Monday, October 31, 2011

Mulch Ado

(Just another of my little watercolor sketches, done during a pause on one of my daily walks with Phyllis ... thought it might go with today's entry, or might ... someday ... grow up to be something bigger, maybe better)


If I didn't do so much looking back, maybe I wouldn't bump into so many things along the way. Right.

But I've reached the age ... never mind the exact figure(s) ... where I feel that I might be permitted a glance or two back down that road which brought me here.

Maybe, just maybe, those glances back put me in a position to help someone else avoid the sharp turns or deep ruts that I encountered  at times along the way. 

If so, I'm glad to be of help.

And what brought all this up? I glanced at today's bit ... which may not be poetry ... or even close to being ... but I noticed it was published ... way back in '96 ... 1996, that is.

But I thought I'd share it, because it gives me an excuse for imposing another of my little watercolor sketches on you.

The poem ... or whatever:


Mulch Ado


What with all
the sowing, mowing,
watering, weeding,
feeding, spraying
and trimming,
it's been a challenge
that's a yard wide
and a summer long.
© 1996

(originally published in Mature Years)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

In Praise of the Mundane




(Today's art is a cooperative effort ... my grandson, Thomas, did the construction ... I took the photo ... quite a long time ago

It seems like only yesterday ... but obviously was a little longer ago than that ... when I shared my poem, "Ordinary Things," with you ... and mentioned that it was an outgrowth of a rejection.

In response to my request for his comments on some poems I had submitted, the editor had scrawled something about "mundane treatment of ordinary subjects" on the rejection slip. 


My initial reaction? I had hoped for something a little more constructive. 


But I managed. As a matter of fact, I managed to get two more poems out of that comment.


Oh, and both were subsequently published ... elsewhere. I think there's an obvious lesson in that ... so obvious that even Professor Squigglee (remember him?) would be unlikely to fly into a detailed explanation.


Today's poem:

IN PRAISE OF THE MUNDANE


I don't howl at the moon,
read the entrails of chickens,
plumb the mysteries that reside
in the implacable eyes of cats,
nor take up strange, aromatic
cigarettes, sip unaccumstomed
teas, nor leave my body
to roam the universe.

I do write across the chalkboard
of my mind, or on a torn paper,
an envelope, about simple things
that come to me of their own accord,
quiet, mundane things that I welcome
and treasure as old friends.
© 1996

(originally published in ByLine Magazine)
Today's word: mundane

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hollyhocks





I hope you'll forgive my repeating a bit of ancient history with this posting ... the memories of those excursions to the bluffs to gather that rich soil ... those furry-jacketed seed, saved year-to-year by Grandma ... the resulting flowers.


They are such sweet memories. I still find great comfort in them ... and in the poem itself. No surprise that I share it at almost all of my poetry readings ... 


Yes, I do readings. You may have gathered that I really believe it when I say: Poetry is meant to be shared.


But relax. I haven't quite resorted to going door-to-door to inflict my poetry on the unsuspecting ... yet.


I do appreciate those, though, who stop by here to take a look ... to pause to listen ... to let the words wash over them ... to let me share ... and I hope they ... and you ... leave with a feeling of having dined on poetry ... or at least have an appetite newly whetted for more ... here, there ... everywhere.


Thanks so much for stopping by.


Oh, and the illustration today is a small watercolor I did some time ago. It also went on to bigger things ... becoming the cover art for that second collection of poems.


Now, the poem:



HOLLYHOCKS


We went to the bluffs,
up the narrow path
along the spine of the ridge,
up where the tall oaks
clustered among the rocks,
where the soil was dark
and crumbly, cool to our
digging fingers, and piled
that loose, rich soil
into a coal bucket,

lugged it back in many
trips to a dedicated circle
of depleted yellow clay
behind the house,
heaping this found food
there for furry-jacketed
seed from a deep pocket
of Grandma's apron,

and they became the most
sun-catching, bee-luring,
beautiful flowers
I had ever seen, almost
as though God had just
said: Let there be
hollyhocks.

And there were.
© 1999

("Hollyhocks" received an honorable mention in the Dayton, Ohio, Metro Library Contest in 1999, and went on to become the title poem of my second collection of poetry, published by Finishing Line Press in 2007)

***
Today's word: bee-luring

Friday, October 28, 2011

Been-Rejected Blues



Rejection is never funny. I've learned not to take it personally, though. I work on the assumption, at least, that it isn't personal.

Oh, there are still twinges sometimes. If I've spent a lot of time on a particular piece, studied the markets, read the publications, and  have the feeling that I've selected the exact poem(s) that the editor is looking for, then there can't help but be a slight twinge of disappointment when the poems come back with a little note attached.

But I know it isn't a personal thing. Maybe I was a little late, and that particular issue was filled with great writings by the time mine arrived. Maybe the issue had a theme that I overlooked.

Maybe the editor was just having an off day.

But it's not personal. Besides, I learned over the years that a poem rejected by one editor may be precisely what another editor has been looking for.

So I keep trying.

And when another editor likes something I've written ... though it may have been rejected someplace else ... that's cause for celebration ... and I do some dancing on the table ... figuratively, of course.

Then I get back to work. There are other poems to write, other markets to try ... and sometimes I even venture into an area which I generally avoid ... because, as I've said many times, "I can't rhyme worth a dime."

For example:


BEEN-REJECTED BLUES

I've got those
low down,
good for nothin'
been-rejected blues.

My meter seems fine.
My rhyme? Sublime.
So why, I whine,
this awful mess
I find myself in,
so sad and unseemly,
loaded with chagrin?

Beats me. I've just
got 'em. Bad as they
can be, I guess,
those unexpected,
pain-injected,
stripped down nekked,
been-rejected blues.
© 2001

(received an honorable mention award in an Ohio Poetry Day competition)
Today's word: unexpected

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Autumn Surprise





Speaking of memories, it's time and distance which make memories so sweet ... they've been stored away for such a long time ... seasoning, taking on new flavors with each visit back to them.

Today's poem deals with some of my earliest memories ... living with my grandparents ... beginning to discover the wonders of the world around me ... seeing things for the first time.

I still try to look at things that way ... as though I'm seeing them for the first time. I discover so many things that way ... and, if I can get my observations on paper soon enough, they may go on to become a poem:

AUTUMN SURPRISE


My mind's long lens
goes zooming back
to pre-school years
when I first discovered
those magic leaves,
a sea of crinkly color
lying like carpet
on my grandparents'
dusty front yard,
swirling, scattering
like scared kittens
when I went charging
through fiery reds,
golden yellows,
browns, all the way
to Grandma's hug,
her chuckle joining
my own laughter
at being a part of
that autumn surprise.

All these years later,
I still see those
magic leaves as though
for the first time,
hear that chuckle
so close to my ear.
 ©1998
(originally published in Candlelight Poetry Journal)
Today's word: discovery

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

After Shopping







Chances are, if you've done any shopping at all, you've seen someone searching for a car. This poem is about that. It came to me on one of those hot summer days ... not a good time to do that kind of searching.

It seemed to me that the couple I had observed was confronted with a lot of choices, a lot of directions to go, among a whole sea of vehicles ... "oceans" occurred to me. I kept going with that, explained their predicament, then concluded by detailing my own problems.

"Losing" your car like that isn't really funny ... until later. I know. Been there, done that.

I shared this poem one evening with an audience at an "open mike" program. The person who followed me to the microphone explained that cars are so hard to find after shopping, "because they all trade places while we're inside."

You know, I can almost believe that.

The poem, originally published in Capper's, now part of a collection entitled Strawberry Wine, in search of a publisher:

AFTER SHOPPING

Oceans of vehicles
heave and settle
in the parking lot,
and a sea of traffic
goes shimmering
toward the horizon.

While she sails
steadily on,
gripping the tiller
of a wobbly cart,
he remains awash
in her wake, keys
dangling forlornly
from a finger.

They're looking,
looking, lost.

I'd like to tell
them not to despair,
but I have other
fish to fry: Celery
wilting, a cabbage
shaking its head,
potatoes rolling
their eyes over my
chances of ever
finding my own car,
the poor ice cream
beginning to beg me
for mouth-to-mouth
resuscitation.
© 2006

Today's word: resuscitation

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Snowy Kingdom







(Another of my little watercolor sketches, here for an encore appearance)




It began with something somebody said a few days ago, I think. As I recall, they mentioned snow ... the prospect of snow ... some distance away now, but still an eventual prospect.


That was enough to bring to mind memories of times when ... well, when there was more than the prospect of snow. It was falling steadily, piling up, drifting ... looking like it was going to hang around forever.


The mere mention of snow was enough to set my mental wheels into motion ... spinning, that is. That brought to mind today's poem ... one that you may have seen before.


I hope you don't mind this "encore" appearance ... and I really hope my mentioning snow doesn't bring about an actual visit by it ... not yet, at least.



The poem:

SNOWY KINGDOM


Swirling flakes
made soft landings
in the night,
leaving the mailbox
newly-crowned
and a row of cedars
bowing obediently
in its direction.

© 1994

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: swirling

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reaching Out







I'm not sure where or when this poem actually began. 

Poems sometimes have a way of hanging around ... lurking ... waiting for the right moment ... and then presenting themselves to me.

I think this one had its roots in the time and place where I grew up. We lived on a small piece of land just outside a small farming community, so it was not truly a lonely existence, in the sense of being a stranger among strangers.

We knew everybody ... and I presume everybody knew us. We were among friends.

Still, there were times of loneliness, times when there were no playmates, times when there was nobody to talk to, except my grandparents ... and they were sometimes occupied with their own concerns.

So I think this poem may have been speaking to that time and place, particularly with its reference to the hills ... "my voice flying" ... "someone hearing, answering" ... but I really think it speaks of a hopeful outcome.

We could all use a bit of that.

And now the poem:

REACHING OUT 

Let me stand
in the clear blue
of morning,
sun rising, warming
the waiting hills,
and my voice flying
through the silence,
someone hearing,
answering, more
than an echo,
a kindred spirit.
© 1998

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: kindred

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paths That Crossed






After I retired from my "regular" job, I began looking for something else to do, something structured, something which would take me outside these walls on a regular basis, something to ease this void in which I found myself.


I found all of that in becoming a "temp," a temporary worker who had a variety of assignments, doing inventory, sorting, filing, things I could do without stress or strain.


Then I found myself assigned to a project which was expected to last a couple of years, maybe more. What a great assignment that was, working with people of a wide range of ages, from a variety of backgrounds, all of us learning the routines, growing, settling in, enjoying this adventure.


Then another door opened, an offer of "early retirement," which I took. But I didn't just walk away. You don't do that with a family of friends. I maintained contact (and it wasn't just for the monthly carry-ins for sharing tons of cake in celebration of birthdays), watched the others continuing their growth, celebrated their successes, shared in their setbacks.

After a gathering once again for lunch  I was reminded of the poem I had written ... a rather long time ago, now.


It's an effort to capture some of those feelings,  to preserve some of it for myself, perhaps some for them, too.


PATHS THAT CROSSED

First the warehouse site,
then Newmark and Woodman.
How the paths of lives
came crisscrossing there
with the burgeoning work!


My own path veered away
at the end of '90, but
came back several times
as ever-widening circles
tested the boundaries
of my untethered life.


Now the grass reclaims
my old path, footprints
erased, nothing to mark
my having ever been there.


But I possess evidence.


The landscape of my mind
is alive with these paths,
tracks of those crossing
the path of my own life,
seemingly without design
or plan, yet unerringly.


These stored memories
endure on a gentle slope
teeming with paths strong
where crossings link them,
and likely to cross again.
© 1995
Today's word: paths

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Old Dog Asleep









It was our neighbor's canine, "Houdini," who inspired today's poem. 

"Houdini" enjoyed lying in the back yard, belly to the sun, dreaming, no doubt, of some great escapades ... or of being suddenly nose-to-nose with a wandering raccoon ... or of catching the squirrels stealing food.

Or perhaps only soaking up the sun.


But it was "Houdini" who set in motion a series of memories of my own canine pals from my growing-up years. They enjoyed the sun, too. They also enjoyed exploring the hills around my boyhood home, and they were always ready to head out on some new adventure with me.


Sometimes, though, they were tired. At my approaching footsteps, the head would be lifted slightly, I would receive a look of recognition, the tail would thump-thump-thump a few times on the ground, and the head would be lowered again to sleeping position, presumably to pick up the loose threads of some interrupted dream.


I still miss those early companions. 


I miss "Houdini," too. Always the good neighbor, "Houdini" only barked at me once ... when the family was moving in next door.

A quiet word from the owner, and that was that. I couldn't help admiring that kind of restraint. I'm sure there were times ... in all those years that we co-existed ... when I must have deserved a good barking at.

And the picture? Sorry, I don't have a photo of "Houdini." Instead, today we share a photo of shadows ... a subject that I find intriguing ... restful ... soothing. 


Thank you for stopping by ... and, "Houdini," this one is for you: 

OLD DOG ASLEEP


Sprawled like a tired
old tree toppled against
the slope of the hill,
your belly soaking up
afternoon sun, tail wilted
to earth, ear twitching,
plucking at the sound
of my footsteps; what
memories we share,
old pal, how alike, now,
our dreams must be.
© 1998
(originally published in 
Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: toppled

Friday, October 21, 2011

Memory








Sometimes, you may have noticed, I try to use an illustration that goes along with the poem. 

I was stumped at first, when I tried to think of something to match today's little offering.

Then it occurred to me ... there it was, under my nose, practically ... the sideview mirror on the Little Red Car, famous among readers of my former weekly newsletter, "Squiggles & Giggles," for its many escapades.

"Squiggles" has since turned into a "blog" ... and I believe you'll find a link to it in the upper left portion of the screen. Give it a try, won't you?

And what is memory? Why, it's a looking back at things which are sometimes indistinct, blurred, reversed, or "closer than you think."

And now the poem:


MEMORY

I know I've stashed
scads of things
in the dusty attic
of my mind . . .
but in which boxes
are they hiding,
when I really,
really need them?
 © 1996
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: hiding

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lattes for Two



(Just a photo of an old fence, you say? Oh, but I think fences ... old ones in particular ... have things to say to us, if we will just listen)


Each of my poems has a past life.


Sometimes that background is quite complicated ... though the poems are usually pretty straightforward ... ordinary subjects presented with few adornments.

This one, I suppose, might be considered as having a "complicated" earlier life. I'll try to present the short version.

When I started painting, I simply started painting. It was later that I decided it wouldn't hurt to have a few lessons ... maybe a lot of lessons ... but that's another story.

When I started writing poetry, it was much the same. Eventually, I signed up for a class.

Needless to say, I was an older student ... THE oldest in the group, even counting the instructor. The class was very accepting of me, though, and I really enjoyed it.


Among those with whom I became acquainted was a young student who worked part-time in a coffee shop.

Possibly because I reminded her of her grandfather, she one day gave me a couple of coupons for free coffees.

Phyllis and I couldn't resist. We were soon sitting under the umbrellas, sipping our coffees ... er, lattes. It was the first latte I had ever had. I found it rather nice ... inspiring, in fact.

The rest is history, as they say.

The poem:

LATTES FOR TWO

We're sipping vanilla lattes while sitting
beneath the umbrellas outside the coffee shop,


enjoying the soothing warmth of the cups
against our hands, the coffee sweet and gentle,


not aggressive, as it can sometimes be.
In my coffee and cigarette days, I slugged down


many a cup, always automatically topping off
after absently stubbing out another butt


and lighting up again, phones ringing, nerves
jangling, my paradigm of perpetual dependence.


But I've grown independent of such things,
an enforced laying to rest of my worst habits


in these years of summing up, a slow falling away
from a tendency to overindulge in so many


things that cheered me up or calmed me down.
Until today. Lured inside by the tempting offer


of a sample, I've wavered, weakened, lifted the cup
again, and after a few tentative sips to make sure


my taste buds weren't playing tricks on me, I think
I might be hooked, feel myself being reeled in.


Oh, if Eve had only suggested a hot, sweet latte
back then, what a different world this might be.
© 2005


(Part of a my third collection, 
Wood Smoke, issued by Finishing Line Press. To visit the Finishing Line Press site, please click here:



Thank you for taking a look.)

Today's word: hooked

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I Could Have Played Piano







For the moment, let's revisit the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center, Troy, Ohio, on a cold, cold evening back in February of 2008.



The worst of winter conditions had been predicted ... for just about the time the program was scheduled to get under way.



I was convinced that travel was going to be horrible, weather-wise, and advised those who called throughout the day ... either to express regrets ... or to get some advice ... that I would advise them to play it safe ... and not venture out.



The expected horrible weather didn't arrive. At least not that night. Highway conditions ... except for traffic ... couldn't have been better ... both before and after the program.



Oh, what people missed by following my advice! Even so, we had what I thought was an impressive turnout.



I went in expecting an interesting mix of poetry and music ... but the program ... a blending of music ... improvised on the spot by Joel Hoffman, Professor of Composition, College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati ... with my reading of some poems ... well, the program far exceeded my expectations.



I stood at the rostrum watching as Prof. Hoffman coaxed a delightful program of sounds ... rhythms ... passages ... interludes ... from the piano ... a perfect blending with the poetry I was sharing with the audience.



Afterward, I was really taken by the number of people who thought it was a carefully-rehearsed program.



In truth, Prof. Hoffman and I had not met before that night ... had not rehearsed ... and had had only a brief discussion of our "game plan" before the program began.



I say bravo! Bravo to Prof. Hoffman for so deftly working in the music around ... and with ... my readings ... Bravo! to the audience for shruggng off the dire weather forecasts and joining us for an evening that I will never forget ... and Bravo! to all those who put that program together!



By the way, Prof. Hoffman (
http://joelhoffman.net/) wears several hats in addition to Professor of Compositon ... including Artistic Director, Music08 (http://www.ccm.uc.edu/musicx/index.html) and President, Chamber Music Cincinnati (http://www.cincychamber.org/).



I thought of today's poem while I was standing at the podium enjoying his music, particularly a portion of the program in which I read "What Might Have Been" to a most beautiful piano accompaniment.



Perhaps it was just as well that I hadn't brought a copy of it to the reading. It might have spoiled the moment ... as my attempts at humor sometimes do.



But I've dug it out this morning ... along with one of my most definite winter photographs.



Background for the poem:



Once upon a time ... way back in the previous century ... my grandparents had a piano. I believe it was for my mother, but I never heard her play it.



It sat in our living room. I remember a piano tuner coming once to do his magic on it. But mostly it just sat. Oh, I plinked and plunked on it when nobody was looking. But, of course, I couldn't play it.



I didn't feel deprived, and I don't now.



On the contrary, there was that imposing upright musical instrument which fed my imagination. I dreamed of playing it someday ... like I dreamed of many other things.



Then one day it was sold. Strangers came to move that magical creation carefully through the front door, down the front steps and into the truck.



And that was that ... except for the poem (be prepared for a slight twist with this one), originally published in 
Midwest Poetry Review:



I COULD HAVE PLAYED PIANO


My long, skinny fingers
itching for things to do,
toes just barely reaching
the pedals, and my bottom
gripping the slippery edge
of the bench, I dreamed
of playing ragtime, gospel,
boogie-woogie, maybe even
some of that girl-pleasing,
tough, classical stuff.



What I did was what
seemed to come naturally.



With only one lesson,
I flung myself into all
of the old favorites,
playing each several times
before going exuberantly
to the next. Finally,
Grandpa admitted he was
sorry he had taught me
what could be wrought
with a comb and paper.



Oh, I could have played
piano, no doubt, but my lips
wouldn't feel all numb
and fuzzy, like they do now.

© 1997

Today's word: fuzzy