Sunday, September 30, 2012

Memory









Sometimes, you may have noticed, I try to use an illustration that goes along with the poem. 

I was stumped at first, when I tried to think of something to match today's little offering.

Then it occurred to me ... there it was, under my nose, practically ... the side view mirror on the Little Red Car, famous among readers of my former weekly newsletter, "Squiggles & Giggles," for its many escapades.


And what is memory? Why, it's a looking back at things which are sometimes indistinct, blurred, reversed, or "closer than you think."

And now the poem:


MEMORY

I know I've stashed
scads of things
in the dusty attic
of my mind . . .
but in which boxes
are they hiding,
when I really,
really need them?
 © 1996
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: hiding

Saturday, September 29, 2012

It's So Simple






"Writing a poem is as simple as pouring a cup of coffee ... "

Oh, do read on. 

Before we're finished, I will have led you down the winding garden path with still another poem about writing. As always, my usual disclaimer: I write about writing, not because I'm expert, but because the process intrigues me so.

As you will see, as you work your way through the poem, I don't think writing a poem ... or writing anything for public consumption, for that matter ... is a simple matter. Nor need it be so very complicated that only a select few may do it.

But the end product, I think, should give the appearance of having been done with ease ... not flippantly or shallow, but done with a certain polish about it which may intrigue the reader, without getting in the way of the poem itself. 

It should appear to have been easily, naturally written, and none of the hard labor of producing it need show through.

What I'm saying in the poem, I guess, is that a poem should come to the reader with the ease one experiences in simply pouring a cup of coffee.

I hope you'll have a sip ... hope you enjoy it.


IT'S SO SIMPLE


Writing a poem is as simple as pouring
a cup of coffee. First, though, you plant

a seed, wait for the sprout, nurture it,
then transplant the seedling, let it mature,

hope that frost doesn't kill the buds,
let the bees pollinate blossoms, wait

for the beans to mature, pick the beans,
dry them, haul them, roast them, transport

them again, package them, grind them,
add water, let them leap as they

percolate and you keep an eye on the clock.
Then you simply pour, sit back and enjoy.
© 2006

(originally published in ByLine magazine)

Today's word: percolate

Friday, September 28, 2012

Homage




(One of my colored pencil drawings)

I grew up within sight of that cemetery which held the grave of a great-grandmother I never knew ... a sister ... a brother ... and so many others who had peopled the small community in which I was growing up.

I remember the curving road which carried the funeral processions up and around ... the parked cars ... the tent covering the grave site ... the mourners gathering ... heads bowed ...

I remember the flowers ... the small flags moving gently in the breeze ... the sound of the rifles being fired in salute ... a silence as the echoes of that gunfire ebbed and flowed away ... the faltering, mournful sound of a bugle ... somewhere distant ... up there among the bluffs ...

I remember it all ... especially now that I am unable to travel back that great distance ... but I think they would understand my absence ... as they understood my presence among them then ... they would understand ...

The poem:

HOMAGE

I stand in the silence
beside the graves
on the slope of that hill
where the acorns fall
like spent minutes.

I stand, thinking
of those who helped me,
gave me that gentle push
in the small of my back,
sent me off toward places
they had never been,
would never be, sent me
off toward becoming
what I am, what I may
yet become.

I stand there thanking
them for their love.
© 2007

(Received First Place award, ByLine Contest; published in Brave Hearts, Fall, 2007)

Today's word: becoming

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dare I Ask?








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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The poem:

DARE I ASK?

"Red Wheelbarrow for Sale," says

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

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: peek

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cold Winter Nights





Align CenterAlign CenterAha! Another poem about writing ... touching on a process that remains something of a mystery to me ... but also reaching the heart of the matter, I think, the satisfaction that comes from putting thoughts on paper.


The poem:


COLD WINTER NIGHTS


I have dreamed
that my poetry
might go like
wildfire lighting
the emptiness
of night, dancing
ahead of the wind,
smoke of creation,
furious burning,
rising to join
the lingering clouds,
drifting, drifting.

Ah, but a smaller
fire it is, burning 
within, chasing nothing
before it, raising
no alarms, warming
only me on these
cold winter nights
with a lamp to keep
me company, and these 
scratchings on a tiny
scrap of paper.
© 1996

(originally published in ByLine)


Today's word: wildfire

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beyond the Reach










It was today's photo ... of one of my favorite trails in a park not too far from home ... which set a certain train of thought in motion. 

Autumn ... I may have said this before ... is one of my favorite seasons ... actually, there are things I like about the other three, too.

I do like autumn's cooler weather after summer's scorching days and stifling nights ... and the changing colors ... I look at them as a struggling watercolorist might be expected to ... wondering how I might put them into a painting.


Sometimes I settle for a photograph, resolving to study it later, perhaps transform it into a painted interpretation of the scene.

Each season, of course, marks the passage of time ... each with its own characteristics registering that onward march.

Today's poem is about that onward march, with a focus on the seeming suddenness with which is sometimes occurs ... and that squirrel's nest "being parceled now by an autumn wind":

BEYOND THE REACH

I had walked there last summer,
pausing almost daily to enjoy
the shade, little suspecting
a drama unfolding overhead.

Then, overnight, it seemed,
the maples shed their burnished
leaves, stood starkly splaying
nerve endings against the sky.

High in the branches of one,
a nest beyond the reach
of muttering traffic noises,
made with no special plan,

yet an ageless pattern marking
nursery, rec room, school, point
of departure for a another
curiosity-stoked generation

of squirrels, all of this being
parceled now by an autumn wind.
What a shame, I thought, a shame
to let the wind steal such work.
 © 1997
(originally published in Block's Magazine)
Today's word: parceled

Monday, September 24, 2012

After Summer









In keeping with my repeatedly-broken promise (to myself) to be brief, I’ve selected a short poem to share today. 



I’ve written a lot of those. Perhaps it has something to do with writer’s cramp ... or writer’s block ... or maybe attention span. But that’s another story.


Briefly speaking, though, I see now that it might have been just a line or two longer ... in order to incorporate the chorus of leaf blowers (which also provide background music) ... and then I could have mentioned the dreaded snow blowers.


But I did indicate I was going to be brief, didn't I?


The poem:


AFTER SUMMER


Comes autumn,
when the mighty
chorus of mowers
ceases singing,
an intermission
too soon followed
by a chorale
of snow blowers.


(originally published in Capper’s)





Today's word: chorale

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Treacherous Dust









Do things still get dusty? 


You bet. At least things in the vicinity of my usual haunts, the corner where my computer sits, waiting for the familiar touch of my flying fingers ... the file cabinet where treasured bits of writing are stored ... even one of my favorite reading chairs in another corner.


My earliest exposure to the never-ending battle against dust came as I watched my grandmother fighting it. 


I remember how those motes rose in the sunbeams invading the house, then settled back. I'm sure she managed to capture many of them with her dusting cloth, but it was those which escaped that I found most intriguing.


I imagine they're still up to their old tricks, because I can dust the screen of my computer in the evening, and the next day they're back, lurking, smirking, daring me to try again.


This poem, originally published in Capper's, is my tribute to those dust particles:


TREACHEROUS DUST


Resting at will,
but never sleeping,
it rises lazily
ahead of the cloth,
starts settling
back on everything
the very minute
your back's turned.
© 1996

Today's word: motes

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sliding Into Third








Don't worry.

I'm not about to slide into third base ... or even run the bases, for that matter. Not even slowly.


Still, there's the imagination which is stirred by warm breezes, the proximity of a playing field, the sun on my back.

The possibilities ... and even that is a stretch, too ... are interesting.

If I were really to try it, I can imagine that I might have to call time out ... if and when I reached first base. From there it would be rapidly (or slowly, perhaps) downhill.

I can just see myself going into that slide ... sliding ... and sliding short of the bag ... just lying there like a bag of potatoes.


No thank you. I'll stick to the poetic possibilities ... thank you very much ... as opposed to the reality of these tired old legs.


But, for now, the poem has legs:

SLIDING INTO THIRD

Sometimes,
when I’m walking past
the empty field,
I’m tempted
to go legging it
around the base paths,
sliding into third,
maybe stealing home,
but then I think
about getting caught
in a run-down
between second
and third, cut down
trying to extend
a beseeching leg
to hook the refuge
of that dusty bag,
and the vision
of that humiliation,
the disgrace of being
the winning run
tagged out, finished,
game over, is more
than I can chance.
Still, on one of my
better days,
I just might try it.
 © 2000
(originally published in Potpourri)
Today's word: beseeching

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mere Words







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

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

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

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

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

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

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


MERE WORDS

You, my children,

offspring of my mind,

are going forth

into an imperfect world,

where you will be judged

by strangers. I hope

they will listen

and treat you kindly,

perhaps accept you

as their own.

If not, please return

and we shall comfort

each other.

© 1997

(originally published in Writer's Journal)

Today's word: comfort

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Into Warm Light






Those of us who write ... and there are a lot of us ... thank goodness ... know about obstacles.

My day ... and I'm sure yours, too ... is filled with little distractions, interruptions, barriers, hurdles which must be cleared, if I am going to have a few minutes that I can devote just to writing.

I must.

I have this burning need to write ... for myself, if nothing else ... possibly to share what I've written ... possibly to submit it to an editor who may ... or may not ... have time to give it a leisurely, thoughtful reading.

But finding time ... those few minutes for scrawling something on paper ... or, these days, sitting at the keyboard and watching the words as they appear across the screen ... is the problem ... a major problem.

Somehow we do find a few minutes to listen to those voices which beckon us ... and we do write ... and we do sometimes emerge, then, into the warm light of understanding.

The poem:

INTO WARM LIGHT

An afghan draped
on my legs, fingers
aching with cold,
fatigue slowing
the curl of letters
unspooling to become
words, I write
in a house gone quiet
except for random
creaks and groans,
the laboring clock,
going where voices
softly beckon me,
down the corridors
that eventually
widen out, opening
into the warm light
of understanding.
© 2001

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: understanding

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How to Reach 80







We had braved a roaring winter storm, and there we sat, celebrating an 80th birthday ... no, not mine ... a friend's.

You'll have to read the poem to share in her secret of how to achieve that venerable age ... the Big Eight-OH!

At the time I thought it was funny. I remember joining in the laughter as she revealed the "secret" ... a statement so like her. I didn't think it was very useful advice, really. Just funny.

And once I'd crept a bit closer to that mile marker, I began thinking, well, maybe ... and after I'd passed that mark (yes, I really did pass it) ... I began to see what she'd said in a different light. 

The poem:

HOW TO REACH 80

We ate Cajun food,
savored the singing,
all the memories
of this tiny lady
celebrating and
being celebrated
for her active life
as mother, fellow
worker, confidante,
for bringing us
sunshine on cloudy
days. And we all
leaned forward
to catch every
word as she stood,
she said, to share
her secret: "Just
keep breathing."
 © 2001
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: celebrating

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gossamer







I don't know where I was, exactly, when this poem presented itself to me ... but I was likely out for my morning walk ... just strolling along (I'm not a power walker, folks) ... my mind wandering ... when I passed this particular hedge with its abundance of spider webs.

I was struck by that abundance, first ... and then, with a closer look ... the delicate handiwork. From there it was a short leap to "fine silk scarves" ... when I got home I sat at the kitchen table and started scribbling on a scrap of paper.

The poem:


GOSSAMER

I see, glistening
in the hedge,
yawning mouths
of spun funnels,
delicate handiwork
of skilled spiders
arrayed, luring
the browser
like fine silk
scarves spread out,
catching the sun,
begging to be bought.
© 1996

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: glistening

Monday, September 17, 2012

Early









It was such a beautiful day ... I was so glad I was able to get outdoors and walk ... just walk and walk ...


I forgot about the teetering stacks of things undone in my corner of Brimm Manor, and just enjoyed the day ... and the evening.


My intention was to take a restful pit stop, then spring out of bed early to start working those stacks down again.


And what really happened? I slept in. So there I was, late again ... which, naturally, brought to mind my poem, "Early."


I hate to be late. Oh, I sometimes am ... it just happens ... but I always try not to be.


I used to think I could start late and arrive on time ... not by speeding, mind you. Oh, no. Never!


I thought I would get lucky ... traffic would be thin ... all the traffic lights would be working in my favor, etc. ... but, mainly, that I could observe (obey) the speed limits, and, with steady, serious driving, make up for a late start.


Hah!


So what did I do in the instance which brought the poem into being? I started early, fully expecting to lose a lot of time along the way. And, of course, I arrived early.


But that wasn't all bad. I had noticed things along the way ... the traffic lights ... the splashing water ... a school bus, turning ... and then those golden leaves scattered on the parking lot.


I sat in my car and wrote a poem ... at least the beginnings of a poem. With some polishing and tweaking, it turned into a poem:


EARLY


Because it was raining and I thought
traffic would be doing an Olympic crawl
through boiling rivers along the curbs,
I left early, splashed wildly through
pools of surging waters toward green lights
that nodded and winked at my recklessness,
and here I sit, forty-five minutes before
writers group. I watch a school bus making
a slow, deliberate turn, its rain-coated riders
tilting and chattering like a cage full of birds,
flick off my lights, wipers, defroster, and sit,
listening as the rain subsides to a sprinkle.
Then I see the yellow autumn leaves lying
like wet kisses all across the parking lot.
© 2004
(originally published in ByLine)
Today's word: kisses

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Delia's Dream










Today's little poem is about my grandmother, who took me into her care when I was two years old and guided me until I was 18 ... when I went into military service ... and even beyond. 

I still feel that gentle hand in the small of my back.

Times were not just hard, but really tough, requiring frugality with those few material things which came her way. Still, those circumstances seemed to inspire in her an exceeding generosity.

She knew that others had needs greater than hers. She accepted the fact that her good works might be received without thanks.

And she didn't talk much about "those distant places," but I know she dreamed about them sometimes, especially those where her children were.

She did get to visit them, but she never got to be there, as she would say, never got to "pull up and settle down" there.

It was simply not to be. And she accepted that, too. 

How I love her, for all the things she taught me ... for all the butterflies she pointed out to me ... and paused to watch with me.


And now, the poem:


DELIA'S DREAM

How she'd say
nothing is ever lost,
meaning wasted,
pieces of string,
each carefully coiled,
or a rubber band
snapped around her wrist,
her good works received
without thanks,
and thoughts,
especially thoughts
of those distant places
where she dreamed things
were better, where she
hoped to be someday,
but never was.
© 1997
(originally published in Riverrun)

Today's word: guided

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Carrying the Water






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually I learned the value of experience.

And now, the poem:

CARRYING THE WATER

My grandfather could take
the swaying bucket
all the way,

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

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

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

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

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

splashing against my calf,
making dark splotches
on red soil

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

© 2007

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

Today's word: contented

Friday, September 14, 2012

Been-Rejected Blues





Rejection is never funny. I've learned not to take it personally, though. I work on the assumption, at least, that it isn't personal.

Oh, there are still twinges sometimes. If I've spent a lot of time on a particular piece, studied the markets, read the publications, and  have the feeling that I've selected the exact poem(s) that the editor is looking for, then there can't help but be a slight twinge of disappointment when the poems come back with a little note attached.

But I know it isn't a personal thing. Maybe I was a little late, and that particular issue was filled with great writings by the time mine arrived. Maybe the issue had a theme that I overlooked.

Maybe the editor was just having an off day.

But it's not personal. Besides, I learned over the years that a poem rejected by one editor may be precisely what another editor has been looking for.

So I keep trying.

And when another editor likes something I've written ... though it may have been rejected someplace else ... that's cause for celebration ... and I do some dancing on the table ... figuratively, of course.

Then I get back to work. There are other poems to write, other markets to try ... and sometimes I even venture into an area which I generally avoid ... because, as I've said many times, "I can't rhyme worth a dime."

For example:


BEEN-REJECTED BLUES

I've got those
low down,
good for nothin'
been-rejected blues.

My meter seems fine.
My rhyme? Sublime.
So why, I whine,
this awful mess
I find myself in,
so sad and unseemly,
loaded with chagrin?

Beats me. I've just
got 'em. Bad as they
can be, I guess,
those unexpected,
pain-injected,
stripped down nekked,
been-rejected blues.
© 2001

(received an honorable mention award in an Ohio Poetry Day competition)
Today's word: unexpected

Thursday, September 13, 2012

After Ordering






One thing I like about writing ... poetry or whatever ... is the surprise element.


I never know when a poem ... or an idea for a poem ... is going to leap out at me. Those are the ones I really like, as opposed to the thought which keeps tugging at my sleeve, day after day, trying to get my full attention.


Today's poem came to me somewhere in Ohio. I don't remember where we had stopped, or where we were headed ... probably just out for a lazy afternoon drive.


We'd found a quiet place, studied the menu, placed our orders ... and then the sounds of the place, the orderly movement of people in and out ... all of the activity began asserting itself.


I don't even remember whether I started jotting down some things then, or simply made some mental notes (risky business, because I sometimes have trouble finding those again), but the end result was a poem ... one that eventually found a home in a publication.


The poem:


AFTER ORDERING


As I take my first sip
of ice-cold water,
I notice the sizzle
rising from the grill,
the soft clink of a spoon
hitting someone's glass,
an infant gurgling,
insistent, distant
beeping, then, at a table
just for two, a young
couple sharing a scoop
of vanilla ice cream
that's swimming
in a delicious, sticky
sea of strawberry syrup,
and I almost want
to change my order.
 © 2006
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: sticky

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Another Autumn






Autumn brings some slight moderation of temperatures, at least ... but it also brings on some of my favorite colors as the trees begin their autumn parade ... displaying their changing leaves up and down the streets ... and across the countryside.


Autumn brings back memories of those hills where I grew up ... hills laden with hickory trees ... oaks ... walnut trees ... sassafras ... sumac ... oh, what a parade that was, too!


Another thought which came to me this morning ... how great it would be if these postings came together seamlessly, instead of the way they sometimes do, particularly when time is short.


Ah, but what would I do then, just sit and twiddle my thumbs?


The poem:


ANOTHER AUTUMN

Change has boomed
along quiet avenues
where great, green
hulking symbols
of summer loitered,
visages burnished now
into fiery displays
that climb and swoop,
zoom and explode.

And who could go
kicking through
the crinkling swirl
on the sidewalks
underneath them
without being just
a little pumped up
about it all?

© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: visages