Friday, July 31, 2009

Ordinary Moments



Sometimes it seems that all my poems are rooted in memory.


This one is no exception.


From those distant beginnings ... the foundation stones of all those "ordinary moments" in a young boy's life ... to today ... there's a long bridge of discovered excitement, adventure.


I often go trudging back across that bridge, in search of those beginnings, because I see them now as more than just ordinary events.


Isn't that always the case?


The poem:


ORDINARY MOMENTS


... in which I discover

travel-rounded stones

on the meandering

creek bed of my mind,

each a found treasure

whirring me back

to rainy days spent

with musty books, nights

floating in wood smoke,

mornings with eggs

frying in a dark skillet,

moments when the world

seemed to be

just waiting for me

to kick off the covers,

resume my pursuit

of this great adventure.

© 2001

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: travel-rounded

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Next Shade


(It's not a summer photo ... and that's shadow, rather than shade, but I find shadows interesting, too)


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

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

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

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

These brief interludes of relative coolness make it possible for us to walk outdoors in the hot, sultry months ... and survive.
If we hear rumbles of thunder, it's back to the mall.

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

NEXT SHADE

Once, walking to town,

I complained that it was

too hot, too dusty, far

too far, but Grandma,

who had walked it many

times before, simply

said, "We can make it

to next shade, then

we'll rest. Next shade,

rest," and it became

a game, the next shade

our refuge, drawing

us along like a magnet,

the trip getting easier.

I've thought of that

a lot of times when it

seemed the going had

become too demanding,

and I always found

next shade, some rest,

before pressing on,

her words still making

it easier for me.

© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

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

Today's word: survive

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Memories



There's no mistaking the signature on the art.

Tom, it appears, was the moving force behind this work, a collaboration with Alan, who is one of his uncles, and with Grandma Brimm, who was being honored on this particular Mother's Day weekend.

When the poem, "Memories," presented itself to me, this photograph of their Saturday afternoon efforts seemed the obvious choice to accompany it.

Here are memories in the making ... the vulture, the butterfly, the crouching creature (a lizard) ... and, of course, the signature.

We have stored up so many similar memories. We look forward to slipping them out to savor them later, at a time when they will taste the sweetest to us.

And we hope that when TOM is ten times seven he will savor them, too ... that he will discover the sweetness of memories from that weekend when he honored his mother, Kathy, and one of his grandmothers, too ... and delighted them both with his art.

(Tom, by the way, is still pursuing his interest in art)

And now the poem:

MEMORIES

Resting, I search
the honeycomb
of my mind
for warm memories,
and those I find
have grown sweeter
than I ever
dreamed they could.
© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: honeycomb

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Laughter



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

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

Things are not just a little funny, eliciting a polite chuckle.

They are really, really funny. There's a sudden explosion of laughter, and when they try to control it ... the more they try ... the more it comes bubbling out.

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

Originally published in Capper's:

LAUGHTER

What luxury

the laughter
of children,
the champagne
of sounds
unexpectedly
uncorked,
cascading,
filling
the glasses
of those nearby,
tickling
their noses.
© 1996
Today's word: contagion

Monday, July 27, 2009

I Could Not Pass It By



While strolling through a well-known store, just minding my own business, pretending to be a serious shopper intent on throwing a lot of money around ... I encountered Gloria, a friend I hadn't seen in ages.

We were delighted to see each other again. We used to be in a writing group together. I always enjoyed her writings ... mostly snippets of autobiography ... and she had kind things to say about my poetry.

We had barely exchanged greetings ... including a warm hug ... when she asked: "Are you still collecting pencils?"

She remembered! Mainly she remembered how, at one of our meetings, I brought in a handful of pencil stubs ... little discarded things that I had found on the sidewalk, in the gutter, etc., during my daily walks.

My idea was to pass them around to members of the writing group, with the suggestion that they write something with them. I thought it would be interesting to see what the pencils would "tell us."

I offered them first to Gloria ... who recoiled as though I had just tried to hand her a snake.

"Why, we don't know where those have been!" she exclaimed.

Yes, I admitted, I'm still collecting pencils ... though there seemed to be fewer of them lying about at the beginning of this school year ... symbolizing another shift in technology, I suppose.

Well, that exchange brought to mind the poem I'm offering today, a poem from collection entitled Wood Smoke, published by Finishing Line Press.

I think "I Could Not Pass It By" pretty well tells its own story, but, as is the case with all poems, the reader brings a certain experience, a certain viewpoint to the reading of it. That always gives it a special flavor, often beyond what I had expected it to impart.

The poem:

I COULD NOT PASS IT BY


I found it lying there
in the snows of Watervliet Avenue,
as cold and senseless as my own
toes pointing the way for me
up the sidewalk curving toward
the Belmont Business District.

I found it freshly pointed,
eraser in nearly-new condition,
reclining so yellow beside
the curb that I could not
pass it by. With a practiced swoop
I possessed it and walked on,

swiping it across a gloved hand,
then offering it body warmth
in a pocket snug within the down
of my dark brown corduroy-collared
jacket. I felt it shedding
its coldness against my chest

as I wondered where it had been,
what magic it had revealed
to some young pupil watching
as it sent caravans of letters
tracking across the desert page
in some remote, arid classroom.

But now I watch while it marshals
the words that go streaming across
a page I’ve offered to it, and we
pause, listening for late-night
stirrings near the top step of my
mind, a young poem, awake, thirsting.
© 2005
(part of my third collection, Wood Smoke, published by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: thirsting

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Homage



(Today, one of my pencil sketches, "Dogwood - Spring Hope")

I grew up within sight of that cemetery which held the grave of a great-grandmother I never knew ... a sister ... a brother ... and so many others who had peopled the small community in which I was growing up.

I remember the curving road which carried the funeral processions up and around ... the parked cars ... the tent covering the grave site ... the mourners gathering ... heads bowed ...

I remember the flowers ... the small flags moving gently in the breeze ... the sound of the rifles being fired in salute ... a silence as the echoes of that gunfire ebbed and flowed away ... the faltering, mournful sound of a bugle ... somewhere distant ... up there among the bluffs ...

I remember it all ... especially now that I am unable to travel back that great distance ... but I think they would understand my absence ... as they understood my presence among them then ... they would understand ...

The poem:

HOMAGE

I stand in the silence
beside the graves
on the slope of that hill
where the acorns fall
like spent minutes.

I stand, thinking
of those who helped me,
gave me that gentle push
in the small of my back,
sent me off toward places
they had never been,
would never be, sent me
off toward becoming
what I am, what I may
yet become.

I stand there thanking
them for their love.
© 2007
(First Place award, ByLine Contest; published in Brave Hearts, Fall, 2007)

Today's word: becoming

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Grilled Cheese and Shake


(As is often the case, the art/photo has nothing to do with today's posting, really, but I like the mood it conveys, and thought I'd share it)

It took me a long time to get through college, and it wasn't because I was a slow learner.

I didn't have any money. That, of course, delayed the start.


Even after a bit of military service, I still didn't have any money to speak of. But that's another story.

Let's just say I was finally in college ... and on a budget.

Oh, I had a place to sleep, a rented room, and I had a couple of places where I could grab a bite to eat at a reasonable price. The fact that I was a breakfast skipper helped the bottom line, too.

I fell into the habit of eating at those few chosen places regularly, and the people on the other side of the counter soon knew what I'd have, even before I announced it.

Ah, those were the days.

In the poem, of course, I've changed the names ... to protect the innocent, as they say ... even the name of this one particular place bears no resemblance to its actual name.

The rest of it is true ... quite true, as a matter of fact. The name of the bread? That was its real name. Honest!

The poem:

GRILLED CHEESE AND SHAKE

Betty knew her customers

down at the Lunch Box

Cafe, where conversations

slid to the back burner

when hulking trains

came lurching past.


I'd walk in, starved,

as skinny as a snake,

and she’d toss two slices

of buttered Bunny Bread

and a thin slice of cheese

into the smoke rising

from the grill, power up

a blender, add a squirt

of strawberry flavoring

to a prospective shake.


I'd straddle my favorite

wobbly stool, sit savoring

the smoke, anticipating

that last surreptitious slurp,

its sweet, sticky essence,

sit watching Betty at work,

marveling at her memory,

how cool she was when

the orders piled up,


how she knew when to turn

the sandwiches, snatching

them back from disaster,

wondering if she knew how

those skinny sandwiches

and thick, frothy shakes

were snatching me back, too.

© 2001

(originally published in A New Song)

Today's word: frothy
Afterthoughts ... in response to your comments ...
Thank you, Hannah, for yet another electronic pat on the back. I appreciate them all, and I apologize for being so lax abount responding. I'll try to do better.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Flowering Friendship



I remember how sad it was to look out the window and see what had happened to the tulips, daffodils and peonies as a result of a late freeze.

We had enjoyed summer-like weather, and then this. All those beautiful plants wilting to the ground, as though someone had taken a blowtorch to them.

But my thoughts quickly turned to those who had likely suffered greater losses ... those who had fruit trees budding and blossoming, for example.

And then, as if to console me, today's poem came to mind.

It was written at the end of a season, rather than the beginning, and it paid tribute to a good year in which no late frost had occurred, in which we had enjoyed watching the flowers, from their first shoots breaking through the soil, to their greening and blossoming, and, finally, as the season came to a close, their departure.

I was already looking forward to the next year. I knew I would miss them during the winter months, but felt assured that they, like old friends, would be back.

And I hoped that those which were so damaged by a late frost this year would be back, too.

The poem:

FLOWERING FRIENDSHIP

Summer-weary flowers,

what beauty came

of your being with us

another season,

what pleasure grew

from your growing.

We must, by all means,

meet again next year.

© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: pleasure

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Encounter


(It has nothing to do with today's entry ... but I just felt like sharing this watercolor with you)

It was such a strange encounter. I was startled, but not frightened. After all, it just took me a second or two to realize that what I was seeing was my own reflection.

But I'll never forget that feeling, as I turned slowly, not thinking about anything in particular ... perhaps about where my bus was, when it would pull up at that corner ... and there was this reflection in the store window, a reflection so much like the image of my grandfather, one I had carried in memory for so many years ...

I had never thought that I looked very much like him. Still, that first glance at the reflection was like seeing him again ... my reaction, as I saw it in that window, was like seeing him reach out for me ... again.

It didn't occur to me to rush home and write about the encounter. I wasn't writing poetry then. But, much later, when I began learning the practice of sitting in a quiet place, waiting for the words to come to me, these are the ones that made their presence known to me:

ENCOUNTER

There was no mistaking the slope

of his shoulders, the shape
of his head; it was my grandfather
staring from the store window
while I stood in sprinkling rain
waiting for an afternoon bus.

I recalled how it was raining
when I had stood in uniform
beside his bed in that darkened
room, how I had wanted to say
things he could not hear, how I
had finally broken and wept.

And now, all these years later,
I watched as he reached his hand
toward me, the unwanted child,
then, as I stood watching his image
blur in the rain against the window,

we knew I had finally become him.
© 2003
(part of my first collection of poetry, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: image

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dare I Ask?





My usual approach is to select a poem, write something about it, then try to find a suitable illustration, photo or otherwise.

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

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

I snapped it as a possibility for a future painting. I'm intrigued by old things, the challenge of preserving that look, but with a touch of freshness in the painting itself.

In this case, I also gave the photo a sepia tone, thus enhancing the feeling of oldness. I may or may not try to carry that over into an eventual painting.

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

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

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

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

DARE I ASK?

"Red Wheelbarrow for Sale," says

the small hand-lettered sign that
flutters like a special invitation to me
as I slow my pace, pause to look.

I'm intrigued. Not green, nor gray,
nor just a plain old wheelbarrow,
but red. I can see myself strolling
home pushing that beautiful red ...

What am I doing? I don't really
need one, haven't a place to put it,
my wife would probably kill me.
Still, maybe just a quick peek?
© 2002
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: peek

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Carrying the Water



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

We had no running water, no indoor plumbing ... not unusual for that time and place.

Our water source for the house was a cistern, with a crank and chain which brought the stored rain water up. It was situated just outside the back porch.

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

This was not easy work. Like most young children, however, I wanted to try it.

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

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

Eventually I learned the value of experience.

And now, the poem:

CARRYING THE WATER

My grandfather could take
the swaying bucket
all the way,

uncertain as he was, from
well to house, and not
spill a drop.

The water sat, contented,
even though his hands
were trembling,

his step less steady than
mine, his eyes unsure
of the path.

But, hard as I might try,
I couldn't carry it
without loss.

Rising up against me, it
bounded over the top
of the pail,

splashing against my calf,
making dark splotches
on red soil

when I dared set it down,
like sins denied
but still mine.

© 2007

(This poem received an honorable mention in a Sinclair Community College contest; it was subsequently published in Capper's, and is part of my second collection of poems, Hollyhocks, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, KY, 2007)
Today's word: contented

Monday, July 20, 2009

Beyond the Words



Regular visitors to "Chosen Words" know that I often discuss ... in far too much detail, I'm afraid ... a particular poem's origins ... what it was that prompted me to write a particular piece in a particular way.

That can be interesting sometimes ... and even helpful to the reader.

But hindsight tells me that I frequently overdo it. I hope to avoid that today by simply presenting the poem.

Oh, if it happens to resonate in a certain way with you ... if it takes on a special meaning as you read it ... I'd certainly be glad to hear about that.

It's sometimes helpful to know what the readers feel I've said, rather than ... or in addition to ... what I think I've said.

Meanwhile:

BEYOND THE WORDS


I was born hungry for words
that tempted me like popcorn
on a string, rested lightly,
melted sweetly on my tongue.

I grubbed them out, devoured
them, savored their aftertaste,
grew in vision as their images
nourished and sustained me.

Now, lulled by the puffed up,
empty words I'm fed each day,
I sleep fitfully, wake up starved,
not for words, but for meaning.
© 2005
(published in the November, 2005, issue of Poem)
Today's word: hungry

Sunday, July 19, 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

Saturday, July 18, 2009

At Sunset



I can usually recall the starting point ... the impetus ... of something I've written. Not so in this case.

It might be because I've written so many. It becomes a bit difficult to recall precisely what triggered each one.

I have a feeling, though, that this one promised to be a longer piece ... perhaps a short story. I was letting my imagination run free on this scene from the close of the day. I'm not sure where it was headed ... its ultimate destination.

Writing is like that sometimes. I always like to get the words on paper ... those bits and pieces of thought which come to me of their own accord ... for, on later reflection ... and a bit of tweaking ... they may turn into something worth keeping and sharing.

This one didn't go on to bigger things. But I liked the descriptive phrases, and it appears that the editor liked them, too.

With that, here's the poem:

AT SUNSET

Dying embers of day
arc slowly on drapes
drawn tightly
like an old man's mouth
sealed against saying
that which must
not be said. His room,
steeped in darkness,
recalls a steely pool
of tension, burdened
dome of sky,
dark leaves stirring
now, a gathering
of thoughts seeking
shelter for the night.
© 1999
(originally published in Potpourri)
Today's word: steeped

Friday, July 17, 2009

What Was That?



(One of my colored pencil drawings. It has nothing to do with today's poem, really, but it worked its way to the top of a stack again, and I thought I'd share it with you.)

I write a lot about ordinary things ... those things all around me ... things which are seen ... or heard ... almost every day ... things which might go unnoticed, had I not started trying to "see things with new eyes."

Or, I suppose, in this instance, to hear things with new ears.

The poem deals with a bit of ancient history ... so much time has passed since the incident about which I've written ... but it's good to be able to look back, sometimes, to remember ... to chuckle again over something that happened ... something, in the broad sweep of things, quite ordinary ... but still valued.

The poem:

WHAT WAS THAT?

When I heard
a chorus of crickets
in my son's room,
I wasn't surprised.

When I heard bird calls,
that didn't faze me
in the least.

But when I heard
the songs of whales,
I sat upright
and took notice.

Just a CD, Dad,
he reassured me,
and I drifted off
with hardly a ripple.
© 1995
(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: ripple

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Voice and Song



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

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

Then my voice changed.

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

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

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

VOICE AND SONG

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Under the Oaks




The oaks may have been "massive" only as their size was relative to my own, but they did seem to be towering, dominating, clustered there at the foot of the bluffs.But the shade was mossy. I am positive of that.


Where the memory may be playing tricks ... it was a long time ago, you know ... is that the young trees I remember may not have been oaks at all. They could well have been hickory, or even maple.


Still, I like to think of them as "understudies," waiting for their turn in the spotlight ... in the sun.


I suppose there is some deeper lesson to be taken from this. Perhaps I had some application to humans in mind when I wrote the poem ... or it might just have been a little piece about trees.


Oh, and the illustration? It's a digital photograph I snapped because the leaves reminded me of a painting by Georgia O'Keeffe.


The poem:


UNDER THE OAKS


I really admire

the persistence

of those small

trees struggling

in the mossy shade

of massive oaks,

understudies

learning their

lines, patiently

waiting their

turn to take

the stage, too.

© 2001

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: persistence

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Take a Peek

(Today's art ... courtesy of my grandson, Thomas)

This is one of my "dream" poems. I remember the sensation of waking up in a strange place (I'm dreaming this, remember), being asked by some remote, impersonal voice to produce something that would identify me.

I knew there was this slip of paper in my billfold, but I couldn't find it, couldn't, in fact, find my billfold. I kept searching and searching.

Then I woke up. The dream would have been lost, had I not scribbled something on a scrap of paper as a reminder.

I don't usually dwell on the meanings of dreams.


Sometimes they mean nothing more than the excesses of a late-night snack.


Or they may reveal deep-rooted frustrations, unattainable goals, hunger, thirsts, fears ... all the makings of a poem.

Still, I try to save them all. I don't always manage, but I try.


And here's today's:

TAKE A PEEK


My billfold

contains a slip

of yellow paper

with the name

of the President

written on it.

I feel secure

having it with me,

like a number,

next of kin,t

o be called

in an emergency.

Perhaps someday

after surgery,

responding to

trick questions:

What's your name?

Who's President?


I can say,"Take a peek

at my billfold. There's

a slip inside. It's all

I've got left."

© 1995

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: identify

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sea of Beauty


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

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


And the sky?



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




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




The poem:

SEA OF BEAUTY


The wheat leans

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

Today's word: wheat

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rainy Night



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

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

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

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

RAINY NIGHT
First few drops
spatter warily
on my skylight,
binding glimmers
of city lights
to themselves,
sliding them
down the dark
throat of night.


In this dim light
I am held safe
by an arid warmth
that eddies like
motes escaping
an attic book,
swirling, dancing
up a long stairway
toward that door
through which
the golden glow
of revelation
beckons me.

© 2003

Today's word: spatter

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Passing in Review



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

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

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

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

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

Originally published in Capper's:

PASSING IN REVIEW

Flowers arrayed

like a reviewing stand

in my neighbor's yard

seem to be nodding

recognition of me,

and perhaps they are,

for I march by twice

on my daily walk.

© 1995

Today's word: nodding

Friday, July 10, 2009

On Waking



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

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

Meanwhile, today's poem:

ON WAKING


The dense gray fog, that

silent stalker of valleys,

crept in like a dream

while we slept, lingered,

defying the sun's efforts

to take back this place

where the sassafras shares

a hillock with honeysuckle,

outdoing the dew itself,

globules riding a coolness

that speaks of changes

coming, a shift of seasons,

a briskness that will make

the covers more precious

in the morning, gentle fire

like a warm embrace when

evening brings us home.

© 2001

(originally published in Waterways)

Today's word: embrace

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Naming the Fish



Today's poem is based on a phone call from my son, describing how he had taken his son fishing for the first time.

I could say that I made up some of the details, but that wouldn't be true, exactly ... the feel of the rod, the quivering fish, the sights and sounds that go along with fishing ... based on memories of outings I had with my own sons.

The poem, incidentally, is part of a manuscript in search of a publisher.

NAMING THE FISH

First, there was the long
practice, getting the feel of the rod,
the flick that would send the lure
spinning out across the expanse
of driveway toward the evening sun,
the steady clicking of retrieval,
another flick, and another.

And now the blue water dazzles,
an early sun glinting, wind-stirred
ripples moving in such a way that you
feel you are moving, instead, drifting
toward some vague destination.

The sheath is removed from the barbs
of the lure now, a soft hum of line
extending, the plop, the long wait.

Then the line goes suddenly taut,
tingling, the feeling of life
racing its length, bending the rod
until, finally, the water parts
and you’re holding a slippery,
wiggling, gasping fish, looking
into its large, imploring eyes,
giving it a name, a person’s name,
then letting it slip gently back
into the water and swim away.

© 2006

Today's word: spinning

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mere Words



Like I've said many times, I'm not a morning person.

But what is a non-morning person to do when he wakes up around five o'clock ... wide awake ... with a thought buzzing through his mind?

Well ... I lie there for a while ... watch the clock unscrolling the crawling minutes ... then reach for the small light I keep on the table beside the bed ... find a pencil ... and my multi-colored notepad in the shape of the letter B (thank you, Michelle) ... and start writing.

What I wrote is barely decipherable ... now that I'm fully awake ... and it's far from becoming a poem, but someday it might. I'll keep it, try to break the code, try to decide what it's trying to say to me.

And if it does turn into a poem, I'll feel compelled to share it with somebody ... I always have that "look what I found" feeling when something I've written does seem to make sense ... not "look at what I did" ... never that ... and when I share it with somebody, that somebody is likely to be a poetry editor.

I always treasure that second opinion ... especially on those rare occasions when the decision goes in my favor.

But if it doesn't ... well, I speak of that circumstance in today's poem:

MERE WORDS

You, my children,

offspring of my mind,

are going forth

into an imperfect world,

where you will be judged

by strangers. I hope

they will listen

and treat you kindly,

perhaps accept you

as their own.

If not, please return

and we shall comfort

each other.

© 1997

(originally published in Writer's Journal)

Today's word: comfort

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Like That



I try in my writing to look at simple things and extract their essence. In this instance it's the last drop of liquid in the cup.

How many times, occupied with ringing phones, converging projects all demanding to be done ... NOW ... how many times I absently lifted the cup and received two surprises: the unexpected emptiness of the cup, and then the suddenness of that last, single drop plopping onto my tongue.

I think this poem works on two levels. On the surface, it's a descriptive passage of an event so minor that it's almost beneath writing about, yet will stir a bit of recognition from some readers, an acknowledgment that, yes, I've experienced that.

It also works as a metaphor for endings. How we cling to the memory of that which has just ended, how we hold on to the memories of those things which brought us to this ending.

"Like That" was originally published in Palo Alto Review, an honor in itself. Then the editors nominated it for Pushcart Prize honors.

Eventually, it became part of Hollyhocks, a second collection of my poems, published in 2007 by Finishing Line Press.

The poem:

LIKE THAT

It's like

when you think

the cup is empty

but you lift it

anyway,tilting it

toward your mouth,

and a solitary drop

comes rolling

off the bottom,

goes bounding

onto your tongue

so now you really taste

the flavor of it,

far greater

than the rest

of what you've drunk,

and it quenchest

he thirst of memory,

lying there

long afterward,

most valued

because there is

no more.

© 1999

(originally published in Palo Alto Review)


Today's word: bounding

Monday, July 6, 2009

I Could Have Played Piano



For the moment, let's revisit the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center, Troy, Ohio, on a cold, cold winter evening.

The worst of winter conditions had been predicted ... for just about the time the program was scheduled to get under way.

I was convinced that travel was going to be horrible, weather-wise, and advised those who called throughout the day ... either to express regrets ... or to get some advice ... that I would advise them to play it safe ... and not venture out.

The expected horrible weather didn't arrive. At least not that night. Highway conditions ... except for traffic ... couldn't have been better ... both before and after the program.

Oh, what people missed by following my advice! Even so, we had what I thought was an impressive turnout.

I went in expecting an interesting mix of poetry and music ... but the program ... a blending of music ... improvised on the spot by Joel Hoffman, Professor of Composition, College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati ... with my reading of some poems ... well, the program far exceeded my expectations.

I stood at the rostrum watching as Prof. Hoffman coaxed a delightful program of sounds ... rhythms ... passages ... interludes ... from the piano ... a perfect blending with the poetry I was sharing with the audience.

Afterward, I was really taken by the number of people who thought it was a carefully-rehearsed program.

In truth, Prof. Hoffman and I had not met before that night ... had not rehearsed ... and had had only a brief discussion of our "game plan" before the program began.

I say bravo! Bravo to Prof. Hoffman for so deftly working in the music around ... and with ... my readings ... Bravo! to the audience for shruggng off the dire weather forecasts and joining us for an evening that I will never forget ... and Bravo! to all those who put that program together!

By the way, Prof. Hoffman (http://joelhoffman.net/) wears several hats in addition to Professor of Compositon ... including Artistic Director, Music08 (http://www.ccm.uc.edu/musicx/index.html) and President, Chamber Music Cincinnati (http://www.cincychamber.org/).

I thought of today's poem while I was standing at the podium enjoying his music, particularly a portion of the program in which I read "What Might Have Been" to a most beautiful piano accompaniment.

Perhaps it was just as well that I hadn't brought a copy of it to the reading. It might have spoiled the moment ... as my attempts at humor sometimes do.

Background for the poem:

Once upon a time ... way back in the previous century ... my grandparents had a piano. I believe it was for my mother, but I don't think I ever heard her play it.

It sat in our living room. I remember a piano tuner coming once to do his magic on it. But mostly it just sat. Oh, I plinked and plunked on it when nobody was looking. But, of course, I couldn't play it.

I didn't feel deprived, and I don't now.

On the contrary, there was that imposing upright musical instrument which fed my imagination. I dreamed of playing it someday ... like I dreamed of many other things.

Then one day it was sold. Strangers came to move that magical creation carefully through the front door, down the front steps and into the truck.

And that was that ... except for the poem (be prepared for a slight twist with this one), originally published in Midwest Poetry Review:

I COULD HAVE PLAYED PIANO

My long, skinny fingers

itching for things to do,

toes just barely reaching

the pedals, and my bottom

gripping the slippery edge

of the bench, I dreamed

of playing ragtime, gospel,

boogie-woogie, maybe even

some of that girl-pleasing,

tough, classical stuff.

What I did was what

seemed to come naturally.

With only one lesson,

I flung myself into all

of the old favorites,

playing each several times

before going exuberantly

to the next. Finally,

Grandpa admitted he was

sorry he had taught me

what could be wrought

with a comb and paper.

Oh, I could have played

piano, no doubt, but my lips

wouldn't feel all numb

and fuzzy, like they do now.

© 1997


Today's word: fuzzy