Thursday, May 31, 2012

Only the Best









I can't imagine being restricted to writing only one word on a given day. There are so many of them clamoring to get out of my head and go skittering across the page ... or to be posted on the screen.

On the day that I wrote this little poem, though, I must have been trying to imagine what it might be like to have to settle on just one word ... and I picked "friend," with its dictionary meaning of a person one knows well and is fond of ... plus all its other shades of meaning, depending on the reader's experience.

It has so many meanings. It conjures up images of a handshake, a hug, of sharing a conversation with someone, or just sitting quietly with them ... helping someone, being helped by someone, of someone you can trust, someone with whom you can share your thoughts ... secrets, even ... 

It seems to be an all-purpose word, but it's a very precise word, too ... not a musical word, but one that can bring "music" to us, put a spring in our step, a glow that counters even the cloudiest of days.

The poem:


ONLY THE BEST

If I could write
just one word today,
what care I'd take
to pick the best
from the great array
of "previously-owned,
runs great" words,
for example: Friend.
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: friend

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Making It Count






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

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

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

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

I still do.

MAKING IT COUNT

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

Today's word: cadence

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lost Pencils





Phyllis pretends she's not with me when I discover a pencil lying on the sidewalk. She knows I can't resist. I'll simply have to pause, pick it up and put it in my pocket.


I've learned not to do that with pens. Sometimes they leak.


But pencils?


There's something safe, reassuring about a pencil.


Even the most chewed up, stubbiest, disreputable looking pencil has the potential of a few more words, of writing a few lines, perhaps, that could someday turn into something big ... maybe a poem.


Here's one now:


LOST PENCILS


I find them during my walks
past schools, lying there, poor,
fallen things, pointing forlornly
to some vague destination.


Many bear the jagged markings
from anxious scholars' teeth,
some have been sharpened
to the point of extinction,


some are broken, and might not
write again, without my timely
arrival to bring them home.
Handling each with the care


one would accord a fallen bird,
I slide it into the warmth
of an inner pocket to keep
it safe, for this could be


the one I've always needed,
the one with something to say
that I really need to hear.
© 2000

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: potential

Sunday, May 27, 2012

If Elected






(No ... this is definitely not a self-portrait)

Don't worry. I'm not running for office.

Honest. I'm not planning any long-winded speeches, I won't be asking for money ... or even your vote ... and I certainly won't be making any promises I can't keep. I promise you that.

Then what?


Today's poem was written at another time ... in another place ... when and where it seemed that everybody else in the whole universe was vying for a position at the public trough.


It was a time when politicians were talking our ears off ... and dogs were barking all night. What a wonderful combination, I thought ... and there's no disrespect for dogs intended in that, I assure you.


If I WERE to be elected ... to anything ... it seemed to me at the time ... I would prefer to be the officeholder responsible for "mudging" curs (whatever that means) ... not the first time that a responsibility has been invented out of pure air (remember when we still had some of that?) ... in order to garner the votes of the undecided ... and unsuspecting ...


Well, from there it was strictly downhill ... and fast. But I had fun with the poem (remember, no disrespect for dogs intended). Here it is:


IF ELECTED

When finally I have
attained full growth,
I think that I
should like to be
a curmudgeon, which,
I'm told by my pal,
clear-eyed Ed,
is one who
mudges curs.


It's the least they
deserve for barking
all night at nothing
in particular while
decent folk are
pounding pillows,
trying to sleep,
but only attaining
grouchyhoodedness.


I promise, if elected,
not to be stingy
with my curmudgeoning.

 © 1997


(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)


Today's word: curmudgeon

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Handle With Care






Quite often, a poem, or the beginnings of a poem, will come to me suddenly, and in such a way that I will always remember that moment when the spark started the flame.


Not so in this case.


I'm not sure what the trigger was. 

Perhaps it was as simple as seeing a "Handle With Care" label on a package. 

Perhaps it was a quiet evening and I was thinking back to a time when I was quite young, swimming in dreams of what I was to become someday.


I don't know.


But I do know that I was struck by how fragile those dreams can be ... like a bubble glistening in its freshness ... a bubble so delicate that even a most careful touch can burst it.


I hope I stopped short of becoming preachy in this little poem ... and I hope to stop short of that in these comments.


I generally hope, when I'm writing, that I will end up with something that is thoughtfully assembled ... that it will be thoughtfully received by the reader ... and that it may have some residual, lasting value for that reader.


The poem:


HANDLE WITH CARE

There are few things
as beautifully crafted,
gilded or etched,
as magically alluring,
and yet so vulnerable
to the careless touch,
as the dreams
of a young child.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: vulnerable

Friday, May 25, 2012

Glimpse







Just as distance changes the perspective of things in the physical world, so does it change the perspective we have on events of long ago.

It's been a long time since I "lived in the country." By today's standards, it was a rather restricted life. We had no running water, no indoor plumbing, no central heat, no telephone, no car.

Ah, but there are other things I remember about life back then, and I still savor them. Actually, their flavor seems to improve ... like warmed over soup ... each time I bring up those memories.

Perhaps I've overdone it a bit with my talk about "that bit of heaven so far beyond the grasp of cities, and all their suburbs ... " but perhaps not.

The poem:

GLIMPSE

Those who have never been
lulled by a country breeze,
savored the scent of hay
lying in the sun, caught
the sweet, wafting hint
of honeysuckle, who have
never heard the raucous call
of a crow gentled, distanced
by the summer air, well,
they've never glimpsed that
bit of heaven so far beyond
the grasp of cities, and all
their suburbs still to come.
© 2000

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)
Today's word: grasp

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fireflies








Fireflies seemed such magic creatures in the place where I spent my early years.

They still do.

Especially in that period of transition from day to night, when darkness is beginning to settle in, they do seem to be wavering up some kind of invisible ladder.

They do seem to be signalling to us "that dreams still take wing."

Today's poem:

FIREFLIES

Slowly, randomly they rise
from daytime resting places
into the cool, embracing night.

Tiny wings whirring against
the sodden, clinging atmosphere,
they labor to lug their lights


blinking up wavering ladders,
beacons signaling that dreams
still take wing on such a night.
© 1997

(originally published in Sisters Today)


Today's word: randomly

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ever a Circle






Today's poem is written, seemingly, about autumn ... and it is ... but it deals with other seasons, too.

So I guess I'm not too far off base in using one of my photos that speaks ... from a worm's eye view ... of spring.

The seasons, as I say in the poem, form a recurring circle. 

From that standpoint, I think it doesn't matter at which point we mount the whirling merry-go-round of seasons.

They keep coming around ... going around ... and we sometimes find ourselves complaining about this one ... too hot or too cold ... too dry or too wet ... find some fault in the present season, while looking forward to the next one ... or maybe even its opposite number.

Meanwhile, the poem:


EVER A CIRCLE

The pursuits of summer
have finally relented,
releasing children
to the autumn slide
of gathered books,
the shuffling of feet,
pencils crawling
on paper; the glimpsed
dogwood, glorious
with snowy blossoms
last spring, shows
first crimson now
on a clump of leaves.
How the months have
fallen away, piling
like shattered petals
across our memory,
in a depth sufficient
to sustain us over
another crossing
of bare-limbed winter
to spring, where
warm light is waiting
to help us celebrate
another completion
of this circle.
 © 1999

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Departure





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


I've looked back many times on that departure.


I had won a scholarship to study at a Big Ten university. Trouble was, it didn't include bus fare ... and I didn't have any way to get there.


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


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


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


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


The poem:


DEPARTURE

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


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

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ceiling Monster




(Another of my little watercolors, an early attempt to capture a sunset)


A summer poem? Could be ... but it could be an anytime poem, because the "monster" is always there ... has been, ever since I installed it.


But simmer - er, summer, it is. At least in today's poem.


Oh, how many times this has happened to me ... I settle into my favorite chair, pick up a book ... or a magazine ... and lean back.


Next thing I know, I'm waking up again.


But this time, at least, I got a poem out of it:


CEILING MONSTER


Five blades embrace
heavy summer air
while four globes stare
at a pair of strings,
slender, descending
like spiders seeking
new worlds to claim,
and my eyelids flutter,
fighting against sleep,
for I have sat down
intending only to read
a few paragraphs,
but find I'm slipping
now, glasses off, my book
slowly rising, falling
as it rests on my chest,
both of us helpless
against that monster
cooling, whirring, 
soothing, hypnotizing
us in the afternoon.
© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)




Today's word: hypnotizing

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Beauty of It






(Today's photo shows The Little Red Car (of "Squiggles" fame) taking a look back while we were sitting in a parking lot.)

Today's poem, if not on the first reading, then certainly on the second, reveals itself. My poems, after all, display their meaning fairly near the surface.

But the poem, which you may have seen before, came to me again as I was thinking about something which had been on my mind for several months ... 

It came to me during a long, long day which began amid the trimmings of medical science ... the lights, instruments, glowing screens, careful, attentive, caring medical practitioners.

I was a cancer patient, had been undergoing treatment for several months, and there were other treatments remaining. But the prognosis was good.

I didn't spread the word initially because I found it difficult to talk about ... I knew people would have questions ... and I wasn't prepared for that.

Finally, my intuition told me that I needn't keep guarding this as a "secret." 

There was no need to keep the facts any longer from friends, from visitors to this page ... particularly since my oncologist had finally released me from treatment. 

With many thanks for readers' comments ... which helped to keep me going all those busy months ... sustained me ... and with special thanks to Phyllis, who was with me every step of the way, here's the poem:

THE BEAUTY OF IT

The beauty of intuition
is that you don’t have to analyze,
hypothesize, or otherwise

do anything about it:
You may just sit quietly
and let it come to you,

unfolding like a tightly-wound
rosebud transforming itself,
wafting about while you

breathe in an understanding,
an answer to the question
you hadn't even asked.
© 2003
(originally published in Poem)

Today's word: intuition

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Avalanche!




(Another of my quick watercolor sketches ... done along the way)


As always, please keep in mind that these ramblings generally reflect only my viewpoint ... and they may not be really current (I understand that's the way the mind works, sometimes, as  it ages).


So-o-o-o … I was driving (some months ago, now) as we started out to run some errands.


At our first stop Phyllis gathered up a double armload of covers … not heavy, but really bulky …  and headed toward the laundry/dry cleaners. 


I sat behind the wheel and pulled out a tattered crossword puzzle collection … to, as is my custom, fill in a couple of minutes by filling in some blanks.


Then I glanced into the rearview mirror (I do that occasionally, so I‘ll be ready to go when Phyllis returns).


Oh, NO!


There was Phyllis on the ground … on the pavement, actually … and someone was helping her up.


By the time I got out of the car and to the building, she was already just inside the door … and the proprietor was trying to help her. 


Her glasses were badly scratched, but weren’t broken. Her lip was bleeding, she had a cut just below her left eye, and there was a large discolored (bruised) area there, too, all the result of tripping and falling. While I was fumbling for a tissue to apply to her lip, another customer entered.


What perfect timing!


“I’m a surgeon,” he said, in a quiet, matter-of-fact voice, and started checking her out … advising against stitches for her wounds, but recommending some remedies … which we followed.


Meanwhile, if you happened to see Phyllis … and noticed that she had a black eye … I hoped you understood … I didn’t do it. 


Meanwhile ... I’ve said it before ... and I’ll say it again: I can’t rhyme worth a dime.


It’s true. Oh, I can sometimes put a couple of lines together, maybe, but then I get so bogged down in the mechanics of it that I can’t tell the story I started out to relate.


So, I stick mainly to what I CAN do ... and that’s what’s called free verse. It has a certain rhythm to it, a certain amount of rhyme, though not always where expected (end rhyme, for example), and I do ... sometimes ... manage to tell a story, or get a point across.


(Oh, how I envy those who have the gift for creating structured, rhyming poetry which tells their story for them!)


And now, Exhibit A in the case for "can’t rhyme worth a dime":




AVALANCHE!


When I wrote my first poem,
It was really quite a chore,
But I just had to show 'em
I could do one, maybe more.

Now poems spill off the end
Of my desk, across the floor.
If this continues, my friend,
They'll be sliding door-to-door.
© 2011 
(originally published in PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: rhyme

Friday, May 18, 2012

What Was That?






(One of my colored pencil drawings. It has nothing to do with today's poem, really, but it worked its way to the top of a stack again, and I thought I'd share it with you.)


I write a lot about ordinary things ... those things all around me ... things which are seen ... or heard ... almost every day ... things which might go unnoticed, had I not started trying to "see things with new eyes."

Or, I suppose, in this instance, to hear things with new ears.

The poem deals with a bit of ancient history ... so much time has passed since the incident about which I've written ... but it's good to be able to look back, sometimes, to remember ... to chuckle again over something that happened ... something, in the broad sweep of things, quite ordinary ... but still valued.

The poem:

WHAT WAS THAT?

When I heard
a chorus of crickets
in my son's room,
I wasn't surprised.
When I heard bird calls,
that didn't faze me
in the least.
But when I heard
the songs of whales,
I sat upright
and took notice.
Just a CD, Dad,
he reassured me,
and I drifted off
with hardly a ripple.
© 1995

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: ripple

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Voice and Song






Today's photo ... taken at Cox Arboretum  


The less said about my singing (dancing, too, for that matter), the better.

There was a time when I could sing. I don't know how good it was, but I could carry a simple tune, and my grandparents ... my long-suffering grandparents ... never complained.


Then my voice changed.


I changed, too ... from a budding soloist, into one who would reluctantly join the singing when in a large group. I knew then that my off-key missteps would, perhaps, go unnoticed.


Even now, I hardly ever sing in the shower, as a matter of fact.


I have consoled myself ... as I say, in so many words in this poem ... with the thought that my real song "lives in my heart."

And here's the poem:



VOICE AND SONG

Mine is an untrained
voice, lacking polish,
but I believe my real
song lives in my heart,
and from there it must,
it will, take wing,
rising like that silent,
dark hawk tirelessly
riding the lifting
blue air, until it
finds a kindred heart
where it may dwell.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: kindred

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Unsinkable Tulips





My photo may not show a profusion of tulips, as alluded to in the poem, but I think it does sort of go with today's offering.


I like the way this small group cups the sunlight, how the vibrant color seems to speak of spring.  


I like to keep that in mind ... as I often do ... and you may hear me repeating myself on this ... when we're struggling through another Ohio winter: Remember, this brings us another day closer to ...


That's right ... SPRING!

I know, I know ... winter has some visual assets, too ... some snows can be beautiful ... but at the price of bitter cold ... and the cold seems to become more bitter as I age.


But then I keep reminding myself (and any who will listen) that we're another day closer to ... ah, yes, spring ... and I survive the winter.


Meanwhile, the poem:


UNSINKABLE TULIPS

We fretted over
spring's unseasonable
warmth, then frost, snow,
bitter, freezing nights,
and our hopes withered,
but here you are
again, reds and yellows
defiantly brilliant,
leaving us wondering
why we ever doubted.
© 2002

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: profusion

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

There, Almost






On reading this poem quietly to myself again, it occurred to me that the whole poem can be summed up in its first two words: "I dream ... "


In the poem I'm dreaming of London, Rome, Paris ... places I've never been ... and I'm dreaming of actually being there.


Well, you'll see the details of that as you read on.


As my orbit continues to grow smaller, I continue to dream ... not just of those exotic places so far beyond my reach ... but of places close at hand ... places I would like to see, but probably never will.


But I don't dwell on the "never will" aspect.


Nor do I dwell, particularly, on the opposite side of that coin ... the possibilities, remote or otherwise. I live, after all, in the real world ... a world that contains obstacles ... impediments ... realities that we must all face in some form, to some degree or other.


And still, I dream ... Oh, do I ever.


These dreams are the magnets ... tiny though they may be ... which draw me along. They beckon to me in the morning ... throughout the day ... and even when day is done and I sometimes find that I'm so weary.


I dream ... yes, I dream ... and I hope you do, too.


Meanwhile, the poem:

THERE, ALMOST

I dream of London,
Rome, sometimes Paris,
strolling their streets
on a spring day,
listening to voices
spilling like clear water
over rounded stones,
feeling the whisk of wind,
touch of rain, the quiet
of a hailed cab, tires
smacking puddles
on the curving streets,
tasting the food
in a warm cafe, tables
draped and waiting,
as though they knew,
all along, I'd be there.
© 1997

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)
Today's word: smacking

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sunflowers







(No, they aren't sunflowers, but I liked the color, the patterns, when I took the photo ... and just now when I was searching for something to go with today's posting)


I remember tooling along the highway somewhere in the Midwest.

The sun was shining, the landscape a quilt of varying shades of green, a sprinkling of houses and farm buildings.

Then suddenly ... it seemed sudden at the time ... I became aware of those acres of sunflowers "staring" at me. 

I was reminded of a classroom, not as a teacher, for I was never privileged to have that role, but as a visitor entering quietly, yet becoming, for the moment, the center of attention ... all those young heads turning, those eyes all focused on me, evaluating, questioning.

Oh, how that field of sunflowers reminded me of that moment. And now, this morning ... I'm enjoying the memory of that sun-drenched scene ... and how it set the wheels turning toward another poem.

It goes something like this:



SUNFLOWERS


Great gray ribbon
of road unspooling
steadily beneath me,
then, to my left,
acres of big brown eyes
all intently focused;
first day of school,
teacher's talking.

© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
                            
Today's word: focused

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Running the Hurdles






(This photo was taken some time ago. I had a new camera ... a new "toy," if you will ... and I understood, from a quick reading of the instructions, that it had a built-in timer which allowed the photographer to be in the picture. Aha! A self-portrait! I thought I'd try a profile shot ... and I did. Trouble was, I was concerned that nothing seemed to be happening. Then, just as I turned to see what had gone wrong, something did happen ... and you see the result. It wasn't what I expected, but I never ... almost never ... throw anything away without finding a use for it ... so here it is.)
  

Today's poem, I think, cries out for more poetic detail ... and more detail would call for more than its eight short lines could deliver.


The poem may, in fact, have been considerably longer when it was first written ... but I was under the mistaken impression that Capper's only published eight-line poems.


See? I can be brief.


The poem:


RUNNING THE HURDLES


Have you
ever noticed
how many more
things go wrong
when you're trying
to get away
 early, 
or make up
for lost time?
© 1997

Today's word: hurdles

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Quiet Nights at Fuzzy's







Fuzzy's was a real place in my hometown. It still is, as far as I know ... Fuzzy's Tavern. 


I was never inside, but I was always intrigued by the swinging doors, just like in the movies, and by the mixture of sounds ... music and voices ... and those alien smells, a mixture of smoke and booze, I suppose, which came flowing out onto the street.


Fuzzy's is among my earliest memories of my hometown. I recall how Grandma would take my hand and guide me past.


As I say, I've never actually been inside Fuzzy's, so "Quiet Nights ..." is a product of a combination of early memories and my imagination. Oh, how that always enhances the memories.


When I wrote this poem, I imagined how it would have been to have followed the smoke as it drifted slowly through ... like a movie camera taking it all in ... then out the screened back door, out into that darkness "teeming with crickets and stars."


Someday I may go back to that little town where my journey began.


I'll go strolling down the east side of Main Street and, though I may feel that Grandma is still watching over where I go and what I do, I may venture inside Fuzzy's to see what it's really like.


Then again, I might just go strolling on by, like when Grandma led me past. I'd kinda hate to learn that it isn't anything like I imagined it to be.


The poem:



QUIET NIGHTS AT FUZZY'S


A lazy blue haze wove its way through
a tide of voices rising against
the solemn blare of the jukebox,



curled past booths lining the walls
like dark coffins, crawled into the dim
light hanging forlorn, discontented,



at a tattered table where the deliberate
clack and roll of spheres marked
the ebb and flow of local riches,



back where lonely drinkers got serious
in the grips of sweaty brown
bottles, washing themselves beyond



remembering the din of summer rain
on the tin roof, beyond even caring
about fighting, then the smoke seeped



out the screened back door, off,
night after night, into a darkness
teeming with crickets and stars.
© 1999

(second-place award winner in a Dayton Metro Library literary contest, and now part of a manuscript, a work in progress)


Today's word: memories