Sunday, May 31, 2009

Building Poems



Still another poem about writing.

Not that I'm expert on the subject. On the contrary, the more I write, the more I'm mystified by the process. Oh, I've gotten the mechanics right ... after all these years of practice: Fingers on the home keys, and away we go.

It's that other part ... the part in which the ideas come hopping along like shy rabbits looking for that last nibble of clover at dusk ... that's the part I don't really understand.

I know, a quiet place helps ... or even a noisy place, like a bus, a waiting room at the hospital ... places like that will work, if you can tune out all that's going on outside of you.

The blank page, believe it or not, can be a stimulus, too ... an invitation to scribble a few random thoughts.

Then the plot thickens ... the mystery deepens ... and sometimes ... sometimes, mind you ... what you've started, that seed you've planted, goes on, grows up ... and becomes a poem.

Even one who uses ellipses so recklessly ... one who remains mystified by those final steps in the writing process ... can do it. And so can you.

Indeed, bring on more sand!


The poem:


BUILDING POEMS


My poems are built
on the crawling sands
of memory; see how
they tilt and teeter
on the brink of meaning,
how they race past us
in the stopped-time
dimension into which
they’ve been thrust,
how they collide head-on
with indifference, then
come reverberating back
like struck gongs,
resting finally in my
outstretched hands.
Oh, how I love it,
this ever-changing,
never-changing process.
Bring on more sand!
© 2005
(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)

Today's word: reverberating
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Thank you, hannahthemaid. Always good to hear from you.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Aromatherapy


A few evenings ago I arrived early at a place in the country where a few of us were gathering to share poetry.


I had time to do a little walking, so I headed down a path that eventually wound its way around a small lake. It was so quiet there ... that is, there was an absence of traffic noises, nobody was setting off fireworks ...


It was quiet in respect to the usual sounds I've become accustomed to, but there was a lot of "conversation" going on as the birds were calling it a day, settling into roosting or nesting places for the night.


I had forgotten how they sounded at that time of day, as though discussing their activities, discoveries they had made, narrow escapes they'd had ... and, I imagined, reassuring each other of the relative safety night would bring.


I was musing about that, enjoying the wildflowers along the path, the aromas gently enfolding me, the relative absence of mosquitos ... when I noticed movement in the grass ahead.


Ah, a ground squirrel, I thought ... but no, as I ventured nearer, it turned out to be a very young bird who apparently had left the nest too soon. It stared at me with interest and no evidence of fear as I gave it a wide berth.


Ah, but the parents. They were a different matter. They swooped and scolded me for intruding ... and one of them followed me some distance along the path as I kept moving toward completion of my circuit.


I kept hoping this story had a happy ending ... that the youngster was rescued, was at least watched over ... and will be ... until it's ready to fly off to seek other adventures.


It occurred to me that we ... and nature ... do seem at times to intrude on each other ... but we seem to manage a sort of accommodation ... and life goes on.


All of which has so little to do with today's poem ... except, perhaps, the aroma of those path-side blossoms which reminded me of this little piece ... and I dusted it off again for today.


AROMATHERAPY


The freshness
after summer rain,
honeysuckle wafting,
pie still bubbling,
smoke of a wood fire,
that new-car smell.
In a former time,
our aromatherapy.
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: honeysuckle
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Thank you so much, hannahthemaid. I'm glad you liked it.
And thank you, This and That, for sharing those memories. I like the way the honeysuckle fragrance "melted into the air" ... and the blending of the scents of woodsmoke, pine and salt spray is a recipe for good memories, too.

Friday, May 29, 2009

At the Doctor's Office



I'm dusting off one that some of you have seen before.

It came to me on a routine visit to the doctor's office ... I was, indeed, perched on the end of an examining table ... waiting ... and watching the rain.

Then I reached for the folded scrap of paper I always carry in my hip pocket, and started writing.

"At the Doctor's Office" was originally published in Potpourri, was subsequently nominated for Pushcart Prize honors, and is now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:

AT THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE

Random needles of rain
start darting diagonally
like the silent scratchings
of cat claws on the window
where the traffic is zooming
and sizzling past, hauling
away the remains of Thursday,
blurring beyond the sycamore,
its mottled gray-green trunk
whispering of a deep-forest
stream while seeming utterly
misplaced here where concrete
suffers the presence of so few
trees, where my strongest
efforts at contiguous thought
produce only fragments too tiny
to mend, unleavened images,
lacking all savor of meaning,
where I perch, dry-mouthed
and nervous, my legs dangling
from the end of this table,
and wait, as I always do,
for a door to open softly,
carefully, into this silence,
this sterile, stifling silence.
© 2001

Today's word: needles

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Transient Heart



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

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

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

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

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

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


The poem:


THE TRANSIENT HEART


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


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

A secret admirer?

More likely just
a stranger, a pupil
dawdling toward
school, little
suspecting that
such a tiny doodle
could send so many
thoughts rippling
merrily across
my morning mind.
© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: transient

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Summer Showdown



I've recently been lulled into a sense of invincibility (OK, so I'm exaggerating just a bit) ... actually, I have been thoroughly enjoying the somewhat unseasonably cool weather we've been having ... during the nights, at least.


I tried to contain myself, though, and speak cautiously about it, because I know it's going to come to a sudden halt. This is Ohio, after all.


Story of my life.


The coolness ends suddenly, and the heat is back. Then as I sit at the sizzling keyboard at mid-morning, the temperature still rising, I can almost hear eggs frying on the sidewalks around town.


Summertime! It hasn't even started, officially, and I'm already ready cool ... not COLD, mind you ... but cool, pleasantly cool weather ... ple-e-e-e-ase.


Meanwhile, today's poem:

SUMMER SHOWDOWN

Summer sun’s 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

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Making It Count



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.

MAKING IT COUNT

I try to do
my best today,
for I may not
have tomorrow.
© 1997
(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)

Today's word: cadence

Monday, May 25, 2009

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.

THE LATE RUN

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 there’s
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

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Impossible July



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

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

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

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

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

The poem:

IMPOSSIBLE JULY

End of July, and as far
as the eye can see
only a blue flame of sky
leaping horizon-to-horizon
and back to this room
so high, so near the sun,
that words have become
too hot to touch.

A fan labors, but fails,
to bring relief, while my
thoughts bubble and run
like tar on a lonely road.

And the sky flares up
with the promise of rain,
but an empty promise, full
of the heat of absence.

Wafting, shimmering lines
become a cruel mirage,
yesterday’s fading belief
that relief from this
might still be possible.
© 2003


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

Today's word: promise

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Empty Boxes




This is an inventory poem, a listing of items. But it's far more than that. It's a poem about departure, loss, a certain amount of pain.

"Healing," perhaps, is too strong a word for the ending, although I felt a need for something ... for comforting, I guess, as I looked over some of the items left behind by one of our sons.

He had discarded them as being of no use to him in his new location, his situation of being out there in the world on his own. I was double-checking, I suppose, to make sure he wasn't throwing away anything of value.

The basement was very quiet that evening. The memories came flooding back. It was the same ... all those memories ... with the departure of each of our four sons.

There was always that twinge of sadness at the ending of another chapter in our lives. Even with the good memories to bolster me, there was this sense of loss at their leaving to live on their own.

In that awful quiet that settled in then, I had to remind myself that they would do well, they would stay in touch, they would be back. We would still be a family, as we had always been.

Then I could throw away the empty boxes. But I kept the memories.

This poem received a First Place award in the Ohio Poetry Day Competition of 2000, and is now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:

EMPTY BOXES


I touch worn corners,
torn, misshapen lids,
as though mere touching

might ease the pain,

and in the scattered
emptiness I find
a battered brown bag
with a piece of paper

crumpled in a corner
like a dried leaf,
folders for your
drawings, writings

sprawling across pages,
a fragment of pastel,
pencils, a flattened
glove, engulfing me

with memories as I
sort through, hoping
to find somewhere
a measure of healing.
© 2006

Today's word: crumpled

Friday, May 22, 2009

Birds Still Sing



This is a poem about the aging process, of course.

I'm not quite dependent on a hearing aid ... yet. Still, there are times when I might find one helpful ... to fine tune what I'm trying to hear ... or to tune out something I'd rather not hear.

But it's also a poem about memory ... and imagination, the ability to recall things, sometimes with a new attention to detail. I like it when a poem works at two levels ... or sometimes in two directions.

Originally published in Capper's, it's a little poem, saying much, I hope, with few words (the photograph, as usual, is one of my own):

BIRDS STILL SING

I don't always
hear the doorbell,
thunder's mostly
just a rumble now,
but in the foliage
of my mind
birds still sing
loud and clear.
© 1996

Today's word: recall

Thursday, May 21, 2009

At the Wheel



I sometimes write about driving ... or other drivers ... but not today.

The wheel referred to in today's poem is a potter's wheel ... that device on which a glob of clay is tossed, then, with an expert touch as the wheel goes whirling round and round, gradually becomes a work of art.

It may become something quite fragile, or it may turn out to be a very substantial piece, depending on the imagination ... and skill ... of its creator.

I feel that same process at work when I toss a glob of words on the wheel (I always hope it's a somewhat orderly collection of words, even in the beginnings of a poem). Then the revisions, the serious shaping and reshaping begins.

Over time those words take on new shapes, new meanings, sometimes quite fragile, sometimes substantial. Then I let the reader judge ... in light of his or her own experience, for the reader always brings something to the poem.

This one was originally published in Candlelight Poetry Journal:

AT THE WHEEL


I sit watching
these words
mounded, whirling,
rising at the touch
of my fingers,
becoming something
I shall slide
into the glowing kiln
of understanding
and, warmed by it,
stand marveling
at what I've made.
© 1998

Today's word: substantial

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

After the Chores



A poem, sometimes, is an accumulation of memories.

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

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

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

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

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


And now, the poem:

AFTER THE CHORES

Night voices rise
in growing chorus
as I sink to the steps
and sit, watching,
waiting like a child,
for a first twinkle
on that darkening
blue dome of sky.
© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: darkening

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Trail of Thanks



Sometimes I think I spend too much time explaining the poems I post here.


Oh, I think it's helpful to describe what inspired a particular poem, where I was when I wrote it, why I went ahead to share it with you (a lot of my poems ... shy creatures that they are ... still reside in my handwritten journals ... or on tiny scraps of paper).

But the poem ... like today's ... sometimes explains itself. It requires no further words from me. And still I go on and on ... sometimes ... but not today. I am trying very hard ... today ... not to overdo it.

That said, here's the poem:

TRAIL OF THANKS

Tiny morsels
of my thanks
mark the trail
I have come,
leading back
to a grandmother
who reared me
as her very own,
etching her lessons
on the innermost
growth rings
of my young mind.
I am thankful
for her lessons,
herexample making
my journey easier.
© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: thanks

Monday, May 18, 2009

Solitude



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

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

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

The poem, originally published in Shawnee Silhouette:

SOLITUDE

It's not just
the hollow, echoing
sound of nights;
days can be
lonely, too,
with a consuming
emptiness spreading,
crinkling as it burns
the thin paper of time
on which we scratch
the names of our thoughts.
With no one to touch,
no one to hear,
no one to care
that we exist,
there is no breaching
the walls of that cell
in which we are locked,
listening as the minutes
slide into hours,
pyramiding themselves
into coldness,
the absolute zero
of solitude.
© 1996

Today's word: emptiness

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Morning Mist



Ever have trouble finding things? I do. I hope it's just a phase I'm going through, but I've recently found that ... no matter what it is ... it always seems to be in a secret hiding place.

Then ... surprise! ... there it is, right under my nose.


Well, my first search of the day didn't turn out that way this morning.

When I bounded out of bed ... not really, but I like the sound of that phrase ... anyway, at the beginning of the day I was thinking about ... well, about beginnings ... and how I might utilize them.


This brought to mind one of my little poems, "Beginnings" ... and it seemed to me that it would be the perfect piece for today.

I searched everywhere ... beginning with where it should be ... and then all the places it shouldn't be. No luck. Not even a whiff of it. I'm convinced at this point that not even a bloodhound could have found it.

So ... I've fallen back on one of the poems from my first collection ... Chance of Rain ... oh, that sounds so much like ancient history now, doesn't it?


Meanwhile, today's poem:

MORNING MIST


Invisible morning mist explores my face
like cotton candy melting at the touch,
reviving memories of that sweet softness

as droplets seek my eyes and slip inside
unseen. But there in the swirling distance,
there against the trees where it bivouacs,


ready to invade in ever growing numbers,
there against a sagging barn, there against
the dim, straining headlights of a silent,


bouncing car peering back at me, and here,
high above me in the drenched, dripping
leaves of a hickory giving what shelter


it can, the mist makes itself visible.
Such workings must be meant to conceal,
but what? The past which clings to me

like the smell of smoke? Or the future,
lost somewhere in the effervescing spell
that embraces these hills, their valleys?

Knowing mystical mist steals the vapors
of my breath and returns only a silence
that swarms about like tiny ghostly gnats

touching my ears and dancing on ahead,
ever ahead, seeming to point the way
I should take as I labor back up the hill.
© 2003
(from my first collection, Chance of Rain)

Today's word: gnats (as in "Gnats!" ... I suppose
)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Line Dancing



Sometimes what appears to be one thing is actually another.

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

Perhaps I've already said too much.

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

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

LINE DANCING

Movement trickles
along the line,
rising, billowing,

falling, undulating.
Dancers pause,
regroup, aligned.

Tentatively they
resume swaying,
echoing the moves.

Legs flick, snap,
arms reach, fall,
then reach again.

The line quivers,
flutters and flaps.
Sagging, it rests;

itinerant breezes
have glided away
to other laundry.
© 1998
(originally published in Moose Bound Press)

Today's word: swaying

Friday, May 15, 2009

Irresistible Force



I keep coming back to this one. It's not my greatest ... just a few words strung together like beads on a string ... but they serve to preserve a memory of a time that was.

And this one's so firmly implanted ... the great smell of freshly-baked cookies wafting through the house.

Sometimes ... my subconscious at work, I suppose ... I seem to get a vague kind of signal, stop what I'm doing in mid-sentence, abandon the keyboard, and go walking briskly toward the kitchen.

There, I'm getting it again ...

But I have to resist. Cookies ... at least that kind ... the sugar-laden, chocolate-laced ... LARGE ... kind, are on my forbidden list now. My doctor seems to have ways of knowing if I've even inhaled the aroma of one of my favorites.

So I just savor the memories. Ah, how sweet they are!

The poem:

IRRESISTIBLE FORCE

Sometimes, even
wild horses
couldn't drag me
from my room,
but the aroma
of cookies fresh
from the oven
always could.
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: horses

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hungry Eyes Feasting




Here we go again, eh? Maybe it's my age ... or maybe it's just that I feel certain poems ... like a snatch of a favorite tune ... or a favorite phrase ... can bear repeating.

Sometimes repetition doesn't hurt ... it may even help ... like a second glimpse of something, in which you see some detail you missed before.

But enough of alibis.

This is one of my dream poems. No, I'm not saying it approaches perfection ... not in any respect. It's a poem about one of my dreams.

It seemed so real to me because it took place in familiar surroundings, much of it in my home neighborhood. The familiar went streaming through my sleep, in one of those dreams which seem to go forever.

I thought it would never end ... especially when it took the mysterious, sinister overtones of my feeling that, although I was on a deserted street, I was being watched.

Usually I wake up, the dream bubble bursts, and that's that.

Not this time.

I reached immediately for that pad and pen which are always nearby, just in case. I'm glad I put down some of those images before they got away from me.

This poem went on to be published in Waterways:

HUNGRY EYES FEASTING

Awash in the buzz and crackle wafting from
The Hillside Tavern’s enchanted neon signs,
I wake to the sound of nothing in my room,
Find the aching cold of yesterday's shoes,
Then, exploring the hall's echoing darkness,
Hear the ticking clock, the click of the lock
Before I go strolling past houses haunted
By the absence of dreams, empty windows
Staring back, thousands of broken promises
That will not be mended - not this night;
Slowly I march to the song of something
I can almost hear, feel its hungry eyes
Feasting on me, sense its crouching, tensing,
Preparing to pounce, and I dare not scream.
© 2005

Today's word: feasting

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Frozen Flight



I'll never understand computers.

One recent morning I woke up to what appeared to be just a normal day. I bounded out of bed when the alarm finally went off ... dashed to the computer to see how many visitors had stopped by to take a look at "Chosen Words" ... and maybe had left a comment.

I stretched and yawned and sat in my squeaky chair in front of the screen. I checked "Chosen Words." Mmmm ... not bad. The numbers are still clicking right along.

Time for another entry.

I said ... Time for another entry. The computer wasn't listening. I tried to log on. I could look, but couldn't touch. I tried again ... and again ... and again.

As usual, I wondered what I had done wrong.

I closed the door softly as I left Brimm Manor and went about the business of running some errands ... getting out for my morning walk, etc.

Much later I returned ... tried again ... and things were working.


Mystery solved? Nope.

And things seem to be working this morning ... and I have a summer poem.

No, sorry, I don't have a picture of a sweat bee to go along with the poem. Those rascals are too tiny, too unpredictable, too fast for me and my camera.

I do have a reminder of summer, however, with today's photo, one of many I've snapped during my daily wanderings ... -er, walks.

The poem itself is almost a haiku moment, a tiny flicker of activity broken off before I became fully focused on what was happening.

But it became a little more than that ... and it carries so many memories of all those places this kind of "stare down" has happened to me over the years.

Originally published in Capper's:

FROZEN FLIGHT

A sweat bee
hovers in my face,
wings invisible
in the heavy air,
then, satisfied
at having won
this stare down,
darts away.
© 1996

Today's word: invisible

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Detour - Expect Delays



Today's offering is obviously a summer poem, but it represents a "philosophy" ... an outlook ... which can be adopted almost any day of the year.

I think it was written on just one of those lazy, hazy, steamy days when I felt the backlog was secure ... no danger of avalanche, at least for the moment ... more important things, those pressing chores from day before yesterday ... and beyond ... could just wait their turn.

I think it's OK to do that sometimes ... to take time to look up from our everyday chores to see what's happening all around us ... the hollyhocks ... the cardinal ... the sunflowers.

Of course, the backlog will still be waiting ... but we can then approach it with the feeling that we're a little more evenly matched now. Try it. It works.

The poem:

DETOUR - EXPECT DELAYS

I have chores
to do, but it's such
a distracting day,
hollyhocks cupping
morning sunlight,
a cardinal swaying
in the evergreen,
a jury of sunflowers
eyeing me suspiciously,
as well they might,
for I, too, may just
follow the sun
the rest of the day.
© 1999
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: backlog

Monday, May 11, 2009

Caught on the Brink



Have you ever found yourself in "the twilight zone," that location which lies vaguely somewhere between sleeping like a baby ... and being fully awake?

Well, I have. Many times.

Thank goodness, it has only happened to me a couple of times when I was behind the wheel ... and without serious outcomes in either instance.

Oh, on one of those occasions ... one very dark night ... I was pulled over by a highway patrolman somewhere in Indiana ... but that's another story.

But let me settle into my favorite chair ... with a favorite book ... and it's like I've been given a knockout potion. Soon the words become blurry ... the room seems to melt away ... the book grows heavy ... my eyelids grow heavier ...

Whoa! I'm getting ahead of myself here. I'll just step aside and let you glide right into the poem:


CAUGHT ON THE BRINK

Something I had just read
struck a chord with me,
sent sympathetic vibrations
dancing down the corridors
of my mind. I could feel
something stirring deep
within me, a new knowledge
coming like a rescuer's lamp
shooting fingers of light
this way and that,
drawing nearer in the murky
darkness, promising a sip
from the cup of understanding,
a way to come clawing out
of this abyss, into fresh air
and natural light. "Bob!" I
heard the distant voice calling.
"Bob! Put down your book,
take off your glasses, recline
your chair!" It was as though
the Thought Police had me
surrounded. What could I do?
What else? I surrendered.
© 2000
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: murky
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Well, thank you, Anonymous ... I'm glad you liked the poem ... a smile is a perfect indicator ... and often my greatest reward. As for turning the poem around ... it just happens sometimes ... it just happens.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bubble



(Sorry about posting this one again so soon ... but I thought it might be appropriate for today)


This little poem is laced with memories.

It began, as many of my poems have, when I was observing other people.

This time I was riding the bus. Sitting near the front, on one of those side-facing bench seats, was a young mother who was chewing gum and entertaining her infant daughter by blowing bubbles.

Watching them, I was reminded of an incident long ago ... I may have been three, or younger, certainly in my pre-school years ... of being seated outdoors in a tub of warm water ... summertime ... bright sunshine.

I still have a distinct memory of a bubble my mother made from that sudsy water, how the bubble glistened in the sunlight. How fragile it was. How magical.

The poem was written, eventually published, and put away. But the memory lingered.

Then, I was out walking with Phyllis in a nearby park, looked up at the fluffy clouds lazing in the sunshine, and noticed the lights near the pavilion ... how like bubbles they seemed to me, as they glistened in the sunlight.

How like that bubble of so many years ago.

The poem:

BUBBLE

My mother's

hand descended

into sudsy water,

a delicate circle

of forefinger, thumb

slowly emerging,

soft lips breathing

life into a bubble

I still see, quivering,

shimmering, a miracle

unmatched in all

of my three years,

and all of these

searching years

since then.

© 1998

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)


Today's word: shimmering

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Autumn Crossing




Autumn is one of my favorite seasons ... largely because I tire of blazing hot weather ... thank you very much ... and start looking forward to cooler nights ... good sleeping weather ... the fall colors, which I always enjoy ... the sight of leaves sifting gently to the earth ... the sounds and the feel of them as I go kicking through on my daily walk.


Today's poem happens to be one of my favorites, too. it was written on a bus, of all places. We were humming along northward, somewhere in Ohio.

The highway seemed to be an endless ribbon unspooling toward us ... but there on both sides ... oh, there was something to watch! The autumn trees were at their absolute peak, as though they were expecting us ... expecting "company."

And there we were.

I was struck by how the colors seemed to be parting, then closing behind us ... something like the parting of the Red Sea in those old movies.

Naturally, I dug out a scrap of paper and began writing ... and here's the result:

AUTUMN CROSSING


A sea of color
rages ahead,
parting for us
with the soft
hum of miles
falling away,
gently washing
back into place,
cloaking all
traces of our
safe crossing.
© 1997
(Originally published in The American Scholar)

Today's word: crossing

Friday, May 8, 2009

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:


WHEN THE FROST COMES

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

Thursday, May 7, 2009

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:

TOMATO PATCH

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sliding Into Third



Don't worry.

I'm not about to slide into third base ... or even run the bases, for that matter. Not even slowly.


Still, there's the imagination which is stirred by the warm spring breezes, the proximity of a playing field, the sun on my back.

The possibilities ... and even that is a stretch, too ... are interesting.

If I were really to try it, I can imagine that I might have to call time out ... if and when I reached first base. From there it would be rapidly (or slowly, perhaps) downhill.

I can just see myself going into that slide ... sliding ... and sliding short of the bag ... just lying there like a bag of potatoes.


No thank you. I'll stick to the poetic possibilities ... thank you very much ... as opposed to the reality of these tired old legs.


But, for now, the poem has legs:

SLIDING INTO THIRD


Sometimes,
when I’m walking past
the empty field,
I’m tempted
to go legging it
around the base paths,
sliding into third,
maybe stealing home,
but then I think
about getting caught
in a run-down
between second
and third, cut down
trying to extend
a beseeching leg
to hook the refuge
of that dusty bag,
and the vision
of that humiliation,
the disgrace of being
the winning run
tagged out, finished,
game over, is more
than I can chance.
Still, on one of my
better days,
I just might try it.
© 2000
(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: beseeching
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Thanks, This and That ... I keep hoping that real spring weather will arrive to stay ... here ... and where you are.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Quick, the Towel!



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


Because it happened again. What happened? Listen ...
It's almost automatic ... as I step into the shower ... that sudden intrusion of a most urgent thought ... that must be written down ... right now.

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


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

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

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

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

The poem:

QUICK, THE TOWEL

There's something
about a shower,
the steamy,
needling water,
the quiet warmth,
something, that
brings to mind
an urgent thought
of some errand,
some left-over
chore, some most
urgent task, that
must be written
on paper now,
right now, before
it goes trickling
down the drain
of forgetfulness.
© 2000
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: needling
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Oh, I hate it when that happens, This and That ... at first. But later, when I've settled back again ... or, days later ... take a look at what I scribbled ... and discover it has something going for it ... OR has kept me from missing a deadline, I'm glad, really glad.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A New Leaf


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 I think each day ... whether you crawl slowly out of bed, hoping the floor will rise up gently to touch your feet ... or leap out ready to face whatever the day may hold for you ... that each day offers this opportunity for that "new leaf" ... a new beginning of sorts.


Me? I've encountered some detours along the way. But here I am, still plodding along, still being drawn by the thought of what may lie ahead, around the next bend in the road.


And I guess I do think about all that offering a "new leaf" ... and the opportunity which comes with that.


Meanwhile, the poem:


A NEW LEAF


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

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Moment




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



Today's poem is based on earliest memory.



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



Or I may just be imagining it all, the product of my wanting to "hear" them.
When I was about two years old, I went to live with my grandparents, who reared me to adulthood. My contact with my mother was limited after that.



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



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



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

Today's word: wistful
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Thank you, This and That, for stopping by again to share your thoughts ... and, yes, it is a good place to walk ... one of my favorites. Even when it's busy, there's a feeling of tranquility about it.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Lost Pencils



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


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


But pencils?


There's something safe, reassuring about a pencil.


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


Here's one now:


LOST PENCILS


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


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


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


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


the one I've always needed,
the one with something to say
that I really need to hear.
© 2000
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: potential

Friday, May 1, 2009

Inscrutable Scrap

(Again, the photo has no direct relationship to the poem ... just something that caught my eye when I was out walking)

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:

INSCRUTABLE SCRAP


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