Saturday, April 21, 2012

Morning Song







As some of you may know by now ... I grew up in a rural area ... in the hill country of Southern Illinois, as a matter of fact.

No surprise, then, that today's poem ... an attempt to paint some images with as few words as possible ... has roots that go all the way back there.

No, I didn't live on a farm. By the time I came along, my grandparents had opted for a smaller place ... just big enough to have a few cats, a few chickens, a dog, rows of berries, corn, potatoes, a couple of fruit-bearing trees, and ... my favorite place ... a grape arbor.

But we were well within earshot of several farms ... and their sounds  ... their music, if you will.

One of my favorite numbers involved a barn door sliding open ... and a tractor rolling out with its throaty song all about work.

So there you are ... and here's the poem:

MORNING SONG

First light comes
stealing across
slumbering fields,
a door slides open
like muffled thunder
rolling, distant,
then, on the breeze,
a tractor's song.
 © 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: slumbering

Friday, April 20, 2012

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ice-Cold Memories










When I was a youngster, winter was probably my favorite season.

Oh, I could've done without the tingling toes, the fingers sticking to cold metal ... the nose that froze ... but I loved the snow. It was like having a featherbed ... albeit a very cold one ... to romp on.

But that changed.

I suppose age has something to do with it, and I don't know if the weather is becoming more extreme ... or if I am becoming more sensitive to changes ... or it's all just my imagination.

I'm sure of one thing, though, a search of my extensive records would show that today's poem was written in the middle of one of those sizzling summer months when the pavement starts turning to goo and thoughts turn to the prospect of frying an egg on the sidewalk.

And I know this, too, I was looking for ways of surviving.

Ice-cold memories pressed to the sizzling brow may not be the answer, but I think they help. 

The poem:


ICE-COLD MEMORIES

In the root cellar
of my mind
I have memories
of last winter
lying on the shelves
to help me survive
these front-burner
days of summer.

I shall pull them out
one by one, to press
to my sizzling brow,
daily hoping that
I have stored enough
to carry me through
until autumn
comes galloping up.
 © 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: sizzling

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

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"?).


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

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Giving Advice




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

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


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


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


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


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


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


The poem:

GIVING ADVICE

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

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

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

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

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

Today's word: success

Monday, April 16, 2012

First Snow





(One of my little watercolors ... I know, it doesn't show a lot of snow, but I thought I'd share it anyway)

I'm sure I needn't tell you that we're not having snow here in Ohio ... quite the contrary, temperature-wise. Still, it does provide something to think about, a certain kind of relief from these blazing summer days.

And "First Snow" happens to be one of my favorite poems ... along with "Hollyhocks," "Chance of Rain" ... and a few others.

But I digress.

I don't know exactly which hillside Grandma and I were on. I don't know where we were going. Memories become blurred as to certain details.

I do remember the moment, though, when a sudden swirl of huge, fluffy snowflakes descended on us. They were, indeed, like flying feathers.

I hadn't seen anything like them in my whole young life.

The poem:


FIRST SNOW

I watch them
sliding slowly
on my windowpane,
harbingers
come to warn me
of impending winter,
stirring again
that memory
of plucked feathers,
as she called them,
swiftly enveloping
Grandma and me
on a hillside path.


I can still taste
that delicious
melting cold,
still hear her
laughing with me,
that great
explosion of joy.
© 2005


("First Snow" received a first-place award in a Poets' Study Club contest, was later published in The Christian Science Monitor, and became part of Wood Smoke, my third collection, issued by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: harbingers

Sunday, April 15, 2012

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

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Defying Gravity






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


I thought about that.


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


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


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


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


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

DEFYING GRAVITY

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

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

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

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cradled in the Hand





Here I go again, writing about writing ... and, as usual, I insert an early disclaimer: I'm no expert on the subject ... I'm still learning ... still struggling ...


The subject is one which intrigues me ... challenges me ... sometimes frustrates me ... but I keep going.


I keep going because ... when the result is a finished, polished piece of poetry ... it is so rewarding.


And when someone else reads it, likes it, identifies with it ... maybe even exclaims about it ... well, that's truly a hefty slather of icing on the cake.


I often say that poems come to me ... in the quiet of the night ... or in the midst of a noisy crowd at the mall.


I never know when an idea is going to show itself ... so I'm always prepared ... with a scrap of paper ... a stub of pencil ... or a ballpoint pen ... to try to catch the essence, at least, of that idea.


Later, the real work begins.


I'm sometimes amazed at how that first draft shapes itself on the page. Other times, the idea is there, but the poem isn't ... so I put it aside, let it rest ... and later, sometimes much later, I'll discover it when I'm looking for something else ... there's a new flash of inspiration ... the wheels start turning again ...


I speak of "the perfect poem" in today's posting ... I haven't found that yet in my own writing ... but I keep searching, trying ... and maybe some day ... some day ...


Meanwhile, this one:


CRADLED IN THE HAND

Finding an idea
is a beginning,
but only that.
There must follow
the grinding, shaping,
polishing, plain
hard work that takes
a found stone
on a long journey,
transforming it
to that gifted gem
cradled in the hand
of its creator,
the perfect poem,
alive with light,
singing to us,
dancing across
the ballroom floor
of our memory.
© 1997
(originally published in ByLine)
Today's word: cradled

Thursday, April 12, 2012

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 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Beach Music







I grew up far from the ocean ... any ocean ... so the one time that I got to walk on a real ocean beach was ... to put it mildly ... a most memorable occasion.


Oh, I had glimpsed the ocean at the movies ... in books or magazines ... but never the real thing.


I think I was most impressed, when a face-to-face meeting finally came, with the immensity of it ... its power ... its beauty ... its music.


I tried to get some of that music in this little poem:



BEACH MUSIC


Waves come tumbling
onto the docile shore,
flinging foamy fingers
across the ochre plane.



Teeming with bubbles,
they search and settle,
soothingly diminuendo,
on a healing chord.



Eliciting a sigh
from pliant, sandy keys,
the fingers slide off
into the lap of the sea,


where joyous whitecaps
merrily urge them,
jostle and encourage them
to play it all again.
© 1998

(originally published in Capper's)




Today's word: joyous

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Autumn Rain






Thunderstorms were frightening to a youngster growing up in rural Southern Illinois.

They seemed so packed with fury, so unpredictable as they lashed out, leaving so much damage in their wake.

But rain, particularly a gentle rain at night, was a different matter.

I learned to listen to its comforting cadence against the windows or on the roof, to hear the music it contained.


Sometimes it was like a whisper. Sometimes a Saturday night hoedown.

But it was my kind of music. I loved going to sleep to it ... waking up to it ... or just lying there listening to it.

We forget, sometimes, what a gentle, soothing, healing sound rain can make, especially as harsh summer days begin slowly surrendering to the cooler days and cooler nights of autumn.

This poem is about that kind of rain. It was originally published in Capper's, then in my first collection, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003:

AUTUMN RAIN

Struggling awake
to the sound
of trees scratching
at my green roof,
I see their limbs
swaying against
rolling clouds.

Dancing lightning,
slanting drops,
steady drone
of falling water;
trees, docile now,
guiding droplets
to thirsting soil,
I turn my pillow
cool side up,
go drifting off
in this cradling
sea of sound.
 © 2003
Today's word: hoedown

Monday, April 9, 2012

At the Wheel




I sometimes write about driving ... or other drivers ... but not today.

The wheel referred to in today's poem is a potter's wheel ... that device on which a glob of clay is tossed, then, with an expert touch as the wheel goes whirling round and round, gradually becomes a work of art.

It may become something quite fragile, or it may turn out to be a very substantial piece, depending on the imagination ... and skill ... of its creator.

I feel that same process at work when I "toss a glob of words on the wheel" (I always hope it's a somewhat orderly collection of words, even in the beginnings of a poem). Then the revision, the serious shaping and reshaping, begins.

Over time those words take on new shapes, new meanings, sometimes quite fragile, sometimes substantial. Then I let the reader judge ... in light of his or her own experience, for the reader always brings something to the poem.

This one was originally published in Candlelight Poetry Journal:

AT THE WHEEL

I sit watching
these words
mounded, whirling,
rising at the touch
of my fingers,
becoming something
I shall slide
into the glowing kiln
of understanding
and, warmed by it,
stand marveling
at what I've made.
© 1998

Today's word: substantial

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Under the Oaks




The oaks may have been "massive" only as their size was relative to my own, but they did seem to be towering, dominating, clustered there at the foot of the bluffs.

But the shade was mossy. I am positive of that.


Where the memory may be playing tricks ... it was a long time ago, you know ... is that the young trees I remember may not have been oaks at all. They could well have been hickory, or even maple.


Still, I like to think of them as "understudies," waiting for their turn in the spotlight ... in the sun.


I suppose there is some deeper lesson to be taken from this. Perhaps I had some application to humans in mind when I wrote the poem ... or it might just have been a little piece about trees. 


Oh, and the illustration? It's a digital photograph I snapped because the leaves reminded me of a painting by Georgia O'Keeffe.


The poem:


UNDER THE OAKS


I really admire
the persistence
of those small
trees struggling
in the mossy shade
of massive oaks,
understudies
learning their
lines, patiently
waiting their
turn to take
the stage, too.

© 2001

(originally published in Capper's)



Today's word: understudies

Saturday, April 7, 2012

They're Watching




I used to see them all the time.

I could hardly set foot out the door without encountering one ... dressed as Santa Claus ... as a witch ... a clown ... a cowboy ... as almost anything ... or anybody ... except what they really were: concrete geese.

And now I can't even find one of the photos I took of them.

I can't imagine where they've all gone ... flown south for the winter? Oh, I hope not. The very thought of them aloft scares me a bit.

Perhaps the fad is ebbing. But while it was here, almost everybody ... at least in my neighborhood ... had at least one ... sometimes more.

Understandable then, that I eventually gave in and wrote something about them ... and here it is:


THEY'RE WATCHING


Concrete geese!
Heads held high,
unblinking
dots for eyes,
they guard
the porches, line
the lawns, ever alert
for the gawkers
wandering by.

They never move,
nor honk, nor
even threaten
hostile action,
but in their cold,
concrete hearts
seem to know
the intentions
of those
who dare even
steal a glance.
© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: gawkers

Friday, April 6, 2012

So Quiet





Today's poem is another which preserves a family memory ... more specifically, a memory of a visit to the place where our grandson was starting his life ... and of the good times Grandma and he shared ... and, of course, I was not left out of the activity, either.

I think the poem pretty well tells its own story:


SO QUIET

The house was so quiet
this morning when I walked
down the hallway that I
could hear the clock ticking,

thought I heard tired fireflies
grumping softly to themselves
somewhere outside, searching
the grass for a cool place

to spend the day, the cicadas
climbing their leafy green trees,
almost humming to themselves
in their happiness, thought I

heard Thomas breathing peacefully
in his bed, still dreaming about
that dump truck he and Grandma
kept filling and emptying, sand

tickling their bare feet, and I
couldn't help smiling at myself
looking back from the mirror,
ready to clap my hands and dance.
© 2001

(received a third place award in a ByLine competition; now part of Hollyhocks, my second collection of poems, released by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: grumping

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reverie






I've never been a skater ... on ice, that is ... but it seems to me that daydreaming is something like TWO skaters on ice.

You're vaguely aware of your surroundings ... but then you're also off somewhere else ... like a skating partner off somewhere on the ice, whirling ... and gliding ... maybe leaping ... while you're over here, doing your thing.

Then ... POOF! Back to reality.

That happened to me recently.

Earlier in the day, I had submitted three poems ... by e-mail, no less! ... to one of my favorite publications ... or I thought I had. Then I discovered that all of my efforts had come flying back ... wrong e-mail address!

Well, a little research fixed that ... and off they went again.

Then, just as I was winding down for the day ... checking for incoming e-mails one more time ... half-listening to the news on TV ... I got confirmation that all three of those little poems had been accepted for publication in three upcoming issues.

Wow! Did that ever set off a chain of images ... including one very brief thought about dancing on the table in celebration ... talk about reverie!

Speaking of which:

REVERIE

My tired brain,
sponge that it is,
busies itself
sopping up sights
and sounds, giving
nothing back
as we drift apart,
like two skaters
arcing slowly away
on a vast blue rink,
curling, curling
back, linking hands
again, a flurry of
upbladed ice
marking our sudden
juncture, skates
flashing in unison
again as though
we'd never parted.
© 2000
(originally published in A New Song)

Today's word: sponge

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Purchase of Sleep





You'd think ... for someone who has never really been a morning person ... oversleeping would be a real blessing. After all, I generally have no set schedule to meet ... except that which I impose on myself.


But, not being a morning person, getting a late start actually feels like I'm digging my way out of a deeper hole than usual.


Don't worry ... I'll get over it. I always do ... at least I always have. It's just that I don't start my day by popping a wheelie ... it's more like slow and easy ... slow and easy ... for the rest of the day.


And where does that take us?


To the other side of the coin: Not being able to sleep during the night. That brings to mind ... guess what? Another poem.


Sometimes I wake up ... wide awake ... in the middle of the night. I'm not sure what triggered it ... a noise perhaps ... a barking dog ... or maybe just an interval of absolute quiet. In my neighborhood, sudden quiet can be startling, too.


It's almost like someone has flicked a switch.


The cure? Well, I don't pop a pill ... I've found something cheaper and more effective.

I explain in the poem.


It has also occurred to me that, since I often have the itch to write, perhaps crawling out of bed for a few minutes to scrawl a few nagging thoughts on a scrap of paper is simply the equivalent of scratching where it itches.


And what a great feeling it is to go drifting off again.


The poem:


PURCHASE OF SLEEP

I cannot sleep
when thoughts assail me,
forcing me to rise
wearily from my bed
to find pad and pencil.

Hurriedly I scratch
on the patient page,
uniting it with these
its straying children.

Only then may I reclaim
the cradling pillow
and my rest.
© 1996

(originally published in Mind Matters Review)

Today's word: purchase