Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dare I Ask?







My usual approach is to select a poem, write something about it, then try to find a suitable illustration, photo or otherwise.

Today, while skimming through my backlog of pictures, I ran across my own photo of a wheelbarrow ... an old, old wheelbarrow loaded with wood, sitting beside a reconstructed log cabin ... so I began with it instead.

I took the photo because the composition appealed to me ... the horizontals of the cabin, the sweep of the wheelbarrow bed, the slightly skewed circle of the wheel, the curving ends of the sticks of wood.

I snapped it as a possibility for a future painting. I'm intrigued by old things, the challenge of preserving that look, but with a touch of freshness in the painting itself.

In this case, I also gave the photo a sepia tone, thus enhancing the feeling of oldness. I may or may not try to carry that over into an eventual painting.

The photo selection made, the choice of a poem remained.

Aha! I remembered this one, "Dare I Ask?" True enough, it's about a wheelbarrow, but a much younger one than that in the photo.

It's mainly that hand-lettered sign that lingers in my memory, those moments of standing there, looking at that sign, imagining the red wheelbarrow and all its possibilities.

It's a poem about human frailty. We're stopped in our tracks by the prospect of owning something we need not, must not, have. And yet we're tempted, at least, to take a look.

The poem:

DARE I ASK?

"Red Wheelbarrow for Sale," says

the small hand-lettered sign that
flutters like a special invitation to me
as I slow my pace, pause to look.
I'm intrigued. Not green, nor gray,
nor just a plain old wheelbarrow,
but red. I can see myself strolling
home pushing that beautiful red ...
What am I doing? I don't really
need one, haven't a place to put it,
my wife would probably kill me.
Still, maybe just a quick peek?
© 2002

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: peek

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Carrying the Water





(Just a photograph, no relation to the poem, really, taken on one of my daily walks)

This is another poem based on childhood memories of that place where I grew up in the care of my grandparents.

We had no running water, no indoor plumbing ... not unusual for that time and place.

Our water source for the house was a cistern, with a crank and chain which brought the stored rain water up. It was situated just outside the back porch.

Water for other purposes, watering the flowers, providing drinking water for the chickens, the cats, the dog, was carried from the well, some distance from the house.

This was not easy work. Like most young children, however, I wanted to try it.

Grandpa was willing. In fact, he probably took a certain pleasure in my struggles with that heavy bucket ... the water was so heavy, too, and it really wouldn't sit still ... I can imagine he also relished the memories that my struggles stirred, of his own young efforts at the same thing.

I simply couldn't fathom how he could carry water without spilling some ... while I always spilled a lot.

Eventually I learned the value of experience.

And now, the poem:

CARRYING THE WATER

My grandfather could take
the swaying bucket
all the way,

uncertain as he was, from
well to house, and not
spill a drop.

The water sat, contented,
even though his hands
were trembling,

his step less steady than
mine, his eyes unsure
of the path.

But, hard as I might try,
I couldn't carry it
without loss.

Rising up against me, it
bounded over the top
of the pail,

splashing against my calf,
making dark splotches
on red soil

when I dared set it down,
like sins denied
but still mine.

© 2007

(This poem received an honorable mention in a Sinclair Community College contest; it was subsequently published in Capper's, and is part of my second collection of poems, Hollyhocks, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, KY)

Today's word: contented

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Teeming Waters




Today's illustration is one of my photos ... a fuzzy little snapshot taken to preserve the moment ... I don't recall exactly where or when I snapped it ... but the tranquility of the scene appealed to me.

Teeming waters? Hardly. 


The juxtaposition of the pair of ducks ... and the reflection of the large tree caught my eye.


I'm always intrigued by the ducks we encounter on our walks ... the ways they interact with each other ... and with us ... and the way the young tag along behind Mother, as though being tugged by an invisible string.


And trees? I'm not really a tree hugger, but I do like trees. They were so much a part of where I grew up ... so much of my early life ... and now, in my current stage, I am drawn more and more to their shade during my summer walks.


So it seemed a very natural combination for a photo ... and now, maybe a match with today's poem.

In it, I guess I'm saying that while I consider myself a painter of pictures with words ... the words I find here and there ... I don't really paint the BIG PICTURE. 


Where word-pictures are concerned, I'm not a muralist. I stick to the small subjects I know ... and mostly just as an observer, at that, things I take note of as I stroll by.

I'm not a philosopher, sometimes not even a thoughtful observer. 


But I do relish the little word-pictures that come to me in quiet moments. This one contains some of those.



The poem:



TEEMING WATERS


No ocean liners ply the waters
of my mind, no freighters,
and no reefers sitting low
with their burden of hefty ideas,
but smaller craft keep them
teeming, shadows following
in the shallows, crawling
the paths where pebbles lie
travel-rounded and waiting,
always waiting, for that poem.
© 1996

(originally published in ByLine)



Today's word: teeming

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Night Echoes



How vivid the memory is of those trucks "grumping and rumbling" in the night.


I don't recall exactly when it was, but I remember being bedded down for the night in a motel at Terre Haute. Then I heard them. It sounded like a parade of trucks, although there weren't nearly that many ... and there wasn't exactly a steady stream of them.

I recall getting up to take a look. There was a single, huge dump truck grinding past on the highway. I don't recall which highway, but It seems to me that it was a north-south route.

I went back to bed.

The trucks kept rolling. It wasn't a loud noise, but it seemed persistent ... and it seemed that there was just enough of a grade in the road, right beside the motel, that their grumbling ... all of them ... increased right there as they shifted to a lower gear and went on climbing the hill.

I got back up ... jotted down my impressions ... and went back to bed. And really slept then. Oh, did I ever!

The poem, which later became part of my first published collection:

NIGHT ECHOES

Mud-laden trucks
grump and rumble
outside my room,
hauling mounded
loads of quiet
down the highway,
letting it spill
in the darkness,
come rolling back,
thunder’s echo
muffled, distant,
washing across
this emptiness
like surf crashing
on my pillow.
© 2003


(originally published in Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: crashing

Friday, November 25, 2011

Mere Words





Like I've said many times, I'm not a morning person.

But what is a non-morning person to do when he wakes up around five o'clock ... wide awake ... with a thought buzzing through his mind?

Well ... I lie there for a while ... watch the clock unscrolling the crawling minutes ... then reach for the small light I keep on the table beside the bed ... find a pencil ... and my multi-colored notepad in the shape of the letter B (thank you, Michelle) ... and start writing.

What I wrote is barely decipherable ... now that I'm fully awake ... and it's far from becoming a poem, but someday it might. I'll keep it, try to break the code, try to decide what it's trying to say to me.

And if it does turn into a poem, I'll feel compelled to share it with somebody ... I always have that "look what I found" feeling when something I've written does seem to make sense ... not "look at what I did" ... never that ... and when I share it with somebody, that somebody is likely to be a poetry editor.

I always treasure that second opinion ... especially on those rare occasions when the decision goes in my favor.

But if it doesn't ... well, I speak of that circumstance in today's poem:

MERE WORDS

You, my children,

offspring of my mind,

are going forth

into an imperfect world,

where you will be judged

by strangers. I hope

they will listen

and treat you kindly,

perhaps accept you

as their own.

If not, please return

and we shall comfort

each other.

© 1997

(originally published in Writer's Journal)

Today's word: comfort

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Late Summons






I hope you don't mind my repeating myself on this Thanksgiving Day, but It was, as I've said many times, like a summons, when it finally came ... 


Oh, I had written a lot of things along the way ... love letters when I was in military service, business letters later, a memo here and there ... things like that.


But writing? Real, creative writing? I hadn't had time, nor the inclination for that, it seems.


Still, there was something that drove me in the direction of writing ... just sitting down and putting thoughts ... memories ... images ... on paper.


And, as I say in today's poem, it was like the whir of that most beautiful, most graceful, most fragile of insects ... the butterfly ... which brought that latent interest to life ... so that here we are today ... these few years later, sharing these moments, these thoughts.


The poem:


LATE SUMMONS

After enduring
vast, hollow
echoing years
in which words
lay silently
on my heart,
there came
a whir as soft
as the flight
of a butterfly,
summoning
them awake,
and my voice,
sounding strange
to my own ears,
rose in song.
© 1997
(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: whir

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's Only Darkness



Sometimes I think it's best just to let the poem speak for itself. This is one of those times ... although I'm tempted to say something about so-called Daylight Saving Time ...



I always have a comment or two ... mainly to myself ... as I make the rounds ... twice a year ... setting the clocks back ... or forward ... and back ... then forward ... no, back ...



My usual thought is ... why do we have to fiddle with the clocks? 


Why can't we just adjust our work schedules ... a work schedule for the summer months ... another for the rest of the year?


I usually end up commenting ... to myself ... that so-called Daylight Saving Time is all just a ruse to provide farmers with more time to play golf in the afternoons.



Don't get me wrong ... I'm all for saving energy ... especially when it's costing us all an arm and a leg ... like it is these days ... 



But I'm not going there today ... because ... well, actually, the poem isn't about Daylight Saving Time ...



The poem:



IT'S ONLY DARKNESS



There's such an absence
of light this morning,
it's like scaling a wall
of darkness as I rise
slowly on familiar stairs.

My feet seek supporting
places, my hand searches
for a railing I know
is there, but still hiding
from my straining eyes.

I’m a child again, bad dreams
still haunting me while my
sleep-numbed brain struggles
to convince me there’s nothing
to fear: It’s only darkness.

My hand reaches for a hand
no longer there and I pause,
listening, waiting, almost
expecting a touch, a word
to guide me in my climb.
© 2003
(originally published in ICON)

Today's word: darkness

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Favored Paths




My grandparents didn't have a car (as some of you may know, I grew up in their care) ... but that was no problem ... everything we could have wanted was within walking distance ... and trips, real trips? Well, there were passenger trains running then.


Under those circumstances, it's little wonder, I suppose, that I learned the benefits of walking.


For one thing, there was so much to see while walking ... it was a pleasure to focus on a particular view, then watch it slowly changing as the walking changed the angle at which it was seen.


The slower pace made it so easy to absorb what was seen ... to savor the flavor, so to speak.


So, when my doctor suggested ... OK, he may have been verging on insisting ... that I take up walking again ... it was no big deal, even when I first started and found it difficult to go all the way around the block.


I remembered ... I knew the benefits of walking. It was just a matter of time until I could get my body back into shape. 

Well, it took a little more time than I expected ... but I listened to my body along the way ... and moderated my pace, or increased it, accordingly.


And now a daily walk is automatically a part of my routine. I still enjoy the view(s), the pace ... and particularly the poems that sometimes come to me during my walks.


Today's poem, for example:

FAVORED PATHS

I like to walk
where the trees
drink the sunlight
and let only
stray droplets
speckle the earth,

where the squirrel
scampers unseen
to a cradling limb
and screeches
at the stranger
who dares intrude,

where lichens clutch
the brows of bluffs
sitting as in judgment
while merely waiting,
as they have been
through the ages,

where the tiny bird
flits and sings
its song of hope,
and my steps
are less labored
as I am renewed.

© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: lichens

Monday, November 21, 2011

Emergency Kit







I beg particular patience from those who may have seen today's poem before. It seems to have worked its way to the top again.


It's still a good little poem, I think ... a bit whimsical ... and I think we can use a sprinkling of whimsy with the world in which we live today.


Bear with me now, while I dust off a bit of history:


I started carrying a printout of one of my poems in response to the recurring question from acquaintances: "What are you writing these days?"

Carrying a single printout, I thought, was a simpler, a more efficient approach than going into detail about all of the things I was working on at the time (I seem to go riding off in all directions, but I do bring some of my projects to completion ... honest).

From there it was a short leap to the image of some poor motorist sitting somewhere on a dark, poemless road, hoping someone would come to the rescue ... and, ta-DA! ... there I would be, poem at the ready ...

I have one regret - I neglected to offer an alternative, like regular fill-ups of poetry before heading out on those lonely roads ... or, I suppose, simply keeping an eye on the poetry gauge ... or pulling into the nearest library - where the price is always right - to top off the poetry tank.

But if you do run out of poetry, just hang in there. I should be along soon.

Meanwhile:

EMERGENCY KIT

I always carry
a spare poem or two.
Who knows? I may
find a motorist
stranded, run out
of poetry somewhere
on a poemless road,
looking for rhyme,
if not reason,
in the scheme
of things, someone
in need of metaphor,
simile, structure,
a triolet, perhaps,
but mostly free verse,
free for the taking,
and this one's for you.
Enjoy. Pass it on.
© 1999

(originally published in 
Capper's)


Today's word: emergency

Sunday, November 20, 2011

After Summer Rain




(Another view of Charleston Falls ... hope you don't mind)

Today's poem, based on an early memory, could easily have been the title poem in my first published collection, Chance of Rain (Finishing Line Press, 2003). Instead, it quietly took its place among the others.


"After Summer Rain," with its starring character, a tiny bug swimming in a laundry tub which had filled with rain water, did become the inspiration for the cover illustration, designed by my son, Alan.


In the poem itself, I like what's happening ... the relationship between this tiny bug, which has suddenly appeared, and this "young man" who is drawn to it, pondering "what it might become, where it might go," questions he had barely asked himself.


Selection of a title poem, in the instance of this first collection, seemed obvious to me, albeit with overtones of designating a favorite child. That honor had to go to "Chance of Rain," my "lucky poem" ... those eight 
lines which were discovered in the middle of a longer poem by  an alert editor at Capper's who spotted them, liked them, suggested that we keep them and my title.


I quickly agreed, and "Chance of Rain" became my first poem accepted for publication. Thus began this great adventure.


But today I'd like to share that other poem:


AFTER SUMMER RAIN

When the storm passed
and the sediment settled
in the tub so recently
sitting empty beneath
the downspout, a tiny bug,
exploring its new world,
memorizing the boundaries,
looking for others,
or savoring the solitude
of this galvanized galaxy,
swam to and fro,
oblivious of the young man
pausing to watch,
puzzled over its sudden
coming to be there,
pondering what it might
become, where it might go,
doubly perplexing because
he had barely posed such
questions about himself.
© 1998
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)
Today's word: exploring

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Walnut Wisdom







Walnut trees ... the black-walnut variety, in particular ... have long been a part of my life.

There were two which grew near the bluffs up  from the house in which I was growing up. 

The walnuts were mine for the gathering. I would wait for some windy autumn weather, then I would venture up there with a burlap bag in which I would stow the found treasures which carpeted the ground underneath those trees.

Of course, that was just the beginning. The next step was to lug them home. Then the fun really began. 

I used a hammer to remove the juicy hulls which covered the shells. The result: A hefty pile of walnuts ready to begin drying out ... a process of "curing," becoming ready for cracking open to expose the delicious meats inside. 

Another result was a pair of thoroughly stained hands. I recall my hands being so stained that they looked like they were wearing gloves.

Ah, the memories.

Every autumn I find myself thinking of those trees again ... wondering if they're still there ... if some youngster is enjoying their output as much as I did. 

Meanwhile, the poem:


WALNUT WISDOM

The black walnut's
seething green leaves,
steeping all summer
in the raging sun,
are turning yellow,
randomly twirling
to earth, the leaden
thumps of fallen
fruit providing
an uneven cadence
on the long bridge
of sunny afternoons.


Bruised and smashed,
their juicy hulls
draw back from those
dark interiors where
their secrets lie,
awaiting squirrels,
whack of a hammer,
the outside chance
of becoming a tree.


This, the walnut
knows, is autumn’s
beginning, a time
of payoffs, endings,
another slow turn
of the wheel.
© 2002

(originally published in Potomac Review)

Today's word: twirling

Friday, November 18, 2011

There's Fire Tonight



Today's poem is about picking up coal from alongside the railroad tracks. It's about the crackling fire those found lumps of coal brought to us during what we knew then, and recall now, as "hard times."

It was an adventure for a young boy growing up in the care of his grandparents. It was a lesson never forgotten.


But the careful reader will also note that it's a poem about writing. Take a look at the opening: "Words." Hold on to it as you follow the thread of the poem.


I do feel that words are, indeed, like those lumps we thrust into that burlap bag. They have the potential for heat, if we lay them carefully in the stove ... and ignite them with our own inspiration ... fan them into flame.


They will bring us comfort on long winter nights. They will warm our hands ... maybe our hearts, too.


This one was originally published in 
Southern Humanities Review, and has become the title poem of a manuscript in search of publisher:


THERE'S FIRE TONIGHT

Words, how like
the lumps of coal
Grandma and I found
along the tracks
where hopper cars,
lurching, loping
up the long grade
toward Cobden,
had dropped them,
each a gift
in our dirty hands,
holding promise,
as they were thrust
into the burlap bag,
of shared warmth,
soft, crackling song,
sooty smoke rising,
telling our world
there's fire tonight,
all's well.
© 1997

Today's word: lurching

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Once, Perhaps






I've found it true that writing involves a lot of "stone gathering," a lot of writing that is ... well, just writing. 

While that can be satisfying ... and I find that it's good activity ... it keeps my mind occupied ... keeps me from dwelling on things I needn't ... or shouldn't ... what is really rewarding is that piece of writing that has a certain quality about it ... has a gemlike quality.

Finding one of those ... or maybe two, if I'm really lucky ... is what keeps me going. 

And just keeping on keeping on can be important, too.

I keep looking for that subject ... that turn of phrase ... that word which will send images dancing across the ballroom of my mind.

I hope that your quest will bring a large share of those "gems" to you.

Meanwhile, the poem:


ONCE, PERHAPS

Of all the stones
we gather,
all the poems
we write,
once in a lifetime
there is one, perhaps,
that gathers light
as no other, juggles
it back aloft,
sends bright beams
dancing into the dark
that stretches
across the ballroom
of the mind.

© 1996

(originally published in ByLine Magazine)

Today's word: dancing

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Growth




Today's poem contains some thoughts about what has happened to so much of our land ... thoughts driven largely, I suppose, by my having grown up in a rural area, where the poor, worn-out soil was gentled into producing food and flowers.


I have no special agenda, no axe to grind ... just some observations that simply came to me on a rainy day in a shopping center parking lot.


I may be wrong about grasses someday retaking "these smothered acres."


I take no comfort in the possibility that I might be right. Right or wrong, I shall never know, but it seems logical, reasonable to expect that the sprawl of what we've come to treasure as our way of life cannot be sustained forever.


Something to think about, perhaps.


The poem:


NEW GROWTH

Where crops once grew,
the skin of commerce
stretches into the distance,
acres in all directions.
On verdant prairie land
now grow waving fields
of carts, cars and customers.


They bring the green
to a soil long bereft
of plants, except token trees
planted as memorials
to what once was.


And when it rains, the rain
finds no welcoming soil.
It piles up at the drains
as it flees this alien surface.


What strange things
we now grow, and
how great the cost.


Someday the grasses
will retake
these smothered acres,
rightfully theirs
by prior claim.
The rain will come
in its gentle way
to bless this soil,
and it will prosper
as it did before.
© 1996

(originally published in Poetic Eloquence)

Today's word: smothered

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Song







A dozen or so years ago, when I wrote today's poem, I had no idea I would still be writing in 2011 ... or even that there might still be "wisps of thought gathering softly in the valleys of my mind."

But I am, and there still are.

Writing, of course, is a gift. I view it not as a talent which few others have, but as a gift, because the words simply come, freely, to the patient writer ... all writers know this. 

When they are ready, the words will come ... showing themselves softly, perhaps, like a thistle drifting past, or like a blast entering through a door suddenly opened to it. But they will come.

Writing derives from other gifts, as well. The gift of time, for example. I have been given time to write, thanks to Phyllis, who allows me the quiet moments I need, who gives me the encouragement I crave, who is so patient and caring, so vital to me ... like the air I breathe.

Then there are the gifts of support, encouragement, advice, concern, from other family members, from friends and fellow writers, from editors who've liked my work, from those who listen attentively at readings.

These things make writing the greatest gift I can imagine receiving ... they keep making me feel "like a teakettle on the verge of song." And I thank you, one and all.

The poem:

MY SONG

Like a teakettle
on the verge of song,
I have endured
the silent years
and now give vent
to the poems welling,
willing themselves
into being.

My joy-filled song
is the scratch
of pencil on paper,
racing to catch
the wisps of thought
gathering softly
in the valleys
of my mind.
© 1997
(originally published in 
ByLine)

Today's word: verge

Monday, November 14, 2011

Line Dancing




Sometimes what appears to be one thing is actually another.

It's not really a secret ... a little surprise, maybe ... but not really a secret. There's a reason that I'm treading carefully with this introduction. I don't want to give away the surprise.

Perhaps I've already said too much.

Some of you will have figured out what the surprise is. I hope that doesn't spoil your reading of the poem.

And now, before I give it all away, here's the poem:

LINE DANCING

Movement trickles
along the line,
rising, billowing,

falling, undulating.
Dancers pause,
regroup, aligned.

Tentatively they
resume swaying,
echoing the moves.

Legs flick, snap,
arms reach, fall,
then reach again.

The line quivers,
flutters and flaps.
Sagging, it rests;

itinerant breezes
have glided away
to other laundry.
© 1998

(originally published in Moose Bound Press)

Today's word: swaying