Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bridge Builder






Sometimes, I think, it's best just to let the poem tell its own story. My comments about a poem's beginning ... the inspiration for it ... my purpose in writing it ... in transforming scribbled notes into the finished product ... all of these, sometimes, are helpful.


Today, though, I think I'll just step back and let the poem do the telling ... all of it:

BRIDGE BUILDER

My grandfather built bridges, 
not the bright, towering
monuments to engineering like
those spanning the Mississippi.

His bridges were squat, dark,
wooden things, put up by gangs
of common laborers who spent days,
weeks, sometimes, away from their
families, so trains could go
rolling smoothly across the creeks
and small streams that wrinkled
the face of the earth.

One evening I watched as his
rough, scarred hand gripped a stub
of pencil and the pilings,
cross-members, all the timbers,
ties and rails took shape across
a ruled page of my writing pad.

His eyes glistened when my small
voice asked how far he had traveled
in this work, eating alien food
that strangers plopped on his plate,
trying to sleep in crowded, hot
bunk cars alongside the mainline.

"Too far, and too long," he said,
and I knew the story was over.

That paper is gone, his bridges
replaced by steel structures,
or abandoned as railroads began
surrendering to the superhighways
and airplanes, but how I wish
I had that little drawing, so I
could slide it out, look at it
again, something of him to hold,
now that I’ve come to appreciate
his most important bridge, those
huge hands reaching out to me,
the child nobody wanted, saying,
"Come ... live with me."

© 
2006

(Second place winner, Dayton Metro Library 2006 Poetry Contest)
Today's word: reaching 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

At the Flower Show





Because of the grandmother who always raised flowers ... and reared me ... I have always had a certain connection with blossoms.


There is just something about being in the company of flowers ... the memories they stir with their scents, their color.


"At the Flower Show" is about one of those special occasions, a gathering of flowers ... and people ... a flower show.


But it's not so much about the flowers. I felt that my collection of words, picked up here and there along the way, would be inadequate to describe the flowers.


Ah, but the people. I was one of them. I could jot down something about the experience of being at a flower show. It would be something to remind me of that sunny day, that beautiful setting ... the realities of being there.


Of course, I couldn't resist the temptation to compare the visitors to flowers themselves.


The poem:


AT THE FLOWER SHOW

Visitors blossom in bright lines
when day begins, but start wilting
under the sun, and throngs
slowly surrender, settling
like long rows of potted plants
along the wooden benches.

© 1999
(originally published in Sisters Today)



Today's word: wilting

Friday, July 29, 2011

Winter Glow





Today's poem is another example of the kind of subject I write about most frequently ... an ordinary, everyday event or topic ... but perhaps seen in a slightly different way ... as though with "new eyes."


I try to impart that difference ... and I'm greatly rewarded when a reader sees that difference ... or perhaps points out something about the topic that I hadn't quite seen myself.


It's all about the learning process ... and I love it!


The photo? That's me ... somewhere in my teen years ... standing between the grandparents who reared me.


The original was rescued by one of my relatives ... passed along to me ... and is now one of my most prized possessions.


The poem:


WINTER GLOW


Cracked, yellowed snapshots
surrender from inside
a musty box


circled with twine, speaking
of times gone, like thin
ribbons of vapor


slowly curling and uncurling
from a neighbor's
chimney


while I sit in this cold
attic space looking
at relatives


and places I never knew,
their images saved,
but stories lost,


beginning to sense a feeling
of warmth, a winter
glow, spreading


over me as I touch the faces
of these strangers again
and close the box.
 © 2006
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: warmth

Thursday, July 28, 2011

That I May Know



In selecting the art for these postings, I try to be as careful as I am with the chosen words which make up the poem, as careful as I am in selecting the poem itself.

I don't want the art to overpower or distract, but to illustrate the point I'm trying to make with the poem.

In this instance I believe I have a match. 

I like the stump simply because of the way the sun plays across its features. 

It also speaks of all those years spent growing in the woods ... and now this final stage of giving way, of returning to the soil from which it came, devolving into nutrients for new plants.

The presence of green in the photo represents the onset of this new growth. It is spring, a time of renewal. 

The stump remains, that symbol of the past, but it will eventually be overrun by new growth, new flowers, new dreams ... the renewal of life.

In the poem I am attempting to address this ongoing cycle of life, attempting to bridge the gap between the old and the new ... the present and the past ... a bit wistfully, perhaps ... while also trying to touch on the future. 

The poem:

THAT I MAY KNOW


When I am old
and wizened,
feeble and forgetful,
then I hope
you will read to me
a poem I wrote
in younger days,
so that I may know
once again
what it was like
to dream.
 
© 1996 
(originally published in Poetic Eloquence)

Today's word: wizened

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sun Catcher






Delia was my grandmother. I can still see her in that cold kitchen, the old wood-burning stove starting to throw out some heat, the skillet in place, waiting for warmth, a dab of oleo, an egg.


The kitchen faced west, but there was a side window that caught a bit of the morning sun. That's where the "film of frost gathered the gold ... poured it softly, like warm milk ... "


Of course, our memories become polished with much handling ... they take on a sheen far beyond that of the original event, and that has happened with this mental picture I still carry with me.


Oh, how I treasure it. The poem was originally published in 
A New Song:


SUN CATCHER

A film of frost
gathered the gold
of morning sun
on the window,
poured it softly,
like warm milk,
into the kitchen
where Delia
stood working,
embracing her
with a radiance
like the words
of her prayer
being whispered
to the music
of preparations
for another day.
 © 1998
Today's word: sheen

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

One to Grow On




Winter rain, under the right conditions, can be like a lullaby as it dances softly on the roof and goes running off down the street.


But if conditions are right for freezing, as they are here sometimes, it's an entirely different story. We venture out gingerly and pick away at the layer that's still gripping our driveway.


One consolation, we tell ourselves, is that we're a little nearer to the beginning of spring, and we're warmed by the potential that implies.


Meanwhile, back to the subject of a kinder, gentler rain ... the kind which inspired today's little poem:


ONE TO GROW ON

Winter rain
comes sliding down
the glistening trunk
of a sleeping tree,
delivering a sip
to be savored
when it awakens
early next spring.
 © 1995

(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: glistening

Monday, July 25, 2011

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

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Making It Count





This is one of my "walking poems," written in my early retirement years, when I was in the habit of sitting down at the kitchen table after my daily walk and writing bits and pieces that I could share with Phyllis when she got home from work.

There's nothing profound about it. Still, I think it says a lot.

I like it for the economy of words, for the walking cadence which brought it to me, but also for the outlook: Not that there should be wild partying, as though each day were the last, but that the certainty of today should be seized, taken advantage of, used to do something really worthwhile, against the uncertainty of tomorrow.

I don't recall precisely where I was when it came to me, but I do recall how I felt the rhythm of the words beginning to arrange themselves as I strode along: "I try to do my best today ... "

I still do.

MAKING IT COUNT

I try to do
my best today,
for I may not
have tomorrow.
© 1997
(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)

Today's word: cadence

Saturday, July 23, 2011

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

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hope Renewed




Today's poem reminds me of the good old days, way back when I was putting together a free, weekly e-mailed newsletter (anybody remember that version of "Squiggles"? Now it's posted online, and there's a link to it nearby ... a bit to the left).


One of our annual rituals was a countdown toward spring.

It was not unusual for it to begin with the first frost in the autumn, struggle through the gray days of winter, then go marching toward brighter, sunnier, warmer ... growing ... days of spring.


This poem also reminds me of a time when Phyllis and I shared a sleeping room high under the roof of the house, where the sound ... the music ... of rain was so soothing, so reassuring.


Though I can't hear the rain thumping on the roof now, the sound of it slanting against the bedroom window is still a pleasant interlude, a reminder ...


The poem:


HOPE RENEWED

Spring rain
thumps on my roof
as though testing it
for ripeness,
and in the sunny
back yard of my mind
I see red roses
blossoming again.
 © 1994

(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: blossoming

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Flowering Friendship






I remember how sad it was to look out the window and see what had happened to the tulips, daffodils and peonies as a result of a late freeze.

We had enjoyed summer-like weather, and then this. All those beautiful plants wilting to the ground, as though someone had taken a blowtorch to them.

But my thoughts quickly turned to those who had likely suffered greater losses ... those who had fruit trees budding and blossoming, for example.

And then, as if to console me, this poem came to mind.

It was written at the end of a season, rather than the beginning, and it paid tribute to a good year in which no late frost had occurred, in which we had enjoyed watching the flowers, from their first shoots breaking through the soil, to their greening and blossoming, and, finally, as the season came to a close, their departure.

I was already looking forward to the next year. I knew I would miss them during the winter months, but felt assured that they, like old friends, would be back.

And I hoped that those which were so damaged by a late frost this year would be back, too.

The poem:

FLOWERING FRIENDSHIP

Summer-weary flowers,
what beauty came
of your being with us
another season,
what pleasure grew
from your growing.
We must, by all means,
meet again next year.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: pleasure

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Evensong




"Evensong" is a word picture painted from memory ... the memory of those times when the storms had passed and we emerged to assess the damage to the garden, our trees ... the neighbors' trees ... our house, their houses.


That was always the aftermath, that slow evaluation of what had happened to our world, what steps needed to be taken next.


It was almost as though the birds were doing the same thing, echoing our concerns, beginning to express their feelings after having survived another onslaught.


"Evensong" was not the result of a single experience, but a distilling of several, a boiling down to the essence of that feeling of kinship with the natural world, the world around us, a world, thank goodness, that had birdsong ... and still does, if we but listen.


The poem:


EVENSONG

Dark clouds scud off
toward the east, while
twilight descends
onto hail-torn foliage,
then from somewhere
overhead, tentative notes
slowly gain strength,
blossoming finally
into full-throated
birdsong near a lone
figure who pauses
on the slope of the hill,
eyes searching vainly
for just a glimpse
of this small creature,
then turns toward home,
less burdened now
for having been given
this healing moment.
 © 1999
(originally published in PKA's Advocate)
Today's word: healing

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Departure



Today's poem is not literally true. If it were, it would be about the heat of summer ... like Southern Illinois was when I left home to go into military service.


I've looked back many times on that departure.


I had been awarded a scholarship to study at a Big Ten university. Trouble was, it didn't include bus fare ... and I didn't have bus fare to get to campus.


Oh, I had been assured that there would be part-time employment opportunities ... when I got to campus ... but I never got there ... not to that particular campus, at least.


Instead, I let the scholarship go to someone else ... and entered the only door open to me at the time ... military service.


It was certainly a turning point in my life, a new beginning. It was the biggest move I'd made in my young life. There were to be others. Many others. But none quite as wrenching as this decision ... which had been forced on me.


What I've tried to capture in this metaphor for growing up ... for that entry into what passes for independence ... is the feeling of loneliness that creeps in, the sudden sensation of isolation, the cold, of looking back, being torn between what was ... what is going to be.


The poem:


DEPARTURE

I looked back once,
seeing lights
grown small now,
and dim, silently
giving up their warmth
to the bare-limbed trees.


I kept walking
through the weeping snow,
my collar upturned
against any call
that might somehow
overtake me.
© 1995
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: loneliness

Monday, July 18, 2011

Catching a Wave




(No waves evident here; I just thought it might be good to share one of my peaceful photos ... this one taken at Cox Arboretum ... with this particular poem)

I don't think I was intended to be a morning person. Mornings have always been a struggle for me.


I know, I know. Morning is the best part of the day for the writer. Other concerns have not begun to intrude. 
The house is quiet. The brain is rested, ready to rev. Here's a whole new day beckoning.


But for me it's ... well, it's just morning. It takes me a little while to build some momentum.


I roll over, get one foot on the floor, then the other. I stand. I go teetering off in the general direction of the keyboard. I find the switch, flick it on.


By this time I have both eyes open. Things are starting to come into focus. And then, look out. Oh, look out! I'm starting to roll. I may even be writing soon.


This one was first published in 
Capper's:


CATCHING A WAVE

Down the avenues of my early-morning
mind zooms a flood of crowded, honking
thoughts that seek a place to park.

I’m too tired to direct traffic, too stressed
to sort them out. That must wait till later,
tongue losing its taste of suede, on the

verge of talk. But then they’re gone, not
a thought in sight, not a word of that
early-morning roar. Perhaps tomorrow.
© 1999

Today's word: momentum