Monday, November 30, 2009

Cup of Memories





We didn't have a "drinking gourd" when I was growing up, and I always felt deprived ... in the early years, at least.


Instead, we had a common aluminum dipper (we all drank from the same dipper) beside the water bucket in the kitchen.


Germs aside, it offered a cool, refreshing drink, when the weather was cool, refreshing. During the summer, as I recall, we went directly to the source, the cistern just a few steps from the back porch, to fill the dipper.


The "drinking gourd," on the other hand, resided at a neighbor's house on a nearby hill. Judging from the frequency of our visits, they were probably distant relatives.


They had a well which, I thought, contained the coldest water around.


And that gourd, that marvelous old weather-beaten gourd. I just had to have a drink from it, even when I wasn't thirsty.


Oh, how I remember sipping slowly, dawdling, while enjoying both the cold water and the great shade of the tree near the well.


The poem:


CUP OF MEMORIES

The well water
was never colder
nor more sweet tasting
than when it was sipped
from an ordinary,
but memorably special
gray gourd dipper.
© 1995
(originally published in 
Capper's)

Today's word: dawdling

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Beyond the Reach









The leaves are mostly gone in this part of Ohio now. I miss them, as I always do ... the brilliant arrays of color ... the way they catch the sun and bounce it back at the viewer ... warm days and cool nights.

It was today's photo ... of one of my favorite trails in a park not too far from home ... which set this train of thought in motion. 

Autumn ... I may have said this before ... is one of my favorite seasons ... actually, there are things I like about the other three, too.

I do like autumn's cooler weather after summer's scorching days and stifling nights ... and the changing colors ... I look at them as a struggling watercolorist might be expected to ... wondering how I might put them into a painting.


Sometimes I settle for a photograph, resolving to study it later, perhaps transform it into a painted interpretation of the scene.

Each season, of course, marks the passage of time ... each with its own characteristics registering that onward march.

Today's poem is about that onward march, with a focus on the seeming suddenness with which is sometimes occurs ... and that squirrel's nest "being parceled now by an autumn wind":


BEYOND THE REACH

I had walked there last summer,
pausing almost daily to enjoy
the shade, little suspecting
a drama unfolding overhead.


Then, overnight, it seemed,
the maples shed their burnished
leaves, stood starkly splaying
nerve endings against the sky.


High in the branches of one,
a nest beyond the reach
of muttering traffic noises,
made with no special plan,


yet an ageless pattern marking
nursery, rec room, school, point
of departure for a another
curiosity-stoked generation


of squirrels, all of this being
parceled now by an autumn wind.
What a shame, I thought, a shame
to let the wind steal such work.
© 1997
(originally published in 
Block's Magazine)

Today's word: parceled

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Air Like Fog






I'll always remember those bluffs, those canyons they embraced, the cool air on the trails, the kind of quiet that is only found in the woods.


Giant City State Park, located in the hills of Southern Illinois, seemed an almost magical place to go when I was a child. What a treat it was to trudge those trails, imagining all the others who had walked there before, when it was all wilderness.


As a child I relished family outings there, especially those which extended into the evening, when we'd sit around, watching the crackling flames dancing in a fireplace in one of the shelters, listening to the adults trading stories, hoping to catch some of the night sounds of the woods, too.


Later, I took my own young family there to camp, to go tramping down the same trails I had explored, to let them feast on the same sights and sounds I had enjoyed.


In more recent years, when there were just the two of us on trips back to the place where I grew up, we always managed at least a drive through the park. Those drives rekindled so many memories ... so many ...


This poem, which embodies some of those memories, is part of my first collection, 
Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press:


AIR LIKE FOG


Morning air clings to me like fog
as I enter the deep, cool canyons
that thread the water-rounded bluffs,


where I pause for a moment to look
about, to drink an ancient silence
that flows and deepens while lichens


struggle up the pocked, towering walls,
up, up toward a swallow's nest, high
where clinging ferns await the random


blessings of summer shade and transient
yellow light; then I notice soft-edged
flecks of light dancing on the trail


where others must have stood watching,
where they may have heard, as I do now,
a crow, distant, calling them by name.
© 2005

Today's word: crackling

Friday, November 27, 2009

Walnut Wisdom






Walnut trees ... the black-walnut variety, in particular ... have long been a part of my life.

There were two which grew near the bluffs up  from the house in which I was growing up. 

The walnuts were mine for the gathering. I would wait for some windy autumn weather, then I would venture up there with a burlap bag in which I would stow the found treasures which carpeted the ground underneath those trees.

Of course, that was just the beginning. The next step was to lug them home. Then the fun really began. 

I used a hammer to remove the juicy hulls which covered the shells. The result: A hefty pile of walnuts ready to begin drying out ... a process of "curing," becoming ready for cracking open to expose the delicious meats inside. 

Another result was a pair of thoroughly stained hands. I recall my hands being so stained that they looked like they were wearing gloves.

Ah, the memories.

Every autumn I find myself thinking of those trees again ... wondering if they're still there ... if some youngster is enjoying their output as much as I did. 

Meanwhile, the poem:


WALNUT WISDOM

The black walnut's
seething green leaves,
steeping all summer
in the raging sun,
are turning yellow,
randomly twirling
to earth, the leaden
thumps of fallen
fruit providing
an uneven cadence
on the long bridge
of sunny afternoons.


Bruised and smashed,
their juicy hulls
draw back from those
dark interiors where
their secrets lie,
awaiting squirrels,
whack of a hammer,
the outside chance
of becoming a tree.


This, the walnut
knows, is autumn’s
beginning, a time
of payoffs, endings,
another slow turn
of the wheel.
© 2002
(originally published in 
Potomac Review)

Today's word: twirling

Thursday, November 26, 2009

At Daybreak





Okay, so I'm a little preachy in this one. So be it.


That's probably sufficient commentary on this particular poem. After all, I'm not really a morning person ... never was, probably never will be ... but I have to admit that morning is ... can be ... a beautiful time of day.


There is just something about the kind of quiet which accompanies a sunrise, especially if you've pitched your tent in a good spot ... or if you're just rolling out of bed at home, feeling rested, ready to face another day.


There's something about seeing each day as an opportunity ... a new beginning ... no great need for fanfare or ceremony ... just a new beginning.


And I don't think it's too much to ask of ourselves ... myself ... (I'm not big on forcing others to see things as I do) ... to do our part to avoid ruining our environment ... after all, this is our home, this is where we live ... any more than it already has been.

Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving!


That said, here's the poem:


AT DAYBREAK

The day glistens
with natal dew,
freshness riding
still-cool air,
booming red sun
nudging thin clouds
aside, a perfect
setting for pursuit
of the serious
business of saving
this while we can.
© 1998
(originally published in 
Candlelight Poetry Journal)

Today's word: environment

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

As a Child





I wanted to be so many things, a doctor, a lawyer, a railroad engineer, a cowboy, a sailor ...


The list goes on and on. But what child doesn't dream?


Those early visions of imagined things to come ... they nurture, sustain the individual ... particularly one growing up in an era broadly known as "hard times."


But it was not to be ... not, at least, "rigging straining and creaking ... whistling winds." Mine was a landlocked life, far removed from any of those early dreams.


Such are the realities of adulthood.


I have no regrets about the reality's falling short of the dream.


In fact, I might not have been a very good sailor. And I don't really feel it was failure ... this falling short of the early dream ... there are always things we might desire ... which remain tantalizingly just out of our reach.


But now I feel that perhaps I am at last realizing that early dream ... through my writing.


I can almost hear the rigging creaking this morning ... the sails billowing and popping ... feel the wind whipping my hair like seaweed ... all because I discovered this whole new world of writing.


There's a certain magic in that world ... but a tinge of reality, too. I notice that acceptance and publication of "As a Child" came almost four years ... and many revisions ... after it was originally written.


So, dream on, young writer ... or writer at any age ... but be patient, too ... and do keep reaching ... never quit reaching.


The poem:


AS A CHILD


I wanted to be
a sailor standing
on a slanting deck,
rigging straining,
sails billowing, wind
whipping my hair
like seaweed,
waters lifting me
toward God.


But it was not
to be: no massive
sails, no salt-soaked
rigging straining
and creaking, no
whistling winds,
just a sea of words
lifting me,
cradling me.
© 2000
(originally published in 
Capper's)

Today's word: reaching

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What a Gift





It wasn't always thus, nor will it always be. 

I'm not naturally a morning person, and I don't recall exactly what I had in mind when I wrote this one; perhaps I was trying to cheer myself up.


Perhaps I had just discovered the magic of retirement: No more punching the clock, no more deadlines, no more phones ringing ... no more ...

It may well have been that I was recalling my childhood outlook, that time in my life when each day seemed a new adventure, a new leaf, a new chapter in the book that was to become my life.


I don't know. 


But I do know that I look forward to the new day now ... despite some of the concerns that always seem to have spilled over from the day before ... like computer problems ... and the frantic effort to catch up on postings here.


It does beckon like a new toy and, best of all, it comes with "batteries included," whether "just for me" or not. 


WHAT A GIFT!


What excitement
as I tear off
the wrapping paper,
open the box,
and find inside
a whole new day,
batteries included,
just for me.
© 1996
(originally published in 
Capper's)

Today's word: gift

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tall





I don't often do dream poems ... that is, poems about dreams ... simply because I have trouble recalling the dreams when I wake up.


This one was different, though.


I had this sense, as I say in the poem, of actually being taller than John Wayne on his horse. What a feeling that was. I wrote down what I recalled of that feeling.


Then, later ... that's right, pardner ... this one turned into a poem about writing, a subject that I find mysterious and perplexing. Even when the words come together neatly to form a poem, I'm sometimes puzzled as to how that really happened.


Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm not completely baffled by the writing process, but it sometimes seems that poems, in particular, "write themselves," and I can't help expressing some amazement at that.


And now, the poem:


TALL

I dreamed that I
was tall, taller than
John Wayne, taller than
John Wayne on his horse,
and I just stood there
looking tall

and silent,


looking at all those
people looking up
at me, at last,
looking down at them,
but treating them
quietly as equals,


because that's the way
it is with me,
pilgrim,
no matter how tall
I get, nor how many
poems I’ve roped
and led home.
© 2000
(originally published in 
ByLine)

Today's word: equals

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sun Catcher





Delia was my grandmother. I can still see her in that cold kitchen, the old wood-burning stove starting to throw out some heat, the skillet in place, waiting for warmth, a dab of oleo, an egg.


The kitchen faced west, but there was a side window that caught a bit of the morning sun. That's where the "film of frost gathered the gold ... poured it softly, like warm milk ... "


Of course, our memories become polished with much handling ... they take on a sheen far beyond that of the original event, and that has happened with this mental picture I still carry with me.


Oh, how I treasure it. The poem was originally published in 
A New Song:


SUN CATCHER

A film of frost
gathered the gold
of morning sun
on the window,
poured it softly,
like warm milk,
into the kitchen
where Delia
stood working,
embracing her
with a radiance
like the words
of her prayer
being whispered
to the music
of preparations
for another day.
© 1998

Today's word: sheen

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Renewable Glue





Someone, a person I'd never seen before ... likely would never see again ... had paused, held the door, and motioned for me to enter the store ahead of them.

I thanked them and walked on in.


Big deal. A few minutes later, when I was leaving the store, I had already forgotten about this small act of thoughtfulness, but I paused, held the door for the person behind me, then strode off to my car.


That's when I started thinking about these small acts of kindness that we bestow -- or withhold -- as we go about our daily routines.


How easily they become a part of our lives. Or how easily they are forgotten, neglected in our rush to get to the next red light ahead of everybody else.


They are such simple things, so easily given. They cost us nothing, yet have the potential of great dividends. 


What fragile threads they are, holding together the fabric of this thing we call civilization.

They are the "renewable glue" that holds us together, these little gifts we bestow on others, whether at the door, in the checkout line, or out there in the jungle that we call traffic.


What does it cost us to let someone else go ahead? 


As in the simplest childhood game, we'll "get our turn." 


Meanwhile, we've done a good turn, no matter that it's almost unnoticeable, for someone else. They may then do a good turn for someone else.

It has the potential for going on and on, this "renewable glue." It might even work on a larger scale than just person-to-person.


End of sermon ... now the poem:


RENEWABLE GLUE


An act of kindness,
a nod, a smile,
the door held open --
gifts easily bestowed,
yet vital as droplets
of renewable glue
keeping civilization
from falling apart.
© 1995
(originally published in 
Capper's)

Today's word: renewable

Friday, November 20, 2009

Passages





Strange how ... and where ... poems sometimes reveal themselves to a person.


As I recall, I was sitting in the car in front of a Post Office, waiting for Phyllis to go in, mail a letter, and return.


I noticed the reflections of the vehicles going by on the street behind me ... how the warped window made them appear to be leaping ... like horses or hunting hounds ... bounding over a hedge.


I thought about reflections I had seen in store windows in my home town ... and of one window, in particular, on one of my last visits there. That store was vacant. Oh, the memories I had of that little country store!


Then the poem started asserting itself ... I reached for a scrap of paper ... always waiting in a handy pocket ... and began writing.


The poem:


PASSAGES


The cars change shape
as they come and go
in the warped window glass
of a store that once was,
dusty now, this begrimed
keeper of secrets,
these windows that
have seen it all
in this small town: deaths,
funerals, weddings, births,
departures of its young
who sometimes come back,
stand beside a grave,
listen to an acorn falling,
slow ticking of eternity.
© 2007
(originally published in 
Waterways)


Today's word: ticking

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Old Dog Asleep







It was our neighbor's canine, "Houdini," who inspired today's poem. 


"Houdini" enjoyed lying in the back yard, belly to the sun, dreaming, no doubt, of some great escapades ... or of being suddenly nose-to-nose with a wandering raccoon ... or of catching the squirrels stealing food.

Or perhaps only soaking up the sun.


But it was "Houdini" who set in motion a series of memories of my own canine pals from my growing-up years. They enjoyed the sun, too. They also enjoyed exploring the hills around my boyhood home, and they were always ready to head out on some new adventure with me.


Sometimes, though, they were tired. At my approaching footsteps, the head would be lifted slightly, I would receive a look of recognition, the tail would thump-thump-thump a few times on the ground, and the head would be lowered again to sleeping position, presumably to pick up the loose threads of some interrupted dream.


I still miss those early companions. 



I miss "Houdini," too. Always the good neighbor, "Houdini" only barked at me once ... when the family was moving in next door.


A quiet word from the owner, and that was that. I couldn't help admiring that kind of restraint. I'm sure there were times ... in all those years that we co-existed ... when I must have deserved a good barking at.

And the picture? Sorry, I don't have a photo of "Houdini." Instead, today we share a photo of shadows ... a subject that I find intriguing ... restful ... soothing. 



Thank you for stopping by ... and "Houdini," this one is for you: 

OLD DOG ASLEEP


Sprawled like a tired
old tree toppled against
the slope of the hill,
your belly soaking up
afternoon sun, tail wilted
to earth, ear twitching,
plucking at the sound
of my footsteps; what
memories we share,
old pal, how alike, now,
our dreams must be.
© 1998
(originally published in 
Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: toppled

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Growth





Today's poem contains some thoughts about what has happened to so much of our land ... thoughts driven largely, I suppose, by my having grown up in a rural area, where the poor, worn-out soil was gentled into producing food and flowers.


I have no special agenda, no axe to grind ... just some observations that simply came to me on a rainy day in a shopping center parking lot.


I may be wrong about grasses someday retaking "these smothered acres."


I take no comfort in the possibility that I might be right. Right or wrong, I shall never know, but it seems logical, reasonable to expect that the sprawl of what we've come to treasure as our way of life cannot be sustained forever.


Something to think about, perhaps.


The poem:


NEW GROWTH

Where crops once grew,
the skin of commerce
stretches into the distance,
acres in all directions.
On verdant prairie land
now grow waving fields
of carts, cars and customers.


They bring the green
to a soil long bereft
of plants, except token trees
planted as memorials
to what once was.


And when it rains, the rain
finds no welcoming soil.
It piles up at the drains
as it flees this alien surface.


What strange things
we now grow, and
how great the cost.


Someday the grasses
will retake
these smothered acres,
rightfully theirs
by prior claim.
The rain will come
in its gentle way
to bless this soil,
and it will prosper
as it did before.
© 1996
(originally published in 
Poetic Eloquence)

Today's word: smothered

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Making the Pitch




First of all, a confession: I was not a pitcher.

Oh, I may have tossed a softball in the general direction of a batter a few times ... in a school playground game or two ... but, even in those games, I was usually somewhere deep in the outfield, keeping company with the gnats, just standing around, watching the slowly unfolding action, which seemed miles away.

Then there was a summer I spent much of the time "pitching" a tennis ball against the side of the garage (good practice toward the day when I might become a real pitcher ... and quite practical, because I had nobody to catch my pitches and toss the ball back to me).

But I wasn't a pitcher. Never was. Never will be.

Still, that didn't keep me from dreaming ... or daydreaming, as in this poem. Now that I have, for all practical purposes, given the secret of the poem away ... sorry about that ... here it is: 


MAKING THE PITCH

I finger the ball, toe the rubber,
stretch and unleash my very
best pitch, watch it zooming


and dancing toward that pop
like a sudden shot against
the glove, watch the batter


standing, stunned, hear
the crowd's roar welling up,
filling the stadium, the buzz


of a fly nearby, the gentle
tinkling of ice, the hammock
swaying ever so gently.
© 2000
(originally published in 
Capper's)

Today's word: swaying

Monday, November 16, 2009

Late Summons





It was, indeed, like a summons, when it finally came.


Oh, I had written a lot of things along the way ... love letters when I was in military service, business letters later, a memo here and there ... things like that.


But writing? Real, creative writing? I hadn't had time, nor the inclination for that, it seems.


Still, there was something that drove me in the direction of writing ... just sitting down and putting thoughts ... memories ... images ... on paper.


And, as I say in today's poem, it was like the whir of that most beautiful, most graceful, most fragile of insects ... the butterfly ... which brought that latent interest to life ... so that here we are today ... these few years later, sharing these moments, these thoughts.


The poem:


LATE SUMMONS

After enduring
vast, hollow
echoing years
in which words
lay silently
on my heart,
there came
a whir as soft
as the flight
of a butterfly,
summoning
them awake,
and my voice,
sounding strange
to my own ears,
rose in song.
© 1997
(originally published in 
Potpourri)

Today's word: whir

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Glorious Day





Yesterday was a glorious day.


It didn't start out that way. I'll spare you the details, but regular readers already know that most of my days don't start out ... let's just say that I'm not a morning person.


I attribute that to a symphony of aches and pains, certain stresses that never seem to go away - sorry about that ... I did promise to spare you the details, didn't I?


Let's just say that the day, as my days often do, thank goodness, got better as it wore on.


In the afternoon we attended the awards ceremonies for the annual Dayton Metro Library Poetry Contest, which is made possible by the support of Friends of the Library, and a hardy corps of volunteer readers who judged the 300-plus entries this year.


As always, I enjoyed the portion of the program in which I shared something I'd written, but also enjoyed just sitting back and taking in the various voices of the other poets.


I was honored to have been invited into the winners' circle with this year's fine crop of writers.


My poem, which appears here for the first time, was written some time ago, but I liked it when it came to me one quiet evening, and I never lost faith in it. 


Once again, I'm dealing with the subject of writing in the poem - and I'm no expert on that, I always hasten to add.


But let's let the poem tell the story:


A GLORIOUS DAY


Someday I shall lie abed
in the innocent hours
of the afternoon, too weak
to walk, too tired to talk,
but writing, because it
pleases me so, gives me 
great comfort, a purpose,
a sense of worth that makes
the hours pass like sugar
coating on a bitter pill,
and I shall curl my toes,
flex my tired fingers,
while remarking, to no one
in particular, that this
has been a most remarkable
day, a time of butterflies
fluttering across my mind,
a glorious day of drowsy 
scratchings on the page, 
a time to go drifting
softly into sleep.


(2nd Place winner in 2009 Dayton Metro Library Poetry Contest, Senior Division)


Today's word: fluttering

Saturday, November 14, 2009

If It Rains





As are most of my poems, today's is fairly straightforward, dealing with harsh realities.


These are still just as harsh, and just as real, I'm sure, as when I was growing up in Southern Illinois.


How dependent, how at the mercy of the weather, were those who tried to make a living from the soil.


Life was one big gamble, and nobody knew the odds, exactly, except that they always seemed to be against the players.


Rather than a single, memorable incident, this piece represents an accumulation of impressions, and is about no particular, single farmer, but all farmers who face the odds and keep playing this most difficult game, betting against the weather year after year.


The poem:


IF IT RAINS


Paper-dry corn emits a sigh
as an arid breeze riffles
the long, dead rows
of ochre and gray, searching
for moisture. Even weeds
are limp with thirst.


Last year had been a good one,
so he paid down some debt
and, less burdened,
plowed and planted once more
on gentle, warming slopes
as spring returned.
It may rain tomorrow, he says,
knowing that it's too late
to salvage this crop.


But if it does rain tomorrow,
next week, or next month,
that may be enough
to sustain last spring's hopes
through the rages of winter,
and he will plow again.
© 2003
(originally published in 
Capper's, this poem is from my first collection, Chance of Rain, published in 2003 by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: if

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Good Deed





My reaction, at the time the event occurred, went from puzzlement ... to surprise ... to that pleasant feeling you get when somebody does a good turn for you ... and doesn't want, in fact, would refuse, anything in return.


The poem tells that story.


Oh, I suppose my neighbor was grateful for the small favors we did him and his family when they had a house fire shortly after moving in. But he didn't owe us anything for our help, either.


That's what neighbors do for each other.


He was grateful then ... and I was certainly grateful for all that shoveling he was doing for me. I had been waiting out the storm, dreading the task that confronted me.


Then, suddenly, there he was, the good neighbor.


If I were to go ahead with this, I'd probably become preachy ... so, I'll just say that this one was originally published in 
The Christian Science Monitor:


THE GOOD DEED

All day the snow
has come sifting down,
obscuring objects
in our shaken globe,
and I'm standing
staring out the window
when I see the shape
of a person who's
obviously been driven
wild by the storm,
who pauses and turns
into someone I know
... my 
neighbor,
shoveling 
my walk.
© 2003

Today's word: shoveling