Monday, May 31, 2010

Outside!





Memories! How we cherish the good ones, make them forever ours, polish them, enhance them, store them away, pull them out to comfort us in our old age.


Such is this memory of our grandson, now becoming a young man, but barely a toddler then.


How proud I felt, watching him go to that window, pointing and pronouncing that word with all the authority he could muster: "Outside!"


I just had to write a poem about it. I know ... I know ... it would embarrass the life out of him, if he were to find out that I had posted it here.


You won't tell, will you? Promise? Then here it is:
OUTSIDE!

"Outside!" he says,
tiny finger folding
as it touches the glass
of our dining room
window. "Outside!"

It carries the tone
of discovery, that ancient
"Eureka!" still echoing,
an air of possession.

He runs repeatedly
to the window, pointing
and exclaiming, savoring
this, another horizon
beckoning, a romance
budding, perhaps growing
until he's my age
and beyond, this love
of the outside world.
© 1999
(originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: beckoning

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Now They Offer







Story of my life. 

I never thought I would end up walking as much as I do. At first it was a little difficult. Actually, quite difficult. When I first started trying, my goal was to walk to the corner ... and back. 

Then, over time, I was able to make it all the way around the block and back home.

That was years ago, at the suggestion of my doctor, and with the encouragement of Phyllis, who became my daily walking companion.

And now I just walk, walk, walk.

The poem was written in those early years. I must admit that I was sometimes tempted to accept the offer of a ride from a neighbor or a friend. But I always managed to tell them, "Thanks ... I'm taking a walk." And kept on walking.

And now? Well, I can't remember the last time one of them actually offered me a ride, although they do sometimes slow, wave, and go on their way.

The poem:


NOW THEY OFFER

Skinny years,
when I could've
used a ride,
nobody stopped.
Now that I'm
walking it off,
everybody slows
to offer a lift.
© 1996
(originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: everybody

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Matter of View






The thrust of today's poem, I think, can be summed up in one word: perception.


When the crow's call interrupted whatever I was doing, I found it rather grating ... actually, quite grating. It was like fingernails scratching across a chalkboard.


But after I gave it a bit of thought, it occurred to me that there might be another viewpoint, another way of hearing the crow's call, of seeing it as a means of communication, much as we humans try to communicate thoughts or information to each other.


Perception. It can lead to a better understanding of the world around us, if we'll let it.


Now, the poem:


MATTER OF VIEW

A crow's carping call
comes tumbling in
at my open window,
drowning out songbirds,
grating on my ears.
But to another crow
it's probably as sweet
as a baby's gurgle.
© 1995
(originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: gurgle

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Leaky Roof





A recent morning seemed to start off with a bit of fog ... most of my mornings seem to start that way, even when the sun is shining brightly ... so it was no surprise when ... I woke up ... late, thirsty ... thinking foggily of clouds, rain, roofs, leaky roofs ... and this poem came to mind:


THE LEAKY ROOF

We knew just where


to put pots and pans

when the rain came
suddenly weeping

through our roof,
its pit, pat, pit-pat

lullaby lingering
long after the storm

had droned off into
distant, grumbling

thunder, leaving
a morning residue

of splatters
and puddles,

blankets on a line,
featherbed sprawled

like a newborn calf
broadside of the sun.


© 2001








(received an honorable mention award in Ohio Poetry Day competition; subsequently published in my first collection, Chance of Rain ... Finishing Line Press, 2003)










Today's word: grumbling

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In Praise of the Mundane





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

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

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Help Wanted







Ah, I remember it well. We had stopped in Terre Haute to stretch our legs a bit. 

We'd been walking the corridors of a shopping mall, turned the corner into the food court, and there he was.


The elderly gentleman was sitting alone, one elbow resting on the edge of the table while he squinted at the newspaper he had tilted toward the light ... and his coffee sat, growing cold. 


We took a turn through the food court and walked on.


When we came by again, he was still there, sitting the same way, still poring over the paper.


I have no idea what he was actually reading, nor what his particular interest might have been, but something told me to find a place to sit and scribble a few words on a scrap of paper that I carry, just in case: 


"HELP WANTED - Conversationalist ... "


In due course, a poem was born of that experience, that chance observation, those three words I had scribbled.


The poem:


HELP WANTED

Having grown old,
I haunt the ads,
hoping to find one
that might say:
Help Wanted -
Conversationalist.
Witty, yet reserved.
Willing to listen.
Flexible hours.
No travel required.
Age no barrier.
© 1997
(originally published in 
Midwest Poetry Review)
Today's word: conversationalist

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Good Dreams








I'm always searching for poems ... my own published poems ... that I can share with you.


My search this time led me to my little poem which celebrates a beginning, the arrival of a new member of the family.


I also see the arrival of new life in our midst ... this symbol of the continuation of life, this vision beyond the present day, beyond us ... as a symbol of hope.


The pairing with today's art naturally followed: the sunlit path that leads on, inviting us to see what lies beyond the next turn, and beyond that.


The poem:

THE GOOD DREAMS
Your grandparents treasure the joy
of having been there within hours
of your arrival, taking their turns
cradling your downy head in their
arms, marveling at perfect tiny
fingers and toes, your eyes fluttering
open and shut, brief lusty crying,
eager, hungry feeding, your
drifting off into well-earned sleep.


Some distant day you, too, may hold
your own grandchild and know such joy,
may sit wondering, arm growing numb,
what adventures lie still years ahead.


But for now it is sufficient
for you to sleep. So sleep, sleep,
sleep, Thomas, and in time
the good dreams will come to you.
© 1999
(originally published in Capper's)
***
Today's word: sleep

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fickle Petunias




(I know, these definitely aren't petunias ... but that's another story ... so let's just consider them stunt doubles ... and I hope you won't mind)



There's something about walking ... that steady rhythm ... the relative quiet ... the way thoughts float in and out ... nothing in particular ... just random thoughts ...

One of my favorite walking routes ... even in dry years such as this one ... is blessed with flowers.


It's obvious that the owners ... give a lot of thought to the flowers' gift of color ... that they tend them carefully ... and they enjoy sharing the beauty of flowers with others.


This poem is an outgrowth of some of those flowers.


Actually, I only became casually aware of this particular clump of blossoms ... my thoughts were wandering ... and then it seemed that the blossoms were actually nodding at me ... as if in greeting.


I thought about that ... thought about it some more ... and when I got back home, I sat at the kitchen table and wrote this little whimsical piece:
FICKLE PETUNIAS


I have a nodding
acquaintance
with some petunias
who bob excitedly
when I walk by,
but then they
do the same when
a stranger passes.
© 1995(originally published in Capper's)
                                 
Today's word: excitedly

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Emergency Kit









I beg particular patience from those who may have seen today's poem before. It seems to have worked its way to the top again.


It's still a good little poem, I think ... a bit whimsical ... and I think we can use a sprinkling of whimsy with the world in which we live today.


Bear with me now, while I dust off a bit of history:


I started carrying a printout of one of my poems in response to the recurring question from acquaintances: "What are you writing these days?"

Carrying a single printout, I thought, was a simpler, a more efficient approach than going into detail about all of the things I was working on at the time (I seem to go riding off in all directions, but I do bring some of my projects to completion ... honest).

From there it was a short leap to the image of some poor motorist sitting somewhere on a dark, poemless road, hoping someone would come to the rescue ... and, ta-DA! ... there I would be, poem at the ready ...

I have one regret - I neglected to offer an alternative, like regular fill-ups of poetry before heading out on those lonely roads ... or, I suppose, simply keeping an eye on the poetry gauge ... or pulling into the nearest library - where the price is always right - to top off the poetry tank.

But if you do run out of poetry, just hang in there. I should be along soon.

Meanwhile:


EMERGENCY KIT

I always carry
a spare poem or two.
Who knows? I may
find a motorist
stranded, run out
of poetry somewhere
on a poemless road,
looking for rhyme,
if not reason,
in the scheme
of things, someone
in need of metaphor,
simile, structure,
a triolet, perhaps,
but mostly free verse,
free for the taking,
and this one's for you.
Enjoy. Pass it on.
© 1999

(originally published in 
Capper's)


Today's word: emergency

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dandelions






Sometimes even the writer is not sure of the full intent of a poem.

This one represents an attempt to capture one of my earliest memories. 

I was a pre-schooler, and we lived in town then. I remember the long, sloping yard as always being flooded with sunshine.

There was a cat, perhaps more than one ... and those beautiful golden dandelions. I remember tiger lilies, too, but it's the memory of those dandelions that stands out.

Whose hands they were, I'm not sure. My mother's or my grandmother's, I suppose.
I do recall plucking the blossoms and running with them like newly-found nuggets of gold. They were so bright, so treasured. I just had to share them.

Then the memory blurs, becomes "a tangle of wilt." The poem ends, but there are those "promises of things to come." And I sit here wondering ...

Meanwhile, the poem:

DANDELIONS

Plucked like pats
of butter amid
the swirling hum
of puzzled bees,
taken at a run
toward waiting
hands, lying now
a tangle of wilt
and promises
of things to come.
© 1999

(originally published in 
Potpourri)
Today's word: promises

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chance of Rain





"Chance of Rain" is my lucky poem. It began life as a much longer poem, written at the kitchen table after one of my summer walks.


It was so hot that I had paused in the shade to consider whether I really thought I could make it up the next hill and then home. Just then I felt a slight breeze. Thus encouraged, I set off again toward home.


But I had started thinking of how the oppressive heat and humidity were so like the area of Southern Illinois where I grew up. I kept thinking about that, recalling what it had been like, that terrible heat.


When I got home, I started writing. I imagined an older person, about my age, sitting on a porch, scanning the skies for signs of rain. I imagined the rain's coming, sweeping across the fields. I described the old man's reaction to the rain ... all of this in considerable detail.


This narrative became a long poem which I submitted to Capper's.


It was there that an alert editor, Ann Crahan, spotted eight lines that appealed to her in the middle of my poem. How lucky for me!


She suggested that we keep those eight lines and my title. I agreed, and it became my first poem accepted for publication.


Over the years, I wrote many more pieces about rain ... or its absence ... and when those poems suggested themselves to me as a possible collection, it seemed fitting that "Chance of Rain," my first-born, my lucky poem, should be the title piece of that collection, published by Finishing Line Press in 2003.


The poem:


CHANCE OF RAIN


The rain comes

in great galloping

gulps, faster than

the soil can sop it up.

It drums on the roof,

dances in the yard,

celebrates all the way

down the hill.

© 2003

Today's word: lucky

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Because We Must






Some of you may have seen today's poem before.

It even made a guest appearance on "Squiggles & Giggles" ... a bit of history here ... my then-weekly ... free, mind you, 
free... e-mailed newsletter about writing ... and a multitude of other subjects.


But AOL put a stop to that free weekly newsletter.


Ah, but "Squiggles & Giggles" is back ... not as a newsletter ... sorry ... but as an online posting (not on AOL) ... and it doesn't clutter your mailbox now!

Meanwhile ... I'm always a little surprised ... on the verge of amazed ... at the amount of discussion this little poem fires up. But that's what the newsletter ... we called it "S&G" ... was all about.

"Because We Must" created a lot of discussion ... but none of those ugly fights in the parking lot afterward. I'm glad for that.

I was thinking about "Because We Must" this morning.

Mainly I was thinking about what I had said about this little poem once before:

When we strip away the outer trimmings, the pretense, the spins which have become the standard of the day, what do we have left?

The truth.

And I like that. Writing, with a few exceptions, is certainly not for the money. Not really. 

That's true, even with those who write for pay.

They ... and we ... write because we must. 

Because we're looking for a truth ... The Truth, perhaps.

The poem:

BECAUSE WE MUST

A voice whispers
and we listen.
Again. We answer,
more rapidly now,
with paper and pen.
We write
because we must.
No ear may hear
our stories, nor
voice answer our
earnest pleadings,
and still we write.
Because we must.
© 2005

(originally published in 
PKA's Advocate)
Today's word: impelled

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Air Like Fog








I'll always remember those bluffs, those canyons they embraced, the cool air on the trails, the kind of quiet that is only found in the woods.


Giant City State Park, located in the hills of Southern Illinois, seemed an almost magical place to go when I was a child. What a treat it was to trudge those trails, imagining all the others who had walked there before, when it was all wilderness.


As a child I relished family outings there, especially those which extended into the evening, when we'd sit around, watching the crackling flames dancing in a fireplace in one of the shelters, listening to the adults trading stories, hoping to catch some of the night sounds of the woods, too.


Later, I took my own young family there to camp, to go tramping down the same trails I had explored, to let them feast on the same sights and sounds I had enjoyed.


In more recent years, when there were just the two of us on trips back to the place where I grew up, we always managed at least a drive through the park. Those drives rekindled so many memories ... so many ...


This poem, which embodies some of those memories, is part of my first collection, 
Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press:


AIR LIKE FOG


Morning air clings to me like fog
as I enter the deep, cool canyons
that thread the water-rounded bluffs,


where I pause for a moment to look
about, to drink an ancient silence
that flows and deepens while lichens


struggle up the pocked, towering walls,
up, up toward a swallow's nest, high
where clinging ferns await the random


blessings of summer shade and transient
yellow light; then I notice soft-edged
flecks of light dancing on the trail


where others must have stood watching,
where they may have heard, as I do now,
a crow, distant, calling them by name.
© 2005
Today's word: crackling

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ahead and Behind





I suppose it was there all the time ... an ability, on occasion, to say something that sort of had the sound of poetry ... something that, while alien, perhaps, to the formal, prescribed structure and style of real poetry, had an element that conjured up poetic images for the reader ... or listener.
I began writing these things for myself. 



They usually came to me during my daily walks. When I got back home, I would sit for a few minutes at the kitchen table, scribbling away.

Then I began sharing these scribblings with Phyllis. She liked them ... at least said she did ... and encouraged me to keep writing.

I did keep writing, and writing, and writing ... and, though today's poem is a bit of an exaggeration ... poetic license, you know ... it does sometimes seem that I've gotten ahead on my writing ... behind on everything else.

Meanwhile, the poem:

AHEAD AND BEHIND
For many years

I wouldnt venture
into this strange
realm of poetry,
but then, like
a water-loving dog
finding a pond,
I plunged in, 

cant be coaxed
back out, and Im
paddling around,
getting slowly
ahead on poetry,
way behind on
everything else.

© 
2001 
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: paddling

Monday, May 17, 2010

After the Muffin








"After the Muffin" is a love poem ... that's right, 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 book 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

Sunday, May 16, 2010

When, at Last, It Rains





I learned about rain, or its absence, at an early age. That happens when you grow up in a rural area. So much ... in fact, everything... depends on rain, whether you have it or you don't, whether too little or too much.


That early experience shaped me, no doubt about it. It shaped my writing, too, when I finally took that up. It created the shape of my first collection of poems, published in 2003.


This particular poem requires little explanation, I believe. Except ... except that, while it is written as something which happened one evening, it is the sum of many evenings ... spent on the front porch, "watching the stars, counting the days since last rain."


It embodies my reaction to the ending of a long drought.


It could be taken further than that, if you wish, to a celebration, not just of the return of rain to the parched soil, but to the ending of one of the many kinds of droughts we endure in our lives.


WHEN, AT LAST, IT RAINS

I sense its talking to me in the depths
of my sleep, hear its melody settling


softly on my ear like a lover's whisper,
see it, with my mind's eye, falling


into a steady rhythm, slipping slowly
down the slope of the tattered roof


on the porch where I sat last week
watching the stars, counting the days


since last rain; then with a shout,
a slam of the screened back door, I'm


standing in the crusted yard, greeting
the rain with my arms outstretched,


dancing wildly with it, receiving its
healing kisses on my upturned face.
© 2006


(published in my first collection, 
Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003; included in Common Threads, issued by Ohio Poetry Association, Spring-Summer issue, 2006)
Today's word: healing