Sunday, February 28, 2010

Clouds at Sunset





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

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

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

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

The poem:

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


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

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

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bubble





(No, those obviously aren't bubbles, but a cluster of lights which caught my eye at one of my favorite walking places, Lincoln Park)


This little poem is laced with memories.

It began, as many of my poems have, when I was observing people.

This time I was riding the bus. Sitting near the front, on one of those side-facing bench seats, was a young mother who was chewing gum and entertaining her infant daughter by blowing bubbles.

Watching them, I was reminded of an incident long ago ... I may have been three, or younger, certainly in my pre-school years ... of being seated outdoors in a tub of warm water ... summertime ... bright sunshine.

I still have a distinct memory of a bubble my mother made from that sudsy water, how the bubble glistened in the sunlight. How fragile it was. How magical.

The poem was written, eventually published, and put away. But the memory lingered.

Then, I was out walking with Phyllis, looked up at the fluffy clouds lazing in the sunshine, and noticed the lights near the pavilion ... how like bubbles they seemed to me, as they glistened in the sunlight.

How like that bubble of so many years ago.

The poem:

BUBBLE

My mother's
hand descended
into sudsy water,
a delicate circle
of forefinger, thumb
slowly emerging,
soft lips breathing
life into a bubble
I still see, quivering,
shimmering, a miracle
unmatched in all
of my three years,
and all of these
searching years
since then.
© 1998

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)


Today's word: shimmering

Friday, February 26, 2010

All Those Trees





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But let's let the poem tell the story:


ALL THOSE TREES


We'd grown tired of winding

along with the other tourists

through the aromatic rows


upon rows of captive plants,

felt our own tendrils tugging

gently toward a nearby hill.

We had paused half-way up

when there was a sudden

flutter of excited footsteps,


the clatter of young laughter,

and we were swiftly engulfed

by a surging flood of children


racing tree-to-tree, so intent

on their game they didn't see

us standing there, recalling


a game we had played so like

theirs, savoring the memories,

and now, loving all those trees.

© 2001

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)


Today's word: aromatic

Thursday, February 25, 2010

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Voice and Song





Today's photo ... taken at Cox Arboretum ... is slightly off-season, but a welcome relief, I think, from the snow we've been seeing in this part of Ohio.

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tomato Patch





How long ago ... and yet how vivid the memories of those childhood summers helping in the garden that my grandparents had each year.

I'm sure I wasn't much help in those early years. That came later, when I had the stature and muscles to be an effective weed chopper.

Oh, but I still recall how hot and steamy it was there ... how a bit of shade and a drink of water did seem to be so far, far away. But, as the poem indicates, those memories are still valuable to me ... I still treasure them.

Of course, memories tend to lose their rough edges over time. They become smooth and shiny ... much like the blade I remember, chopping those weeds, loosening the soil to help retain the moisture the plants so sorely needed.

The poem:

TOMATO PATCH
I found no poetry
in the tomato patch,
drone of a horsefly
drilling the silence,
drops of my sweat
salting the soil,
my hoe dispatching
smartweed, with shade,
a drink of water
so far away. Why,
then, do I miss
that seasoned handle,
so glassy-smooth,
sliding in my hands,
that dark blade
worn thin and shiny,
glinting like
treasure in the sun?
© 1998
(originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: glinting

Monday, February 22, 2010

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, February 21, 2010

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, February 20, 2010

Quick, the Towel!





Some of you ... Chosen Words Regulars ... may have seen this one before ... and even my introduction ...



Because it happened again. What happened? 

Listen ...

It's almost automatic ... as I step into the shower ... that sudden intrusion of a most urgent thought ... that must be written down ... right now.


There's just something about the place, the setting.



It may be just an item for the grocery list ... or just a random thought ... an idea ... but that is a part of writing, I tell myself ...


I don't often interrupt the shower to commit these most urgent words to paper ... but I do try to retain them ... and that's sometimes akin to maintaining a grip on a slippery bar of soap.


If I'm lucky, I relish the shampoo ... complete the shower ... towel off, taking extra care with the toes ... and still have that special thought ... that idea ... as I reach for that little stack of scratch paper which is always nearby, ready, waiting.


Sometimes, if I'm really lucky, what I commit to paper is the beginning of a poem ... a thought that contains the promise of blossoming into something worth keeping ... and then I know this is going to be a beautiful day.


The poem:


QUICK, THE TOWEL

There's something
about a shower,
the steamy,
needling water,
the quiet warmth,
something, that
brings to mind
an urgent thought
of some errand,
some left-over
chore, some most
urgent task, that
must be written
on paper now,
right now, before
it goes trickling
down the drain
of forgetfulness.

© 2000
(originally published in 
Capper's)


Today's word: needling

Friday, February 19, 2010

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.

The poem, 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

Thursday, February 18, 2010

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Next Shade




(It's not one of my summer photos ... 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, as it has been here recently, 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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Making It Count





This is one of my "walking poems," written in my early retirement years, when I was in the habit of sitting down at the kitchen table after my daily walk and writing bits and pieces that I could share with Phyllis when she got home from work.


There's nothing profound about it. Still, I think it says a lot.


I like it for the economy of words, for the walking cadence which brought it to me, but also for the outlook: Not that there should be wild partying, as though each day were the last, but that the certainty of today should be seized, taken advantage of, used to do something really worthwhile, against the uncertainty of tomorrow.


I don't recall precisely where I was when it came to me, but I do recall how I felt the rhythm of the words beginning to arrange themselves as I strode along: "I try to do my best today ... "


I still do.
MAKING IT COUNT

I try to do
my best today,
for I may not
have tomorrow.
© 1997
(originally published in 
Parnassus Literary Journal)
Today's word: cadence

Monday, February 15, 2010

Late-Night Serenade





I don't like giving away the poem in my opening remarks ... because then there's no incentive to explore the poem, right?

So, okay, this one is about a dog. He wasn't just a dog, but a special personality. Maybe I should just stop there.

We've had a lot of canine neighbors in the years that we've been here at Brimm Manor. There was one small one a couple of doors up ... whose favorite activity seemed to be running in circles and barking at the sun.

Then there was the one who deligted in galloping into the alley, hackles up, barking, barking, barking ... like he really meant business ... when I tried to move our trash container back onto our property.

My favorite, though, was Houdini, who lived right next door. I remember how, soon after they moved in, Houdini barked at me. His owner spoke quietly to him ... I couldn't tell what he said ... and that was the last time Houdini ever barked at me.

We got along famously.

Then there was this other dog ... a situation which could easily become a problem ... but I detect a bit of sympathy in what I wrote about him.

The poem:
LATE-NIGHT SERENADE

Sometimes at midnight, sometimes
three o'clock in the morning,
I hear him pouring out his soul,
and I know he's lonely, or lovesick,
or both, poor fellow, even though
I can't make out the words, just
the emotion of his mournful song
that goes on and on, rising in pitch,
subsiding, resuming, reminding me
of a gray wolf sending a message
somewhere in the wilds. He persists,
night after night, sitting beside
his doghouse, two doors down, nose
pointing heavenward, ears laid back,
howling, yowling, pitifully crying
his poor heart out over a lost bone,
a failed romance, the solitude
of the bachelor's way of life --
something that's obviously bothering
him. And it bothers me that he
doesn't start thinking about it
until I'm trying to get some sleep,
then howls the rest of the night.
© 2002
(originally published in 
Kaleidoscope)
Today's word: yowling

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Interlude





Today's poem likely began life somewhat larger than the version I'm sharing with you.



That's not unusual. When a poem ... or what may become a poem ... begins to present itself to me, I often just let the words just go trickling across the page.




Sometimes that works. Sometimes not.



In between that kind of beginning, and publication, there is a lot of revision. That usually means tightening.


Fewer words. More left to the imagination of the reader.



Does this one work? Well, the editor thought it did ... but I tend to think the reader has the final say on that.



If you've ever watched the sunshine come crawling (swarming?) through a window, the poem may work for you as it did for me. If not, well, ... it may still be food for thought:



INTERLUDE



See how the sun
comes crawling
through the window,
like hungry bees
on a single sprig
of goldenrod.
© 1997
(originally published in 
Midwest Poetry Review)
Today's word: crawling