Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Impossible July




Today's poem is from my first collection, Chance of Rain.

As the collection's title implies, the poems in it are about rain, certainly, but it's also about the absence of rain ... equally important ... or worrying ... to those who raise the food on which we all depend.

This poem is about that absence. It was written in an attic room so perfectly fitted for talking about the "blue flame of sky/ leaping horizon-to-horizon/ and back ... "

It was a room never intended for air-conditioning, a place where "A fan labors, but fails" ... amidst a promise of rain, but an empty promise.

Oh, how it reminded me of those searing, rain-starved, melting days of July in Southern Illinois, where I grew up! And how I still sometimes miss them.

The poem:

IMPOSSIBLE JULY

End of July, and as far
as the eye can see
only a blue flame of sky
leaping horizon-to-horizon
and back to this room
so high, so near the sun,
that words have become
too hot to touch.
A fan labors, but fails,
to bring relief, while my
thoughts bubble and run
like tar on a lonely road.
And the sky flares up
with the promise of rain,
but an empty promise, full
of the heat of absence.
Wafting, shimmering lines
become a cruel mirage,
yesterday’s fading belief
that relief from this
might still be possible.
© 2003


("Impossible July" received a third-place award in a 
ByLine competition, and later became a part of my first poetry collection,Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press, 2003)
Today's word: promise

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hills







Today's poem pretty well tells its own story, I think. 

The hills I'm referring to are in the extreme southern portion of Illinois, an area that was sometimes referred to as "Little Egypt," perhaps still is. 


I grew up there. With military service, schooling and marriage, I left that area, but for many years we returned at least once each year. 


Now those kinds of travel are pretty much in abeyance ... as my orbit remains quite close to my present home ... 

Still, I travel back there in my thoughts ... and sometimes in my dreams ... particularly during those times when the peach trees are in blossom across the hills. 


My timing, I'm afraid, is a bit off ... but I have been thinking again of those beautiful peach trees "in full array" ... how the hills seemed so alive with them ... so inviting ... and, oh, how I miss seeing them in person!


The poem:


HILLS


Rolling smokey-green hills
keep calling me back to my
beginnings, where generations
of my people scratched out

a living, a sprinkling of small
victories for those, a stubborn
and proud people, laboring
to the cadence of the seasons,

while I, like so many others,
drifted away, lured by dreams
of a better world somewhere
just beyond the harsh horizon,

making a promise to return;
and now, with the peach trees
in full array, those hills are
calling again, and I must go.
© 2006
(Originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: array

Monday, June 28, 2010

Green Glass Bottles








As I've said before, I write quite a bit about writing, not because I've become expert on the subject, but because certain aspects of it remain a mystery to me and are, therefore, so intriguing.


Some of that mystery, an uncertainty, surrounds the process of submitting poetry to others, not just to seek their opinion of it, though that can be valuable, but on the outside chance of its being accepted for publication.


The result of that game, of course, is mostly rejection ... at least in my case. Sheer numbers argue against the chances of any particular poem's seeing its way into print.


Still, we continue the game.

I sit on my island ... writers do so much of their work in that kind of isolation ... carefully selecting the poems which will go out to seek their fortunes among strangers.

I compare the process to putting tiny, scribbled notes in green glass bottles, in hope that some of them will be discovered, accepted, published.

Then there's the waiting game, the suspense of wondering how the submissions are being received, and, when the green glass bottles return, the excitement, the anticipation ... still ... about what, precisely, has been their fate with that particular editor.

Meanwhile, there are more poems ... more green glass bottles ... that surging sea upon which so many of our hopes will ride. Oh, what a wonderful game it is!

This one was originally published in 
Midwest Poetry Review:

GREEN GLASS BOTTLES


If the wind is right
and the sea is surging,

I shall place another poem
in a green glass bottle
and send it bobbing off.
But mainly I shall sit

on the windward side
awaiting those bottles
sent off months ago,
scattered distant dots

nodding now and glinting
in the froth of return,
finally clinking ashore
to my trembling, bony

fingers, fingers fearing
the messages inside.
© 1997
Today's word: mystery

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Finally, Sleep







Sleep, that blessed escape from the cares of the day, is not always easy to come by ... but I recently slept well for two nights in a row ... and woke up thinking about a certain poem ...  about those mortal enemies - writing and sleep.


At least I've found them often directly opposed to each other. 

When I'm in the throes of writing, sleep is the last thing I want ... and then, sometimes, when I sleep before I've finished a project, I wake up feeling writing-deprived.

"This attic room" used to be the place where all of my serious writing took place. Excluding, of course, those frantically written notes while waiting at the bus stop, or in the doctor's office ... any place I had a few free moments and an idea that just wouldn't wait.

You know the story about that.

That place just beneath the roof was peaceful and quiet ... and when it rained, I enjoyed rain's gentle cadence that accompanied the tick-tick-tap-tick of the keyboard, the rustling of papers, the stifled yawns, and ... finally, a bit of sleep.


But I've grown more sensible. It's only occasionally that I climb that extra set of stairs in search of that quiet place. Nowadays, I find other, more accessible places to do my serious writing.

Still, I miss those evenings up there. Especially on rainy nights ... I find myself pausing to think about those crinkling ribbons of light, the words which came streaming across the screen as I continued my quest for a poem, in this case:
FINALLY, SLEEP

Ribbons of light
crinkle across
the glass atop
this attic room,
moving slowly
to the cadence
of gentle rain,
then vanish
in the quiet
of these small
hours that call
me to sleep.
© 2001
(originally published in 
St. Anthony Messenger)

Today's word: ribbons

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Early








It was such a beautiful day ... 
I was so glad I was able to get outdoors and walk ... just walk and walk ...


I forgot about the teetering stacks of things undone in my corner of Brimm Manor, and just enjoyed the day ... and the evening.


My intention was to take a restful pit stop, then spring out of bed early to start working those stacks down again.


And what really happened? I slept in. So there I was, late again ... which, naturally, brought to mind my poem, "Early."


I hate to be late. Oh, I sometimes am ... it just happens ... but I always try not to be.


I used to think I could start late and arrive on time ... not by speeding, mind you. Oh, no. Never!


I thought I would get lucky ... traffic would be thin ... all the traffic lights would be working in my favor, etc. ... but, mainly, that I could observe (obey) the speed limits, and, with steady, serious driving, make up for a late start.


Hah!


So what did I do in the instance which brought the poem into being? I started early, fully expecting to lose a lot of time along the way. And, of course, I arrived early.


But that wasn't all bad. I had noticed things along the way ... the traffic lights ... the splashing water ... a school bus, turning ... and then those golden leaves scattered on the parking lot.


I sat in my car and wrote a poem ... at least the beginnings of a poem. With some polishing and tweaking, it turned into a poem:


EARLY


Because it was raining and I thought
traffic would be doing an Olympic crawl
through boiling rivers along the curbs,
I left early, splashed wildly through
pools of surging waters toward green lights
that nodded and winked at my recklessness,
and here I sit, forty-five minutes before
writers group. I watch a school bus making
a slow, deliberate turn, its rain-coated riders
tilting and chattering like a cage full of birds,
flick off my lights, wipers, defroster, and sit,
listening as the rain subsides to a sprinkle.
Then I see the yellow autumn leaves lying
like wet kisses all across the parking lot.

© 2004
(originally published in 
ByLine)
Today's word: kisses

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Day for Flying



But isn't that always the way it is when you're in a hurry?

So, for a few minutes at least, I'm putting hurry aside now. I'm sitting here calmly at the keyboard, serenely typing a few words which I hope will make their way into "Chosen Words." 

Not a worry in the world.

Like, yeah, sure.

Meanwhile, here's the poem (I hope):


A DAY FOR FLYING

Crisp autumn breeze sliding off
some unseen glacier, sun busy
burnishing the copper leaves,

as though trees were incapable
of doing it themselves, and not
a cloud in sight. A day made

for flying. Indeed, overhead
dozens of silent chalk marks
of planes drag themselves along,

blade marks slowly multiplying
on a blue rink, crisscrossing,
widening, turning into fluffy

cotton batting stretched along
the cold, these diaphanous
contrails abandoned in a flight

to somewhere, as though planes
of the world were gathering
on this day to make clouds,

being impatient for the regular
kind and for the needed rain,
the prodigal, dallying rain.
© 1997
(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: diaphanous

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Clouds



Normally I prefer punctuation ... you know, those little road signs which tell us when to slow, yield, or stop ... in written matter. 

In this case, however, when I'd finished jotting some notes on a scrap of paper ... while sitting in a quiet room with a large picture window ... it occurred to me that what I'd written somehow reflected the clouds I'd been watching.

Left alone, I reasoned, that string of images, without any punctuation to tell the reader when to slow or stop, might present a different, changing, cloud-like poem with each reading.


I did a little tweaking, naturally, but pretty much left it as it had presented itself to me.


The result:

CLOUDS 


They slide by
shaping opinions
on the fly
trailering
into one great convoy
heading east
dominating
the great blue
highway
slowing my thoughts
to a crawl
fleecing
me of ambition
stealing
my thunder
an elephant
a dog
a big-eared sheep
a parade
strike up
the band
 
© 2003(from my first collection, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press, 2003)    

Today's word: fleecing

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Body of Work






Sometimes when I'm scribbling on a scrap of paper, I turn thoughtful ... and when that happens I try not to spoil the mood by talking too much.



Today's poem:



BODY OF WORK

No massive volumes
nor learned footnotes
preserve my tracks,
no ripples mark
my gentle passage,
yet my being here,
scribbling away,
may have made
a difference
to someone else.
If that's the case,
I am pleased,
verging on proud,
of my body of work.
© 1996
(originally published in 
Anterior Poetry Monthly)
Today's word: verging

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

At the Doctor's Office




Today I'm dusting off one that some of you may have seen before.

It came to me on a routine visit to the doctor's office ... I was, indeed, perched on the end of an examining table ... waiting ... and watching the rain.

Then I reached for the folded scrap of paper I always carry in my hip pocket, and started writing.

"At the Doctor's Office" was originally published in Potpourri, was subsequently nominated for Pushcart Prize honors, and is now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:

AT THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE
Random needles of rain
start darting diagonally
like the silent scratchings
of cat claws on the window
where the traffic is zooming
and sizzling past, hauling
away the remains of Thursday,
blurring beyond the sycamore,
its mottled gray-green trunk
whispering of a deep-forest
stream while seeming utterly
misplaced here where concrete
suffers the presence of so few
trees, where my strongest
efforts at contiguous thought
produce only fragments too tiny
to mend, unleavened images,
lacking all savor of meaning,
where I perch, dry-mouthed
and nervous, my legs dangling
from the end of this table,
and wait, as I always do,
for a door to open softly,
carefully, into this silence,
this sterile, stifling silence.
© 2001
Today's word: needles

Monday, June 21, 2010

What a Gift!





It wasn't always thus, nor will it always be. 

I'm not naturally a morning person, and I don't recall exactly what I had in mind when I wrote this one; perhaps I was trying to cheer myself up.


Perhaps I had just discovered the magic of retirement: No more punching the clock, no more deadlines, no more phones ringing ... no more ...

It may well have been that I was recalling my childhood outlook, that time in my life when each day seemed a new adventure, a new leaf, a new chapter in the book that was to become my life.


I don't know. 


But I do know that I look forward to the new day now ... despite some of the concerns that always seem to have spilled over from the day before ... like computer problems ... and the frantic effort to catch up on postings here.


It does beckon like a new toy and, best of all, it comes with "batteries included," whether "just for me" or not. 


WHAT A GIFT!


What excitement
as I tear off
the wrapping paper,
open the box,
and find inside
a whole new day,
batteries included,
just for me.
© 1996
(originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: gift

Sunday, June 20, 2010

There, Almost






On reading this poem quietly to myself again, it occurred to me that the whole poem can be summed up in its first two words: "I dream ... "


In the poem I'm dreaming of London, Rome, Paris ... places I've never been ... and I'm dreaming of actually being there.


Well, you'll see the details of that as you read on.


As my orbit continues to grow smaller, I continue to dream ... not just of those exotic places so far beyond my reach ... but of places close at hand ... places I would like to see, but probably never will.


But I don't dwell on the "never will" aspect.


Nor do I dwell, particularly, on the opposite side of that coin ... the possibilities, remote or otherwise. I live, after all, in the real world ... a world that contains obstacles ... impediments ... realities that we must all face in some form, to some degree or other.


And still, I dream ... Oh, do I ever.


These dreams are the magnets ... tiny though they may be ... which draw me along. They beckon to me in the morning ... throughout the day ... and even when day is done and I sometimes find that I'm so weary ...


I dream ... yes, I dream ... and I hope you do, too.


Meanwhile, the poem:
THERE, ALMOST

I dream of London,
Rome, sometimes Paris,
strolling their streets
on a spring day,
listening to voices
spilling like clear water
over rounded stones,
feeling the whisk of wind,
touch of rain, the quiet
of a hailed cab, tires
smacking puddles
on the curving streets,
tasting the food
in a warm cafe, tables
draped and waiting,
as though they knew,
all along, I'd be there.
© 1997
(originally published in 
The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: smacking

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sleepless Night






Today's poem addresses something I've experienced at various times ... and is for all those nights before air-conditioning ... or without it ... when I was growing up, when I was in military service, later, in a rented room here and there ... and even later.


There were a lot of those.


It's for those lonely nights when a siren would signal the approach of flashing lights which would go dancing across the ceiling and splashing on down the street.


Once or twice that siren and those lights were for me. But "not this time ... old pals."


It's for the times I listened to the crickets picking up the threads of conversation in the darkness ... and I lay listening to the night ebbing away.

I don't dwell too much on the past, but it does provide the foundation for today ... and tomorrow. It does bear some thought. I try to give it that, and I'm glad when a poem is the end result, especially when that poem eventually finds a good home. This one was originally published in Riverrun.


SLEEPLESS NIGHT


A sharp-edged siren
comes careening through
my open window, scant
warning of lights
that will go slashing
across my ceiling,
tumbling pell-mell
in the littered street,
spattering buildings
with fiery colors
that ooze and fade.


Not this time
for me, old pals.
Not this time.


Slowly, like strangers
waiting for a bus,
crickets pick up loose
threads of conversation,
and I lie listening
to another night
burning itself out,
the welter of chirrups
reeling in another
sweltering day.
© 2000
Today's word: threads

Friday, June 18, 2010

Persimmons



Today's poem is about going back home, the place where so many memories were stored up, where I lived with my grandparents from pre-school days until I left to go into military service.

Those memories had sustained me all these years. 


They had been renewed with my visits back to the area, each one including a slow drive past that special place, now inhabited by others.

Then one year I returned, found the place in ruins. There had been a fire. A few years later, even those traces were gone.

This is a poem about the last time I was there, about standing there as a stranger, recalling all those early years. What wonderful innocent years they were.


The poem:


Persimmons





The house, with its two bedrooms, its swing on the porch, is gone. The tar-papered garage, coal shed, the chicken house, the outhouse, all gone. I climb out of my car to have a look around. I discover, to my surprise, squared-off pieces of sandstone still there where the front walk was, but smothered now in matted dead grass.



               I turn toward where the garden was, where I spent childhood summers chopping weeds in the long, suffocating rows, picking shiny beetles and yellow-orange eggs from potato plants. It has a building on it now, property of the village, a hand-lettered sign says, a further shrinking of the site that seemed to have such endless rows then.

                                          A single cedar tree stands beside where a cindered driveway once struggled up a slight slope. Three other cedars, the lilac, two box elders, a maple, all gone.

                                                   The cemetery sexton approaches, extends a callused hand, says he saw me standing at the graves on the hill, and now here, thought I might be hunting persimmons, tells me to help myself from a tree growing back from the road, where I remember a plum tree standing.

                         We stand and talk, bridging the years between us, and he thinks he remembers when the house was still standing, but he has trouble remembering who lived there, and really can't place me.

Then, as we part, he offers persimmons again. "They’re terrible sweet this year," he says. "Not a-tall puckery."
                                     I thank him for offering, but have one final look, turn and leave without taking any.




© 2001




(received an honorable mention in a ByLine contest)





Today's word: sweet




Thursday, June 17, 2010

Night Echoes




How vivid the memory is of those trucks "grumping and rumbling" in the night.

I don't recall exactly when it was, but I remember being bedded down for the night in a motel at Terre Haute. Then I heard them. It sounded like a parade of trucks, although there weren't nearly that many ... and there wasn't exactly a steady stream of them.

I recall getting up to take a look. There was a single, huge dump truck grinding past on the highway. I don't recall which highway, but It seems to me that it was a north-south route.

I went back to bed.

The trucks kept rolling. It wasn't a loud noise, but it seemed persistent ... and it seemed that there was just enough of a grade in the road, right beside the motel, that their grumbling ... all of them ... increased right there as they shifted to a lower gear and went on climbing the hill.

I got back up ... jotted down my impressions ... and went back to bed. And really slept then. Oh, did I ever!

The poem, which later became part of my first published collection:


NIGHT ECHOES

Mud-laden trucks
grump and rumble
outside my room,
hauling mounded
loads of quiet
down the highway,
letting it spill
in the darkness,
come rolling back,
thunder’s echo
muffled, distant,
washing across
this emptiness
like surf crashing
on my pillow.
© 2003
(originally published in Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: crashing

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mere Words




Like I've said many times, I'm not a morning person.

But what is a non-morning person to do when he wakes up around five o'clock ... wide awake ... with a thought buzzing through his mind?

Well ... I lie there for a while ... watch the clock unscrolling the crawling minutes ... then reach for the small light I keep on the table beside the bed ... find a pencil ... and my multi-colored notepad in the shape of the letter B (thank you, Michelle) ... and start writing.

What I wrote is barely decipherable ... now that I'm fully awake ... and it's far from becoming a poem, but someday it might. I'll keep it, try to break the code, try to decide what it's trying to say to me.

And if it does turn into a poem, I'll feel compelled to share it with somebody ... I always have that "look what I found" feeling when something I've written does seem to make sense ... not "look at what I did" ... never that ... and when I share it with somebody, that somebody is likely to be a poetry editor.

I always treasure that second opinion ... especially on those rare occasions when the decision goes in my favor.

But if it doesn't ... well, I speak of that circumstance in today's poem:

MERE WORDS

You, my children,

offspring of my mind,

are going forth

into an imperfect world,

where you will be judged

by strangers. I hope

they will listen

and treat you kindly,

perhaps accept you

as their own.

If not, please return

and we shall comfort

each other.

© 1997

(originally published in Writer's Journal)

Today's word: comfort