Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Call of the Mousse



It was one of those day trips that you take with a group of strangers.

You do some walking, some talking and gawking ... then comes the highlight, lunch ... if you're lucky it will be in some fancy place with big windows and a view of the city.

And so it was.

I don't remember many of the details, but I do remember the view of the city ... and the excitement when the dessert arrived. Of course, my doctor had recently put desserts (my favorite food group) on a forbidden list.

I could watch. Period. Oh, but I made some mental notes, jotted a few words on a scrap of paper later, when the bus was rolling toward home. That night it all came together in this little poem.

Then, after the usual polishing and tweaking ... patiently sending it out ... and waiting ... and waiting ... it was published.

Time has passed ... quite a bit of time ... but my mouth still waters a little as the memory is renewed.

And now ... on this morning after I've slept like a log ... awakened as hungry as a bear ... can't wait to get to the breakfast table ... the poem:

CALL OF THE MOUSSE

Fearing that my doctor
might instinctively know,
might be informed
by some skulking spy
in our midst, or that I might
blurt out a full confession
while sitting on his table,
I declined chocolate mousse
when it came crashing
through the underbrush
of after-lunch conversation,
and I sat silently, hungrily
watching while the other five
at my table devoured theirs,
particularly the lady
who, moments before,
had surrendered her fork
with the sad announcement
that she simply couldn’t
eat another bite.
© 2001
(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: chocolate

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Beauty of It



OK, so today's poem fits the "summer re-run" category. I hope you won't mind my repeating myself. Here's part of what I said when I originally posted it:

This commentary is not so much about the poem as about me.
The poem, if not on the first reading, then on the second, reveals itself. My poems, after all, display their meaning fairly near the surface.

But the poem came to me again as I was thinking about something which has been on my mind these past several months.

The poem was lurking nearby yesterday, a long, long day which began amid the trimmings of medical science ... the lights, instruments, glowing screens, careful, attentive, caring medical practitioners.

The day ended with an evening spent watching a "Pink Panther" movie. I needed a few laughs.

***

I was telling readers that I was a cancer patient, that I had been undergoing treatment for several months, and there were other treatments remaining. But the prognosis was good.

I didn't spread the word initially because I found it difficult to talk about ... I knew people would have questions ... and I wasn't prepared for that.

Finally, my intuition told me that I needn't keep guarding this as a "secret." There was no need to keep the facts any longer from friends, from visitors to this page ...

And now, I have some other news to share: My oncologist, at my recent annual visit, released me from treatment. What a great, wonderful, welcome surprise that was.

With many thanks for readers' comments ... which helped to keep me going all those busy months ... sustained me ... and with special thanks to Phyllis, who was with me every step of the way, here's the poem:

THE BEAUTY OF IT

The beauty of intuition
is that you don’t have to analyze,
hypothesize, or otherwise


do anything about it:
You may just sit quietly
and let it come to you,


unfolding like a tightly-wound
rosebud transforming itself,
wafting about while you


breathe in an understanding,
an answer to the question
you hadn't even asked.
© 2003
(originally published in Poem; now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher)

Today's word: intuition

Sunday, June 28, 2009

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:

ALREADY POCKETED


Sometimes,
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

Saturday, June 27, 2009

After Shopping



Chances are, if you've done any shopping at all, you've seen someone searching for a car. This poem is about that. It came to me on one of those hot summer days ... not a good time to do that kind of searching.

It seemed to me that the couple I had observed was confronted with a lot of choices, a lot of directions to go, among a whole sea of vehicles ... "oceans" occurred to me. I kept going with that metaphor, explained their predicament, then concluded by detailing my own problems ...

"Losing" your car like that isn't really funny ... until later. I know. Been there, done that.

I shared this poem one evening with an audience at an "open mike" program. The person who followed me to the microphone explained that cars are so hard to find after shopping, "because they all trade places while we're inside."

You know, I can almost believe that.

The poem, originally published in Capper's, now part of a collection entitled Strawberry Wine, in search of a publisher:

AFTER SHOPPING

Oceans of vehicles

heave and settle

in the parking lot,

and a sea of traffic

goes shimmering

toward the horizon.


While she sails

steadily on,

gripping the tiller

of a wobbly cart,

he remains awash

in her wake, keys

dangling forlornly

from a finger.


They're looking,

looking, lost.

I'd like to tell

them not to despair,

but I have other

fish to fry: Celery

wilting, a cabbage

shaking its head,

potatoes rolling

their eyes over my

chances of ever

finding my own car,

the poor ice cream

beginning to beg me

for mouth-to-mouth

resuscitation.

© 2006


Today's word: resuscitation

Friday, June 26, 2009

Nightsongs



As some of you know, I write a lot about rain. It was such a central part of growing up in rural Southern Illinois. There were many summers when our garden wilted ... never mind the grass that seemed to turn to confetti in our yard ... the cistern ran low ...

Ah, but there were summers, too, when there was an abundance of rain ... and all was well with the world.

We city dwellers tend to forget the importance of rain. We lose touch.

This poem is an effort to restore that touch ... to explore some of the possibilities in the music ... the magic, if you will ... of rain. In the end, I guess it all boils down to "this rain tonight, tremblng leaf to leaf ... to earth."

The poem:

NIGHTSONGS


I lie listening

to the summer night,

wondering what

it might have been like

before roofs came

to glorify the rain,

to magnify the sound.

Was there gentle

crackle and murmur

of a small fire,

a faltering lullaby?

A song kept going,

stick by stick,

until the words

finally surrendered

to deep silence?

The silence of

ashes giving up

their warmth?

Perhaps there was

only the faintest

of songs, like

this rain tonight,

trembling leaf

to leaf ... to earth.

© 2003

("Nightsongs" first appeared online on Poetry Tonight. It also became a part of my first collection of poems, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press in 2003)


Today's word: murmur

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Song






A dozen or so years ago, when I wrote today's poem, I had no idea I would still be writing in 2009 ... or even that there might still be "wisps of thought gathering softly in the valleys of my mind."


But I am, and there still are.


Writing, of course, is a gift. I view it not as a talent which few others have, but as a gift, because the words simply come, freely, to the patient writer ... all writers know this. When they are ready, the words will come ... showing themselves softly, perhaps, like a thistle drifting past, or like a blast entering through a door suddenly opened to it. But they will come.


Writing derives from other gifts, as well. The gift of time, for example. I have been given time to write, thanks to Phyllis, who allows me the quiet moments I need, who gives me the encouragement I crave, who is so patient and caring, so vital to me ... like the air I breathe.


Then there are the gifts of support, words of encouragement, advice, concern, from other family members, from friends and fellow writers, from editors who've liked my work, from those who listen attentively at readings.


These things make writing the greatest gift I can imagine receiving ... they keep making me feel "like a teakettle on the verge of song." And I thank you, one and all.


The poem:


MY SONG



Like a teakettle
on the verge of song,
I have endured
the silent years
and now give vent
to the poems welling,
willing themselves
into being.
My joy-filled song
is the scratch
of pencil on paper,
racing to catch
the wisps of thought
gathering softly
in the valleys
of my mind.
© 1997
(originally published in ByLine)

Today's word: verge

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Sunday Stroll




Veteran visitors to "Chosen Words" ... those with long memories, at least ... may recall having seen today's poem before.


When it was first posted here, I began with and apology: Sorry I'm late.

And I continued:


It's sometimes hard to tell, precisely, when or how "late" begins.


I think maybe it began Sunday afternoon ... and, mind you, I'm not placing any blame ... oh, no ... I'm just trying to set, in my own mind, when the wheels of progress started slipping. In my case, that may have been years ago ... but that's another story ...


Phyllis and I had planned to arrive early Sunday afternoon in the vicinity of the Dayton Metro Library, where we were going to see a short film, "Miami Valley's Favorite Poems," which features local residents reading and discussing their favorite poems.


Then ... oh, then ... we were going to listen to others reading and sharing ... in person. What an afternoon it promised to be!


We did, in fact, arrive early ... but not early enough. We headed to our favorite parking area, only to find the last ... the very last ... parking place being claimed.


No problem ... we assumed that this meant a large crowd for the poetry program ... and that's always good news. Besides, we knew of other parking spots in the neighborhood.


We simply wheeled out of there and drove on ... and on ... and on.


Four blocks later, we found a spot.


As we walked toward the library, it became increasingly clear that the crowd had not gathered for the poetry program, but for a ball game ... at a magnificent stadium ... which has inadequate parking ... but that's another story, too.


We didn't mind the stroll ... we like walking ... but it did remind me of one of my poems (somewhere below).


I don't know about the ball game, but the poetry program was great. I enjoyed all of the readings in the movie, but I was particularly moved by the reading given to Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem, "We Wear the Mask."


Oh, and I enjoyed the readings afterward, too ... particularly one which was done from memory (I always admire and envy people who can do that). There were some who told us they were reading before an audience for the first time ... but they seemed to have the butterflies under control ... and their readings were great, just great.


Naturally, I jumped at the chance to share a couple ofmy poems ... I do that whenever I see a light in a window, or a door slightly ajar. I barge right in ... but, never fear, I usually knock ... softly ... before barging in.


I shared a new one, "My Sister, Tonto," and a couple of oldies, "Hollyhocks," and "Chance of Rain" ... that last, careful readers will note, is the title poem (my lucky poem, I call it) of my first collection (Finishing Line Press, 2003).


On the way back to the car, while I was thinking about the music of all that poetry we had heard ... I couldn't help thinking about that baseball crowd, too ... and what they had missed ... really, really missed.


And now, that poem about another stroll:


MY SUNDAY STROLL

How brave the dogs
crashing into the fence,
bark-bark-barking
at me on the other side.

Are they afraid I'll jump
the barrier (at my age)
and attack them?
Does the fence make them

brave, as brave as I am?
Only inches from
flashing, pointed teeth,
agitated, syncopated paws,

those raging eyes, rising
hackles, I stroll serenely
past as superior as a cat,
knowing that the fence

will corner abruptly and they
must stop, game over,
while I, clearly the winner,
hear only the cheering
crowd as I quit the field.
© 1998
(originally published in Moose Bound Press)

Today's word: serenely

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Heart Listens




This poem was written during a few quiet moments on Christmas Eve, 1997. You will note that it was published approximately eight years later. Patience, my writing friends. Patience.

During those eight years it received many tweakings (that happens almost every time I look at something I've written) ... and, because I keep track of such things, I note that I did seven major revisions.

It was sent out about twenty times, and came back to me, for various reasons. Patience, remember? Ah, but then it arrived in the right place at the right time, pleased an editor, and was published.

I glory in that, not because it will make me rich or famous, but because I believe poetry is meant to be shared. I am delighted that this piece is being shared with Brave Hearts readers, and now with you.

I don't remember the weather on the evening it was written. Wintry, no doubt, with cold winds and falling snow.

It reminded me of so many winter evenings when I was growing up. What beauty the snow brought to the countryside.


What magic there seemed to be in that transformation. What music seemed to enter my being. How my heart danced at the thought of tomorrow.

And now, all these years later, my heart still "listens" ... and dances when it snows.


The poem:

MY HEART LISTENS

This winter night
like no other I have
known, trees glisten
with newborn snow,
shining armor that
seizes the moonlight,
sends it dancing
down the corridors
of my mind. Oh, this
quiet night, my heart
listens to the song
and dances, too.
© 2005
(published in Winter, 2005 issue of Brave Hearts)

Today's word: newborn

Monday, June 22, 2009

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 onto 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:

LATE-NIGHT SERENADE


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

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Heading South




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

The poem:

HEADING SOUTH


Just beyond the trees
giving up their gaudy
leaves of autumn, five geese
rise slowly, dark against
a mottled sky, heading
generally southward,
seeking those highways
that the wild geese take,
while I stand rooted
where chance has put me.

I shall think of them,
wishing vaguely that I had
their gift of flight
as I ride out the storms
of winter, waiting to hear
their honking again,
telling me the season
is breaking, melting into
spring, skein of renewal
linking those who can fly,
those who can only wish.
© 1997
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: renewal

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Clouds at Sunset



Today's offering is an ekphrastic poem, that is, one written about a painting ... actually, one of my own creations.

It's one of the poems I shared with the audience in a "Poets Respond to Art" series at the Dayton Art Institute.


Sorry, I don't have a photo of that particular painting. I didn't get a shot of it before it went off to a new home in Illinois.

Still, I hope the poem will convey the images ... I keep trying to "paint pictures with words" ... that the poem will, at the very least, give the reader the feeling of being there in front of the painting, studying it.

The poem:
CLOUDS AT SUNSET

Mountains tower
on the left, clouds lie
piled like bubbles on the right,
while the sun
lowers itself into the sea,
and a white sail with
a horizontal red stripe
leans across the curving waves
in the foreground.


It's such an old painting,
it might have been the thirties,
awash in Depression, an art
seeking escape while accepting
the realities of that time,
or something as recent
as yesterday, made
to freeze-frame things
in the midst of change,
the clouds, the sun, the sea,
even those sturdy mountains,
eroding while we watch.


It could be just a dream.
© 2003
(From my first collection, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press).

Today's word: foreground
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Thank you, Hannah ... I'm glad you liked the photo. Clouds are among my favorites.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Antidote




I don't know how many nights I had tossed and turned. Let's just say there were a lot of them.

So many times, during those restless nights, I would think of something that seemed to be the start of a poem, perhaps ... or a bit of fiction ... something I might do something with, if only I could remember it the next morning.

I never could. The next morning? Gone ... the slate wiped clean ... not a trace of that "great idea" which had nagged me so much the night before.

Aha! The solution? That's explained in the poem.

But it didn't solve the problem I expected it to ... far from it.


You'll have to read on to discover what problem was solved:

ANTIDOTE

All those nights
of tossing, turning,
I lay awake wishing
I had pad and pencil
to preserve thoughts
dancing fleetingly
across the ballroom
of my frazzled mind.
When finally one night
I remembered to place
these vital tools
within arm's length,
I went smugly to bed.
And slept like a log.
© 1997
(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)

Today's word: fleetingly
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Welcome to the club, Hannah. And here I was, thinking I was the only one this happened to.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Always a Dad



Marie (not her real name) was telling some of her co-workers about her recent visit of a few days with her father.

Her account was interrupted, though, as she recalled one particular detail of that first evening back home ... in Detroit, I believe it was ... and burst out laughing.

This poem, written well after the fact, tells the story, I think:

ALWAYS A DAD

Marie, a young exec,
on the first evening
of a few days' visit
with her father,

dined out with a trio
of school-day friends.
Opening the door softly
well after midnight,

she found her father
dozing in his chair,
yesterday's newspaper
asleep on his lap,

just like the old days
of curfew and concern.
She gently scolded him
for waiting up for her.

Saying he really hadn't,
he struggled to his feet
and silently received
an understanding hug.
© 1996
(originally published in Anterior Poetry Monthly)

Today's word: dozing
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
I'm glad this one tugged at the heartstrings, Hannah. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Alone




I don't recall the date, exactly, but I do recall that evening, sitting, trying to read, pausing as I felt the house "filling with quiet," then reaching for a pen, a scrap of paper, so I could record my feelings.

My thoughts did seem to be "shy and skittery," like field mice, it occurred to me. I imagined the sound of their tiny feet, running in a quiet place, like the house where I was alone that winter evening, or perhaps a country church ... during prayer.

Fortunately, my being alone was a condition of short duration ... only a few evenings, as I recall ... but it helped me to identify with those for whom sitting alone in the quiet of a house, apartment, or room, is a continuing thing.

I hope I managed to capture a degree of that, too. The poem:

ALONE

The house fills
with quiet tonight,
only my thoughts
moving about,
shy and skittery
like field mice
in a country church
during prayer.
© 1999
(originally published in Riverrun)

Today's word: skittery
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Thank you, Hannah. I'm glad you liked it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Transformation



I think today's poem requires little in the way of explanation.

When the idea came to me and I tried to capture it on paper, I struggled to squeeze as much into eight short lines as I possibly could.

I was operating then under the mistaken impression that Capper's ... where I was thinking I might submit it ... only published eight-line poems.

I believe, however, that I may have succeeded in conveying my central message: The world does take on a new aspect when we view it with "new eyes."

Oh, if we could just manage to maintain that perspective.

The poem:

TRANSFORMATION

The landscape
seems different
from yesterday,
brighter, softer,
and yet the same
in all details.
Could it be that
I have changed?
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: transformation
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Thank you, Hannah, thank you.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Summer Dancers



I thought you might not mind a summer poem ... though I feel I shouldn't rush into anything like that.

I'm not ready for an abrupt plunge into summer weather, mind you ... I can take a bit of transition ... a few more days ... weeks, if you don't mind ... of the pleasantly cool weather we've been having here in Ohio.


And no really cold weather either, thank you. I don't tolerate winter cold as well as I once did, and shoveling has become more of a chore.

Of course, when summer really comes, I'll probably find myself thinking of crisp, cool mornings, the sun glinting on a new covering of snow ... my search for mittens and scarf.

Meanwhile, here's a glimpse of a place long, long ago and far away, originally published in Capper's:

SUMMER DANCERS


Flecks of sunlight
descend through
the leafy canopy,
dancing on the path,
still dancing
after the breeze
has gone off
toward a hillside
lush with wheat
that slowly leans
and straightens,
as though hearing
soft music, too.
© 2001

Today's word: canopy
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
... and a beautiful comment, hannah. Thank you.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

All Those Trees



Memory ... how important it is ... not just so we can find things we seem to have hidden from ourselves only minutes before ... but for preserving events along the way ... to be savored later.

They may not be vitally important ... or important at all, in their own right ... but I'm convinced that they do have a role to play.

I enjoy recalling pleasant events ... or even just enjoyable moments ... when all the world seems to be working against me.

I guard against "living in the past," of course ... an impossible task, but also an activity that can have disappointing, if not disastrous, results.

I am pleased, however, when I see someone I haven't seen for a while ... and I remember their name. I am doubly pleased when I can remember where I put something. Memory ... memories ... so important to all of us, I think.

Today's poem owes much to the memories associated with a day trip had taken with a group of "senior citizens."

We had sort of wandered off from the group ... intentionally, mind you ... I like to do that sometimes ... simply to enjoy a bit of quiet, to stretch my legs, to view the scene from a different angle.

But let's let the poem tell the story:


ALL THOSE TREES


We'd grown tired of winding

along with the other tourists

through the aromatic rows


upon rows of captive plants,

felt our own tendrils tugging

gently toward a nearby hill.


We had paused half-way up

when there was a sudden

flutter of excited footsteps,


the clatter of young laughter,

and we were swiftly engulfed

by a surging flood of children


racing tree-to-tree, so intent

on their game they didn't see

us standing there, recalling


a game we had played so like

theirs, savoring the memories,

and now, loving all those trees.

© 2001

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)


Today's word: aromatic
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Thank you, hannah. I'm glad you enjoyed your "stroll among the trees."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Autumn Night



Perhaps these images, written about so wistfully, have little meaning to others, but to me they are the essence of things I miss about that place where I grew up.

I think it is quite natural that we have this connection with our beginnings, and quite natural that we should think of them again ... and again ... as we look back and see just how far we've traveled in all these years.

Thank goodness for that "bridge of memories." I often go strolling across it.

The poem:


AUTUMN NIGHT


Stars spilled
across dark velvet,
thin ribbon of smoke
climbing the air,
lettuce-crisp, clear,
toward a lemon moon,
square of window
whispering its light
through the trees,
beckoning to me,
wanderer still,
with only a bridge
of memories
to carry me back.
© 1996
(originally published in Explorer)

Today's word: wanderer
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:
Well, thank you, Helen! When something I've written gets a reaction like that, I know I'm on the right track.
Thank you, Hannah, for that awesome comment.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Messengers



"Chosen Words," which began in 2004, has welcomed more than 43,000 visitors, thanks to those who have taken a look ... and told others.

Without these "messengers" ... people telling other people ... the counter, elsewhere on the screen, would have moved hardly at all.

But it has, and that has been my inspiration, my impetus to continue, even on those days when I might prefer simply going with the flow.

I've gone through the ritual of selecting a poem for each day, thumbed through photos, drawings or other pieces of appropriate illustration ... and then undergone the sometimes-tedious process of putting them all together.

These elements have become my "light in the window," beckoning visitors to pause in their daily routines, to "stand in the shade a bit," to enjoy a few quiet moments, to listen to the murmur of words committed to paper, then to this new medium we're sharing.

I hope that when each visitor then resumes the journey, takes up the next task at hand, he or she is at least less burdened, if not inspired, for having paused here.

I hope these have been pleasant interludes for you. I appreciate your stopping by for a visit ... and I thank you for telling a friend about this place.

Thank you for making this a pleasant journey for me, too.

Today's poem:

MESSENGERS

Weary of the small,
murmuring fire
in the wood-burning
stove, I step outside
on a still, crisp night
to look at the stars.

Far overhead,
a flight of geese
moves slowly northward,
spreading the good news
to all who would hear
on this lonely night.
© 2000
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: murmuring

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Inside Job




Regular visitors to "Chosen Words" are aware that I don't often engage in structured verse.
I enjoy reading well-crafted rhyme, but I find the process of making it difficult and frustrating.
This poem is an effort to reconstruct a minor crime that I became witness to as a child. You may notice that some of the details of the poem vary from the official version of what really happened:
We had a screened-in back porch, and a lot of cats. The porch was sometimes, but not always, off-limits to the cats.
Naturally, when my grandparents discovered the cats sitting on the inside looking out, I ... the most innocent of young children ... was the prime suspect.
I had not let the cats in, really. While there was no apparent punishment for my "crime," I was determined to clear my name, and clear it I did.
With careful watching and waiting, I caught the real culprit in the act.
One of our cats ... not "Fuzzy," I hasten to add ... had learned that if he sank his claws into the opening edge of the screen door, he could pull it open just enough for his buddies ... and him ... to slip inside.
I showed my grandparents this feline felon in action ... and we lived happily ever after.
Today's art? It's one of my photographs from Cox Arboretum, which happens to be one of my favorite walking places.
I know, it doesn't serve to illustrate today's poem, but I don't seem to have any pictures of six cats peering out the window, and this photo just sort of popped out at me again today, so there it is.
The poem:
INSIDE JOB
When we got home the cats were all
At the front window, looking out;
Six, counting Fuzzy, standing tall,
And purring to themselves, no doubt.
Picture perfect, but then chagrin.
"They were supposed to be waiting
Outside," I heard myself grating.
"That rat, Fuzzy, has let them in."
© 2005
(originally published in Grit magazine)
Today's word: chagrin

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How to Reach 80



We had braved a roaring winter storm, and there we sat, celebrating an 80th birthday ... no, not mine ... a friend's.

You'll have to read the poem to share in her secret of how to achieve that venerable age ... the Big Eight-OH!

At the time I thought it was funny. I remember joining in the laughter as she revealed the "secret" ... a statement so like her. I didn't think it was very useful advice, really. Just funny.

And now that I've crept a bit closer to that mile marker, I'm thinking, well, maybe ...

The poem:

HOW TO REACH 80


We ate Cajun food,
savored the singing,
all the memories
of this tiny lady
celebrating and
being celebrated
for her active life
as mother, fellow
worker, confidante,
for bringing us
sunshine on cloudy
days. And we all
leaned forward
to catch every
word as she stood,
she said, to share
her secret: "Just
keep breathing."
© 2001
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: celebrating

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Buddy


(No photo of Buddy to go along with today's installment ... sorry ... but I like the play of light and shadow in this one, taken at Cox Arboretum, thought you might like it, too)

Today's poem was written a long time ago, but the memories remain strong.

I might as well tell you now, Buddy was a Beagle, much in evidence in the neighborhood ... his neighborhood ... his yard ... and sometimes in his vehicle, as his people took him along for the ride.

But, as the poem relates, he was often indoors, too ... at the window, looking out on the world. Often, when I'd look out to see if it was raining, or snowing, or a sunny day suitable for a stroll in the neighborhood, there would be Buddy looking out his window, too.

Buddy moved away a long time ago, but the memories remain, and I still sometimes expect to see him looking back at me from across the street.

The poem:

BUDDY


Sometimes,
when I'm alone,
I look out
my front window,
and there's Buddy,
staring back at me
from across the way.

Resting his chin
on the back
of his gray sofa,
he trains a sharp eye
on the street,
watching for dogs,
or squirrels,
or maybe even cats.

He watches, puzzled
that I have no leash
as I trot off
on my daily rounds,
for I'm sure
Buddy must think
I'm a Beagle, too,
as house-bound
and lonely as he.
© 1996


(originally published in Anterior Poetry Monthly)

Today's word: house-bound

Monday, June 8, 2009

Autumn Rain



Thunderstorms were frightening to a youngster growing up in rural Southern Illinois. They seemed so packed with fury, so unpredictable as they lashed out, leaving so much damage in their wake.

But rain, particularly a gentle rain at night, was a different matter.

I learned to listen to its comforting cadence against the windows or on the roof, to hear the music it contained.


Sometimes it was like a whisper. Sometimes a Saturday night hoedown.

But it was my kind of music. I loved going to sleep to it ... waking up to it ... or just lying there listening to it.

We forget, sometimes, what a gentle, soothing, healing sound rain can make, especially as harsh summer days begin slowly surrendering to the cooler days and cooler nights of autumn.

This poem is about that kind of rain. It was originally published in Capper's, then in my first collection, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003:

AUTUMN RAIN

Struggling awake
to the sound
of trees scratching
at my green roof,
I see their limbs
swaying against
rolling clouds.

Dancing lightning,
slanting drops,
steady drone
of falling water;
trees, docile now,
guiding droplets
to thirsting soil,
I turn my pillow
cool side up,
go drifting off
in this cradling
sea of sound.
© 2003

Today's word: hoedown

Sunday, June 7, 2009

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


The poem:



AFTER ORDERING


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

Saturday, June 6, 2009

This Summer Day



I'm almost afraid to mention the weather, for fear of bringing an abrupt shift of gears ... from the pleasant temperatures we've had recently ... and are still enjoying in Ohio ... to those days which bring visions of eggs frying on the sidewalk.

I haven't looked up the birth date of today's poem, but I'm sure it was written back in the days when my writing was done in an attic space ... a great portion of the house where there was always a feeling of quiet ... away from the phones and other distractions.

It was a beautiful nook ... even had a view of the city ... but it was subject to temperature extremes ... HOT in the summer ... and finger-numbing COLD in the winter.

Got the scene?

I may have forgotten the date on which today's poem was written ... but I do recall sitting there barefoot at the keyboard as I wrote.

The poem:

THIS SUMMER DAY


It's five-thirty in the morning,
and in a nearby yard a dog
is barking for his breakfast.


A cardinal serenades
the dew-draped maple,
an unidentified singer
in a neighboring tree
provides counterpoint,
and I'm sitting barefoot,
ready for the steam.


A captive fan bestows
an artificial breeze,
one for me to remember
as the temperatures
and humidity blast off.


I may have to dig up
memories of last winter,
stored in the root cellar
of my mind for such a day.


Even the crows are out,
cawing: "Hot, hot, HOT!"
© 1995
(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: hot

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sudden Thunder



The skies were a bit threatening, but nothing serious, as I set out on my morning walk. Still, I had chosen one of my intermediate routes, which would add two miles to my good-behavior record, rather than the usual one mile ... or, in warm, sunny weather, three miles.

I'm sure there had been some rumblings, but nothing to worry about, just a bit of background music as I went strolling along, my thoughts a million miles away.

I was somewhere along Watervliet Avenue, heading generally east, when a sudden explosion of thunder got my attention.


Did it ever. It was so loud that "nearby" seems an understatement.

I remember turning - I have no idea what I expected to see - but I turned, found myself looking down this driveway, and there, in the wind and rain, was this beautiful rose, bending and straightening, almost as though beckoning to me.

I've tried to fix that exact location in memory, but I have yet to locate that precise driveway, that fence, that rose again.

I must have been soaked by the time I got home, but I don't remember changing into dry clothing. I don't think I was chased all the way home by lightning. I would certainly remember that. But do remember that moment when I turned and discovered that rose.

I'll always remember that.

The poem:


SUDDEN THUNDER

I was walking,
cradled in thought,
when a nearby
crash of thunder
wheeled me
and I stood looking
down a long driveway
at a deep red rose
that was leaning
and straightening
beside a dark
gray fence.

For the longest
moment I remained
rooted there, letting
the rain trickle
down my neck,
drip from my
fingers, admiring
this beautiful flower
that had drawn me
to it with
a clash of cymbals,
brittle song
of thunder.
© 2003
(from my first collection, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: thunder

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Morning Stroll



It could have been Anyplace, USA, and perhaps it was.

I don't think I had a specific site in mind when I wrote it. I lived and worked a lot of places in the Midwest where there were bridges, steeples, rooftops to receive those early morning rays.

During a couple of military stints, I saw places outside the Midwest, of course, but the Midwest is where I'm rooted, where these morning impressions, I'm sure, were received and stored away.

Even as a child, once I got my eyes open and my tennis shoes on my feet, I found something peaceful about those precious minutes when the sun was just climbing over the hill, preparing to fill the valley with warmth and light.

Much of my adult work life required that I be up before the sun.

Again, despite my groggy condition at that hour, I would sometimes glimpse something in first light that would stay with me much of that day ... the fiery glow of light against a window ... light and shadow on a steeple ... or even distant cars "fluttering into movement."

Strange, but I did sometimes feel that I should move softly about, in order to avoid disturbing those who were a part of this tranquil scene ... or for fear of somehow disturbing the scene itself.

And this from one who has never really been a morning person.

The poem:

MORNING STROLL

The town seems
so deep in sleep
as early light
goes streaming
across rooftops,
touching steeples,
moving on
to where cars
are fluttering
into movement
near the bridge,
that I stroll
ever so softly,
taking care
not to disturb.
© 2000
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: stroll

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Into Warm Light



Those of us who write ... and there are a lot of us ... thank goodness ... know about obstacles.

My day ... and I'm sure yours, too ... is filled with little distractions, interruptions, barriers, hurdles which must be cleared, if I am going to have a few minutes that I can devote just to writing.

I must.

I have this burning need to write ... for myself, if nothing else ... possibly to share what I've written ... possibly to submit it to an editor who may ... or may not ... have time to give it a leisurely, thoughtful reading.

But finding time ... those few minutes for scrawling something on paper ... or, these days, sitting at the keyboard and watching the words as they appear across the screen ... is the problem ... a major problem.

Somehow we do find a few minutes to listen to those voices which beckon us ... and we do write ... and we do sometimes emerge, then, into the warm light of understanding.

The poem:

INTO WARM LIGHT


An afghan draped
on my legs, fingers
aching with cold,
fatigue slowing
the curl of letters
unspooling to become
words, I write
in a house gone quiet
except for random
creaks and groans,
the laboring clock,
going where voices
softly beckon me,
down the corridors
that eventually
widen out, opening
into the warm light
of understanding.
© 2001
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: understanding

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Early Writer



I write any time I can, but I've found mornings best, before other details of the day ... yesterday's unfinished chores, today's agenda ... begin pressing in.

Still, I'm not naturally a morning person.

I don't spring out of bed singing and laughing and dancing.

I'm not a total grump either. It's just that I'm not fully wound at that time of the day, as evidenced by this little poem ... which is, itself, further evidence of why I don't write much rhyme, and perhaps shouldn't.

But here's the poem:

EARLY WRITER

Up at the crack of dawn
After a restless night,
Sleeves rolled up, thinking cap on.
The time has come to write.
Outline great, title gold,
The rest should be a snap,
But I feel vaguely old,
Like I should take a nap.
Still, I grope for the keys,
Get set to take the leap.
One moment, if you please:
My brain is still asleep.
© 1999
(originally published in PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: asleep

Monday, June 1, 2009

Don't Dance on My Toes




Phyllis and I were on a day-trip, visiting Chillicothe, Ohio, and the magnificent, neighboring Adena.

Among those at our table during lunch were some couples who enjoy line dancing ... oh, do they ever. Their enthusiasm was catching ... almost.

I say almost, because my early experience with dancing was ... well, catastrophic.



I must have been in fifth or sixth grade ... we were giving a demonstration of some kind of historic dance for a school assembly.


Afterward, I was thinking that it had gone fairly well. But then my partner complained that I had stepped on her toes ... several times, I believe she said.

I still blame that early, scarring experience for keeping me off the dance floor to this day. I can only hope that my partner in that early dance wasn't similarly scarred for life.


I suppose that first ... and last ... dance led me, eventually, to the writing of today's poem.


As those who know me will agree, I don't go toe-to-toe or nose-to-nose with anybody on any issue. It's not that I couldn't, or wouldn't ... nor that I haven't.

It's just that I've learned that it doesn't solve anything. Rather, it does create a new set of problems ... often far more serious than the original offense did.


I prefer, instead, to take my frustration, disappointment, and, yes, sometimes anger, to the keyboard, where I can work myself through to a better frame of mind.


Sometimes this results in something like:

DON'T DANCE ON MY TOES

I don't care
if you’ve gotrhythm
and grace galore,
please
don't dance on my toes.


I don't care
if you're wild as a daisy,
sweet as a rose,
just, please,
don't dance on my toes.



I don't care
if you're rich, smart,
sophisticated,
and stuff like that -
don't dance on my toes.



'Cause, brother,
I've got troubles
and pain galore,
and I just
don't need any more.
© 2000
(originally published in Art Times)

And today's art? Oh, it was done by an artist friend of mine, Thomas, who also happens to be my - our - young grandson. He was visiting us, probably waiting patiently for the meal to begin, when inspiration struck. In addition to pieces like this, he also does great drawings ... and paintings ... he is, after all, my - our - grandson.

Today's word: scarred


Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments:

Thank you, hannah, for those kind words ... and I particularly liked "Broken Vows" on your site.