Friday, April 30, 2010

Ceiling Monster




(Another of my little watercolors, an attempt to capture a sunset)


A summer poem? Could be ... but it could be an anytime poem, because the "monster" is always there ... has been, ever since I installed it.


But simmer - er, summer, it is. At least in today's poem.


Oh, how many times this has happened to me ... I settle into my favorite chair, pick up a book ... or a magazine ... and lean back. 


Next thing I know, I'm waking up again.


But this time, at least, I got a poem out of it:



CEILING MONSTER


Five blades embrace
heavy summer air
while four globes stare
at a pair of strings,
slender, descending
like spiders seeking
new worlds to claim,
and my eyelids flutter,
fighting against sleep,
for I have sat down
intending only to read
a few paragraphs,
but find I'm slipping
now, glasses off, my book
slowly rising, falling
as it rests on my chest,
both of us helpless
against that monster
whirring, soothing,
cooling, hypnotizing
us in the afternoon.
© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)




Today's word: hypnotizing

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beach Music







I grew up far from the ocean ... any ocean ... so the one time that I got to walk on a real ocean beach was ... to put it mildly ... a most memorable occasion.


Oh, I had glimpsed the ocean at the movies ... in books or magazines ... but never the real thing.


I think I was most impressed, when a face-to-face meeting finally came, with the immensity of it ... its power ... its beauty ... its music.


I tried to get some of that music in this little poem:



BEACH MUSIC


Waves come tumbling
onto the docile shore,
flinging foamy fingers
across the ochre plane.



Teeming with bubbles,
they search and settle,
soothingly diminuendo,
on a healing chord.



Eliciting a sigh
from pliant, sandy keys,
the fingers slide off
into the lap of the sea,


where joyous whitecaps
merrily urge them,
jostle and encourage them
to play it all again.
© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)




Today's word: joyous

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Autumn Rain





Thunderstorms were frightening to a youngster growing up in rural Southern Illinois.

They seemed so packed with fury, so unpredictable as they lashed out, leaving so much damage in their wake.

But rain, particularly a gentle rain at night, was a different matter.

I learned to listen to its comforting cadence against the windows or on the roof, to hear the music it contained.


Sometimes it was like a whisper. Sometimes a Saturday night hoedown.

But it was my kind of music. I loved going to sleep to it ... waking up to it ... or just lying there listening to it.

We forget, sometimes, what a gentle, soothing, healing sound rain can make, especially as harsh summer days begin slowly surrendering to the cooler days and cooler nights of autumn.

This poem is about that kind of rain. It was originally published in Capper's, then in my first collection, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003:

AUTUMN RAIN

Struggling awake
to the sound
of trees scratching
at my green roof,
I see their limbs
swaying against
rolling clouds.

Dancing lightning,
slanting drops,
steady drone
of falling water;
trees, docile now,
guiding droplets
to thirsting soil,
I turn my pillow
cool side up,
go drifting off
in this cradling
sea of sound.
© 2003
Today's word: hoedown

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Antidote






I don't know how many nights I had tossed and turned. Let's just say there were a lot of them.

So many times, during those restless nights, I would think of something that seemed to be the start of a poem, perhaps ... or a bit of fiction ... something I might do something with, if only I could remember it the next morning.

I never could. The next morning? Gone ... the slate wiped clean ... not a trace of that "great idea" which had nagged me so much the night before.

Aha! The solution? That's explained in the poem.

But it didn't solve the problem I expected it to ... far from it.


You'll have to read on to discover what problem was solved:

ANTIDOTE

All those nights
of tossing, turning,
I lay awake wishing
I had pad and pencil
to preserve thoughts
dancing fleetingly
across the ballroom
of my frazzled mind.
When finally one night
I remembered to place
these vital tools
within arm's length,
I went smugly to bed.
And slept like a log.
© 1997
(originally published in 
Parnassus Literary Journal)
Today's word: fleetingly

Monday, April 26, 2010

After the Chores







A poem, sometimes, is an accumulation of memories.

This one is like that. It goes all the way back to my childhood, when I would sit on the steps and watch the sky in the evening. It was like magic, the way the stars would start popping out.

It was magic, too, the way the moon would come floating up over the hills, like a giant balloon set loose to spend the night with us.

Lightning bugs would emerge, and there would be a chorus of sounds from the trees and the nearby fields. Occasionally there would be the hooting of an owl, or ... somewhere in the distance ... the mournful call of the whippoorwill.

I thought of those evenings many times, when I was in places distant from that beginning. 


There weren't always steps to sit on in the evening, and it was often a day job, rather than "chores," that brought fatigue settling onto me at the end of the day.

But I found comfort in thinking about those evenings, so long ago. I still do.

And now, the poem:
AFTER THE CHORES

Night voices rise
in growing chorus
as I sink to the steps
and sit, watching,
waiting like a child,
for a first twinkle
on that darkening
blue dome of sky.
© 1995
(originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: darkening

Sunday, April 25, 2010

When the Frost Comes





Most of my poems are pretty upbeat. Oh, there are those I've written just for myself ... a little less than upbeat in instances, I suppose ... poems that deal with pain ... and healing.

I find some release ... some relief ... for having written them. They are unlikely ever to be shared.

Then there are those like today's.

It's not an upbeat subject ... this matter of loss ... personal loss.


Still, in coming to grips with loss, we sometimes do find a degree of comfort ... I don't know if that's the right word ... an easing, I guess, of the burden imposed upon us.


I hope that comes through in today's poem:


WHEN THE FROST COMES
We miss the flowers
that kept us company
during summer months.
Well into the winter
we savor the memories
of their nodding under
the weight of foraging
bees, of their colors
lifting our spirits.
And so it is
with dear friends
and companions.

When they have gone,
we remember the bright
times we shared, how
we cheered each other,
and we cherish these
good memories, flowering
long after the frost
to give us sustenance.
© 2003
(originally published in 
Brave Hearts)
Today's word: sustenance

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tall







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


This one was different, though.


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


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


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


And now, the poem:


TALL

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

and silent,


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


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

Friday, April 23, 2010

Solitude





Today's poem was written at a time when I was setting a particular kind of challenge for myself with my writing: Take a randomly-selected word and define it, not in dictionary terms, but in personal, human terms ... terms that readers would understand for having lived or witnessed some of them.

It helped that I had some experiences to call on ... the relative isolation of a rural upbringing ... military service ... being "alone" on a crowded subway in New York City.

It helps, too, to be able to block out present surroundings, for at least those few minutes of the writing exercise ... all of those things of the moment which are the opposite, in this instance, of the word you're trying to define: friends, family, companions, even the voices coming from the TV in the other room ...

The poem, originally published in Shawnee Silhouette:

SOLITUDE

It's not just
the hollow, echoing
sound of nights;
days can be
lonely, too,
with a consuming
emptiness spreading,
crinkling as it burns
the thin paper of time
on which we scratch
the names of our thoughts.
With no one to touch,
no one to hear,
no one to care
that we exist,
there is no breaching
the walls of that cell
in which we are locked,
listening as the minutes
slide into hours,
pyramiding themselves
into coldness,
the absolute zero
of solitude.

© 1996
Today's word: emptiness

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Old Dog Asleep









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

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

Or perhaps only soaking up the sun.


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


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


I still miss those early companions. 


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

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

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


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

OLD DOG ASLEEP


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

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Song








A dozen or so years ago, when I wrote today's poem, I had no idea I would still be writing in 2010 ... or even that there might still be "wisps of thought gathering softly in the valleys of my mind."

But I am, and there still are.

Writing, of course, is a gift. I view it not as a talent which few others have, but as a gift, because the words simply come, freely, to the patient writer ... all writers know this. When they are ready, the words will come ... showing themselves softly, perhaps, like a thistle drifting past, or like a blast entering through a door suddenly opened to it. But they will come.

Writing derives from other gifts, as well. The gift of time, for example. I have been given time to write, thanks to Phyllis, who allows me the quiet moments I need, who gives me the encouragement I crave, who is so patient and caring, so vital to me ... like the air I breathe.

Then there are the gifts of support, words of encouragement, advice, concern, from other family members, from friends and fellow writers, from editors who've liked my work, from those who listen attentively at readings.

These things make writing the greatest gift I can imagine receiving ... they keep making me feel "like a teakettle on the verge of song." And I thank you, one and all.

The poem:

MY SONG

Like a teakettle
on the verge of song,
I have endured
the silent years
and now give vent
to the poems welling,
willing themselves
into being.
My joy-filled song
is the scratch
of pencil on paper,
racing to catch
the wisps of thought
gathering softly
in the valleys
of my mind.
© 1997
(originally published in 
ByLine)
Today's word: verge

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Late Summons







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


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


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


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


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


The poem:


LATE SUMMONS

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

Monday, April 19, 2010

I Could Have Played Piano






For the moment, let's revisit the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center, Troy, Ohio, on a cold, cold evening back in February of 2008.



The worst of winter conditions had been predicted ... for just about the time the program was scheduled to get under way.



I was convinced that travel was going to be horrible, weather-wise, and advised those who called throughout the day ... either to express regrets ... or to get some advice ... that I would advise them to play it safe ... and not venture out.



The expected horrible weather didn't arrive. At least not that night. Highway conditions ... except for traffic ... couldn't have been better ... both before and after the program.



Oh, what people missed by following my advice! Even so, we had what I thought was an impressive turnout.



I went in expecting an interesting mix of poetry and music ... but the program ... a blending of music ... improvised on the spot by Joel Hoffman, Professor of Composition, College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati ... with my reading of some poems ... well, the program far exceeded my expectations.



I stood at the rostrum watching as Prof. Hoffman coaxed a delightful program of sounds ... rhythms ... passages ... interludes ... from the piano ... a perfect blending with the poetry I was sharing with the audience.



Afterward, I was really taken by the number of people who thought it was a carefully-rehearsed program.



In truth, Prof. Hoffman and I had not met before that night ... had not rehearsed ... and had had only a brief discussion of our "game plan" before the program began.



I say bravo! Bravo to Prof. Hoffman for so deftly working in the music around ... and with ... my readings ... Bravo! to the audience for shruggng off the dire weather forecasts and joining us for an evening that I will never forget ... and Bravo! to all those who put that program together!



By the way, Prof. Hoffman (
http://joelhoffman.net/) wears several hats in addition to Professor of Compositon ... including Artistic Director, Music08 (http://www.ccm.uc.edu/musicx/index.html) and President, Chamber Music Cincinnati (http://www.cincychamber.org/).



I thought of today's poem while I was standing at the podium enjoying his music, particularly a portion of the program in which I read "What Might Have Been" to a most beautiful piano accompaniment.



Perhaps it was just as well that I hadn't brought a copy of it to the reading. It might have spoiled the moment ... as my attempts at humor sometimes do.



But I've dug it out this morning ... along with one of my most definite winter photographs.



Background for the poem:



Once upon a time ... way back in the previous century ... my grandparents had a piano. I believe it was for my mother, but I never heard her play it.



It sat in our living room. I remember a piano tuner coming once to do his magic on it. But mostly it just sat. Oh, I plinked and plunked on it when nobody was looking. But, of course, I couldn't play it.



I didn't feel deprived, and I don't now.



On the contrary, there was that imposing upright musical instrument which fed my imagination. I dreamed of playing it someday ... like I dreamed of many other things.



Then one day it was sold. Strangers came to move that magical creation carefully through the front door, down the front steps and into the truck.



And that was that ... except for the poem (be prepared for a slight twist with this one), originally published in 
Midwest Poetry Review:



I COULD HAVE PLAYED PIANO


My long, skinny fingers
itching for things to do,
toes just barely reaching
the pedals, and my bottom
gripping the slippery edge
of the bench, I dreamed
of playing ragtime, gospel,
boogie-woogie, maybe even
some of that girl-pleasing,
tough, classical stuff.



What I did was what
seemed to come naturally.



With only one lesson,
I flung myself into all
of the old favorites,
playing each several times
before going exuberantly
to the next. Finally,
Grandpa admitted he was
sorry he had taught me
what could be wrought
with a comb and paper.



Oh, I could have played
piano, no doubt, but my lips
wouldn't feel all numb
and fuzzy, like they do now.

© 1997

Today's word: fuzzy

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hollyhocks






This is another bit of ancient history, of course ... the memories of those excursions to the bluffs to gather that rich soil ... those furry-jacketed seed, saved year-to-year by Grandma ... the resulting flowers.


They are such sweet memories. I still find great comfort in them ... and in the poem itself. No surprise that I share it at almost all of my poetry readings ... 


Yes, I do readings. You may have gathered that I really believe it when I say: Poetry is meant to be shared.


But relax. I haven't quite resorted to going door-to-door to inflict my poetry on the unsuspecting ... yet.


I do appreciate those, though, who stop by here to take a look ... to pause to listen ... to let the words wash over them ... to let me share ... and I hope they ... and you ... leave with a feeling of having dined on poetry ... or at least have an appetite newly whetted for more ... here, there ... everywhere.


Thanks so much for stopping by.


Oh, and the illustration today is a small watercolor I did some time ago. It also went on to bigger things ... becoming the cover art for that second collection of poems.


Now, the poem:



HOLLYHOCKS


We went to the bluffs,
up the narrow path
along the spine of the ridge,
up where the tall oaks
clustered among the rocks,
where the soil was dark
and crumbly, cool to our
digging fingers, and piled
that loose, rich soil
into a coal bucket,

lugged it back in many
trips to a dedicated circle
of depleted yellow clay
behind the house,
heaping this found food
there for furry-jacketed
seed from a deep pocket
of Grandma's apron,

and they became the most
sun-catching, bee-luring,
beautiful flowers
I had ever seen, almost
as though God had just
said: Let there be
hollyhocks.And there were.
© 1999

("Hollyhocks" received an honorable mention in the Dayton, Ohio, Metro Library Contest in 1999, and went on to become the title poem of my second collection of poetry, published by Finishing Line Press in 2007)

***
Today's word: bee-luring

Saturday, April 17, 2010

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Favored Paths





My grandparents didn't have a car (as some of you may know, I grew up in their care) ... but that was no problem ... everything we could have wanted was within walking distance ... and trips, real trips? Well, there were passenger trains running then.
Under those circumstances, it's little wonder, I suppose, that I learned the benefits of walking.
For one thing, there was so much to see while walking ... it was a pleasure to focus on a particular view, then watch it slowly changing as the walking changed the angle at which it was seen.
The slower pace made it so easy to absorb what was seen ... to savor the flavor, so to speak.
So, when my doctor suggested ... OK, he may have been verging on insisting ... that I take up walking again ... it was no big deal, even when I first started and found it difficult to go all the way around the block.
I remembered ... I knew the benefits of walking. It was just a matter of time until I could get my body back into shape. Well, it took a little more time than I expected ... but I listened to my body along the way ... and moderated my pace, or increased it, accordingly.
And now a daily walk is automatically a part of my routine. I still enjoy the view(s), the pace ... and particularly the poems that sometimes come to me during my walks.
Today's poem, for example:
FAVORED PATHS

I like to walk
where the trees
drink the sunlight
and let only
stray droplets
speckle the earth,

where the squirrel
scampers unseen
to a cradling limb
and screeches
at the stranger
who dares intrude,

where lichens clutch
the brows of bluffs
sitting as in judgment
while merely waiting,
as they have been
through the ages,

where the tiny bird
flits and sings
its song of hope,
and my steps
are less labored
as I am renewed.

© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: lichens