Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reverie





I've never been a skater ... on ice, that is ... but it seems to me that daydreaming is something like TWO skaters on ice.

You're vaguely aware of your surroundings ... but then you're also off somewhere else ... like a skating partner off somewhere on the ice, whirling ... and gliding ... maybe leaping ... while you're over here, doing your thing.

Then ... POOF! Back to reality.

That happened to me recently.

Earlier in the day, I had submitted three poems ... by e-mail, no less! ... to one of my favorite publications ... or I thought I had. Then I discovered that all of my efforts had come flying back ... wrong e-mail address!

Well, a little research fixed that ... and off they went again.

Then, just as I was winding down for the day ... checking for incoming e-mails one more time ... half-listening to the news on TV ... I got confirmation that all three of those little poems had been accepted for publication in three upcoming issues.

Wow! Did that ever set off a chain of images ... including one very brief thought about dancing on the table in celebration ... talk about reverie!

Speaking of which:

REVERIE


My tired brain,
sponge that it is,
busies itself
sopping up sights
and sounds, giving
nothing back
as we drift apart,
like two skaters
arcing slowly away
on a vast blue rink,
curling, curling
back, linking hands
again, a flurry of
upbladed ice
marking our sudden
juncture, skates
flashing in unison
again as though
we'd never parted.
© 2000
(originally published in 
A New Song)
Today's word: sponge

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Purchase of Sleep





You'd think ... for someone who has never really been a morning person ... oversleeping would be a real blessing. After all, I generally have no set schedule to meet ... except that which I impose on myself.


But, not being a morning person, getting a late start actually feels like I'm digging my way out of a deeper hole than usual.


Don't worry ... I'll get over it. I always do ... at least I always have. It's just that I don't start my day by popping a wheelie ... it's more like slow and easy ... slow and easy ... for the rest of the day.


And where does that take us?


To the other side of the coin: Not being able to sleep during the night. That brings to mind ... guess what? Another poem.


Sometimes I wake up ... wide awake ... in the middle of the night. I'm not sure what triggered it ... a noise perhaps ... a barking dog ... or maybe just an interval of absolute quiet. In my neighborhood, sudden quiet can be startling, too.


It's almost like someone has flicked a switch.


The cure? Well, I don't pop a pill ... I've found something cheaper and more effective.

I explain in the poem.


It has also occurred to me that, since I often have the itch to write, perhaps crawling out of bed for a few minutes to scrawl a few nagging thoughts on a scrap of paper is simply the equivalent of scratching where it itches.


And what a great feeling it is to go drifting off again.


The poem:


PURCHASE OF SLEEP


I cannot sleep

when thoughts assail me,

forcing me to rise

wearily from my bed

to find pad and pencil.

Hurriedly I scratch

on the patient page,

uniting it with these

its straying children.

Only then may I reclaim

the cradling pillow

and my rest.

© 1996

(originally published in Mind Matters Review)

Today's word: purchase

Friday, January 29, 2010

Only the Best







I can't imagine being restricted to writing only one word on a given day. There are so many of them clamoring to get out of my head and go skittering across the page ... or to be posted on the screen.

On the day that I wrote this little poem, though, I must have been trying to imagine what it might be like to have to settle on just one word ... and I picked "friend," with its dictionary meaning of a person one knows well and is fond of ... plus all its other shades of meaning, depending on the reader's experience.


It has so many meanings. It conjures up images of a handshake, a hug, of sharing a conversation with someone, or just sitting quietly with them ... helping someone, being helped by someone, of someone you can trust, someone with whom you can share your thoughts ... secrets, even ... 


It seems to be an all-purpose word, but it's a very precise word, too ... not a musical word, but one that can bring "music" to us, put a spring in our step, a glow that counters even the cloudiest of days.


The poem:


ONLY THE BEST


If I could write
just one word today,
what care I'd take
to pick the best
from the great array
of "previously-owned,
runs great" words,
for example: Friend.
© 1996
(originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: friend

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nightsongs





As some of you know, I write a lot about rain. 

It was such a central part of growing up in rural Southern Illinois. There were many summers when our garden wilted ... never mind the grass that seemed to turn to confetti in our yard ... the cistern ran low ...


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


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


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


The poem:


NIGHTSONGS

I lie listening


to the summer night,


wondering what


it might have been like


before roofs came


to glorify the rain,


to magnify the sound.


Was there gentle


crackle and murmur


of a small fire,


a faltering lullaby?


A song kept going,


stick by stick,


until the words


finally surrendered


to deep silence?


The silence of


ashes giving up


their warmth?


Perhaps there was


only the faintest


of songs, like


this rain tonight,


trembling leaf


to leaf ... to earth.


© 2003


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




Today's word: murmur

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Window







I write a lot about writing. Don't get me wrong ... I'm no expert. I am intrigued by the process, the way ideas come creeping up, the shape-shifting of words and phrases, the way poems are born.



I write essentially for myself, expressing my feelings, my thoughts, my dreams, in the hope that I might understand them better.





Still, much of the process remains a mystery to me. I am intrigued, entranced sometimes, by that process.



And I share. What I've written is always shared with Phyllis, who has sat through so 
many first readings, who has given me somuch encouragement, that I shall never be able to repay her.




I share some of what I've written with poetry groups.



I share when I give public readings.





I share by way of this journal and through a weekly online newsletter, "Squiggles ... and Giggles." I share when an editor discovers something I've written, likes it, publishes it.



Oh, I share.




And I depend on the listener or reader to share reactions with me. I really do. I value these reactions, because they provide a measure of whether I have truly hit the mark with what I have written.




They tell me much about what I have written, of course, but their reactions also tell me something about the listener or reader ... the poem becomes that window through which we view each other.




Thank you for looking in while I continue looking out.



The poem:




MY WINDOW

The pristine page
is a window
through which
I view the world
with my imperfect
vision, attempting
to make sense
of what I see,
while the world,
at least a small
portion of it,
stares back, trying,
equally, to see
what’s up with me.
© 2000
(originally published in 
PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: pristine

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Late Run





I have ridden a lot of buses. The bus was my main mode of transportation when I was in military service ... later when I started college ... still later, during a good portion of my working life.

There's something about a bus.

Absolute strangers will take a seat beside you and start telling their life's story ... at least that's been my experience ... and the drivers ... when you're the first one on the bus in the morning, as I often was ... or the last one off at night ... as I sometimes was ... they'll strike up a conversation ...

There's just something about a bus.

You can't help picking up information about people and places ... bits and pieces of information ... even if you're not a writer ... things, impressions that stick with you ... things that resurface at the strangest times.

That's what makes this poem what it is ... the bits and pieces.


It comes together as though it's all happening along a certain route ... on a certain Saturday night ... on a rainy Saturday night ... a certain driver ... a particular bus. Not so. It's a combination of those bits and pieces, gathered during hundreds of rides over thousands of miles.

So it didn't really happen? Oh, but it did. Not in the neat little package starting at Point A and ending at Point B. But it did happen.

I imagine it was ... as is often the case ... a rainy night that set the memories into motion ... this gathering of impressions from the recesses of my mind ... the narrative that followed ... the driver ... rain ... the sweeping turn ... rain peppering the dead roadside grass ... all of it coming together to form a poem.

And that, I suppose, is an example of poetic license.

THE LATE RUN

An almost-empty bus,
and I'm dozing as it
splashes down a lane
toward St. Leonard's.

Its headlights sway
as it makes a sweeping
turn, pauses, then goes
grinding off again.

"It's that way most
Saturdays," the driver
says. Then, glancing
at me: "I make that
loop, you know? Just
in case. But there’s
hardly ever anybody
waiting." A pause.
"Now ain't that life?"

We jolt along, listening
to the wipers slapping
the rain aside, tires
smacking puddles, and I
ponder what he has just
said. The rain peppers
the dead roadside grass
and dances its lonely
Saturday night dance,
while I sit thinking,
tired and a little sad.
© 2003
(from my first poetry collection, 
Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press, 2003)


Today's word: license

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's So Simple





"Writing a poem is as simple as pouring a cup of coffee ... "

Oh, do read on. 


Before we're finished, I will have led you down the winding garden path with still another poem about writing. As always, my usual disclaimer: I write about writing, not because I'm expert, but because the process intrigues me so.


As you will see, as you work your way through the poem, I don't think writing a poem ... or writing anything for public consumption, for that matter ... is a simple matter. Nor need it be so very complicated that only a select few may do it.


But the end product, I think, should give the appearance of having been done with ease ... not flippantly or shallow, but done with a certain polish about it which may intrigue the reader, without getting in the way of the poem itself. 


It should appear to have been easily, naturally written, and none of the hard labor of producing it need show through.


What I'm saying in the poem, I guess, is that a poem should come to the reader with the ease one experiences in simply pouring a cup of coffee.


I hope you'll have a sip ... hope you enjoy it.


IT'S SO SIMPLE


Writing a poem is as simple as pouring
a cup of coffee. First, though, you plant

a seed, wait for the sprout, nurture it,
then transplant the seedling, let it mature,

hope that frost doesn't kill the buds,
let the bees pollinate blossoms, wait

for the beans to mature, pick the beans,
dry them, haul them, roast them, transport

them again, package them, grind them,
add water, let them leap as they

percolate and you keep an eye on the clock.
Then you simply pour, sit back and enjoy.
© 2006
(originally published in 
ByLine magazine)

Today's word: percolate

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How the Cinders Danced





This is a homecoming poem only in the sense that I had returned to the place where I grew up.


There were no welcoming crowds, no band ... and I hadn't expected any. I had walked around town, looking for a familiar face, but found none. I ended up at the site of the bridge where a frightening experience had etched itself on my memory.


And how frightening a steam locomotive could be to a youngster, especially up close, as I recalled its being as my grandmother and I were caught walking across that bridge ... with a freight train passing underneath.


Standing there, alone, brought that memory rushing back to me.


How quiet now! How calm. How vivid the memory of those cinders "dancing" on the deck of that bridge! I just had to write about it.


It later received recognition as a 
Plainsongs Award Poem, published in their October, 2005, issue.


HOW THE CINDERS DANCED

Cold, I stand recalling
how the cinders danced
on the highway bridge


while I watched a slowly
swaying freight train
creaking beneath us,


its dark, hulking engine
chuffing like a dragon,
hot cinders swirling


up, dark clouds seeking
the walkway, our lungs;
how my hand lingered


in Grandma's after that
frightening train had
gone clacking off, and I


stand here now, alone,
a stranger come home,
breathing clear air,


no cinders dancing, no
engine chuffing, but
my gloved hand rising


to a sudden welling up
that causes a blurring
of childhood images.
© 2005

Today's word: chuffing


(OK, so I made up the word, but that's how I remember the sound that the steam engine made as it struggled underneath the bridge. Oh, and the art? One of my photographs ... and, no, that's not the bridge mentioned in the poem; it's a Nature-provided "bridge" along the trail at one of my favorite walking places.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gently Falling





It was a quiet, rainy evening, and I had been working at the computer in the attic (not as primitive as it may sound ... it's a finished attic space, carpeted, well-lighted ... I also call it "my studio" now).


I leaned back in my chair ... trying to decide whether to tackle just one more task ... or call it a day.


It was then I noticed that a gentle rain had begun. I could see the tiny droplets speckling the skylight, gathering, beginning to trickle down the slope.


Something about that scene brought the word "weeping" to mind. I just had to write that phrase down. There followed others ... the thought that rain is sometimes soothing, but that it can also elicit feelings of loneliness.


The poem started out in the direction of loneliness, sadness, but took a rather abrupt turn at the end with the question: "Or is it joy?" ... and my implied answer then was definitely in the direction of joy. 

It still is. Most definitely. Joy.


Now, the poem:


GENTLY FALLING

The rain
comes weeping
to the pane,
early few drops
catching late light,
pearly beads
trickling
down the glass
in remembrance
of some loss
long forgotten.
Or is it joy?
© 1997, 2003
(originally published in 
The Christian Science Monitor; subsequently included in my first collection, Chance of Rain, Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: joy

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flight





It was a hot summer day and I was about mid-way through my daily walk.


I paused in the shade near the corner, to look around and cool down a bit. I had just been standing there a few moments when it caught my eye: The shadow of something ... moving across the lawn of a nearby house.


As I followed the movement of that shadow, my gaze shifted slowly upward to the source. It turned out to be a crow, moving slowly, gracefully toward a perch high in a tree across the street.


It was quiet as it flew, then sat there looking around ... "judge-like," it appeared to me.


When I got home, I once again sat at the kitchen table and started writing. I had the makings of a poem.


Eventually, after several revisions, it became a poem ... and then, in time, was published.

The poem:


FLIGHT


The crow's shadow folds
and unfolds diagonally
across the lawn, up the fence
and away, almost before
I can fix my gaze on
that true flight taking place
well above the rooted houses.
Then silently he courses
toward a high, unobstructed
limb on which to sit
looking down, judge-like in his
dark robe, at the rest of us.
© 1996
(originally published in 
Read, America!)

Today's word: judge-like

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Evening Train





Today's poem is heavy with memories, even though it speaks of a summer evening about sixty years ago.


While the evening described was certainly a low point of my young life, it was not to be the end of the line, as I indicate in the poem ... and as events have since confirmed.


I'll never forget that feeling of emptiness, abandonment, of having certainly hit bottom ... all because I had won a college scholarship, with its promise of good things ahead, but I didn't even have bus fare to get to the campus.


There seemed no way to turn, no way to escape, as I sat there alone on that darkened front porch ...


But then I enlisted in the Air Force, saved some money, and eventually began college - not, incidentally, the one where I'd had a scholarship and the offer of help with finding part-time work, "once you arrive on campus."


The rest, as they say, is history ... thanks to some hard work ... and a lot of help along the way.


I also remember the feeling of relief, of a load finally having been lifted from me, all these years later, after I had written this poem.


So, you see, poetry - the writing of it, or the effort put into trying to write it - can be good therapy.


The poem:

EVENING TRAIN

The swing’s creaking
heartbeat held me
captive in the dark

as I sat watching
those lighted cars
swaying up the grade,

green trackside eye
blinking to red,
a clear sign to me,

believer in signs
and good fortune,
that my young dreams

had finally melted
into that S-curve,
vanished in darkness,

and there would be
no college, not even
bus fare to get there.

It seems so long ago,
such a vague memory
now, scar fading like

a distant whistle,
that evening train
somewhere, echoing,

reminding me that
I finally escaped,
became who I am,

but never escaped
who I was then.
© 2000
(originally published in 
Waterways)

Today's word: escaped

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Defying Gravity





Oh, wouldn't it be great to be able to rise above the everyday problems that continue to plague us?

I thought about that.


I thought about literally rising above them, sailing off as carefree as a bird ... or more like a big red balloon which had just gained its freedom.


Of course, I came back to earth, to the reality that things would still bug me, but I felt better able to cope.


How's that for a bit of therapy ... at least in the realm of things which, in the long view of things, aren't all that important?


Maybe if I practice on the little things I will be better able to rise above the larger, more serious hurdles which lie ahead.


It's a thought, anyway. Now the poem:

DEFYING GRAVITY

With practice, I fully expect
someday to defy the gravity
of situations that bug me now.

A promise broken beyond repair,
an umbrella gone inside-out,
the spilled beans of some urgent
secret, the hole in my sock,
a lost mitten, broken shoelace,
a bookmark gone astray,
my coffee cup gone stone cold,
things I’ve forgotten,
crawling out, feeling old.

I see myself like a giant
red balloon, rising easily
above them all. And don’t you
dare grab the string.
© 2002
(originally published in 
Potpourri)

Today's word: balloon

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cool Hat






I know, I should throw it away ... at the very least, not wear it in public.


But I can't bear to give it up. It's my hat. We've been together so long, through so many things. It's like a part of me. And there it sits, "like a cabbage leaf on my head."


The poem began, as many poems do, while I was out walking, this time with Phyllis.


Actually, we encountered two young girls, strolling in the other direction. Strangers, but I probably smiled and spoke to them.


One of them smiled and said something in reply, but I didn't catch what it was.


After we had walked far enough that I thought we were out of earshot of the two, I asked Phyllis: "What did she say?"


"Cool hat," she replied.


"Cool hat?"


"That's right. Cool hat," she assured me.


That's when I had the impulse to toss my hat in the air and do a few dance steps right there. Who says I'm not in touch with the younger generation?


Today's poem, part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:


COOL HAT

It has been
wind-stripped,
limb-grabbed,
lost and found,
rumpled, crumpled,
laundered until
it cries for mercy,
and it sits like
a cabbage leaf
on my head.


But then she,
a young girl about
half my height,
flashes a smile,
says, "Cool hat!"
and for a moment,
just a heartbeat,
a quickened stride,
I feel like
tossing my hat
in the air
and dancing.
© 1999
(orignally published in 
Capper's)

Today's word: heartbeat

Monday, January 18, 2010

Been-Rejected Blues




Rejection is never funny. I've learned not to take it personally, though. I work on the assumption, at least, that it isn't personal.


Oh, there are still twinges sometimes. If I've spent a lot of time on a particular piece, studied the markets, read the publications, and  have the feeling that I've selected the exact poem(s) that the editor is looking for, then there can't help but be a slight twinge of disappointment when the poems come back with a little note attached.


But I know it isn't a personal thing. Maybe I was a little late, and that particular issue was filled with great writings by the time mine arrived. Maybe the issue had a theme that I overlooked.


Maybe the editor was just having an off day.


But it's not personal. Besides, I learned over the years that a poem rejected by one editor may be precisely what another editor has been looking for.


So I keep trying.


And when another editor likes something I've written ... though it may have been rejected someplace else ... that's cause for celebration ... and I do some dancing on the table ... figuratively, of course.


Then I get back to work. There are other poems to write, other markets to try ... and sometimes I even venture into an area which I generally avoid ... because, as I've said many times, "I can't rhyme worth a dime."


For example:




BEEN-REJECTED BLUES


I've got those

low down,
good for nothin'
been-rejected blues.

My meter seems fine.
My rhyme? Sublime.
So why, I whine,
this awful mess
I find myself in,
so sad and unseemly,
loaded with chagrin?

Beats me. I've just
got 'em. Bad as they
can be, I guess,
those unexpected,
pain-injected,
stripped down nekked,
been-rejected blues.

© 2001

(received an honorable mention award in Ohio Poetry Day competition)







Today's word: unexpected

Sunday, January 17, 2010

After Ordering




One thing I like about writing ... poetry or whatever ... is the surprise element.


I never know when a poem ... or an idea for a poem ... is going to leap out at me. Those are the ones I really like, as opposed to the thought which keeps tugging at my sleeve, day after day, trying to get my full attention.


Today's poem came to me somewhere in Ohio. I don't remember where we had stopped, or where we were headed ... probably just out for a lazy afternoon drive.


We'd found a quiet place, studied the menu, placed our orders ... and then the sounds of the place, the orderly movement of people in and out ... all of the activity began asserting itself.


I don't even remember whether I started jotting down some things then, or simply made some mental notes (risky business, because I sometimes have trouble finding 
those again), but the end result was a poem ... one that eventually found a home in a publication.


The poem:



AFTER ORDERING


As I take my first sip
of ice-cold water,
I notice the sizzle
rising from the grill,
the soft clink of a spoon
hitting someone's glass,
an infant gurgling,
insistent, distant
beeping, then, at a table
just for two, a young
couple sharing a scoop
of vanilla ice cream
that's swimming
in a delicious, sticky
sea of strawberry syrup,
and I almost want
to change my order.
© 2006
(originally published in 
Capper's)


Today's word: sticky

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tulsa or Bust





I've written about finding a broken pencil with only a few words left in it ... the frantic search for a scrap of paper ... any tiny piece will do ... to write down an idea before it flits away ... the hurdles, the barriers, the great feeling of success. All about writing.


It's not that I consider myself an expert on writing. Far from it. I continue to be mystified by the process ... curious about how ... and why ... poems sometimes come sneaking up on me ... but not baffled ... no, I would not say baffled ... not completely, any way.


"Tulsa or Bust" is also about writing.


As you may note, writing about writing sometimes takes some strange turns on the road to completion and eventual publication, in this instance in 
ByLine Magazine:


TULSA OR BUST

The paper's dry,
drier than
my driest poems,
threatening
to shatter,
turn to dust,
so I must write
quickly, softly,
cautiously,
choosing only
fluffy, light
subjects like
a "Wash Me"
written large
on the back
of a truck
lumbering
toward Tulsa.
© 1999

Today's word: lumbering