Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Leaf




Whoa! Can it be? Here we are again, so soon at the end of another year. Time to turn over a new leaf, right?

Deep down inside, we'd like to be a better person, more constructive, persistent, kind, understanding ... whatever.

In my early years, when I was still being shaped by the caring, loving, sacrificing grandmother who reared me, I generally sat down with pencil and paper at the end of the year to pledge my efforts at improvement in the coming year.

I felt I owed her that. I felt I owed it to myself.

I don't do New Year's resolutions now ... haven't written them out for a number of years.

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

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

So I guess I do think sometimes about that "new leaf," too.

Meanwhile, the poem:


A NEW LEAF

How soothing the sound
of it, like the feel
of clean sheets, crisp
and cool to the touch,
hinting airy freshness
as we snuggle in.

How comforting it is
to lie here thinking
of this whole new year
fresh and inviting,
opening the prospect
that things might be
better, perhaps could
be, if we could just
approach each new day
with the same sense
of purpose we feel
at this moment.
© 1999
(originally published in 
Capper's)

Today's word: freshness

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Then One Day, Spring









(I know ... spring may seem such a long way off now, but I've already begun my daily incantation, "We're another day closer ... ")




As are many of my poems, this one is rooted in my childhood.



There are so many memories from that time, still warm and shiny from much handling. Of course, they were not all happy memories ... there were hard times abroad in the land ... but the good memories have prevailed.


This collection of memories goes back before the days of central heating. No fear of the pipes freezing then ... there weren't any. Flush toilets were a part of those distant cities we had heard about.


Oh, but when the world began showing signs of thawing ... then we felt like celebrating. 



We had survived another winter. Spring meant the trees would soon be budding out, Easter flowers would start reaching their slender fingers toward the sun, birds would be singing.


What a great world we lived in!


The poem:




THEN ONE DAY, SPRING



After the long, gray parade
of frozen winter months,
there eventually came a day


unlike others in our valley,
when the sun seemed brighter,
warmer, the breeze softer,


clearer, carrying birdsong
in floating crystal notes,
snow beginning to inch back


from the steaming roof edge
of a nearly-empty coal shed,
sending tear-like trickles


of water drip-drip-dripping
onto earth where daffodils
soon would be punching


slender fingers through,
reaching for the warmth.
Then high along the ridge,


at the bluffs where a stream
would struggle with thirst
in July, there issued


the robust song of water
newly freed from the cold,
tumbling head-over-heels



to reach the rocks below
and come racing toward us
with the great good news.
© 1999



(received an honorable mention in Poets' Study Club competition, subsequently published in 
Capper's, and now part of a collection called Wood Smoke, which was published by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: jubilation

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Renewal






Symbolism isn't always apparent when I take a photo. In this instance, I was simply prompted by the colors, the reflections, the quiet of this spot in Charleston Falls Park. 

But now I see the greening of renewal, the fallen tree both as a symbol of decay which will lead to renewal and as a footbridge, offering a choice at that juncture, of wading through the stream of events, or of taking a dry, if somewhat acrobatic, but safer crossing ... all of these being symbols of passages.

Appropriate, I think, as this year winds down and we begin looking toward the new ... perhaps new beginnings ... or maybe just a change of scene ... a time of reflecting as we turn over that leaf on the calendar (even if we do it electronically, there's that thoughtful pause, perhaps, before we get back into the race).

Renewal can really come at any time of year ... any day ... any moment. End of sermon.

And now the poem:



RENEWAL


How sad sounding
the rains of spring
were, thudding
on the empty drum
of my young life.

Renewal lacked
meaning for me,
but the years
have washed away
that emptiness.


Now the song
of those gentle
drops on my roof
nurtures dreams
of beginnings
and new growth.
© 2002
(originally published in 
Brave Hearts)

Today's word: beginnings

Monday, December 28, 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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

One to Grow On




Winter rain, under the right conditions, can be like a lullaby as it dances softly on the roof and goes running off down the street.


But if conditions are right for freezing, as they are here sometimes, it's an entirely different story. We venture out gingerly and pick away at the layer that's still gripping our driveway.


One consolation, we tell ourselves, is that we're a little nearer to the beginning of spring, and we're warmed by the potential that implies.


Meanwhile, back to the subject of a kinder, gentler rain ... the kind which inspired today's little poem:


ONE TO GROW ON

Winter rain
comes sliding down
the glistening trunk
of a sleeping tree,
delivering a sip
to be savored
when it awakens
early next spring.
© 1995
(originally published in 
Capper's)

Today's word: glistening

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Moment






Only once in this lifetime have I experienced the sensation of a butterfly settling onto my hand.


I'm sure, as a child, I must have dreamed of such a thing, without ever really expecting it to happen. It was like lying on a hillside, looking up at the clouds, and imagining what it might be like to fly, literally fly, above them ... something to speculate on, but not to be attained.


Then there I was, an adult ... a very tired adult ... sitting on a hillside far from those amid which I did so much of my early dreaming ... and there was a butterfly ... sitting on my hand.


Had I known then what a haiku moment was, I would have declared that to be one. Instead, I simply sat, transfixed, watching, waiting ... and finally squinting to follow its path as it departed.


I suppose some will read into the poem a feeling, not just of the butterfly's departure, but of loss, too. I prefer to think of what I had gained.


And so it has been with the visits of those who stop by to take a look at "Chosen Words."


Then the crowd moves on. There are other journals to visit, to explore, to evaluate and comment on.


It grows quiet here.


If I were to read "Moment" aloud now, I might be the only one listening. But I would savor the words ... I would read them carefully ... and I would recall the heat of that day ... the sun ... that butterfly ... just as I am now looking back on the past several months, savoring the words you have left with me.


As I continue reading your words in the days to come, I will remember ... your thoughtful comments ... the kind things you've said ... and I will think of all I have gained from your visits.


And I thank you for all of that.


Meanwhile, the poem:


MOMENT


The butterfly sits so lightly
on the back of my sunburned
hand that I barely feel
its tiny feet clinging, tongue
tasting the essence of me.


I sit stone-still, watching
as it clings, seeing its tongue
uncurling to taste, feeling
my breathing subsiding
into the rhythm of its wings,
folding, unfolding,


sit savoring the reverie
attending the encounter with this
being that has flown to me
like a tiny fleck of fly ash,
but has chosen me, the most
unlikely of choices, and keeps
sitting here while I consider
whether I might seize it.


Then, as though sensing
my intentions, it lifts lightly
off, flying raggedly, majestically
across the sun-swept field,
perhaps pursuing a search
for someone more worthy,
leaving the weight of absence
pressing my hand.
© 1999
(originally published in 
Vincent Brothers Review)

Today's word: majestically

Friday, December 25, 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)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Let There Be Light



(The photo has no direct tie-in; I just wanted to share it on this winter day)

I haven't the foggiest idea of what I was watching on the TV that July evening ... just sitting, vegetating in front of the tube, when ... suddenly ... I was alone with my thoughts.


What a jolt that was.


I thought at first a fuse had blown ... but I fumbled down the stairs, looked up and down the street ... and arrived at a slightly different verdict: We had a bigger problem.


This is definitely a summer poem ... about a summer problem ... but it came to mind when I got home after an enjoyable evening of listening to an author describe her adventures with first, second and 
third novels ...


I opened an e-mail from a friend and fellow-writer in Kansas ... who was expecting to lose power at any moment.


"Over 30,000 already without lights here in this area," she said. "I doubt that I will be online much longer. Don't worry ... we'll be fine ... just have to ride it out!"


Her rather frightening situation brought to mind "Let There Be Light," though there is little similarity between her situation and the relatively minor inconvenience that I was experiencing on that steamy summer night.


When I looked up my poem, I noticed that the original version had ended: "powerless again/ in the hands/ of the trusted/ utility company."


Given the benefit of the perspective provided by time, I think I may have been taking an unfair swipe at the utility company then. What do you think ... original ending ... or a modified version?


Of course, the question is relatively moot, once the poem has been "abandoned" to a publisher ... but I was just wondering ...


The poem:


LET THERE BE LIGHT


In the hottest part
of summer,
in the darkest part
of night,
our reverie is torn asunder
as the picture we are watching
is swallowed by the tube,
accompanied
by a wheeze
that dies with a sigh deep
inside the air-conditioner,
and here we sit,
powerless again
in the hands
of the trusted
utility company.
© 1997
(originally published in 
Parnassus Literary Journal)

Today's word: powerless

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

In Praise of the Mundane





(Today's art is a cooperative effort ... my grandson, Thomas, did the construction ... I took the photo

Before I get into today's poem ... I noticed there were approximately 50 visitors to the site yesterday. Thank you for stopping by ... I hope you enjoyed your visit ... perhaps will drop by again.

It seems like only yesterday ... but obviously was a little longer ago than that ... when I shared my poem, "Ordinary Things," with you ... and mentioned that it was an outgrowth of a rejection.


In response to my request for his comments on some poems I had submitted, the editor had scrawled something about "mundane treatment of ordinary subjects" on the rejection slip. 


My initial reaction? I had hoped for something a little more constructive. 


But I managed. As a matter of fact, I managed to get two more poems out of that comment.


Oh, and both were subsequently published ... elsewhere. I think there's an obvious lesson in that ... so obvious that even Professor Squigglee (remember him?) would be unlikely to fly into a detailed explanation.


Today's poem:

IN PRAISE OF THE MUNDANE


I don't howl at the moon,
read the entrails of chickens,
plumb the mysteries that reside
in the implacable eyes of cats,
nor take up strange, aromatic
cigarettes, sip unaccumstomed
teas, nor leave my body
to roam the universe.

I do write across the chalkboard
of my mind, or on a torn paper,
an envelope, about simple things
that come to me of their own accord,
quiet, mundane things that I welcome
and treasure as old friends.
© 1996
(originally published in 
ByLine Magazine)


Today's word: mundane

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hills






Today's poem pretty well tells its own story, I think. 

The hills I'm referring to are in the extreme southern portion of Illinois, an area that was sometimes referred to as "Little Egypt," perhaps still is. 


I grew up there. With military service, schooling and marriage, I left that area, but for many years we returned at least once each year. 



Now those kinds of travel are pretty much in abeyance ... as my orbit remains quite close to my present home ... 

Still, I travel back there in my thoughts ... and sometimes in my dreams ... particularly during those times when the peach trees are in blossom across the hills. 


My timing, I'm afraid, is a bit off ... but I have been thinking again of those beautiful peach trees "in full array" ... how the hills seemed so alive with them ... so inviting ... and, oh, how I miss seeing them in person!


The poem:


HILLS


Rolling smokey-green hills
keep calling me back to my
beginnings, where generations
of my people scratched out

a living, a sprinkling of small
victories for those, a stubborn
and proud people, laboring
to the cadence of the seasons,

while I, like so many others,
drifted away, lured by dreams
of a better world somewhere
just beyond the harsh horizon,

making a promise to return;
and now, with the peach trees
in full array, those hills are
calling again, and I must go.
© 2006
(Originally published in 
Capper's)

Today's word: array

Monday, December 21, 2009

Glass, Drinking






Such an ordinary subject ... and I'm sure the editor who once scrawled something to that effect on one of my poems would agree ... but I find many of my subjects in "ordinary things."

So much depends, I think, on how one looks at them.

I'm not exactly sure where ... or when ... the particular glass of this poem caught my attention.


It was a cheap green drinking glass ... I'm sure of that ... but it wasn't a recent observation, because the trains don't run past the house where I live. So it had to have been in the past ... perhaps the distant past.


But I do remember how that glass caught the light, and I can still see those few remaining droplets dancing.


The moment could have passed unnoticed. I'm sure there were other things ... far more important things ... going on. But I did notice, though I had no idea I would ever write a poem about it ... or write any poems, for that matter. 


I'm glad the memory was stored somewhere in the recesses of my mind, just waiting there for the right moment to show itself to me again.


It's just a small descriptive passage ... a single sentence, if it were presented as a bit of prose ... but I treasure the memory it represents ... and the other memories which keep it company.


Oh, how I wish I had a picture of it to share with you. Instead, there's a photo I snapped during one of my walks at Cox Arboretum. 



GLASS, DRINKING

It gathers the light to it, sparkling
with morning warmth, wraps itself
in rings so bright they might be taken
for some kind of pretense, but it’s
only a cheap green drinking glass,
empty except for a few remaining
droplets that tremble and dance
to the passing song of a rickety train
and then subside like an echo yielding
itself to the cold of late autumn fog.
© 2006
(originally published in 
St. Anthony Messenger)

Today's word: rickety

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Forecast: Rain






Those who've paid many visits to "Chosen Words" know that I write about rain ... a lot ... maybe too much.


I suppose that can be traced to my roots, which reach all the way back to a rural beginning ... not on a farm, really, but in a country home ... just outside a small town ... a very small town.


It was there that I first learned the importance of rain. Too much, and our garden would suffer disastrous results ... too little, and our garden would suffer. So would we ... since we depended on a cistern for our drinking, bathing, cooking water ... and our chickens and Grandma's flowers depended on water from the well.


Rain was important ... but it had other roles, too.


I still remember the songs it played on our roof ... how soothing the sound of it could be on a spring night ... how it washed away the dust which drifted in from the gravel road ... the cinders from passing freight trains ... how it made puddles for a little boy to go splashing through ...


Little wonder that I've written so much about it.


I thank you for your patience as I've explored the mysteries and wonders of rain.


And here I go again:

FORECAST: RAIN

They said it would
come tumbling off
the slanting roofs,
go dancing down
the street, glancing
off the bare-limbed
trees, peppering
fields with kisses,
would greet us
in the morning and
be with us all day,
like a promise meant
to be kept, would
dampen our spirits,
but would sweep away
the lingering crusts
of winter, would sing
of the coming spring.

But it didn't do any
of that. It just
rained, and rained,
and rained and rained.
© 2006
(originally published in 
Capper's)


Today's word: tumbling

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Evensong




"Evensong" is a word picture painted from memory ... the memory of those times when the storms had passed and we emerged to assess the damage to the garden, our trees ... the neighbors' trees ... our house, their houses.


That was always the aftermath, that slow evaluation of what had happened to our world, what steps needed to be taken next.


It was almost as though the birds were doing the same thing, echoing our concerns, beginning to express their feelings after having survived another onslaught.


"Evensong" was not the result of a single experience, but a distilling of several, a boiling down to the essence of that feeling of kinship with the natural world, the world around us, a world, thank goodness, that had birdsong ... and still does, if we but listen.


The poem:


EVENSONG


Dark clouds scud off
toward the east, while
twilight descends
onto hail-torn foliage,
then from somewhere
overhead, tentative notes
slowly gain strength,
blossoming finally
into full-throated
birdsong near a lone
figure who pauses
on the slope of the hill,
eyes searching vainly
for just a glimpse
of this small creature,
then turns toward home,
less burdened now
for having been given
this healing moment.
© 1999
(originally published in 
PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: healing

Friday, December 18, 2009

Daybreak, Autumn



(Oh, how I wish I'd had my camera with me that morning; instead, I offer my little watercolor study, done in a different time, different place)


It may have been a bit later than daybreak, but not much. The feeling of newness was still in the air as I walked the paths of one of my favorite places.


The play of light across the clouds was beautiful.


Improbable as it seems, they did look like paving stones to me.

They had that worn, traveled look about them, and the early sunlight did look like they were cupping the coals of an overnight fire which had just been given a breath of morning air.


The ducks were on the pond, of course, keeping an eye on me for any move suggesting a handout for them.


And the crows, the raucous crows, who always seem to be arguing about something, were there in the trees.


It was a sort of shopping list of images, but I tried to make a little more of it than just that. I think ending with the hint of coming snow added to the mood.


The poem:


DAYBREAK, AUTUMN

Clouds hang
like paving stones
in the eastern
sky, hammered silver
cupping the coals
of early light,
while ducks glide
like fallen leaves
on the shadowed pond
and crows crowd
the feathery trees,
swaying and talking
raucously about
the chances of snow.
© 1999
(originally published in 
Capper's)

Today's word: raucously

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Body of Work





Sometimes when I'm scribbling on a scrap of paper, I turn thoughtful ... and when that happens I try not to spoil the mood by talking too much.


Today's poem:


BODY OF WORK

No massive volumes
nor learned footnotes
preserve my tracks,
no ripples mark
my gentle passage,
yet my being here,
scribbling away,
may have made
a difference
to someone else.
If that's the case,
I am pleased,
verging on proud,
of my body of work.
© 1996
(originally published in 
Anterior Poetry Monthly)

Today's word: verging

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An Iowa Night





Time flies.


It seems such a short time ago that I was there in Iowa, participating in that study of biography ... but it was actually many years ago ...


We had come from all across the country that summer, people from various professions, gathering at the University of Iowa for an intensive study of biography.


I was one of the participants in that National Endowment for the Humanities seminar. I had looked forward to it as a means of escaping, if only briefly, a work situation with constantly demanding deadlines.


What could be better than to get far, far away from that, to focus on something entirely different?


Deadlines? Oh, we had those in the seminar ... every day. We had a mountain of reading material to cover, to digest, to discuss. It was definitely not playtime.


But it was valuable ... when I returned to work, and all these years later. It helped to steer me in the direction of more writing and, eventually, into what I'm still doing today, exploring the avenues of poetry and a bit of art.


Today's poem recalls one particular evening when we were invited out to the rural home of our seminar moderator.


I recall our standing on the porch ... but let's let the poem tell it:


AN IOWA NIGHT


Day's work done, we
gathered on a farm porch,
watching the lush, dark
corn trembling toward us
as rain slid
through the dusk.


No towering buildings
muffled the crumpling
thunder, no traffic
softened the sound
of plump drops spattering
thirsting shingles.


It was the velvet edge
of an Iowa night.


I have bridged back
to it many times, seeking
those faces, wondering
what happened next,
what the others became,
where they are now.
© 1997


(originally published in 
Midwest Poetry Review; also included in my first collection of poems, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press in 2003)

Today's word: wondering

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

After the Muffin






"After the Muffin" is a love poem which was included in O Taste and See: Food Poems, an anthology co-edited by David Lee Garrison and Terry Hermsen and published by Bottom Dog Press ... and it was a sellout ... all 5,000 copies! 

"After the Muffin" was also discovered by Paul Carey, composer, who is also music director for Vox Caelestis Women's Chorus, a 16-voice professional women's chorus based in Chicago's western suburbs. 


He liked "After the Muffin" and set it to music, along with several other food-related poems.


For a sampling of their work:




"After the Muffin" made an appearance in three performances of "The Musical Food Groups" by Chicago a cappella, a vocal ensemble of nine voices, "dedicated to performing innovative concert programs at the highest possible musical standards."


I've heard a recording of their presentation of "After the Muffin," thanks to Matt Greenberg, executive director, who also sings bass with the group ... and it is a superb piece of work ... their rendition of my poem, that is. 


For a sample of Chicago a cappella:



Meanwhile, the poem:

AFTER THE MUFFIN


You've something on
your lip, you say,
your finger, gentle
as a kiss, floating
to show me where.


Blueberry! For
we have just shared
a warm muffin
by candlelight.


And now, all these
hours later, I still
feel that touch
like a kiss, still
hear you saying:
You've something
on your lip.
© 2003
(Published in 
O Taste and See: Food Poems, Bottom Dog Press, 2003)


Today's word: blueberry

Monday, December 14, 2009

Who Writes Poetry?





This is a rather whimsical piece which began when a certain intriguing question popped into my head and triggered a series of images.


I had fun writing it, I've enjoyed sharing it, especially with its eventual publication. Oh, and was I ever excited when it was called out for an encore appearance!


Marion Roach, whose program, "The Naturalist's Datebook," is heard on Sirius Radio ... Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius 112 ... read "Who Writes Poetry?" for her listeners.


In my seemingly perpetual situation, clinging by my fingertips to the trailing edge of technology, I didn't have access to Sirius Radio ... and I still don't ... but I was excited about what had happened to this little poem.


And today's art? It has no direct connection with the poem, but I liked the way the sun was breaking through the clouds ... a metaphor for a glimmer of hope, perhaps ... maybe just an interesting moment captured with a small digital camera ...


Meanwhile:


WHO WRITES POETRY?


Horses, standing head-to-tail
beside each other, the better
to swish the flies away,

are they thinking up poems?
How about cows, studiously
worrying their warm cuds?

Do mules stubbornly pursue
clip-clopping couplets, compose
sonnets, sestinas, villanelles?

Perhaps it's the tiny finch,
singing his easy promises
while she builds the nest.

But I think it might be
the solitary snail, crawling
through the night, leaving

lines going this way and that
on the sidewalk, evidence,
surely, of some kind of angst.
© 2000
(originally published in 
Kaleidoscope)

Today's word: solitary

Sunday, December 13, 2009

There, Almost





On reading this poem quietly to myself again, it occurred to me that the whole poem can be summed up in its first two words: "I dream ... "


In the poem I'm dreaming of London, Rome, Paris ... places I've never been ... and I'm dreaming of actually being there.


Well, you'll see the details of that as you read on.


As my orbit continues to grow smaller, I continue to dream ... not just of those exotic places so far beyond my reach ... but of places close at hand ... places I would like to see, but probably never will.


But I don't dwell on the "never will" aspect.


Nor do I dwell, particularly, on the opposite side of that coin ... the possibilities, remote or otherwise. I live, after all, in the real world ... a world that contains obstacles ... impediments ... realities that we must all face in some form, to some degree or other.


And still, I dream ... Oh, do I ever.


These dreams are the magnets ... tiny though they may be ... which draw me along. They beckon to me in the morning ... throughout the day ... and even when day is done and I sometimes find that I'm so weary ...


I dream ... yes, I dream ... and I hope you do, too.


Meanwhile, the poem:

THERE, ALMOST

I dream of London,
Rome, sometimes Paris,
strolling their streets
on a spring day,
listening to voices
spilling like clear water
over rounded stones,
feeling the whisk of wind,
touch of rain, the quiet
of a hailed cab, tires
smacking puddles
on the curving streets,
tasting the food
in a warm cafe, tables
draped and waiting,
as though they knew,
all along, I'd be there.
© 1997
(originally published in 
The Christian Science Monitor)


Today's word: smacking