can you? comes spilling out

like a shot, freezing us there
in the snow-blasted morning

until finally his uncertain
chuckle descends into breath-

stealing, chest-stabbing coughs
and I fish deep in the warmth

of a pocket for a quarter,
hand it over, stand watching

as he moves away, this poor,
tattered sparrow with his crumb.
© 2006

Today's word: tattered

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Good Dreams

I'm always searching for poems ... my own published poems ... that I can share with you.

My search this time led me to my little poem which celebrates a beginning, the arrival of a new member of the family.

I also see the arrival of new life in our midst ... this symbol of the continuation of life, this vision beyond the present day, beyond us ... as a symbol of hope.

The pairing with today's art naturally followed: the sunlit path that leads on, inviting us to see what lies beyond the next turn, and beyond that.

The poem:


Your grandparents treasure the joy
of having been there within hours
of your arrival, taking their turns
cradling your downy head in their
arms, marveling at perfect tiny
fingers and toes, your eyes fluttering
open and shut, brief lusty crying,
eager, hungry feeding, your
drifting off into well-earned sleep.

Some distant day you, too, may hold
your own grandchild and know such joy,
may sit wondering, arm growing numb,
what adventures lie still years ahead.

But for now it is sufficient
for you to sleep. So sleep, sleep,
sleep, Thomas, and in time
the good dreams will come to you.
© 1999
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: sleep
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
As I say, Helen, so much depends on what the reader brings to the poem ... and it's apparent that you bring compassion and understanding. I'm glad you liked the poem. As for snow, it can make a pretty picture ... sometimes. But generally I prefer the kind that's just passing through, looking for a place to land, and making it a brief visit, if it decides to land here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

First Snow

No, no ... I'm not reporting that we've had serious snow here in Ohio ... we've had some sudden swings in weather recently ... a smattering of flakes, but nothing drastic (I'm keeping my fingers crossed, though).

Actually, I guess I am reporting, after a fashion ... reporting on some childhood memories which come rolling back to me on a fairly regular basis.

Besides, "First Snow" also happens to be one of my favorite poems ... along with "Hollyhocks," "Chance of Rain" ... and a few others.

But I digress.

I don't know exactly which hillside Grandma and I were on. I don't know where we were going. Memories become blurred as to certain details.

I do remember the moment, though, when a sudden swirl of huge, fluffy snowflakes descended on us. They were, indeed, like flying feathers.

I hadn't seen anything like them in my whole young life.

The poem:


I watch them
sliding slowly
on my windowpane,
come to warn me
of impending winter,
stirring again
that memory
of plucked feathers,
as she called them,
swiftly enveloping
Grandma and me
on a hillside path.

I can still taste
that delicious
melting cold,
still hear her
laughing with me,
that great
explosion of joy.
© 2005

("First Snow" received a first-place award in a Poets' Study Club contest, was later published in The Christian Science Monitor, and is now part of Wood Smoke, my third collection, issued recently by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: harbingers

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


It was such a beautiful day ... oh, my jacket felt good ... so did the sun on my back ... but it was such a bright, warming day.

I was so glad I was able to get outdoors and walk ... just walk and walk ...

I forgot about the teetering stacks of things undone in my corner of Brimm Manor, and just enjoyed the day ... and the evening.

My intention was to take a restful pit stop, then spring out of bed early this morning to start working those stacks down again.

And what really happened? I slept in. So here I am, late again ... which, naturally, brought to mind my poem, "Early."

I hate to be late. Oh, I sometimes am ... it just happens ... but I always try not to be.

I used to think I could start late and arrive on time, not by speeding, mind you. Oh, no. Never!

I thought I would get lucky ... traffic would be thin ... all the traffic lights would be working in my favor, etc. ... but, mainly, that I could observe (obey) the speed limits, and, with steady, serious driving, make up for a late start.


So what did I do in the instance which brought the poem into being? I started early, fully expecting to lose a lot of time along the way. And, of course, I arrived early.

But that wasn't all bad. I had noticed things along the way ... the traffic lights ... the splashing water ... a school bus, turning ... and then those golden leaves scattered on the parking lot.

I sat in my car and wrote a poem ... at least the beginnings of a poem. With some polishing and tweaking, it turned into a poem:


Because it was raining and I thought
traffic would be doing an Olympic crawl
through boiling rivers along the curbs,
I left early, splashed wildly through
pools of surging waters toward green lights
that nodded and winked at my recklessness,
and here I sit, forty-five minutes before
writers group. I watch a school bus making
a slow, deliberate turn, its rain-coated riders
tilting and chattering like a cage full of birds,
flick off my lights, wipers, defroster, and sit,
listening as the rain subsides to a sprinkle.
Then I see the yellow autumn leaves lying
like wet kisses all across the parking lot.
© 2004
(originally published in ByLine)

Today's word: kisses

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dare I Ask?

My usual approach, even on a day like today when I'm running far behind schedule, is to select a poem, write something about it, then try to find a suitable illustration, photo or otherwise.

Today, while skimming through my backlog of pictures, I ran across this photo of a wheelbarrow ... an old, old wheelbarrow loaded with wood, sitting beside a reconstructed log cabin ... so I began with it.

I took the photo because the composition appealed to me ... the horizontals of the cabin, the sweep of the wheelbarrow bed, the circle of the wheel, repeated by the ends of the sticks of wood.

I snapped it as a possibility for a future painting. I'm intrigued by old things, the challenge of preserving that look, but with a touch of freshness in the painting itself.
In this case, I also gave the photo a sepia tone, thus enhancing the feeling of oldness. I may or may not try to carry that over into an eventual painting.

The photo selection made, the choice of a poem remained.

Aha! I remembered this one, "Dare I Ask?" True enough, it's about a wheelbarrow, but a much younger one than that in the photo.

It's mainly that hand-lettered sign that lingers in my memory, those moments of lingering there, looking at that sign, imagining the red wheelbarrow and all its possibilities.

It's a poem about human frailty. We're stopped in our tracks by the prospect of owning something we need not, must not, have. And yet we're tempted, at least, to take a look.

In this case, did I sneak a peek? I'll never tell ...


"Red Wheelbarrow for Sale," says
the small hand-lettered sign that
flutters like a special invitation to me
as I slow my pace, pause to look.
I'm intrigued. Not green, nor gray,
nor just a plain old wheelbarrow,
but red. I can see myself strolling
home pushing that beautiful red ...
What am I doing? I don't really
need one, haven't a place to put it,
my wife would probably kill me.
Still, maybe just a quick peek?
© 2002
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: peek

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Clear Blue Morning

(I know, the photo doesn't represent a "clear blue morning," but I liked the way the light was hitting the clouds, the way the wind was dancing with the trees, the young leaves overhead, watching it all)

Most of my life, I have not been a morning person.

Oh, there were times when I grudgingly enjoyed a sunrise, savored the cool morning air during the summer, enjoyed a hearty breakfast.

But most of the time ... my growing up years and my working years ... I found it a real struggle to get my feet on the floor again, to get my eyes open and in focus, simply to get moving.

I had reasons ... or excuses ... but, basically I simply was not a morning person.

Then I retired.

Admittedly, there was a period of transition ... weeks afterward in which I had a deep-seated feeling that I should be dragging my body off to a job someplace.

But gradually I came around to accepting this new "freedom," this absence of a fixed schedule, except to the extent that I imposed a pattern on myself.

I soon learned the true meaning of "rattling around" ... with nothing in particular on the agenda for the day.

Then I started writing. What a discovery that was! I soon found myself looking forward to mornings so I could resume the activity of the evening before.

There's just something about the quiet of the morning ... the brain so far uncluttered with details ... the imagination fully wound and ready to go.

Oh, what I had been missing!

And now, the poem:


How I savor
fresh dew
between my toes,
of light beginning
to seize me,
words gathering,
pencil moving
to claim a place
on paper, this.
© 1999
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: gathering

Saturday, November 22, 2008


When I was in high school, I was a runner, a sprinter, mostly, because I found I could more readily tolerate brief bursts of all-out effort, followed by moments in which my heartbeat returned to normal and my breathing became easy. I found the distance competition simply too punishing.

Oh, I ran distances. That was part of the training. I competed some in the distance events, too, but I relished the explosion out of the starting blocks and the swift crunch-crunch-crunch of spikes digging into the cindered track, the lean into the tape at the end of the sprint, the sudden halt, the quick recovery.

I lived to run - to sprint.

Little wonder that I dreamed about running. I still do, sometimes, but the result of that, now, is that I often wake up with leg cramps.

This poem is the result of one of my dreams of running a lonely, nighttime race, then finding my track coach there at the finish line, as he so often had been.

"Beginning" received the First Place award in a Sports Poem contest sponsored by The Listening Eye, literary magazine on the Geauga Campus of Kent State University.

The poem:


No crowd had leaned
forward and no shouts
had floated to my ears
except the faint few
from a group of friends
in the highest seats,
but on I ran through
a starlit, ominous
night, my crunching
footsteps echoing,
not knowing whether
the race was entering
the gun lap, barely
beginning; suddenly
ahead there loomed
the finish-line tape,
beyond which I aimed,
thrusting through
the way I was taught,
staggering to a halt,
blue stars bursting
in my oxygen-starved
brain, long-dead Coach
beside me, saying,
"I knew you could."
© 2000

Today's word: staggering

Friday, November 21, 2008

Accepting Change

I was out late a few nights ago. No, I wasn't partying ... well, it was a party of sorts ... I was sitting in with a poetry group ... a small group which meets fairly regularly to celebrate poetry.

And celebrate it is!

We all enjoy poetry. We sit in a small circle, share our most recent discoveries, pass around copies, discuss each offering briefly ... simply savoring some ... trying to unravel the mysteries of others.

And ... after nibbling on a slice of raisin bread ... fresh and piping hot from the oven ... well, yes, it was a party.

All the way home, then, the words of the evening kept coming back, singing to me and Phyllis. It almost seemed that The Little Red Car was humming along, too.

So I was out late. Not too late, mind you. It was afterward ... when I sat down at the keyboard, that time really slipped away from me.

As a result of that, there I was the next morning ... lost ... well, not completely lost, but still bumping into things in the morning fog. Sleep deprived, I believe it's called.

I had hoped to enumerate some of the changes I've accepted ... even welcomed, in some instances ... along the way ... and some of those which I'm still resisting. I'm sure there have been many of each.

But I think I'd better wait until I'm fully awake ... like, maybe in another day or two.

Meanwhile, the poem:


I'm not always
a willing partner,
but I must go
with the times,
leaving a trail
of scuff marks
where I've been
dragged along.
© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: change

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What'll You Have?

One of the early things I learned about sending my poems off into the company of strangers ... on the chance that some very busy person might pause to read, to savor, to accept something I'd written ... is that there's an awful lot of rejection involved.
In fact, unless you have editors writing to you, begging you to submit something, it's mostly rejection.

Not long after my first acceptance, I thought I was having a particularly good run of luck, so I did the math and found I had an acceptance rate of 12 per cent.

Of course, while achieving that "hot streak," I was also having an 88 per cent rate of rejection.

"What'll You Have?" was probably written during one of those intervals when no math was necessary to tell me my rejection rate was high, high, high.

How nice it would be, I thought, if, instead of sending my poems all over creation, I could just have a little shop on a quiet little street ... a place where editors could drop in when they felt the need for a poem.

I would have poems on the wall, on the shelves, in racks ... all over the place ... even "teetering in the backroom of my mind." I would, of course, hope that visitors would find something they simply couldn't live without.

I have yet to realize my dream of becoming the proprietor of a poetry boutique, catering primarily to editors, but at least this one little poem apparently did make a favorable impression on the poetry editor at ByLine, and there I was, way back in '96, dancing on the table again. How sweet it was!

The poem:


Poems, lady?
What would you like?
I have these
written in the nights
of my despair,
a few over there
when I felt better.

A love poem?
Not much in demand
these days, but I may
be able to find one
somewhere on the shelf.

No picks among these?
I have more written,
on the back racks,
aging a bit
before they travel,
and, of course,
stacks and stacks
teetering recklessly
in the backroom
of my mind.
© 1996

Today's word: teetering

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Voice and Song

The less said about my singing (dancing, too, for that matter), the better.

There was a time when I could sing. I don't know how good it was, but I could carry a simple tune, and my grandparents ... my long-suffering grandparents ... never complained.

Then my voice changed.

I changed, too ... from a budding soloist, into one who would reluctantly join the singing when in a large group. I knew then that my off-key missteps would, perhaps, go unnoticed.

Even now, I hardly ever sing in the shower, as a matter of fact.

I have consoled myself ... as I say, in so many words in this poem ... with the thought that my real song "lives in my heart."

And here's the poem:


Mine is an untrained
voice, lacking polish,
but I believe my real
song lives in my heart,
and from there it must,
it will, take wing,
rising like that silent,
dark hawk tirelessly
riding the lifting
blue air, until it
finds a kindred heart
where it may dwell.
© 1999
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: kindred

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

That New Day

I've thought of country mornings a lot of times when I was struggling into another day, far removed from those early beginnings.

I've missed the "leisure" of "working by the sun," rather than under the stern eye of the ever-glaring clock. I've missed those mornings when I could lie in bed a few extra minutes, savoring the return to wakefulness.

I've missed the sounds that filled the spaces between the trees back then. Now it's the sounds of the cars and trucks and buses that echo off the buildings and clog our senses.

What I've missed most, I think, is the sound of a cow bell coming to me from a meadow just beginning to fill with light. Now that was music to a young boy's ears.

And now, the poem:


Sounds came crawling across the coolness
of the damp night air, climbed into the cot

where I lay stretching to touch the sides
of that new day. A screen door squeaked

open, then shut again. A tractor groaned,
fired up, deep, throaty song floating to me

like a breeze. Struggling early light visited
a hint of warmth high on the hilltop trees,

an image of candy-apple red slowly rising
in my mind's eye over the wooded brow

of the opposite ridge. A cow bell clanked
into the silence the tractor left as it went

rolling off toward a waiting field; so long
ago, but like yesterday. And I hear it now.
© 2005
(published in Brave Hearts, summer 2005)

Today's word: meadow

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sea of Beauty

Confession: Today's poem speaks of wheat ... the photo doesn't ... at least not directly.

The illustration is one of mine, of course ... a photo of some decorative grass. I don't know exactly what kind, but it did remind me of the wheat I had seen making waves in a field ... now all part of distant memories.

And the sky? That's sky as reflected in the windows of the tall building near which I found the decorative grass growing. I was taken by the color and the shapes ... so I snapped it ... kept it ... and here it is, today ... famous. Well, a little more "famous" than it otherwise might have been.

I really hope I haven't spoiled the mood for today's poem, but I thought the photo and the poem made something of a match.

The poem:


The wheat leans
and straightens
in the summer breeze,
a sea of beauty
set in motion
toward the horizon
by plain hard labor
and the hand of God.
© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: wheat

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rainy Night

I have an attic space where few sounds intrude, where I often go to write.

I became aware, one evening, of a tentative tapping on the skylight - rain. The scattered drops were, indeed, binding city lights to themselves, and clinging gem-like against the darkness.

I felt safe in that space, visualized motes dancing lazily in bright sunlight, beckoning, and I started writing.

What I wrote that evening evolved into a poem, which later found itself in good company in ByLine Magazine, and eventually found its way into Chance of Rain, my first collection of poems, all about rain, or its absence.


First few drops
spatter warily
on my skylight,
binding glimmers
of city lights
to themselves,
sliding them
down the dark
throat of night.
In this dim light
I am held safe
by an arid warmth
that eddies like
motes escaping
an attic book,
swirling, dancing
up a long stairway
toward that door
through which
the golden glow
of revelation
beckons me.
© 2003

Today's word: spatter

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Passing in Review

Today's poem is another example of material ... fodder, if you will ... lurking almost anywhere.

Naturally, I keep an eye out for subject matter, possibilities for a small painting, perhaps, or even a poem, when I'm out walking ... when I'm sitting, waiting for a bus ... whatever.

In this instance, I had passed the flowers many times, casually observing their color, their sprightliness, but not feeling any particular connection with them ... until one day when there was a slight breeze. Their movement, "nodding their heads," caught my eye well before I was in front of them.

It was then, I think, that it seemed they were the "reviewing stand" and it was I, the lonely marcher, who was being inspected as I strode past.

Hardly more than a haiku moment, but that impression, that image, stuck with me all the way home, where I sat at the kitchen table and started writing.

Originally published in Capper's:


Flowers arrayed
like a reviewing stand
in my neighbor's yard
seem to be nodding
recognition of me,
and perhaps they are,
for I march by twice
on my daily walk.
© 1995

Today's word: nodding

Friday, November 14, 2008

On Waking

I grew up in hill country, where fog was rather common. I still identify waking up, the beginning of the day, with fog that lingers in the valleys.

It's something like the fog that lingers in my own head ... beading on the cobwebs there ... but that's another story.

Meanwhile, today's poem:


The dense gray fog, that
silent stalker of valleys,
crept in like a dream
while we slept, lingered,
defying the sun's efforts
to take back this place
where the sassafras shares
a hillock with honeysuckle,
outdoing the dew itself,
globules riding a coolness
that speaks of changes
coming, a shift of seasons,
a briskness that will make
the covers more precious
in the morning, gentle fire
like a warm embrace when
evening brings us home.
© 2001
(originally published in Waterways)

Today's word: embrace

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Next Shade

Phyllis and I, circumstances permitting, go for a walk every day.

We prefer walking outdoors, but if the weather is particularly disagreeable, we duck into a shopping mall, or its equivalent, and do our walking there. We've even done the building-connecting tunnels at Wright State University ... all a part of survival.

In the hottest part of summer, we adopt another strategy, which allows us to walk outdoors ... and survive.

We call this our "shade hike." We find some place with lots of trees ... and we're blessed with a lot of parks like that in this area ... then we go strolling from shade to shade.

These brief interludes of relative coolness make it possible for us to walk outdoors in the hot, sultry months ... and survive.

If we hear rumbles of thunder, it's back to the mall.

While we were darting ... relatively speaking ... from shade to shade, I often think about this poem, based on childhood memories ... as many of my poems are ... but also a metaphor for dealing with problems:


Once, walking to town,
I complained that it was
too hot, too dusty, far
too far, but Grandma,
who had walked it many
times before, simply
said, "We can make it
to next shade, then
we'll rest. Next shade,
rest," and it became
a game, the next shade
our refuge, drawing
us along like a magnet,
the trip getting easier.
I've thought of that
a lot of times when it
seemed the going had
become too demanding,
and I always found
next shade, some rest,
before pressing on,
her words still making
it easier for me.
© 1999
(originally published in Capper's)

And so it is. We find that "next shade" ... in words of comfort ... a pause ... a summoning of inner strength ... a moment in our own quiet cove ... respite ... before pressing on ... and on.

Today's word: survive

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Morning Flight

Poems have many ways of presenting themselves to me.

Sometimes they wait patiently for me to discover them ... and am I ever surprised ... because they've been there all the time ... I just hadn't noticed until now.

Sometimes they almost literally leap out at me. Some event, some thought sets them into motion ... and they're often so fragile ... so like the smoke from an evening fire ... that I have to capture them quickly on paper, or they're gone ... gone forever.

I remember exactly where I was when this poem leaped out at me.

I was walking alone, east on Wayne Avenue, just a block west of Smithville.

Something glinted in the early-morning sky, and I paused to stare at it. It was a plane ... just a tiny speck on that deep, deep blue blanket of sky.

When I got back home, I sat at the kitchen table, as was my custom then, and started writing. The result, after many revisions (that process of slowly boiling it down to its very essence):


Great silver-gray fish
gliding silently
across the cold blue
of morning
toward that huge red
bait of a sun,
passengers settled
in your slender belly,
flying away
from earthbound creatures
just stirring awake,
waiting for the sun
to begin reaching
toward them, too.
© 1998
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: essence

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Linoleum Days

According to my handy-dandy dictionary, "linoleum" comes from the Latin linum (flax) plus oleum (oil), and describes "a smooth, washable floor covering, formerly much used, esp. in kitchens."

That established, class, let us proceed.

In the home in which I grew up, linoleum reigned, not only in the kitchen, but the dining room ... and the living room. Maybe in the bedroom, too.

It was a regal floor covering. Or so I thought then. Actually, I still do.

But let's get right to the poem:


Linoleum was forever,
or so it seemed,
lying regally there
with its smell of new
filling the room,
cupped at the ends
from having lain
in a tight coil,
waiting patiently
at the general store
until someone
purchased its freedom,
took it home
and unscrolled it,
where it still lies
in the living room
of my mind,
so fresh, aromatic,
I hardly dare think
of walking on it.
© 1997
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: aromatic

P.S. - I've received word from Finishing Line Press, publisher of Wood Smoke, my third collection of poems, that they have started mailing out copies to those who ordered them during pre-publication sales, which resulted in a limited-edition press run of 250. My sincere thanks to all who made this possible.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Keeping the Riffraff Out

Today's poem is based on an old, old memory.

You know how selective memory is. I don't recall precisely where it was, or even when, but I do recall that voice ... "Are you a resident, sir?" ... from behind me as I sat on that bench.

I don't think I felt particularly intimidated or even startled ... maybe just a little offended that I didn't have the freedom to pause briefly on an unoccupied bench ... not creating a disturbance ... just sitting there with my thoughts.

Of course, the empty bench did belong to someone else. They certainly had the right to protect it from intruders like me ... I suppose. After all, I might sit there and write a poem, you know.

Now that the incident has the benefit of being distanced by time, I think it's funny. I hope the poem reflects that.


I was warming a bench
in a public park,
or so I thought,
next to a fancy
high-rise complex,
when a uniformed voice
(I knew by the sound)
inquired from behind:
"Are you a resident, sir?"

Swiveling to see
who my accuser might be,
I made obedient reply:
"Why, no, just passing by."

He drew himself up
and looked me down,
then delivered the words
with muscled authority:
"This is Private Property."

That left the next move
to me, so I slowly rose
and shambled away,
comforted in knowing
that when I live there
I'll be fully protected
from riffraff like me.
© 1996

Today's word: authority

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Just As Well

Something, I'm not sure what ... perhaps the fact that I've worn glasses for a long time ... set me to thinking about how we see things on the "eye chart of life."

Things past ... those large symbols near the top ... are the easiest to read. We can make them out with no difficulty. Also, we see them so well because we enhance them. In our thoughts they become better ... or sometimes worse ... than they really were.

But it's those things in the future ... those tiny images at the bottom of the chart ... which are so hard to make out. Oh, we'd like to be able to read them all, but we simply can't know with certainty what the future is going to bring for us.

Each day is a new page, sometimes the beginning of a new chapter in the story that is yet to become.

Patience, I tell myself. Patience. In time, some of that will become clear ... and the rest can wait.

The poem:


On the eye chart
of my mind
I can see clearly
those distant symbols.
No blurring, in fact,
a sharpening focus
as I sit looking back
to times long past.
It's those last few,
nearer, lines of things
lying just ahead
that give me trouble.
It's just as well,
I tell myself; they will
reveal themselves
when it's time for that.
© 2006
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: symbols

Saturday, November 8, 2008

It's Not Easy

OK, so I was having a little fun with an idea when I wrote today's poem.

Still, it seems to speak to me, at least, of the impatience that seems to crowd into everyday life.

I hop into The Little Red Car and head to the grocery ... I get honked at when I don't start up quickly enough as a traffic light turns from red to green ... I don't select a cart as quickly as others ... I don't yield enough times to other shoppers at the ends of the aisles ... I seem to be holding up the checkout line as I fumble for the exact change ... and on the way home ... well, I get honked at again ...

Oh, I get impatient, too.

We don't have time for all that today, though. I can see that some of you are starting to fidget. Let's just say that I have my share of impatience, mainly with myself ... and the time it seems to take me to complete simple tasks.

I was thinking about that when I wrote today's poem, I guess.

I really would like to be a more patient person. I really would, except ... well, you'll soon enough see what the "except" is about, when you read today's short poem (meanwhile, thanks for your patience):


I admire people
who have patience.
I wish I had
more myself,
and I'm working
on it, but it just
seems to take
so long to learn.
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: impatience

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hello, Morning

During my working years, mornings were not my favorite time of day, largely because of the early hour at which my work days began, partly because of the pressures of work.

Ah, but retirement brought a change. Now I could sleep in, if I chose, and I could ... within certain limits ... set my own agenda for the remainder of the day.

So what did I do? Miracle of miracles, I started getting up early ... voluntarily ... and I found things to occupy my day ... a bit of art, a bit of writing, a bit of walking, a bit of watching the sun come creeping up over the horizon ... or watching it melting slowly into the western rim of the world.

The poem:


Early light
feels its way
across the top
of my fence,
gently warming
weary, weathered
boards, faint
yellow softness
spreading like
creamy frosting
on this new day.
© 1997

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: melting

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I don't know where I was, exactly, when this poem presented itself to me ... but I was likely out for my morning walk ... just strolling along (I'm not a power walker, folks) ... my mind wandering ... when I passed this particular hedge with its abundance of spider webs.

I was struck by that abundance, first ... and then, with a closer look ... the delicate handiwork. From there it was a short leap to "fine silk scarves" ... when I got home I sat at the kitchen table and started scribbling on a scrap of paper.

The poem:


I see, glistening
in the hedge,
yawning mouths
of spun funnels,
delicate handiwork
of skilled spiders
arrayed, luring
the browser
like fine silk
scarves spread out,
catching the sun,
begging to be bought.
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: glistening

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Favored Paths

My grandparents didn't have a car (as some of you may know, I grew up in their care) ... but that was no problem ... everything we could have wanted was within walking distance ... and trips, real trips? Well, there were passenger trains running then.

Under those circumstances, it's little wonder, I suppose, that I learned the benefits of walking.

For one thing, there was so much to see while walking ... it was a pleasure to focus on a particular view, then watch it slowly changing as the walking changed the angle at which it was seen.

The slower pace made it so easy to absorb what was seen ... to savor the flavor, so to speak.

So, when my doctor suggested ... OK, he may have been verging on insisting ... that I take up walking again ... it was no big deal, even when I first started and found it difficult to go all the way around the block.

I remembered ... I knew the benefits of walking. It was just a matter of time until I could get my body back into shape. Well, it took a little more time than I expected ... but I listened to my body along the way ... and moderated my pace, or increased it, accordingly.

And now a daily walk is automatically a part of my routine. I still enjoy the view(s), the pace ... and particularly the poems that sometimes come to me during my walks.

Today's poem, for example:


I like to walk
where the trees
drink the sunlight
and let only
stray droplets
speckle the earth,

where the squirrel
scampers unseen
to a cradling limb
and screeches
at the stranger
who dares intrude,

where lichens clutch
the brows of bluffs
sitting as in judgment
while merely waiting,
as they have been
through the ages,

where the tiny bird
flits and sings
its song of hope,
and my steps
are less labored
as I am renewed.
© 1996

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: lichens

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Embrace of Sound

(One of my photographs, symbolizing nothing in particular - "mere interlude")

Another bit of ancient history.

The scene: Phyllis was called out of town because of an illness in her family. I was alone in "Brimm Manor" ... totally in charge, preparing the meals, doing the dishes ... all alone.

This may help in understanding the origin of the poem ... what started the wheels to turning, to bring the poem into being ... but really isn't essential to the poem itself. I'm speaking in a general way of the absence of familiar sounds, and what effect that absence can have on the individual.

The poem is also witness to the fact that poetry needn't always be a light, "happy song" rendition. Poetry can, and does, roam the range of human emotions.

I like the way this one came together, the way the silence symbolizes the loneliness which is at the core of it.

But I also like the happy ending, or at least the prospect of a happy ending in "embrace of our voices" ... and that last line: "preparation for a next great leap."

The poem:


I endure the silence, knowing
it will end with a teakettle's
shrilling, the dog's ticking
toward water waiting to be lapped,
the phone's late-night ringing,
embrace of our voices, for this
is mere interlude, this intaking
of breath, this hunkering down,
preparation for a next great leap.
© 2001
(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: ticking

Monday, November 3, 2008


(I know, it's not dandelions - it's one of my watercolors, entitled "Splash!")

Sometimes even the writer is not sure of the full intent of a poem.

This is an attempt to capture one of my earliest memories. I was a pre-schooler, and we lived in town then. I remember the long, sloping yard as always being flooded with sunshine.

There was a cat, perhaps more than one ... and those beautiful golden dandelions. I remember tiger lilies, too, but it's the memory of those dandelions that stands out.

Whose hands they were, I'm not sure. My mother's or my grandmother's, I suppose.
I do recall plucking the blossoms and running with them like newly-found nuggets of gold. They were so bright, so treasured. I just had to share them.

Then the memory blurs, becomes "a tangle of wilt." The poem ends, but there are those "promises of things to come." And I sit here wondering ...

Meanwhile, the poem:


Plucked like pats
of butter amid
the swirling hum
of puzzled bees,
taken at a run
toward waiting
hands, lying now
a tangle of wilt
and promises
of things to come.
© 1999

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: promises

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Clutter, Glorious Clutter

Mind you, I'm not advocating clutter, even though ... looking around as I write this ... I can see that a stranger might think I'm clutter's chief spokesperson.

I try. Oh, how I try not to clutter up the planet in my immediate vicinity.

In my own defense, I must say that I don't toss litter out the car window ... I don't drop candy wrappers on the sidewalk ... in fact, sometimes, when I'm out walking, I pick up the occasional strayed aluminum can and deposit it in the nearest trash container.

But in my immediate vicinity ... here in the study at Brimm Manor ... there's just some invisible force which seems to be at work ... and I am powerless in its grasp.

Things just seem to pile up ... mostly poems in progress ... little notes I've scribbled along the way ... magazines that I really must read (someday) ... little watercolor sketches ... big watercolor sketches ... drawings ... notes to myself. Things like that.

Some days I seem to make progress ... but other days? Well, then it's like trying to sweep the ocean back with a broom.

But I promise you this (and it's not a political promise) ... I'll keep trying. Meanwhile, the poem:


Someday I shall have room
for everything I possess,
all the room I ever dreamed
of having, room to lean back
casually and survey the vast
reaches of things collected
in years of serious pursuit
and delayed disentanglement.

But the jam-packed reality
of today is that I shift
cautiously among the poems
poised for avalanche, books
teetering on the brink
of revenge for being left
stacked like cold flapjacks
all these busy-busy years,
treasured items gathering
dust, clipped so long ago
from forgotten magazines.

So much of my past, perhaps
my future, too, nudging me
when I turn, bumping me when
I bend, skittering when
we touch, hugging me like
a lover just before the train
pulls out. And I stand here,
loving it all right back.
© 2000

(originally published in Nanny Fanny Poetry Magazine)

Today's word: avalanche

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Because We Must

Some of you may have seen today's poem before.

It even made a guest appearance on "Squiggles & Giggles" ... a bit of history here ... my then-weekly ... free, mind you, free ... e-mailed newsletter about writing ... and a multitude of other subjects.

But AOL put a stop to that free, weekly newsletter.

Ah, but "Squiggles & Giggles" is back ... not as a newsletter ... sorry ... but as an online posting (not on AOL) ... and it doesn't clutter your mailbox now!

Meanwhile ... I'm always a little surprised ... on the verge of amazed ... at the amount of discussion this little poem fires up. But that's what the newsletter ... we called it "S&G" ... was all about.

"Because We Must" created a lot of discussion ... but none of those ugly fights in the parking lot afterward. I'm glad for that.

I was thinking about "Because We Must" this morning.

Mainly I was thinking about what I had said about this little poem once before:

When we strip away the outer trimmings, the pretense, the spins which have become the standard of the day, what do we have left?
The truth.
And I like that. Writing, with a few exceptions, is certainly not for the money. Not really. That's true, even with those who write for pay.
They ... and we ... write because we must. Because we're looking for a truth ... The Truth, perhaps.
The poem:


A voice whispers
and we listen.
Again. We answer,
more rapidly now,
with paper and pen.
We write
because we must.
No ear may hear
our stories, nor
voice answer our
earnest pleadings,
and still we write.
Because we must.
© 2005

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: impelled