Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Who Lives There?

(One of my quick little watercolor sketches, done during a pause in my daily walk)

Today's poem came to me on the bus, was largely written on the bus, because it took hold of me ... and wouldn't let go.

Over time, I became aware of that particular window, that struggling plant. It got so I was watching for that cracked window each day when my bus went climbing back up the hill on the way home.

I kept expecting to see someone at the window, watering the plant, turning it in the sunlight, or simply looking out at the passing traffic. But I never did.

Still, the plant hung on, seemed to be growing, leafing out slightly, and I kept wondering who lived there with it ... "what small measures of encouragement" they shared.

The poem, originally published in the literary journal, Poem, and now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:


In an upstairs window,

below a sagging
gutter, beside siding
wind-peeled and flapping,
beneath a window shade
water-stained and torn,
behind a pane cracked
diagonally like a fragile
promise, sits a spindly
plant taking what sun
it can on a winter day,
while my bus struggles
in its uphill climb
toward a daily nagging
question: Who lives
there with this plant,
and what small measures
of encouragement do they
have to bridge the days?
© 2006
Today's word: encouragement

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Take a Peek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here's today's:


My billfold
contains a slip
of yellow paper
with the name
of the President
written on it.

I feel secure
having it with me,
like a number,
next of kin,
o be called
in an emergency.

Perhaps someday
after surgery,
responding to
trick questions:

What's your name?

Who's President?

I can say,"Take a peek
at my billfold. There's
a slip inside. It's all
I've got left."
© 1995

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: identify

Monday, March 29, 2010

So Quiet

I've had computer problems recently ... but who hasn't?

I'm not sure, exactly, what the problems were. Some things were working ... some weren't. And then some of the things that had been working ... weren't ... and some of the things that hadn't been working ... were.

I was somewhat confused by it all.

In the midst of it all, I had visions of being completely shut off from contact with the outer world. Oh, how quiet that would've been.

But now I'm back in touch (I think) ... and let's let it go at that ... 

Last night, when I finally thought I could safely consider attempting another entry here ... the title of today's poem came to mind.

It's another poem which preserves a family memory ... more specifically, a memory of a visit to the place where our grandson lives ... and of the good times Grandma and he shared ... and, of course, I was not left out of the activity, either.

I think the poem pretty well tells its own story:


The house was so quiet
this morning when I walked
down the hallway that I
could hear the clock ticking,
thought I heard tired fireflies
grumping softly to themselves
somewhere outside, searching
the grass for a cool place
to spend the day, the cicadas
climbing their leafy green trees,
almost humming to themselves
in their happiness, thought I
heard Thomas breathing peacefully
in his bed, still dreaming about
that dump truck he and Grandma
kept filling and emptying, sand
tickling their bare feet, and I
couldn't help smiling at myself
looking back from the mirror,
ready to clap my hands and dance.
© 2001

(received a third place award in a ByLine competition; now part of Hollyhocks, my second collection of poems, released by Finishing Line Press)
Today's word: grumping

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Running the Hurdles

(This photo was taken some time ago. I had a new camera ... a new "toy," if you will ... and I understood, from a quick reading of the instructions, that it had a built-in timer which allowed the photographer to be in the picture. Aha! A self-portrait! I thought I'd try a profile shot ... and I did. Trouble was, I was concerned that nothing seemed to be happening. Then, just as I turned to see what had gone wrong, something did happen ... and you see the result. It wasn't what I expected, but I never ... almost never ... throw anything away without finding a use for it ... so here it is.)

Today's poem, I think, cries out for more poetic detail ... and more detail would call for more than its eight short lines could deliver.

The poem may, in fact, have been considerably longer when it was first written ... but I was under the mistaken impression that 
Capper's only published eight-line poems.

See? I can be brief.

The poem:


Have you
ever noticed
how many more
things go wrong
when you're trying
to get away
early, or make up
for lost time?
© 1997
Today's word: hurdles

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Quiet Nights at Fuzzy's

Fuzzy's was a real place in my hometown. It still is, as far as I know ... Fuzzy's Tavern. 

I was never inside, but I was always intrigued by the swinging doors, just like in the movies, and by the mixture of sounds ... music and voices ... and those alien smells, a mixture of smoke and booze, I suppose, which came flowing out onto the street.

Fuzzy's is among my earliest memories of my hometown. I recall how Grandma would take my hand and guide me past.

As I say, I've never actually been inside Fuzzy's, so "Quiet Nights ..." is a product of a combindation of early memories and my imagination. Oh, how that always enhances the memories.

When I wrote this poem, I imagined how it would have been to have followed the smoke as it drifted slowly through ... like a movie camera taking it all in ... then out the screened back door, out into that darkness "teeming with crickets and stars."

Someday I may go back to that little town where my life began.

I'll go strolling down the east side of Main Street and, though I may feel that Grandma is still watching over where I go and what I do, I may venture inside to see what it's really like.

Then again, I might just go strolling on by, like when Grandma led me past. I'd kinda hate to learn that it isn't anything like I imagined it to be.

The poem:


A lazy blue haze wove its way through
a tide of voices rising against
the solemn blare of the jukebox,

curled past booths lining the walls
like dark coffins, crawled into the dim
light hanging forlorn, discontented,

at a tattered table where the deliberate
clack and roll of spheres marked
the ebb and flow of local riches,

back where lonely drinkers got serious
in the grips of sweaty brown
bottles, washing themselves beyond

remembering the din of summer rain
on the tin roof, beyond even caring
about fighting, then the smoke seeped

out the screened back door, off,
night after night, into a darkness
teeming with crickets and stars.
© 1999
(second-place award winner in a Dayton Metro Library literary contest, and now part of a manuscript, a work in progress)

Today's word: memories

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ordinary Things

(Another of those "ordinary things" which catch my attention when I'm out walking - the shadows of bare limbs falling across a walkway, trees catching the sun in the background - a tranquil scene which may lead to a poem ... or just a feeling of quiet contentment)
Rejection ... in the form of those little impersonal notes which accompany your poems when they come back from some distant editor ... is so frequent that it's almost expected.

Oh, I send out the best work I can do ... at the time ... and I always think I've matched it with the perfect place for it to be published ... but there are so many factors at work: The sheer numbers of people who write poetry, the limited number of pages in each publication, the timing, the subject matter.

Then there's the subjective way in which the flood of incoming work is measured ... as, I suppose, it should be. The editor, after all, is likely struggling for survival, too.

I've come to expect that most of my submissions will be rejected. Of course, this makes the acceptances that much more sweet ... more worthy of celebration, though I don't dance on the table as much as I once did.

In this pursuit of acceptance here and there, I accept the odds, I keep trying to improve my writing ... and the odds ... and life goes on.

Once in a while, in all of this turmoil, there comes a little surprise.

I recall how one editor had scrawled something about "mundane treatment of ordinary subjects" on the rejection slip which accompanied my returned poems. I recall that note ... and I wish I could recall the name of that editor.

I would like to thank him for giving me ideas for two more poems, today's "Ordinary Things" ... and another, "In Praise of the Mundane" ... both off which were published ... elsewhere.

Today's offering:

If my daily walk could take me
far enough from where I live,
I might discover something worthy
of collecting and preserving.

Instead, I find a squirrel's
nest, abandoned, being parceled
by the wind, a remnant of string
lying in hopeless tangle,
fragments of eggshell left like
bits of sky on gritty gray
sidewalk, a cat sunning, scattered
toys, telling me that children
are nearby, perhaps watching
as I pick my way through.

Such ordinary things, trickling
through the fingers of my memory
even before I get home, but while
I have them they are treasure.
More than that, food for my soul.
© 1998
(Originally published in 
A New Song, the poem is now part of my third collection, Wood Smoke, published by Finishing Line Press)
Today's word: ordinary

Thursday, March 25, 2010

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 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: 


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 
Today's word: swaying

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Loss of a Tree

Today's photo is one I took during an autumn stroll at Cox Arboretum. The poem is part of my third small collection, Wood Smoke, published by Finishing Line Press:


Streets, the inexorable ooze of cities,
were already there when you arrived
to be ritually planted as recompense

for what had been stolen from the land.
Thus began life among strangers, thirst
of confinement, trimmings when you

reached for wires, the salt-laden spray
of passing cars, signs tacked to your
trunk, bark-scarring injury from a van

run amok. Despite abuse, neglect, you grew
through recession, depression, ebb and flow
of fashion, through those times called

war, interludes known as peace. You grew
over the curb, began upending sidewalk,
but provided shade for strollers, let fall

showers of crinkled leaves for children
to go kicking through. Finally, when winds
tried to break you, but, failing that,

uprooted you with a horrible groan, you
took with you an anachronistic jumble
of flashing trolley wires and lay, silent

and dying in the street, waiting for crews
to gather you up, truck you away, leaving
only your winged seed, scattered and golden.
© 2010
Today's word: inexorable

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I Could Not Pass It By

While strolling through a well-known store, just minding my own business, pretending to be a serious shopper intent on throwing a lot of money around ... I encountered Gloria, a friend I hadn't seen in ages.
We were delighted to see each other again. We used to be in a writing group together. I always enjoyed her writings ... mostly snippets of autobiography ... and she had kind things to say about my poetry.
We had barely exchanged greetings ... including a warm hug ... when she asked: "Are you still collecting pencils?"
She remembered! Mainly she remembered how, at one of our meetings, I brought in a handful of pencil stubs ... little discarded things that I had found on the sidewalk, in the gutter, etc., during my daily walks.
My idea was to pass them around to members of the writing group, with the suggestion that they write something with them. I thought it would be interesting to see what the pencils would "tell us."
I offered them first to Gloria ... who recoiled as though I had just tried to hand her a snake.
"Why, we don't know where those have been!" she exclaimed.
Yes, I admitted, I'm still collecting pencils ... though there seemed to be fewer of them lying about at the beginning of this school year ... symbolizing another shift in technology, I suppose.
Well, that exchange brought to mind the poem I'm offering today, a poem from my collection entitled Wood Smoke, published by Finishing Line Press.
I think "I Could Not Pass It By" pretty well tells its own story, but, as is the case with all poems, the reader brings a certain experience, a certain viewpoint to the reading of it. That always gives it a special flavor, often beyond what I had expected it to impart.
The poem:


I found it lying there
in the snows of Watervliet Avenue,
as cold and senseless as my own
toes pointing the way for me
up the sidewalk curving toward
the Belmont Business District.
I found it freshly pointed,
eraser in nearly-new condition,
reclining so yellow beside
the curb that I could not
pass it by. With a practiced swoop
I possessed it and walked on,
swiping it across a gloved hand,
then offering it body warmth
in a pocket snug within the down
of my dark brown corduroy-collared
jacket. I felt it shedding
its coldness against my chest
as I wondered where it had been,
what magic it had revealed
to some young pupil watching
as it sent caravans of letters
tracking across the desert page
in some remote, arid classroom.
But now I watch while it marshals
the words that go streaming across
a page I’ve offered to it, and we
pause, listening for late-night
stirrings near the top step of my
mind, a young poem, awake, thirsting.
© 2005
(part of my third collection, 
Wood Smoke, published by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: thirsting

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hello, Morning

During my working years, mornings were not my favorite time of day, largely because of the early hour at which my work days began, partly because of the pressures of work.

Ah, but retirement brought a change. Now I could sleep in, if I chose, and I could ... within certain limits ... set my own agenda for the remainder of the day.

So what did I do? Miracle of miracles, I started getting up early ... voluntarily ... and I found things to occupy my day ... a bit of art, a bit of writing, a bit of walking, a bit of watching the sun come creeping up over the horizon ... or watching it melting slowly into the western rim of the world.

The poem:


Early light
feels its way
across the top
of my fence,
gently warming
weary, weathered
boards, faint
yellow softness
spreading like
creamy frosting
on this new day.
© 1997
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: melting

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Just as distance changes the perspective of things in the physical world, so does it change the perspective we have on events of long ago.

It's been a long time since I "lived in the country." By today's standards, it was a rather restricted life. We had no running water, no indoor plumbing, no central heat, no telephone, no car.

Ah, but there are other things I remember about life back then, and I still savor them. Actually, their flavor seems to improve ... like warmed over soup ... each time I bring up those memories.

Perhaps I've overdone it a bit with my talk about "that bit of heaven so far beyond the grasp of cities, and all their suburbs ... " but perhaps not.

The poem:

Those who have never been
lulled by a country breeze,
savored the scent of hay
lying in the sun, caught
the sweet, wafting hint
of honeysuckle, who have
never heard the raucous call
of a crow gentled, distanced
by the summer air, well,
they've never glimpsed that
bit of heaven so far beyond
the grasp of cities, and all
their suburbs still to come.
© 2000
(originally published in 
PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: grasp

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Fireflies seemed such magic creatures in the place where I spent my early years.

They still do.

Especially in that period of transition from day to night, when darkness is beginning to settle in, they do seem to be wavering up some kind of invisible ladder.

They do seem to be signalling to us "that dreams still take wing."

Today's poem:


Slowly, randomly they rise
from daytime resting places
into the cool, embracing night.

Tiny wings whirring against
the sodden, clinging atmosphere,
they labor to lug their lights

blinking up wavering ladders,
beacons signaling that dreams
still take wing on such a night.
© 1997

(originally published in Sisters Today)

Today's word: randomly

Friday, March 19, 2010


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

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

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

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

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


There was no mistaking the slope

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

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

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

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

Today's word: image

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Delia's Dream

Today's little poem is about my grandmother, who took me into her care when I was two years old and guided me until I was 18 ... when I went into military service ... and even beyond. 

I still feel that gentle hand in the small of my back.

Times were not just hard, but really tough, requiring frugality with those few material things which came her way. Still, those circumstances seemed to inspire in her an exceeding generosity.

She knew that others had needs greater than hers. She accepted the fact that her good works might be received without thanks.

And she didn't talk much about "those distant places," but I know she dreamed about them sometimes, especially those where her children were.

She did get to visit them, but she never got to be there, as she would say, never got to "pull up and settle down" there.

It was simply not to be. And she accepted that, too. 

How I love her, for all the things she taught me ... for all the butterflies she pointed out to me ... and paused to watch with me.

And now, the poem:


How she'd say
nothing is ever lost,
meaning wasted,
pieces of string,
each carefully coiled,
or a rubber band
snapped around her wrist,
her good works received
without thanks,
and thoughts,
especially thoughts
of those distant places
where she dreamed things
were better, where she
hoped to be someday,
but never was.
© 1997
(originally published in Riverrun)

Today's word: guided