Saturday, March 31, 2012

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

Friday, March 30, 2012

Handful of Dust






Oh, the memories ... how they come flooding back during quiet moments ... away from the keyboard ... no TV blaring in the background.

Today's poem deals ... seemingly ... with a single memory ... a single day ... a single set of circumstances ... and, when I wrote it, I was thinking about a specific day which stood out in memory.

Looking at it now, I think it's more than that. It must be. 


There were many times that I looked wistfully toward the crest of that hill, wondered what lay beyond ... wanted to find out ... wondered if I ever would.

Well, eventually I did. Oh, did I ever!

But now I seem to be rooted more firmly than ever in those beginnings ... dealing with those bittersweet memories ... finding that the emphasis is more on the second portion of "bittersweet" than on the first.

The poem:

HANDFUL OF DUST


I stood watching a breeze
moving toward me through
hazy green rows of corn,


listened to it overhead
whispering its secrets
to a wafer-dry box elder,


saw it picking up just
a handful of dust,
twirling it, letting it


settle quickly back
to the hoof-pocked soil,
remember thinking


that I might follow,
off somewhere beyond
those barren hills,


but stood drinking
from a rusty tin cup,
dribbled the dregs


on my thirsting toes,
went padding back
where I’d always be.

© 2002

(originally published in Capper's; now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher)

Today's word: twirling

Thursday, March 29, 2012

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Enjoy That Silence





Today's poem was written at a time when I was thinking about my writing ... how I might improve it ... what subject to tackle next ... how to tweak some of the tons of things I've written ... and about how ... someday ... for me ... all this will come to a halt ... 

That can be a gloomy thought, I know ... but I prefer to look at the bright side of the coin, even while knowing, all along, that the coin has another, darker side, too.

Today's poem deals with that other side, but in a way, I hope, that simply looks at reality ... with a dash of hope for the reader ... the knowledge that things will go on, as always.

Meanwhile, I have been blessed to be able to write, and to be permitted to share what I have written.

As much as the writing itself ... which sometimes comes in pauses and starts, and sometimes with difficulty, but always brings a certain satisfaction when it's finished, awaiting a polishing or two ... I have enjoyed the reactions of readers.

To say that I have basked in their comments is a vast understatement.

Still, I know it will all end someday. It must. It will.

This poem is about that. I think it pretty well tells its own story ... and I don't think it's a sad story, really, just an acknowledgment of the inevitable ... but also a celebration of the present. Thank you for being a part of that celebration.

The poem:

ENJOY THAT SILENCE


When all the leafy
branches have closed

behind me and my
footsteps have drifted

into nothing, I hope
there will be no

searching parties sent
to seek new meaning

in what I was trying
to say. I had no hidden

agenda, no secrets
in my surface-dwelling

statements. So when
the silence descends,

as it surely must, please
accept it. And enjoy.
© 2006

(Published in the Spring 2006 - 40th Anniversary Edition - of ICON)

Today's word: inevitable

Monday, March 26, 2012

Deadly Sin




Let's see, now. I was riding along on a city bus. My stop was coming up, so I had put my magazine inside my briefcase ... snug there beside my lunch ... and I was sleepily watching the street signs.

Actually, I guess I was watching buildings and store signs, more than anything. I had ridden this route so many times, I hardly had to watch for street signs.

Then I heard it.

The click of a ballpoint pen was unmistakable. The sound came from the seat immediately behind mine. Obviously, somebody was preparing to write something.

Was it a thought which had just jumped out at them? A line for a poem? Maybe just a reminder. Maybe another item on the grocery list. But writing.

Someone writing! Another writer? Someone who, like I had done so many times on the bus, was jotting something down that would later become a real poem?

Oh, how tempting it was to turn to see this person ... to ask, "Are you a writer?" To ... well, the poem says it all:

DEADLY SIN

I heard the click of a pen
in the seat behind me,
imagined the scratch of words
across paper, the beginnings
of something so compelling
I was tempted to turn, to peer,
suggest, but resisted as though
in the presence of deadly sin,
and at the next stop got off
the bus, feeling I had been cast
out of The Garden as the doors
folded firmly shut behind me.
© 1998

(originally published in ByLine)

Today's word: tempted

Sunday, March 25, 2012

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

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Because We Must




Some of you may have seen today's poem before.

It even made a guest appearance on "Squiggles & Giggles" ... a bit of history here ... my then-weekly ... free, mind you, free... e-mailed newsletter about writing ... and a multitude of other subjects.

But AOL put a stop to that free weekly newsletter.


Meanwhile ... I'm always a little surprised ... on the verge of amazed ... at the amount of discussion this little poem fires up. But that's what the newsletter ... we called it "S&G" ... was all about.

"Because We Must" created a lot of discussion ... but none of those ugly fights in the parking lot afterward. I'm glad for that.

I was thinking about "Because We Must" this morning.

Mainly I was thinking about what I had said about this little poem once before:

When we strip away the outer trimmings, the pretense, the spins which have become the standard of the day, what do we have left?

The truth.

And I like that. Writing, with a few exceptions, is certainly not for the money. Not really. 

That's true, even with those who write for pay.

They ... and we ... write because we must

Because we're looking for a truth ... THE TRUTH, perhaps.

The poem:

BECAUSE WE MUST

A voice whispers
and we listen.
Again. We answer,
more rapidly now,
with paper and pen.
We write
because we must.
No ear may hear
our stories, nor
voice answer our
earnest pleadings,
and still we write.
Because we must.
© 2005

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: impelled

Friday, March 23, 2012

At the Doctor's Office




Today I'm dusting off one that some of you may have seen before.

It came to me on a routine visit to the doctor's office ... I was, indeed, perched on the end of an examining table ... waiting ... and watching the rain.

Then I reached for the folded scrap of paper I always carry in my hip pocket, and started writing.

"At the Doctor's Office" was originally published in Potpourri, was subsequently nominated for Pushcart Prize honors, and is now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:

AT THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE

Random needles of rain
start darting diagonally
like the silent scratchings
of cat claws on the window
where the traffic is zooming

and sizzling past, hauling
away the remains of Thursday,
blurring beyond the sycamore,
its mottled gray-green trunk
whispering of a deep-forest

stream while seeming utterly
misplaced here where concrete
suffers the presence of so few
trees, where my strongest
efforts at contiguous thought

produce only fragments too tiny
to mend, unleavened images,
lacking all savor of meaning,
where I perch, dry-mouthed
and nervous, my legs dangling

from the end of this table,
and wait, as I always do,
for a door to open softly,
carefully, into this silence,
this sterile, stifling silence.
© 2001

Today's word: needles

Thursday, March 22, 2012

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

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

Monday, March 19, 2012

Solitude





Today's poem was written at a time when I was setting a particular kind of challenge for myself with my writing: Take a randomly-selected word and define it, not in dictionary terms, but in personal, human terms ... terms that readers would understand for having lived or witnessed some of them.

It helped that I had some experiences to call on ... the relative isolation of a rural upbringing ... military service ... being "alone" on a crowded subway in New York City.

It helps, too, to be able to block out present surroundings, for at least those few minutes of the writing exercise ... all of those things of the moment which are the opposite, in this instance, of the word you're trying to define: friends, family, companions, even the voices coming from the TV in the other room ...

The poem, originally published in Shawnee Silhouette:

SOLITUDE

It's not just
the hollow, echoing
sound of nights;
days can be
lonely, too,
with a consuming
emptiness spreading,
crinkling as it burns
the thin paper of time
on which we scratch
the names of our thoughts.
With no one to touch,
no one to hear,
no one to care
that we exist,
there is no breaching
the walls of that cell
in which we are locked,
listening as the minutes
slide into hours,
pyramiding themselves
into coldness,
the absolute zero
of solitude.

© 1996

Today's word: emptiness

Sunday, March 18, 2012

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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Reflecting





In the early days, when I received an acceptance of something I'd written, I felt like dancing on the table in celebration.

In all honesty, I never did dance on the table (or anywhere else, for that matter). But I did feel like dancing, and the table seemed the appropriate place ... then.

I still don't dance on the table.

But then I got an e-mail from Finishing Line Press, publisher of Chance of Rain, my collection of poems all about rain, or its absence ...

Gist of the e-mail: "Congratulations! Your book is now listed on Amazon.com ... "

Oh, wow! I was so excited about that ... and I still am ...

But now, the poem:

REFLECTING

Winter rain trickles

and skitters this evening

as it travels down the slope

of my skylight, like spent

minutes picking their way

through another lonely

night, or a speckled mirror

held to reflect the tangled

yarn basket of my mind.
© 2003


(One of my poems from Chance of Rain, a small, limited-edition collection, issued by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: dancing

Friday, March 16, 2012

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Outside Ann's Cafe




Sadly, Ann's Cafe is just a memory now.

While it was there on Watervliet Avenue, though, it was an oasis, a welcoming refuge along the route of our morning walks.

During the cold months we sat inside, in the embrace of all those delicious cooking aromas.

On milder days we enjoyed the freedom of the tables on the sidewalk, the sounds of passing traffic, the wafting blandishments of wonderful baked goods coming from inside.

Oh, the memories, the sweet memories we have of that place.

The poem:

OUTSIDE ANN'S CAFE

The cars
go purring past
while we enjoy
the morning cool
on the sidewalk
at Ann's Cafe.
It's too pretty
to stay inside,
we say, settling
into our chairs
like two tired
teddy bears.

The sweet smell
of baked goods
comes stealing out
to where we sit,
tempting us, but
we are steadfast,
unmoved by this.

The steady click
of our spoons,
the clunk of cups
against the glass
tabletop give
more than adequate
testimony
to our resolve.


But then . . .

© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: steadfast

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Now They Offer





Story of my life. 

I never thought I would end up walking as much as I do. At first it was a little difficult. Actually, quite difficult. When I first started trying, my goal was to walk to the corner ... and back. 

Then, over time, I was able to make it all the way around the block and back home.

That was years ago, at the suggestion of my doctor, and with the encouragement of Phyllis, who became my daily walking companion.

And now I just walk, walk, walk.

The poem was written in those early years. I must admit that I was sometimes tempted to accept the offer of a ride from a neighbor or a friend. But I always managed to tell them, "Thanks ... I'm taking a walk." And kept on walking.

And now? Well, I can't remember the last time one of them actually offered me a ride, although they do sometimes slow, wave, and go on their way.

The poem:


NOW THEY OFFER

Skinny years,
when I could've
used a ride,
nobody stopped.
Now that I'm
walking it off,
 
everybody slows
to offer a lift.
© 1996

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Moon Tonight






I grew up in the country ... not on a farm, but in the country ... away from city lights.

As a result of that ... and hearing my gandfather talk so many times about the phases of the moon ... its importance in the planting of crops ... knowing about its pull on those distant oceans ... its effect on young lovers ... I was always intrigued by the moon.

The front porch swing provided a great vantage point for watching the giant harvest moon rising slowly over the hills.

I remember being so intrigued by the quarter moon ... the new moon ... the moon showing in the late daytime sky.

When one lives in the city, though, the moon can become a forgotten item ... unless it really asserts itself as we're coming up the driveway on a late-winter evening.

Then there's no denying it. I still remember that evening ... can almost hear a choir, singing a cappella, celebrating the rising of that moon.

The poem:

THE MOON TONIGHT

What a gorgeous sight,
lodged in the darkness
of the walnut tree,
the nearer maples joining
to hold it, glowing
in the late-winter sky,
broken, and yet whole,
like a stained-glass
window catching evening
light, holding it high
under the ceiling while
voices rise in song.
© 2004

(originally published in Capper's)


 Today's word: a cappella