Thursday, June 30, 2011

Play BALL!






Today's poem comes to mind each year as  ice-encrusted winter months start retreating and I resume walking past those ball diamonds waiting for crowds of kids ... or would-be kids ... to return.



It also comes to mind with the onset of nippy nights and chilly mornings ... a reminder that the things of summer will soon be put aside while we search for the leaf rake ... and the dreaded snow shovel.



I like to store away sunnier memories ... something to tide me over in less inviting times, weather-wise. 

What better memory than a sun-drenched ball park?



There's one ball park in particular that holds a certain fascination. I guess it's because there's seldom anybody else around as we go strolling by.



I do pause there ... sometimes approach the backstop, and my fingers do grip the wire mesh like "some abandoned vine" ... while I think of days long, long ago, when I actually ran the bases a few times.



There's still that momentary urge to try it again. But I'm a little smarter now ... and a lot slower ... and I never do.



The poem:



Play BALL!



Standing behind
the sagging backstop
at the deserted field,
my fingers gripping
the wire mesh like
some abandoned vine,
I'm tempted to go
tearing around second,
sliding into third
in a cloud of dust;
instead, I linger
a few moments more,
enjoying the quiet,
 

just imagining that
roar of the crowd.
© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: sagging

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Morning Songs




Back in the days when I was known as "The Cake Man" among my co-workers, it was, as you might guess, my favorite food. Any kind of cake could get my attention ... and have me reaching for a fork at the same time.



Even the smell of a freshly-baked cake would catch my attention as little else could.



I still relish the smell of that now-forbidden food.


Where am I going with this? I'm wandering just a bit down memory lane. Just as I still relish the smell of a freshly-baked cake, I relish old memories.




They don't feed me like present events do, but they bring me comfort ... and I like that.



I certainly don't live in the past ... any more than I can experience a future which hasn't arrived yet. I do like to pay visits to some events of the past, though ... just like I enjoy "visits" to the possibilities of a future which lies vaguely ahead somewhere out there.



That said, the poem:



MORNING SONGS



Cold mornings,
when I fold
my towel, drape it
again on the rack,
I sometimes hear
the music of eggs
sizzling, gravy
burbling softly
in the frying pan,
coffee perking,
leaping against
its knobbed glass
ceiling, muttering
in darkening tones,
and sometimes
I catch the scent
of that kitchen,
that magic time
 
so distant, but
still wafting.

© 1998
(originally published in Moose Bound Press)



Today's word: sizzling

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

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, June 27, 2011

Inscrutable Scrap



(Again, the photo has no direct relationship to the poem ... just something that caught my eye when I was out walking)

I have this thing about thrift stores.

I find it difficult to pass one without going inside.


Once there, I have trouble getting back out without buying something ... at least a book. At the very least, a book.

Aside from the story the book may have to tell, there are other stories, too ... a note on the flyleaf from the person who originally gave the book to someone else ... marginal notes, sometimes ... underlined passages ... a bookmark indicating a favorite portion ... or where the previous owner stopped reading.

All of these are dividends, I think. I'm curious about people and their reading habits. I like to "know" who the previous readers were.

Then, in this one instance, I got an extra dividend.


When I got home with my "prize," I noticed a bit of brown paper ... like a tiny piece of a grocery bag ... peeking out from the book.

I pulled it out ... and discovered ... and, well, that's what the poem's all about:


INSCRUTABLE SCRAP

A scrap of paper
jaggedly torn
from a husky brown bag,
held prisoner
by the dusty book;
a frayed finger,
beckoning, pleading,
it surrenders
its shakily-penciled
long-lost message:
I LOVE YOU
but keeps its
secrets, too, like
who wrote it, and why
had she kept it
all these years?

© 1995
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)
Today's word: secrets

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hard Times






Not all of my poems are about sunsets, the beauty of cobblestone clouds, the wafting scent of roses. Life has a gritty side, too, and some of my poems reflect that.

This encounter came a long time ago at a bus stop, a favorite trolling spot for panhandlers. 


There was a time when I would almost automatically hand over a bit of change. I could remember tough times, too.


But I had grown tired of being hit up day after day. My initial response was not very charitable, I know, but I relented. I imagine there's a lesson in there someplace, perhaps having something to do with the poor sparrows of this world.


The poem appeared in Pebble Lake Review's Fall/Winter issue of 2005, and now is part of a manuscript (Strawberry Wine) in search of a publisher.

And here it is:

HARD TIMES

Suddenly he's in my face,

dirty, wind-blown, muttering, 

Spare a quarter? Refusing to let

his question assault me,

I turn away. Then back. My own
No, can you? comes spilling out

like a shot, freezing us there
in the snow-blasted morning

until finally his uncertain
chuckle descends into breath-

stealing, chest-stabbing coughs
and I fish deep in the warmth

of a pocket for a quarter,
hand it over, stand watching

as he moves away, this poor,

tattered sparrow with his crumb.
© 2006

Today's word: tattered

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Giving Advice


(This is an early work by my grandson, Thomas, who has moved on to more serious artistic endeavors ... but I still treasure this piece)

I had a boss, many, many years ago, who repeatedly expressed his concern about "putting out the fire" ... that is, discouraging creative thinking and constructive effort.


He avoided that perceived hazard by not riding herd too closely on his employees. He didn't afford them free rein, of course, but he did want them to think for themselves, to offer suggestions and constructive criticism.


His admonition, "Don't put out the fire," stuck with me long after. It finally begged me to put it to paper. In doing so, I visualized an old man, quite unlike my boss, teaching a rank beginner how to build a fire and to keep it going.


The old man is the narrator, and there is no two-way conversation: We don't hear anything from his young pupil, obviously a good listener. 


There aren't even any quotation marks in this piece. But, despite that violation, I think it works.


I think the poem works on two levels, and I like that.


The poem:

GIVING ADVICE

Now be careful, he said,
or you’ll put out the fire,
the spark, the flame,
the desire that sprang up
and wavered, waiting.

Fan it too much, or pile on
more than it can handle
in its early, struggling,
starved-for-oxygen stage,
and it’s a sure goner.

Neglect it and it’s doomed,
too. Oh, it may flash up
and dance in the darkness,
but it’ll soon burn out,
without some new fuel.

It takes a gentle touch,
the hat back and forth
just so, a sure eye watching
for signs that it can
stand alone, in its own heat.

Remember, he said, plopping
his battered hat back on,
how it was when you started,
how you needed that touch,
that sweet warmth of success.
© 2001
(originally published in 
Kaleidoscope)

Today's word: success

Friday, June 24, 2011

Frozen Flight





I'll never understand computers.

One recent morning I woke up to what appeared to be just a normal day. I bounded out of bed when the alarm finally went off ... dashed to the computer to see how many visitors had stopped by to take a look at "Chosen Words" ... and maybe had left a comment.

I stretched and yawned and sat in my squeaky chair in front of the screen. I checked "Chosen Words." Mmmm ... not bad. The numbers are still clicking right along.

Time for another entry.

I said ... Time for another entry. The computer wasn't listening. I tried to log on. I could look, but couldn't touch. I tried again ... and again ... and again.

As usual, I wondered what I had done wrong.

I closed the door softly as I left Brimm Manor and went about the business of running some errands ... getting out for my morning walk, etc.

Much later I returned ... tried again ... and things were working.

Mystery solved? Nope.

But things seem to be working this morning ... and I have a summer poem.

No, sorry, I don't have a picture of a sweat bee to go along with the poem. Those rascals are too tiny, too unpredictable, too fast for me and my camera.

I do have a reminder of summer, however, with today's photo, one of many I've snapped during my daily wanderings ... -er, walks.

The poem itself is almost a haiku moment, a tiny flicker of activity broken off before I became fully focused on what was happening.

But it became a little more than that ... and it carries so many memories of all those places this kind of "stare down" has happened to me over the years.

Originally published in Capper's:

FROZEN FLIGHT

A sweat bee
hovers in my face,
wings invisible
in the heavy air,
then, satisfied
at having won
this stare down,
darts away.
© 1996
Today's word: invisible

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Defying Gravity





Oh, wouldn't it be great to be able to rise above the everyday problems that continue to plague us?


I thought about that.



I thought about literally rising above them, sailing off as carefree as a bird ... or more like a big red balloon which had just gained its freedom.



Of course, I came back to earth, to the reality that things would still bug me, but I felt better able to cope.



How's that for a bit of therapy ... at least in the realm of things which, in the long view of things, aren't all that important?



Maybe if I practice on the little things I will be better able to rise above the larger, more serious hurdles which lie ahead.



It's a thought, anyway. Now the poem:

DEFYING GRAVITY

With practice, I fully expect
someday to defy the gravity
of situations that bug me now.

A promise broken beyond repair,
an umbrella gone inside-out,
the spilled beans of some urgent
secret, the hole in my sock,
a lost mitten, broken shoelace,
a bookmark gone astray,
my coffee cup gone stone cold,
things I’ve forgotten,
crawling out, feeling old.

I see myself like a giant
red balloon, rising easily
 
above them all. And don’t you
dare grab the string.
 © 2002
(originally published in Potpourri)
Today's word: balloon

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Clouds at Sunset






Today's offering is an ekphrastic poem, that is, one written about a painting ... actually, one of my own creations.

It's one of the poems I shared with the audience in a "Poets Respond to Art" series at the Dayton Art Institute.

Sorry, I don't have a photo of that particular painting. I didn't get a shot of it before it went off to a new home in Illinois.

Still, I hope the poem will convey the images ... since I keep trying to "paint pictures with words" ... that the poem will, at the very least, give the reader the feeling of being there in front of the painting, studying it.

The poem:

CLOUDS AT SUNSET

Mountains tower
on the left, clouds lie
piled like bubbles on the right,
while the sun
lowers itself into the sea,
and a white sail with
a horizontal red stripe
leans across the curving waves
in the foreground.


It's such an old painting,
it might have been the thirties,
awash in Depression, an art
seeking escape while accepting
the realities of that time,
or something as recent
as yesterday, made
to freeze-frame things
in the midst of change,
the clouds, the sun, the sea,
even those sturdy mountains,
eroding while we watch.

It could be just a dream.
© 2003

(From my first collection, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: foreground

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bouncy Pine






Things I say, particularly in those pieces which may eventually become poems, are not always intended to be taken literally.


That's the case today, of course.

Anybody who has ever looked even casually at a pine tree, knows it doesn't have springs, concealed or otherwise.

But it doesn't take much observation to lead one to the thought that it looks like there must be some kind of mechanism at work there.

There have been times when I've been in the company of pine trees, unaware of a slight stirring of air, but there is movement in their needled branches.

How else explain that movement?

It seemed to be the way to describe them at the time. The moral of the story ... the "lesson" ... the "mini-sermon" ... seemed to follow naturally.

It's a thought, at least ... and I use it sometimes to cheer myself up.

Here's the poem:

BOUNCY PINE


The boughs of the pine
ride on concealed springs,
rising and falling
at the slightest touch
of a summer breeze.


Oh, that we could be 
as resilient, as quick
with our enthusiasm.
 © 1996

(originally published in 
Explorer)


Today's word: concealed

Monday, June 20, 2011

As a Child




(Just one of the many photos I've taken along the way ... I don't recall exactly where)


I wanted to be so many things, a doctor, a lawyer, a railroad engineer, a cowboy, a sailor ...


The list goes on and on. But what child doesn't dream?



Those early visions of imagined things to come ... they nurture, sustain the individual ... particularly one growing up in an era broadly known as "hard times."


But it was not to be ... not, at least, "rigging straining and creaking ... whistling winds." Mine was a landlocked life, far removed from any of those early dreams.


Such are the realities of adulthood.


I have no regrets about reality's falling short of the dream.


In fact, I might not have been a very good sailor. And I don't really feel it was failure ... this falling short of the early dream ... there are always things we might desire ... which remain tantalizingly just out of our reach.


But now I feel that perhaps I am at last realizing that early dream ... through my writing.


I can almost hear the rigging creaking this morning ... the sails billowing and popping ... feel the wind whipping my hair like seaweed ... all because I discovered this whole new world of writing.


There's a certain magic in that world ... but a tinge of reality, too. I notice that acceptance and publication of "As a Child" came almost four years ... and many revisions ... after it was originally written.



So, dream on, young writer ... or writer at any age ... but be patient, too ... and do keep reaching ... never quit reaching.



The poem:



AS A CHILD


I wanted to be
a sailor standing
on a slanting deck,
rigging straining,
sails billowing, wind
whipping my hair
like seaweed,
waters lifting me
toward God.




But it was not
to be: no massive
sails, no salt-soaked
rigging straining
and creaking, no
whistling winds,
just a sea of words
lifting me,
cradling me.
© 2000
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: reaching

Sunday, June 19, 2011

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

Saturday, June 18, 2011

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, June 17, 2011

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