Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fishes and Loaves





Some mornings, when I'm just getting my eyes open, beginning to bring objects into focus, the computer decides to cooperate, and things go ... well ... reasonably well. I get something posted, and I'm off the hook for the rest of the day.


But there was one morning recently that signaled it just was not going to be one of those good days.


I'll spare you the details. Bottom line: There was no way the computer was going to let me get online. Why? That's probably destined to remain a mystery.


Just one of those things, I guess.


So what did I do? Well, this time ... I skipped the hand-to-hand combat with the desktop despot. I just didn't feel like doing all-out battle with it.


Instead, I decided just to go with the flow. I still had a guilty conscience about giving in so easily, but I spared myself tons of frustration.


So there it was, mid-afternoon. I'd had my walk. I had a nice, quiet lunch with a lady I've known since the previous century, and I'd had a nap ... -- er, an interlude of concentrated meditation in one of my favorite chairs ... and the computer seemed to have come around, reluctantly, to my way of thinking.


And there we were, finally, with a poem.


As I explained then, the "fishes and loaves" bit in the poem may be something of a stretch, but it got somebody's attention, right? They read it, liked it, published it.


Take away that part, though, and you still have the heart of what I'm trying to say: If what I have said, or what I may yet say, touches someone, helps them in some way, simply gives them a better outlook, improves their understanding of some issue, helps them to make it through the day ... then that's "miracle" enough for me.


And when a poem I've written resonates with someone in a particular way ... especially if they are moved to tell me about it ... then that's "miracle" enough for me, too.


This one was originally published in 
Explorer:


FISHES AND LOAVES

The fishes
of what I have said
and the loaves
of what I may yet
have to say
would never feed
the multitudes,
but, if one crust
of my writing
has benefitted
just one person,
that's miracle
enough for me.
© 1996
Today's word: miracle

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Evening Train






Today's poem is heavy with memories, even though it speaks of a summer evening about sixty years ago.


While the evening described was certainly a low point of my young life, it was not to be the end of the line, as I indicate in the poem ... and as events have since confirmed.


I'll never forget that feeling of emptiness, abandonment, of having certainly hit bottom ... all because I had won a college scholarship, with its promise of good things ahead, but I didn't even have bus fare to get to the campus.


There seemed no way to turn, no way to escape, as I sat there alone on that darkened front porch ...


But then I enlisted in the Air Force, saved some money, and eventually began college - not, incidentally, the one where I'd had a scholarship and the offer of help with finding part-time work, "once you arrive on campus."


The rest, as they say, is history ... thanks to some hard work ... and a lot of help along the way.


I also remember the feeling of relief, of a load finally having been lifted from me, all these years later, after I had written this poem.


So, you see, poetry - the writing of it, or the effort put into trying to write it - can be good therapy.


The poem:

EVENING TRAIN

The swing’s creaking
heartbeat held me
captive in the dark

as I sat watching
those lighted cars
swaying up the grade,

green trackside eye
blinking to red,
a clear sign to me,

believer in signs
and good fortune,
that my young dreams

had finally melted
into that S-curve,
vanished in darkness,

and there would be
no college, not even
bus fare to get there.

It seems so long ago,
such a vague memory
now, scar fading like

a distant whistle,
that evening train
somewhere, echoing,

reminding me that
I finally escaped,
became who I am,

but never escaped
who I was then.
© 2000
(originally published in 
Waterways)
Today's word: escaped

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cool Hat







I know, I should throw it away ... at the very least, not wear it in public.


But I can't bear to give it up. It's my hat. We've been together so long, through so many things. It's like a part of me. And there it sits, "like a cabbage leaf on my head."


The poem began, as many poems do, while I was out walking, this time with Phyllis.


Actually, we encountered two young girls, strolling in the other direction. Strangers, but I probably smiled and spoke to them.


One of them smiled and said something in reply, but I didn't catch what it was.


After we had walked far enough that I thought we were out of earshot of the two, I asked Phyllis: "What did she say?"


"Cool hat," she replied.


"Cool hat?"


"That's right. Cool hat," she assured me.


That's when I had the impulse to toss my hat in the air and do a few dance steps right there. Who says I'm not in touch with the younger generation?


Today's poem, part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:


COOL HAT

It has been
wind-stripped,
limb-grabbed,
lost and found,
rumpled, crumpled,
laundered until
it cries for mercy,
and it sits like
a cabbage leaf
on my head.


But then she,
a young girl about
half my height,
flashes a smile,
says, "Cool hat!"
and for a moment,
just a heartbeat,
a quickened stride,
I feel like
tossing my hat
in the air
and dancing.
© 1999
(orignally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: heartbeat

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shovel? Maybe Later


(One of the many photos I've taken during my walks here and there ... a scene you might see, if you happen along in the right season and look out a door in one of the tunnels at Wright State University


Sometimes, it seems, I have this thing about "going against the season."


A couple of times a year it happens ... in summer ... and winter. Spring and fall? Hardly ever.


What do I do? Oh, when we're sizzling in summer temperatures, I like to think about those cool ... er, cold ... days and nights of winter.


And in the winter, of course, when I'm freezing, I keep my mittens on ... and try writing something about summer.


Perhaps I should have my mittens on right now ... though I've found that to be something of a hindrance, when it comes to typing.


Oh, I know, recent conditions haven't really been that bad ... temperature-wise. But it's coming. I know it is. I've already given some thought to locating the snow shovel, so when it does happen ... 


And The Little Red Car ... I can tell ... is beginning to think about those icy, slushy, slippery-dippery streets, too ... that difficult climb up the steep, ice-covered approach to that magnificent driveway at Brimm Manor ... all that. 


It's coming.


Meanwhile, here's a glimpse of my firm resolve in the face of that, when it does arrive:


SHOVEL? MAYBE LATER

From door to street
Isn't all that far,
But with a sleet-
And snow-bound car
Stuck in the drive,
I might just as well
Take another five
And snooze a spell.
© 1995
(originally published in Mature Living)

Today's word: later

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Only Tree



(A "family" of cedar trees which caught my eye on one of my daily walks ... and stirred memories)

We are rooted in the places of our beginning.


Oh, we may develop tendrils as we reach for new ideas, seek new adventures, pursue careers. 

We may even become "tumbleweeds," traveling the countryside ... perhaps visiting ... and even settling ... abroad.


But our roots remain in those places where we began, and this is apparent to us when we sit quietly, thinking ... really just thinking.


One example, in my case, involves Christmas trees. Ours was always a cedar tree, because they grew so abundantly on the hills overlooking our home. It was a special treat to go trudging out with Grandpa ... a few days before Christmas ... to pick just the right tree ... not too tall ... not too skinny ... for our living room.


There was just something about the smell of cedar filling the whole house.


When I saw another kind of Christmas tree ... on my first visit to Chicago, which seemed so distant, like another planet ... I couldn't believe THAT was their Christmas tree.


It didn't look like OUR tree at all. Its branches seemed almost bare, compared to what I had been accustomed to. It didn't have that cedar smell. And it certainly didn't have the bird's nest which I had come to expect to find somewhere in our tree.


Oh, I've finally come around to accepting other kinds of Christmas trees ... even the artificial models ... but I still find myself thinking about those other trees from my early years.


The poem:


THE ONLY TREE

I grew up believing
that a cedar was
the only true tree
for Christmas,
plain, struggling
stubbornly
on hillside clay,
having so much
in common
with folks like us.
© 1996
(originally published in 
Capper's)

Today's word: cedar

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A New Leaf





Whoa! Can it be? Here we are again, so near the end of another year. About time to turn over a new leaf, right?

Deep down inside, we'd like to be a better person, more constructive, persistent, kind, understanding ... whatever.

In my early years, when I was still being shaped by the caring, loving, sacrificing grandmother who reared me, I generally sat down with pencil and paper at the end of the year to pledge my efforts at improvement in the coming year.

I felt I owed her that. I felt I owed it to myself.

I don't do New Year's resolutions now ... haven't written them out for a number of years.

But I think each day ... whether I crawl slowly out of bed, hoping the floor will rise up gently to touch my feet ... or leap out ready to face whatever the day may hold for me ... each day offers this opportunity for that "new leaf" ... a new beginning of sorts.

I've encountered some detours along the way. But here I am, still plodding along, still being drawn along by what may lie ahead, around the next bend in the road.

So I guess I do think sometimes about that "new leaf," too.

Meanwhile, the poem:


A NEW LEAF

How soothing the sound
of it, like the feel
of clean sheets, crisp
and cool to the touch,
hinting airy freshness
as we snuggle in.
How comforting it is
to lie here thinking
of this whole new year
fresh and inviting,
opening the prospect
that things might be
better, perhaps could
be, if we could just
approach each new day
with the same sense
of purpose we feel
at this moment.
© 1999
(originally published in 
Capper's)
Today's word: freshness

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Three Loves




I think a love poem might be in order today ... this one  mainly about my eighth-grade teacher, who stirred an abiding interest in reading in me.

But it's also about the librarian I met at another time, in another town, as a result of my interest in reading.

That librarian and I are still sharing a mutual interest in reading, and she is the one who listens patiently to the things I've written.

But, getting back to the main thread of the poem: I was so glad when I was able to visit my former teacher, Miss Pearl, a few years ago, to thank her for imparting her love for reading ... and to introduce her to that librarian, my wife, Phyllis.

The poem:

MY THREE LOVES

Could Miss Pearl have known
that her own love of reading
would so transform the life

of a hungering eighth grader
whom her gentle, healing voice
touched with daily readings?

Fragile fingers softly turning
the pages of her beloved books,
she made visions of mere words,

openings to worlds where people
could dream, hope, and achieve.
These, she told us, were worlds

where we, too, might go, in fact,
belonged. Did she know, or did she
merely dream the teacher's dream

that the tiny seeds might endure,
take root, flower? Did she know
that her devoted love of reading

would become my own, eventually
leading me to that certain library
where I would find you? How else

could she have sustained herself
through those despairing years?
Questions still seek answers,

but of this I'm sure: Her gift,
so freely given, became more dear
than I, or even she, ever dreamed.
© 2001


(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: sustained

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Morning Mist






Do you ever have trouble finding things? I do. I hope it's just a phase I'm going through, but I've recently found that ... no matter what it is ... it always seems to be in a secret hiding place.

Then ... surprise! ... there it is, right under my nose.


Well, my first search of the day didn't turn out that way this morning.

When I bounded out of bed ... not really, but I like the sound of that phrase ... anyway, at the beginning of the day I was thinking about ... well, about beginnings ... and how I might utilize them.


This brought to mind one of my little poems, "Beginnings" ... and it seemed to me that it would be the perfect piece.

I searched everywhere ... beginning with where it should be ... and then all the places it shouldn't be. No luck. Not even a whiff of it. I'm convinced at this point that not even a bloodhound could have found it.

So ... I've fallen back on one of the poems from my first collection ... Chance of Rain ... Oh, that sounds so much like ancient history now, doesn't it?


Meanwhile, the poem:

MORNING MIST

Invisible morning mist explores my face
like cotton candy melting at the touch,
reviving memories of that sweet softness

as droplets seek my eyes and slip inside
unseen. But there in the swirling distance,
there against the trees where it bivouacs,

ready to invade in ever growing numbers,
there against a sagging barn, there against
the dim, straining headlights of a silent,

bouncing car peering back at me, and here,
high above me in the drenched, dripping
leaves of a hickory giving what shelter

it can, the mist makes itself visible.
Such workings must be meant to conceal,
but what? The past which clings to me

like the smell of smoke? Or the future,
lost somewhere in the effervescing spell
that embraces these hills, their valleys?

Knowing mystical mist steals the vapors
of my breath and returns only a silence
that swarms about like tiny ghostly gnats

touching my ears and dancing on ahead,
ever ahead, seeming to point the way
I should take as I labor back up the hill.
© 2003
(from my first collection, 
Chance of Rain)
Today's word: gnats

Saturday, October 23, 2010

It's So Simple





"Writing a poem is as simple as pouring a cup of coffee ... "

Oh, do read on. 


Before we're finished, I will have led you down the winding garden path with still another poem about writing. As always, my usual disclaimer: I write about writing, not because I'm expert, but because the process intrigues me so.


As you will see, as you work your way through the poem, I don't think writing a poem ... or writing anything for public consumption, for that matter ... is a simple matter. Nor need it be so very complicated that only a select few may do it.


But the end product, I think, should give the appearance of having been done with ease ... not flippantly or shallow, but done with a certain polish about it which may intrigue the reader, without getting in the way of the poem itself. 


It should appear to have been easily, naturally written, and none of the hard labor of producing it need show through.


What I'm saying in the poem, I guess, is that a poem should come to the reader with the ease one experiences in simply pouring a cup of coffee.


I hope you'll have a sip ... hope you enjoy it.



IT'S SO SIMPLE



Writing a poem is as simple as pouring
a cup of coffee. First, though, you plant

a seed, wait for the sprout, nurture it,
then transplant the seedling, let it mature,

hope that frost doesn't kill the buds,
let the bees pollinate blossoms, wait

for the beans to mature, pick the beans,
dry them, haul them, roast them, transport

them again, package them, grind them,
add water, let them leap as they


percolate and you keep an eye on the clock.
Then you simply pour, sit back and enjoy.
© 2006
(originally published in 
ByLine magazine)
Today's word: percolate

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Good Deed



My reaction, at the time the event occurred, went from puzzlement ... to surprise ... to that pleasant feeling you get when somebody does a good turn for you ... and doesn't want, in fact, would refuse, anything in return.


The poem tells that story.


Oh, I suppose my neighbor was grateful for the small favors we did him and his family when they had a house fire shortly after moving in. But he didn't owe us anything for our help, either.


That's what neighbors do for each other.


He was grateful then ... and I was certainly grateful for all that shoveling he was doing for me. I had been waiting out the storm, dreading the task that confronted me.


Then, suddenly, there he was, the good neighbor.


If I were to go ahead with this, I'd probably become preachy ... so, I'll just say that this one was originally published in 
The Christian Science Monitor:


THE GOOD DEED


All day the snow
has come sifting down,
obscuring objects
in our shaken globe,
and I'm standing
staring out the window
when I see the shape
of a person who's
obviously been driven
wild by the storm,
who pauses and turns
into someone I know
... my 
neighbor,
shoveling 
my walk.
© 2003
Today's word: shoveling

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Autumn!





We've had some nippy temperatures in Ohio recently ... and a blanket feels good at night ... but I'm not complaining ... much. 

Oh, I do some shivering, and I do comment on the cold ... as it takes possession of my toes and fingers ... but that's not really complaining, is it?

It is autumn, after all ... time for cooler temperatures ... and, despite a period of adjustment to lower temperatures, autumn is one of my favorite seasons. 

I really get a kick out of watching the trees changing, day by day ... all those beautiful colors fanning out across the countryside.

In my childhood years I always looked forward to that annual display ... then, as a working adult, the autumn colors faded into the background ... but now ... oh, now ... I'm watching them again.

As far as today's poem is concerned ... one of my rare excursions into the world of rhyme, because I don't do it well ... I know that "piling up to my thighs" is a slight exaggeration. 

But stretching the truth is one of the building blocks of humor, right?

And rhyming "rises" and "thighs as" is a bit of a stretch, too ... but all done in an effort to be funny ... at least to elicit a smile.

Enough said. The poem:

AUTUMN!

My temperature rises
When leaves begin to fall,
Piling up to my thighs as
I try to rake them all.
© 1997
(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)


Today's word: exaggeration

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Always a Dad




Marie (not her real name) was telling some of her co-workers about her recent visit of a few days with her father.


Her account was interrupted, though, as she recalled one particular detail of that first evening back home ... in Detroit, I believe it was ... and burst out laughing.


This poem, written well after the fact, tells the story, I think:


ALWAYS A DAD



Marie, a young exec,
on the first evening
of a few days' visit
with her father,


dined out with a trio
of school-day friends.
Opening the door softly
well after midnight,


she found her father
dozing in his chair,
yesterday's newspaper
asleep on his lap,


just like the old days
of curfew and concern.
She gently scolded him
for waiting up for her.


Saying he really hadn't,
he struggled to his feet
and silently received
an understanding hug.

© 1996
(originally published in 
Anterior Poetry Monthly)
Today's word: dozing

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wintertime Waltz





Stop me if you've ... actually, don't stop me if you've heard this before.

It's an old story that went something like this:

I may have commented in a December a couple of years ago that, after having unseasonably warm weather in our neck of the woods, winter arrived. Oh, did it ever!

It snowed, and snowed, and snowed. And then we had freezing rain and sleet on top of that.

It reminded me of the time we had similar weather conditions ... I stepped out the back door ... checked on the steps before starting down ... they seemed fine ... one step ... and DOWN I went. Ka-BOOM!

I went crawling back into the house with a lump on my head.

The next time I was carrying salt ... to put on the driveway.

Out the back door ... a careful look ... one cautious step ... and down I went ... Those icy steps had outsmarted me AGAIN!

Nothing broken, thank goodness, except the container of salt I was carrying.

But that reminded me of this particular poem, "Wintertime Waltz." After all, where would we be, if we couldn't have a little laugh at our own mishaps and minor misfortunes?

The poem:

WINTERTIME WALTZ

I have no

sense of rhythm,
no grace, no pace,
no with-it moves
from some great
dancing school.
But on ice? Hey,
I'm a dancing fool.

© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: dancing

Monday, October 18, 2010

Then One Day, Spring





(I know ... spring may seem such a long way off now, but I've already begun my daily incantation, "We're another day closer ... ")


As are many of my poems, this one is rooted in my childhood.


There are so many memories from that time, still warm and shiny from much handling. Of course, they were not all happy memories ... there were hard times abroad in the land ... but the good memories have prevailed.


This collection of memories goes back before the days of central heating. No fear of the pipes freezing then ... there weren't any. Flush toilets were a part of those distant cities we had heard about.


Oh, but when the world began showing signs of thawing ... then we felt like celebrating. 



We had survived another winter. Spring meant the trees would soon be budding out, Easter flowers would start reaching their slender fingers toward the sun, birds would be singing.

What a great world we lived in!


The poem:


THEN ONE DAY, SPRING

After the long, gray parade
of frozen winter months,
there eventually came a day


unlike others in our valley,
when the sun seemed brighter,
warmer, the breeze softer,


clearer, carrying birdsong
in floating crystal notes,
snow beginning to inch back


from the steaming roof edge
of a nearly-empty coal shed,
sending tear-like trickles


of water drip-drip-dripping
onto earth where daffodils
soon would be punching


slender fingers through,
reaching for the warmth.
Then high along the ridge,


at the bluffs where a stream
would struggle with thirst
in July, there issued


the robust song of water
newly freed from the cold,
tumbling head-over-heels



to reach the rocks below
and come racing toward us
with the great good news.
© 1999


(received an honorable mention in Poets' Study Club competition, subsequently published in 
Capper's, and now part of a collection called Wood Smoke, which was published by Finishing Line Press)
Today's word: jubilation