Friday, August 31, 2012

Caught on the Brink







Have you ever found yourself in "the twilight zone," that location which lies vaguely somewhere between sleeping like a baby ... and being fully awake?

Well, I have. Many times.

Thank goodness, it has only happened to me a couple of times when I was behind the wheel ... and without serious outcomes in either instance.

Oh, on one of those occasions ... one very dark night ... I was pulled over by a highway patrolman somewhere in Indiana ... but that's another story.

But let me settle into my favorite chair ... with a favorite book ... and it's like I've been given a knockout potion. Soon the words become blurry ... the room seems to melt away ... the book grows heavy ... my eyelids grow heavier ...

Whoa! I'm getting ahead of myself here. I'll just step aside and let you glide right into the poem:


CAUGHT ON THE BRINK

Something I had just read
struck a chord with me,
sent sympathetic vibrations
dancing down the corridors
of my mind. I could feel
something stirring deep
within me, a new knowledge
coming like a rescuer's lamp
shooting fingers of light
this way and that,
drawing nearer in the murky
darkness, promising a sip
from the cup of understanding,
a way to come clawing out
of this abyss, into fresh air
and natural light. "Bob!" I
heard the distant voice calling.
"Bob! Put down your book,
take off your glasses, recline
your chair!" It was as though
the Thought Police had me
surrounded. What could I do?
What else? I surrendered.
© 2000

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: murky

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Buddy






This one was written a long time ago, but the memories remain strong.


I might as well tell you now, Buddy was a Beagle, much in evidence in the neighborhood ... his neighborhood ... his yard ... and sometimes in his vehicle, as his people took him along for the ride.


But, as the poem relates, he was often indoors, too ... at the window, looking out on the world. Often, when I'd look out to see if it was raining, or snowing, or a sunny day suitable for a stroll in the neighborhood, there would be Buddy looking out his window, too.


Buddy moved away a long time ago, but the memories remain, and I still sometimes expect to see him looking back at me from across the street.


The poem:



BUDDY

Sometimes,
when I'm alone,
I look out
my front window,
and there's Buddy,
staring back at me
from across the way.


Resting his chin
on the back
of his gray sofa,
he trains a sharp eye
on the street,
watching for dogs,
or squirrels,
or maybe even cats.


He watches, puzzled
that I have no leash
as I trot off
on my daily rounds,
for I'm sure
Buddy must think
I'm a Beagle, too,
as house-bound
and lonely as he.
©1996


(originally published in Anterior Poetry Monthly)

Today's word: house-bound

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Behold, the Dogwood






When summer comes sizzling in, I try to nestle into a bed of cooling thoughts ... about winter ... about autumn (one of my all-time favorites) ... and ... yes, spring.


Spring also brings to mind the struggling little dogwood that stands on the front lawn of Brimm Manor ... near the sloping driveway where I labored so long to lay the brick when we first moved here.

Twice a year the little dogwood gives us a magnificent show ... particularly in the spring ... with its remarkable display of blossoms ... but again in the fall, too ... with its fiery red foliage.


I think today's poem pretty well tells its own story (and if you discover one of my "sermons" in it, well, so be it):


BEHOLD, THE DOGWOOD

Poor, struggling,
glorious little dogwood,
you have survived
drought and freezing,
even neglect, and yet
this year you bestow
an abundance of blossoms,
you teacher of lessons.
© 1996

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: teacher

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Alone







I don't recall the date, exactly, but I do recall that winter evening, sitting, trying to read, pausing as I felt the house "filling with quiet," then reaching for a pen, a scrap of paper, so I could record my feelings.

My thoughts did seem to be "shy and skittery," like field mice, it occurred to me. I imagined the sound of their tiny feet, running in a quiet place, like the house where I was alone that winter evening, or perhaps a country church ... during prayer.

Fortunately, my being alone was a condition of short duration ... only a few evenings, as I recall ... but it helped me to identify with those for whom sitting alone in the quiet of a house, apartment, or room, is a continuing thing.

I hope I managed to capture a degree of that, too. The poem:

ALONE

The house fills
with quiet tonight,
only my thoughts
moving about,
shy and skittery
like field mice
in a country church
during prayer.
 © 1999
(originally published in Riverrun)
Today's word: skittery

Monday, August 27, 2012

Wintertime Waltz







Stop me if you've ... actually, don't stop me if you've heard this before.

It's an old story that went something like this:

I may have commented in a December a couple of years ago that, after having unseasonably warm weather in our neck of the woods, winter arrived. Oh, did it ever!

It snowed, and snowed, and snowed. And then we had freezing rain and sleet on top of that.

It reminded me of the time we had similar weather conditions ... I stepped out the back door ... checked on the steps before starting down ... they seemed fine ... one step ... and DOWN I went. Ka-BOOM!

I went crawling back into the house with a lump on my head.

The next time I was carrying salt ... to put on the driveway.

Out the back door ... a careful look ... one cautious step ... and down I went ... Those icy steps had outsmarted me AGAIN!

Nothing broken, thank goodness, except the container of salt I was carrying.

But that reminded me of this particular poem, "Wintertime Waltz." After all, where would we be, if we couldn't have a little laugh at our own mishaps and minor misfortunes?

The poem:

WINTERTIME WALTZ

I have no
sense of rhythm,
no grace, no pace,
no with-it moves
from some great
dancing school.
But on ice? Hey,
I'm a dancing fool.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: dancing

Sunday, August 26, 2012

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

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Supplication




(You may have seen this illustration a few days ago ... and, no, it isn't the O'Keeffe painting mentioned in today's poem; that has far more going for it than my little photograph does)

It was like a haiku moment.

I was walking along, just letting my mind wander, when I noticed the young oak which had been planted near the sidewalk.


A winter breeze waggled the leaves, and it was almost like they were beckoning me. I paused to watch them, then realized that they reminded me of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting I had seen at the Dayton Art Institute.


As soon as I got home, I sat at the kitchen table, as I often did then, and started writing ... so I could preserve my impressions ... and share them with Phyllis.

Somewhat later, thanks to the folks at The Christian Science Monitor, those impressions found a larger audience.

And here they are again:


SUPPLICATION

The oak
retains its leaves,
purple-palmed mittens
hanging out to dry,
waving in supplication,
inviting a closer look
that shuts out all
except those few
as painted
by Georgia O'Keeffe,
and then not purple,
exactly, but that
kind of purple
that was
her gift to us.
 ©1996

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: waggled

Friday, August 24, 2012

Paths That Crossed






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


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


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


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

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


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


PATHS THAT CROSSED

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


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


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


But I possess evidence.


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

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

Thursday, August 23, 2012

One to Grow On





Winter rain, under the right conditions, can be like a lullaby as it dances softly on the roof and goes running off down the street.


But if conditions are right for freezing, as they are here sometimes, it's an entirely different story. We venture out gingerly and pick away at the layer that's still gripping our driveway.


One consolation, we tell ourselves, is that we're a little nearer to the beginning of spring, and we're warmed by the potential that implies.


Meanwhile, back to the subject of a kinder, gentler rain ... the kind which inspired today's little poem:


ONE TO GROW ON

Winter rain
comes sliding down
the glistening trunk
of a sleeping tree,
delivering a sip
to be savored
when it awakens
early next spring.
 © 1995

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A New Leaf






Whoa! Can it be? Here we are again, so near the end of another year. About time to turn over a new leaf, right?

Deep down inside, we'd like to be a better person, more constructive, persistent, kind, understanding ... whatever.

In my early years, when I was still being shaped by the caring, loving, sacrificing grandmother who reared me, I generally sat down with pencil and paper at the end of the year to pledge my efforts at improvement in the coming year.

I felt I owed her that. I felt I owed it to myself.

I don't do New Year's resolutions now ... haven't written them out for a number of years.

But I think each day ... whether I crawl slowly out of bed, hoping the floor will rise up gently to touch my feet ... or leap out ready to face whatever the day may hold for me ... each day offers this opportunity for that "new leaf" ... a new beginning of sorts.

I've encountered some detours along the way. But here I am, still plodding along, still being drawn along by what may lie ahead, around the next bend in the road.

So I guess I do think sometimes about that "new leaf," too.

Meanwhile, the poem:


A NEW LEAF

How soothing the sound
of it, like the feel
of clean sheets, crisp
and cool to the touch,
hinting airy freshness
as we snuggle in.
How comforting it is
to lie here thinking
of this whole new year
fresh and inviting,
opening the prospect
that things might be
better, perhaps could
be, if we could just
approach each new day
with the same sense
of purpose we feel
at this moment.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: freshness

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Memories







There's no mistaking the signature on the art.

Tom, it appears, was the moving force behind this work, a collaboration with Alan, who is one of his uncles, and with Grandma Brimm, who was being honored on this particular Mother's Day weekend.

When the poem, "Memories," presented itself to me, this photograph of their Saturday afternoon efforts seemed the obvious choice to accompany it.

Here are memories in the making ... the vulture, the butterfly, the crouching creature (a lizard) ... and, of course, the signature.

We have stored up so many similar memories.

We look forward to slipping them out to savor them later, at a time when they will taste the sweetest to us.

And we hope that when TOM is ten times seven he will savor them, too ... that he will discover the sweetness of memories from that weekend when he honored his mother, Kathy, and one of his grandmothers, too ... and delighted them both with his art.

(Tom, by the way, is still pursuing his interest in art)

And now the poem:

MEMORIES


Resting, I search
the honeycomb
of my mind
for warm memories,
and those I find
have grown sweeter
than I ever
dreamed they could.
© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: honeycomb

Monday, August 20, 2012

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

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Irresistible Force







I keep coming back to this one. It's not my greatest ... just a few words strung together like beads on a string ... but they serve to preserve a memory of a time that was.

And this one's so firmly implanted ... the great smell of freshly-baked cookies wafting through the house.

Sometimes ... my subconscious at work, I suppose ... I seem to get a vague kind of signal, stop what I'm doing in mid-sentence, abandon the keyboard, and go walking briskly toward the kitchen.

There, I'm getting it again ...

But I have to resist. Cookies ... at least that kind ... the sugar-laden, chocolate-laced ... LARGE ... kind, are on my forbidden list now. My doctor seems to have ways of knowing if I've even inhaled the aroma of one of my favorites.

So I just savor the memories. Ah, how sweet they are!

The poem:

IRRESISTIBLE FORCE

Sometimes, even
wild horses
couldn't drag me
from my room,
but the aroma
of cookies fresh
from the oven
always could.
 © 1996
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: horses

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hollyhocks






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


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


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


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


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


Thanks so much for stopping by.


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


Now, the poem:



HOLLYHOCKS


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

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

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

And there were.
© 1999

("Hollyhocks" received an honorable mention in the Dayton, Ohio, Metro Library Contest in 1999, and went on to become the title poem of my second collection of poetry, published by Finishing Line Press in 2007)
***
Today's word: bee-luring

Friday, August 17, 2012

Goodbye, Old Hat








Years have passed now, and the mystery of the missing hat is still unsolved ... although I do have "a person of interest" in mind.


The last time I recall seeing it was when I put it in the laundry. It never came back. That would seem to limit the number of suspects ... possibly to just one.


I have the feeling that one particular person, a very dear friend who used to pretend she wasn't with me when I wore that hat, gets the feeling that I think she did it. Not so. You're all under suspicion. Nobody leaves the room.


It's possible, of course, that I ... of all people ... might, in a moment of delirium, have thrown the hat away. I'd hate to think I did that to my faithful, trusting, trusted old hat. I really would.


would sort of like to know what really happened to it though.


I don't even have a picture of it. The original had never, to the best of my knowledge, sat for a portrait, nor even had its photo snapped by someone mistaking its wearer for a celebrity.


So I had to resort to a stunt double to illustrate the poem about its plight ... and (sniffle-sniffle) mine.


The double, of course, is a younger version of the vanished one, but it's gradually becoming ... well, quite comfortable, like an old pair of shoes.


But now, the poem:



GOODBYE, OLD HAT


"My old brown hat is gone!"
I cried.
"When did you have it on?"she sighed.
"This year, or last.
Time goes so fast."

"The one rumpled, crumpled,
and torn?"
"Yes, yes! Tattered, spattered,
forlorn.
Twenty years my best buddy ...
all that.
My oldest, dearest friend,
my hat.

Now it's gone, left no trace.
I'm wild ..."
"I'm sure it's, uh ... someplace,"
she smiled.
And, looking me straight in
the eye:
"But it was time to say
goodbye."
 © 1997

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: vanished

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fishes and Loaves





Some mornings, when I'm just getting my eyes open, beginning to bring objects into focus, the computer decides to cooperate, and things go ... well ... reasonably well. I get something posted, and I'm off the hook for the rest of the day.


But there was one morning recently that signaled it just was not going to be one of those good days.


I'll spare you the details. Bottom line: There was no way the computer was going to let me get online. Why? That's probably destined to remain a mystery.


Just one of those things, I guess.


So what did I do? Well, this time ... I skipped the hand-to-hand combat with the desktop despot. I just didn't feel like doing all-out battle with it.


Instead, I decided just to go with the flow. I still had a guilty conscience about giving in so easily, but I spared myself tons of frustration.


So there it was, mid-afternoon. I'd had my walk. I had a nice, quiet lunch with a lady I've known since the previous century, and I'd had a nap ... -- er, an interlude of concentrated meditation in one of my favorite chairs ... and the computer seemed to have come around, reluctantly, to my way of thinking.


And there we were, finally, with a poem.


As I explained then, the "fishes and loaves" bit in the poem may be something of a stretch, but it got somebody's attention, right? They read it, liked it, published it.


Take away that part, though, and you still have the heart of what I'm trying to say: If what I have said, or what I may yet say, touches someone, helps them in some way, simply gives them a better outlook, improves their understanding of some issue, helps them to make it through the day ... then that's "miracle" enough for me.


And when a poem I've written resonates with someone in a particular way ... especially if they are moved to tell me about it ... then that's "miracle" enough for me, too.


This one was originally published in Explorer:


FISHES AND LOAVES

The fishes
of what I have said
and the loaves
of what I may yet
have to say
would never feed
the multitudes,
but, if one crust
of my writing
has benefitted
just one person,
that's miracle
enough for me.
© 1996

Today's word: miracle

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Do They Sleep?






Sometimes, especially with a whimsical piece, any explanation is too much, so I'll spare you the details of my ordeal by squirrels, the pain and humiliation I've suffered at their hands (er, paws), the ongoing battle of wills, my refusal to concede that their ancestors were here in this country before mine ... all those things which went into the making of this poem.


If they were to write poetry ... perhaps it would keep them out of mischief for brief interludes, at least ... I suppose it would be as accusatory of me as this is of them.


I'm willing to settle for an uneasy truce. But are they? This one was originally published in Capper's:


DO THEY SLEEP?

I've seen 'em
nodding off
on a quiet limb
during the day,
but when do
pesky squirrels
really sleep?


And where?


Maybe they go
to little motels,
or perhaps they
go zipping off
to the suburbs,
where they plot
new mischiefs
on tiny laptops.


Some nights,
when the wind
sits and traffic
thins, I think
I see the glow
from their tiny
flickering
screens, hear
them chuckling
to themselves,
and I lie there ...
awake, wondering.

© 1998

Today's word: chuckling

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cool Hat








I know, I should throw it away ... at the very least, not wear it in public.


But I can't bear to give it up. It's my hat. We've been together so long, through so many things. It's like a part of me. And there it sits, "like a cabbage leaf on my head."


The poem began, as many poems do, while I was out walking, this time with Phyllis.


Actually, we encountered two young girls, strolling in the other direction. Strangers, but I probably smiled and spoke to them.


One of them smiled and said something in reply, but I didn't catch what it was.


After we had walked far enough that I thought we were out of earshot of the two, I asked Phyllis: "What did she say?"


"Cool hat," she replied.


"Cool hat?"


"That's right. Cool hat," she assured me.


That's when I had the impulse to toss my hat in the air and do a few dance steps right there. Who says I'm not in touch with the younger generation?


Today's poem, part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:


COOL HAT

It has been
wind-stripped,
limb-grabbed,
lost and found,
rumpled, crumpled,
laundered until
it cries for mercy,
and it sits like
a cabbage leaf
on my head.

But then she,
a young girl about
half my height,
flashes a smile,
says, "Cool hat!"
and for a moment,
just a heartbeat,
a quickened stride,
I feel like
tossing my hat
in the air
and dancing.
 © 1999

(orignally published in Capper's)
Today's word: heartbeat

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Biking by Degrees






In discussing a poem, particularly one of my own, there's the temptation to say so much about it that there's no need to read the poem itself.

I hate it when I do that.

I'm trying not to with today's offering, but I'm afraid even the title may tend to give it away.

Let me just say that while I have an aversion to making New Year's resolutions, I do occasionally concede there are some activities I need to take up ...

"Biking" is one activity that I need to resume. 


This kind of biking appeals to me because I also like it when I can engage in "multi-tasking" ... at least to the extent of doing two things at once ... not that I'm such an efficient person. Quite the contrary.

Here, now that I've verged on giving the whole thing away, is the poem, originally published in Capper's:

BIKING BY DEGREES

I’ve put tons
of happy miles
on this bike,
clinging to its
slender seat,
pedaling steadily
while I catch up
on my reading,
its single wheel
whirring, pages
blurring, while
I exercise here
in my basement. 
© 1996
Today's word: multi-tasking