Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Moment






Only once in this lifetime have I experienced the sensation of a butterfly settling onto my hand.


I'm sure, as a child, I must have dreamed of such a thing, without ever really expecting it to happen. It was like lying on a hillside, looking up at the clouds, and imagining what it might be like to fly, literally fly, above them ... something to speculate on, but not to be attained.


Then there I was, an adult ... a very tired adult ... sitting on a hillside far from those amid which I did so much of my early dreaming ... and there was a butterfly ... sitting on my hand.


Had I known then what a haiku moment was, I would have declared that to be one. Instead, I simply sat, transfixed, watching, waiting ... and finally squinting to follow its path as it departed.


I suppose some will read into the poem a feeling, not just of the butterfly's departure, but of loss, too. I prefer to think of what I had gained.


And so it has been with the visits of those who stop by to take a look at "Chosen Words."


Then the crowd moves on. There are other journals to visit, to explore, to evaluate and comment on.


It grows quiet here.


If I were to read "Moment" aloud now, I might be the only one listening. But I would savor the words ... I would read them carefully ... and I would recall the heat of that day ... the sun ... that butterfly ... just as I am now looking back on the past several months, savoring the words you have left with me.


As I continue reading your words in the days to come, I will remember ... your thoughtful comments ... the kind things you've said ... and I will think of all I have gained from your visits.


And I thank you for all of that.


Meanwhile, the poem:


MOMENT


The butterfly sits so lightly
on the back of my sunburned
hand that I barely feel
its tiny feet clinging, tongue
tasting the essence of me.


I sit stone-still, watching
as it clings, seeing its tongue
uncurling to taste, feeling
my breathing subsiding
into the rhythm of its wings,
folding, unfolding,


sit savoring the reverie
attending the encounter with this
being that has flown to me
like a tiny fleck of fly ash,
but has chosen me, the most
unlikely of choices, and keeps
sitting here while I consider
whether I might seize it.


Then, as though sensing
my intentions, it lifts lightly
off, flying raggedly, majestically
across the sun-swept field,
perhaps pursuing a search
for someone more worthy,
leaving the weight of absence
pressing my hand.
© 1999
(originally published in 
Vincent Brothers Review)
Today's word: majestically

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Lost Line




There's something about the rhythm of walking ... especially alone, nobody to talk to ... which can set a phrase to coursing repeatedly through your brain.


Perhaps it's something you recall from a conversation, or it may simply pop out of the blue.


The more you think about it, the more entrenched it becomes. Then you start hoping it will stay in place until you get back home, or find a curbside bench where you can sit 
and commit that persistent phrase to paper.


Sometimes it's a series of phrases, thoughts that are beginning to shape themselves into a poem.


It was at this point in one of my walks, when I found myself in mid-street ... but let's let the poem tell the story. "The Lost Line" was originally published in ByLine.


THE LOST LINE


Walking, engrossed
in the troubling
task of untangling
a difficult line,
I looked up
at mid-street
into the whites
of the eyes of a car.


The startled driver
swerved and went on,
as did I, trembling
at the thought
of being cut down,
end-stopped,
in such a way.


I left the line
lying there where
I had dropped it,
a broken lanyard,
the possibility
of starting
something big
scared out of it.


I doubt that I
can ever reclaim it,
poor frayed thing,
abandoned, lost,
turned to a frazzle
by tires that sing
without ceasing
on Wayne Avenue.
© 1996
Today's word: lanyard

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's Not Easy




OK, so I was having a little fun with an idea when I wrote today's poem.

Still, it seems to speak to me, at least, of the impatience that seems to crowd into everyday life.

I hop into The Little Red Car and head to the grocery ... I get honked at when I don't start up quickly enough as a traffic light turns from red to green ... I don't select a cart as quickly as others ... I don't yield enough times to other shoppers at the ends of the aisles ... I seem to be holding up the checkout line as I fumble for the exact change ... and on the way home ... well, I get honked at again ...

Oh, I get impatient, too.

We don't have time for all that today, though. I can see that some of you are starting to fidget. Let's just say that I have my share of impatience, mainly with myself ... and the time it seems to take me to complete simple tasks.

I was thinking about that when I wrote today's poem, I guess.

I really would like to be a more patient person. I really would, except ... well, you'll soon enough see what the "except" is about, when you read today's short poem (meanwhile, thanks for your patience):


IT'S NOT EASY

I admire people
who have patience.
I wish I had
more myself,
and I'm working
on it, but it just
seems to take
so long to learn.
© 1996
(originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: impatience

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ever a Circle





Today's poem is written, seemingly, about autumn ... and it is ... but it deals with other seasons, too.

So I guess I'm not too far off base in using one of my photos that speaks ... from a worm's eye view ... of spring.

The seasons, as I say in the poem, form a recurring circle. 

From that standpoint, I think it doesn't matter at which point we mount the whirling merry-go-round of seasons.

They keep coming around ... going around ... and we sometimes find ourselves complaining about this one ... too hot or too cold ... to dry or too wet ... find some fault in the present season, while looking forward to the next one ... or maybe even its opposite number.

Meanwhile, the poem:


EVER A CIRCLE

The pursuits of summer
have finally relented,
releasing children
to the autumn slide
of gathered books,
the shuffling of feet,
pencils crawling
on paper; the glimpsed
dogwood, glorious
with snowy blossoms
last spring, shows
first crimson now
on a clump of leaves.
How the months have
fallen away, piling
like shattered petals
across our memory,
in a depth sufficient
to sustain us over
another crossing
of bare-limbed winter
to spring, where
warm light is waiting
to help us celebrate
another completion
of this circle.
© 1999
(originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: completion

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cradled in the Hand




Here I go again, writing about writing ... and, as usual, I insert an early disclaimer: I'm no expert on the subject ... I'm still learning ... still struggling ...


The subject is one which intrigues me ... challenges me ... sometimes frustrates me ... but I keep going.


I keep going because ... when the result is a finished, polished piece of poetry ... it is so rewarding.


And when someone else reads it, likes it, identifies with it ... maybe even exclaims about it ... well, that's truly a hefty slather of icing on the cake.


I often say that poems come to me ... in the quiet of the night ... or in the midst of a noisy crowd at the mall.


I never know when an idea is going to show itself ... so I'm always prepared ... with a scrap of paper ... a stub of pencil ... or a ballpoint pen ... to try to catch the essence, at least, of that idea.


Later, the real work begins.


I'm sometimes amazed at how that first draft shapes itself on the page. Other times, the idea is there, but the poem isn't ... so I put it aside, let it rest ... and later, sometimes much later, I'll discover it when I'm looking for something else ... there's a new flash of inspiration ... the wheels start turning again ...


I speak of "the perfect poem" in today's posting ... I haven't found that yet in my own writing ... but I keep searching, trying ... and maybe some day ... some day ...


Meanwhile, this one:


CRADLED IN THE HAND

Finding an idea
is a beginning,
but only that.
There must follow
the grinding, shaping,
polishing, plain
hard work that takes
a found stone
on a long journey,
transforming it
to that gifted gem
cradled in the hand
of its creator,
the perfect poem,
alive with light,
singing to us,
dancing across
the ballroom floor
of our memory.
© 1997
(originally published in 
ByLine)
Today's word: cradled

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Conversations




Today's poem is about those spring-time "conversations" which seem to go on so furiously around ponds. Frogs! There seem to be hundreds ... maybe thousands ... of them, all adding their voices to the din.



I remember them well from the place where I grew up ... they seemed to be in especially good voice at night ... somehow conveying a certain kind of "all's well" to the listener.



But, feeling my way back through the fog of memory, I don't think I heard them this year. Maybe I just wasn't in the right place at the right time.



Could it be that I haven't been listening? Or that I've simply ... well, forgotten?



Meanwhile, today's poem:



CONVERSATIONS

How vexing to hear
the voices of those
I could not see
abruptly going silent,
like the gabble of pupils
halting in the presence
of a new teacher.



Then, after I'd passed,
renewed murmur of gossip
growing rumor-upon-rumor,
going mouth-to-ear, flying
too swiftly to follow,
too dense to filter
into any semblance
of real meaning.



If I dared step too near,
I heard sounds like stones
plopping into water,
new silence ascending,
a sense of being watched
by large, careful eyes
judging me from the depths
of a green-coated pond.
© 1997
(originally published in 
M.O.O.N. Magazine)
Today's word: gabble

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Building Poems




Still another poem about writing.

Not that I'm expert on the subject. On the contrary, the more I write, the more I'm mystified by the process. 

Oh, I've gotten the mechanics right ... after all these years of practice: Fingers on the home keys, and away we go.

It's that other part ... the part in which the ideas come hopping along like shy rabbits looking for that last nibble of clover at dusk ... that's the part I don't really understand.

I know, a quiet place helps ... or even a noisy place, like a bus, a waiting room at the hospital ... places like that will work, if you can tune out all that's going on outside of you.

The blank page, believe it or not, can be a stimulus, too ... an invitation to scribble a few random thoughts.

Then the plot thickens ... the mystery deepens ... and sometimes ... sometimes, mind you ... what you've started, that seed you've planted, goes on, grows up ... and becomes a poem.

Even one who uses ellipses so recklessly ... one who remains mystified by those final steps in the writing process ... can do it. And so can you.

Indeed, bring on more sand!


The poem:


BUILDING POEMS


My poems are built
on the crawling sands
of memory; see how
they tilt and teeter
on the brink of meaning,
how they race past us
in the stopped-time
dimension into which
they’ve been thrust,
how they collide head-on
with indifference, then
come reverberating back
like struck gongs,
resting finally in my
outstretched hands.
Oh, how I love it,
this ever-changing,
never-changing process.
Bring on more sand!
© 2005
(originally published in 
St. Anthony Messenger)
Today's word: reverberating

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Ashes Are Still Hot















(Today's photo was taken aboard a bus. Where we were, or where we were headed, I don't recall ... but I liked the sky, was glad I captured it ... and never let it go)


Today's poem brings a renewal of a frightening childhood memory.

I couldn't have been very old when this incident occurred, but the memory of it is still vivid. 

The fire seemed to spring up suddenly along the railroad, the flames were threatening our house ... we had no running water, no telephone ... no fire department, as a matter of fact.

We stood and watched in horror. Then, suddenly, the fire seemed to veer away. It was over. We had survived.

The poem:
THE ASHES ARE STILL HOT

When a white-hot summer sun
hangs high in a cloudless sky,
when it must be thought
there can be no more burning

in this poor punished land,
there comes the crackling,
leaping, lurching dance
of the very flames of hell,

consuming sere weak willows
along the thirsting creek,
leaping to fence-line elms,
sending their leaves towering

like swarms of angry hornets,
smoke and fire entwining
in an eerie, deadly spiral
from which rain the hot seeds

of more on our shingled house.
We stand there in the garden,
my grandmother praying, and I,
a child of only four, crying.

Wind, born of the fire itself,
where there has been no wind
for long, dry, dragging days,
snatches up the pitching flames,


takes them away from the house.
My grandmother sees a miracle,
but to me it’s a nightmare, for,
see, the ashes are still hot.
© 1997

(originally published in Block's Magazine)
Today's word: towering

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Little Envy




Today's poem is about driving ... another area in which I am certainly no expert. 


No, it's not about some adventure, or misadventure, with The Little Red Car ... whose exploits have been detailed in Squiggles & Giggles. The current link:  


 http://squigglesgiggles.blogspot.com

(Patience ... you may have to scroll a bit to find an adventure  ... Little Red doesn't  "make the news" with every installment)  
Little Red is fine for local driving, and we do a lot of that together, but when we go out of town, those lo-o-o-n-g-g-g trips, we let Little Red rest while we pick up a rental car.

Little Red is a very basic, usually reliable car, but lacking some of the bells and whistles, not to mention mysterious buttons and tracking devices found on the newer models.

That has led to some adventures, too ... like the time we drove all the way to Illinois before we found out, thanks to a friend, how to dim the headlights.

It usually takes me a couple of counties, at least, before I master the "set speed" and "resume speed" settings.

This is a poem about discovering one of those marvels which (shhh!) Little Red lacks:

A LITTLE ENVY
Leaving a town,
heading west,
the car senses
my light touch
on a button,
and I marvel
as it resumes
highway speed,
this collection
of steel, plastic
and fabric
with a memory
better than mine.

© 1997
 
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: memory

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Trail of Thanks




Sometimes I think I spend too much time explaining the poems I post here.


Oh, I think it's helpful to describe what inspired a particular poem, where I was when I wrote it, why I went ahead to share it with you (a lot of my poems ... shy creatures that they are ... still reside in my handwritten journals ... or on tiny scraps of paper).

But the poem ... like today's ... sometimes explains itself. It requires no further words from me. And still I go on and on ... sometimes ... but not today. I am trying very hard ... today ... not to overdo it.

That said, here's the poem:

TRAIL OF THANKS
Tiny morsels
of my thanks
mark the trail
I have come,
leading back
to a grandmother
who reared me
as her very own,
etching her lessons
on the innermost
growth rings
of my young mind.
I am thankful
for her lessons,
her example making
my journey easier.
© 1995
(originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: thanks

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Such Silent Grace







I was only a block away from home, fighting the wind all the way from the bus stop, when a flight of birds caught my eye. 


They moved so easily, so gracefully, "as one fluid body" ... a kind of movement that has always intrigued me ... while I remained rooted on the sidewalk, struggling.


They were quite like a school of minnows, quickly changing course, darting this way and that.


Perhaps there was some urgency in their movement ... they may have been seeking shelter from the coming storm ... or they may simply have been exulting in their ability to fly ... and not just to fly, but to fly in such a masterfully coordinated way.


Oh, couldn't we take some lessons from them as we go through life, bumping and jostling each other?


This one received an honorable mention in a Poets' Study Club competition; it also became a part of my first collection, Chance of Rain, published in 2003 by Finishing Line Press:

SUCH SILENT GRACE
A flight of birds
passes like a whisper,
soaring and swooping
as one fluid body,
moving swiftly under
darkening clouds.

Rain-bearing winds
swirl as if echoing
such silent grace,
rocking small trees,
making street signs
dance and chatter,
sending pedestrians
scurrying, holding
onto their hats
as they go leaning
toward home.

Still, these tiny
birds remain aloft,
their movements like
a school of minnows,
rippling, darting,
in their element.

© 2003
Today's word: exulting

Friday, August 20, 2010

Spiraling Home





(One of my small acrylic paintings which came to mind when today's poem got my attention)


I'm putting this together between a series of "sprints" ... efforts to make up for the time and distance I lost during a recent tussle with phone line/computer problems ... among other things.


I sometimes think I should just reconcile myself to the fact that I will not likely catch up ... ever again. But I keep trying.


Meanwhile ... one of the readers at a fairly recent evening of poetry mentioned that autumn was her favorite season. At that very moment I felt that we had bonded.


It's my favorite, too ... although the other seasons have certain redeeming aspects, it's autumn that gets my vote.


There's just something about the colors, the quiet that seems to come with the transition ... at least I perceive it as a time of quiet ... of reflection ... such a peaceful interlude.


But let's let the poem speak for itself:


SPIRALING HOME

I have carried with me
Southern Illinois autumns,
fragile and enduring,
all these brittle years.

Still they comfort me,
memories showering down
in the autumn of my life.

Leaves spiraling to feathery
soft landings on woodland soil
waiting patiently for them,
children finally returning
to their beginnings.
© 1995
(originally published in 
Midwest Poetry Review)
Today's word: enduring

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Naming the Fish




Today's poem is based on a phone call from my son, describing how he had taken his son fishing for the first time.


I could say that I made up some of the details, but that wouldn't be true, exactly ... the feel of the rod, the quivering fish, the sights and sounds that go along with fishing ... are based on memories of outings I had with my own sons.


The poem, incidentally, is part of a manuscript in search of a publisher.


NAMING THE FISH



First, there was the long
practice, getting the feel of the rod,
the flick that would send the lure
spinning out across the expanse
of driveway toward the evening sun,
the steady clicking of retrieval,
another flick, and another.

And now the blue water dazzles,
an early sun glinting, wind-stirred
ripples moving in such a way that you
feel you are moving, instead, drifting
toward some vague destination.

The sheath is removed from the barbs
of the lure now, a soft hum of line
extending, the plop, the long wait.

Then the line goes suddenly taut,
tingling, the feeling of life
racing its length, bending the rod
until, finally, the water parts
and you’re holding a slippery,
wiggling, gasping fish, looking
into its large, imploring eyes,
giving it a name, a person’s name,
then letting it slip gently back
into the water and swim away.


© 2006


Today's word: spinning

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Milk-Soft Call





Usually, when I'm engaged in coversation ... or just sitting quietly with my own thoughts ... the words come together, clickety-clack ... well, usually with these pauses which have been a lifelong presence in my speech pattern ... but, otherwise, with virtually no effort at all.


But there are times that it takes some searching.


Like the time that I became acutely aware of a dove's call. Oh, I had heard doves many times before, had savored the softness of their calls. 


But this time, for some reason ... or perhaps no reason at all ... I wanted to find the words to describe what it was really like.

I remember searching ... for the precise words ... the ones which would help me to preserve that particular moment ... words which would help me to "say the unsayable" ... about that distinct sound floating to my ears ... carrying a certain air of mystery about it.


It's so unlike other bird calls, so soothing, so ... well, so milk-soft.


That's it! I decided that's the term I've been looking for, and I walked on into the woods, hoping I would remember to try putting it in a poem someday.


The result:



THE MILK-SOFT CALL

I pause where
tall swaying trees
verge the meadow,
billowing their
thick green
clouds of leaves,
for a stirring
liquid breeze
has carried to me
the milk-soft call
of a dove,
and I am seized
for that moment
in an amber block
of tranquility.

© 1997
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: tranquility

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lost in Thought





I sometimes like to take a figurative statement and pursue it as though it were literally true ...


I remember a teacher who pointed out the mental images brought up by "catching a bus," for example, if taken as literally true ... likewise with "taking the plunge," "beating the bushes," etc.


In this case, I considered "lost in thought."


Literal pursuit of that concept takes us rushing down the winding path toward several improbable possibilities, all the way to the somewhat illogical conclusion. Or is it?


The poem:



LOST IN THOUGHT


If I were to become
lost in thought,
would I wander forever?
Would anybody notice
that I hadn't come
home for supper?
Would search parties
form sagging lines, go out
into the darkness,
beating the bushes
and calling my name?
Would I be
on the six o'clock news?
Would I ever
be myself again,
or would I return
as someone completely
different, a person
I have never met?
© 1999
(originally published in ByLine)

Today's word: literal

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ice-Cold Memories








When I was a youngster, winter was probably my favorite season.

Oh, I could've done without the tingling toes, the fingers sticking to cold metal ... the nose that froze ... but I loved the snow. It was like having a featherbed ... albeit a very cold one ... to romp on.

But that changed.


I suppose age has something to do with it, and I don't know if the weather is becoming more extreme ... or if I am becoming more sensitive to changes ... or it's all just my imagination.


I'm sure of one thing, though, a search of my extensive records would show that today's poem was written in the middle of one of those sizzling summer months when the pavement starts turning to goo and thoughts turn to the prospect of frying an egg on the sidewalk.


And I know this, too, I was looking for ways of surviving.


Ice-cold memories pressed to the sizzling brow may not be the answer, but I think they help. Right now, with the heat chasing me indoors after about ten minutes, I'm calling on those memories a lot.


The poem:


ICE-COLD MEMORIES


In the root cellar
of my mind
I have memories
of last winter
lying on the shelves
to help me survive
these front-burner
days of summer.

I shall pull them out
one by one, to press
to my sizzling brow,
daily hoping that
I have stored enough
to carry me through
until autumn
comes galloping up.
© 1995
(originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: sizzling