Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Transient Heart






I've observed that new poems ... or their beginnings ... are like rabbits venturing out to nibble the clover at dusk ... tentative at first ... then a little bolder ...

Old poems ... at least my old poems ... wander in and out like ... well, like old men trying to remember where they left their hats. I should know ... I'm one of them now.

Today's poem "wandered in" while I was driving.

We were on our way home ... probably after attending a poetry reading ... or sitting in with a group of poetry-loving friends ... two of my most frequent alibis for "a late night out."

I was thinking, just thinking, as I drove into ... and out of ... a rain shower ... I watched the windshield wipers knocking the raindrops aside ... and then quickly running out of anything to do.

For some reason ... I guess it was all that sudden activity ... then inactivity ... on the windshield ... "The Transient Heart" came to mind ...


The poem:


THE TRANSIENT HEART

Fog had invaded
our street overnight,
leaving my car
sitting like a large,
cold melon, dripping
with potential.


Extracting my keys
from the usual
pants-pocket tangle,
my gaze drifted
to a heart-shaped
tracing vanishing
amid a cascade
of trickles
on a rear window.

A secret admirer?
More likely just
a stranger, a pupil
dawdling toward
school, little
suspecting that
such a tiny doodle
could send so many
thoughts rippling
merrily across
my morning mind.
© 1998

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: transient

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Snowy Kingdom









(Another of my little watercolor sketches, here for an encore appearance)




It began with something somebody said a few days ago, I think. As I recall, they mentioned snow ... the prospect of snow ... some distance away now (I hope), but still an eventual prospect.


That was enough to bring to mind memories of times when ... well, when there was more than the prospect of snow. It was falling steadily, piling up, drifting ... looking like it was going to hang around forever.


The mere mention of snow was enough to set my mental wheels into motion ... spinning, that is. That brought to mind today's poem ... one that you may have seen before.


I hope you don't mind this "encore" appearance ... and I really hope my mentioning snow doesn't bring about an actual visit by it ... not yet, at least.



The poem:

SNOWY KINGDOM

Swirling flakes
made soft landings
in the night,
leaving the mailbox
newly-crowned
and a row of cedars
bowing obediently
in its direction.

© 1994

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: swirling

Monday, October 29, 2012

Morning Stroll





It could have been Anyplace, USA, and perhaps it was.

I don't think I had a specific site in mind when I wrote it. I lived and worked a lot of places in the Midwest where there were bridges, steeples, rooftops to receive those early morning rays.

During a couple of military stints, I saw places outside the Midwest, of course, but the Midwest is where I'm rooted, where these morning impressions, I'm sure, were received and stored away.

Even as a child, once I got my eyes open and my tennis shoes on my feet, I found something peaceful about those precious minutes when the sun was just climbing over the hill, preparing to fill the valley with warmth and light.

Much of my adult work life required that I be up before the sun.

Again, despite my groggy condition at that hour, I would sometimes glimpse something in first light that would stay with me much of that day ... the fiery glow of light against a window ... light and shadow on a steeple ... or even distant cars "fluttering into movement."

Strange, but I did sometimes feel that I should move softly about, in order to avoid disturbing those who were a part of this tranquil scene ... or for fear of somehow disturbing the scene itself.

And this from one who has never really been a morning person.

The poem:

MORNING STROLL

The town seems
so deep in sleep
as early light
goes streaming
across rooftops,
touching steeples,
moving on
to where cars
are fluttering
into movement
near the bridge,
that I stroll
ever so softly,
taking care
not to disturb.
© 2000

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

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Birds Still Sing





This is a poem about the aging process, of course.

I'm not quite dependent on a hearing aid ... yet. Still, there are times when I might find one helpful ... to fine tune what I'm trying to hear ... or to tune out something I'd rather not hear.

But it's also a poem about memory ... and imagination, the ability to recall things, sometimes with a new attention to detail. I like it when a poem works at two levels ... or sometimes in two directions.

Originally published in Capper's, it's a little poem, saying much, I hope, with few words (the photograph, as usual, is one of my own):

BIRDS STILL SING

I don't always
hear the doorbell,
thunder's mostly
just a rumble now,
but in the foliage
of my mind
birds still sing
loud and clear.
© 1996

Today's word: recall

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Already Pocketed








"Writer's block"? I'm not sure it exists.

Oh, there are times when the ideas flow with the slowness of cold molasses ... there are times when the well seems to have gone completely dry ... but usually not for long.

I always carry a scrap of paper and a pen or pencil, just in case.

Then there are times when the thoughts come gushing forth ... and I wish I had my handy-dandy pocket recorder with me, so I could capture them in the midst of the heavy traffic that I'm trying to pick my way through.

Thoughts ... writing-related ideas ... are, indeed, fleeting ... and the intervals between them can seem to be endless ... but "writer's block"?

I don't really think there is such a thing ... and I hope I'm right.


I hope I can keep riding down this seemingly never-ending trail ... writing and sharing ... until ... well, until the very end.

And now, today's poem:

ALREADY POCKETED

Sometimes,
when I search
the rock pile
of my mind
for new ideas
to grind
and polish,
my hand goes
to a pocket
where one lies
already shaped
and shined,
just waiting
for a setting
worthy of it.
 © 2000
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: pocketed

Friday, October 26, 2012

Abandonment






You've noticed that I write a lot about rain?


Well, yes, I do. In fact, my first collection of poems was called Chance of Rain (Finishing Line Press, 2003). My second collection, Hollyhocks, which came out late last year, has some mention of rain in it, too. My third collection,Wood Smoke, may also have a reference to rain. 


Today's poem, like most of mine, is pretty straightforward ... a series of images ... the opening, in which the rain catches my attention while I'm intent on something else, reading, perhaps ... more likely, writing something ... or trying to decipher something I've written ... and, of course, the conclusion, where we have those "trickling, fading fingers clinging to the pane."


As I often say, the reader brings something special to the poem ... a like or dislike of rain in general, personal experience, the mood of the moment ... and that tends to give the poem a particular flavor for them.


I'm thankful, as I've often said, for the reader who simply stops by to read the poem ... but also for those who leave thoughtful comments ... who do something to advance the "conversation" here at "Chosen Words."


Poetry, after all, is meant to be shared ... as are the reactions to it.


Today's offering:


ABANDONMENT


Like spilled needles
at first, the droplets
touch my window,
tugging at my mind.


Then, in furtive
little squirrel hops
up the slope of my roof,
great plump drops test
the surface. A distant,
gruff reply of thunder
to a flick of lightning
and the tempo quickens.

Ragtime! Rain gallops off
toward a light left on,
an invitation to dance,
and I am left to study 
trickling, fading fingers
clinging to the pane.
© 2006
(originally published in A New Song)
Today's word: ragtime

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tulsa or Bust






I've written about finding a broken pencil with only a few words left in it ... the frantic search for a scrap of paper ... any tiny piece will do ... to write down an idea before it flits away ... the hurdles, the barriers, the great feeling of success. All about writing.


It's not that I consider myself an expert on writing. Far from it. I continue to be mystified by the process ... curious about how ... and why ... poems sometimes come sneaking up on me ... but not baffled ... no, I would not say baffled ... not completely, any way.


"Tulsa or Bust" is also about writing.


As you may note, writing about writing sometimes takes some strange turns on the road to completion and eventual publication, in this instance in ByLine Magazine:


TULSA OR BUST

The paper's dry,
drier than
my driest poems,
threatening
to shatter,
turn to dust,
so I must write
quickly, softly,
cautiously,
choosing only
fluffy, light
subjects like
a "Wash Me"
written large
on the back
of a truck
lumbering
toward Tulsa.
© 1999

Today's word: lumbering

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

September Shoes








I don't know if children still go barefoot all summer like I did.


Oh, to the beach certainly, to the pool, a little bit around the house ... but across the steaming fields? Through clover alive with bees? Across nettles and other dreaded stickers? Into town, walking all the way there (how else?) and all the way back?


I don't think so. Children today are protected in so many ways from so many things. I sometimes think it's a bit of a shame that they don't have the same freedoms we did. But it's a different world now ...


Perhaps it's just as well that they don't know the quiet agony of adjusting to shoes ... new shoes, at that ... after a summer of complete freedom ... for their feet, at least.


Excuse me, please ... I think my toes are starting to wiggle again.


The poem:



SEPTEMBER SHOES

How hot the shoes
were each September,
recapturing feet
that had run unshod
all summer, celebrating
freedoms of childhood.
Even now the memories
make my toes wiggle.
 © 1995
(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: wiggle

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Milk-Soft Call






Usually, when I'm engaged in coversation ... or just sitting quietly with my own thoughts ... the words come together, clickety-clack ... well, usually with these pauses which have been a lifelong presence in my speech pattern ... but, otherwise, with virtually no effort at all.


But there are times that it takes some searching.


Like the time that I became acutely aware of a dove's call. Oh, I had heard doves many times before, had savored the softness of their calls. 


But this time, for some reason ... or perhaps no reason at all ... I wanted to find the words to describe what it was really like.

I remember searching ... for the precise words ... the ones which would help me to preserve that particular moment ... words which would help me to "say the unsayable" ... about that distinct sound floating to my ears ... carrying a certain air of mystery about it.


It's so unlike other bird calls, so soothing, so ... well, so milk-soft.


That's it! I decided that's the term I've been looking for, and I walked on into the woods, hoping I would remember to try putting it in a poem someday.


The result:



THE MILK-SOFT CALL

I pause where
tall swaying trees
verge the meadow,
billowing their
thick green
clouds of leaves,
for a stirring
liquid breeze
has carried to me
the milk-soft call
of a dove,
and I am seized
for that moment
in an amber block
of tranquility.

© 1997
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: tranquility

Monday, October 22, 2012

Grandpa Will Getcha







Okay, maybe I'm rushing the season a bit ... or maybe I'm late ... or maybe I'm a bit confused (so what else is new?) ... I seem to be bumping into a lot of pumpkins these days ... but I'm also seeing a lot of Christmas items on display in the stores.

We are approaching Halloween, aren't we?

One of these years, I suppose, all of the designated commercial holidays will be combined into one giant celebration ... taking up a whole week ... or maybe a whole month ... or how about the entire year?


Be that as it may ... this poem, based on an early frightening experience, is further evidence of why I write very few rhyming poems – and perhaps shouldn't attempt any.

I keep telling friends and fellow writers that I find it very difficult to advance the story line while maintaining even a semblance of meter and rhyme. It's true. So true.

To borrow a phrase, it's hard work. Really hard work.

But, with much labor in this instance, the dirty deed was done. The poem was sent out to mingle with strangers, found a friend at one magazine, and was published.

The poem:

GRANDPA WILL GETCHA


It was a dark Halloween night
With nary a goblin in sight,
No place to go, nothin' to do.
Where to turn, I hadn't a clue.

But wait! My brain just clicked on:
SOAP A FEW WINDOWS flicked on,
And quickly it was bar to pane,
Making abstract strokes, in the main.

Then, looking in, what did I see?
My Grandpa, looking out at me.
No little smile did he bestow
As he swiftly took me in tow.

So with a pail and a wet sponge
My fine art I had to expunge
Till the windows were far cleaner
Than they had been. My demeanor?

Subdued now. A tad smarter, too:
Soaping our own was dumb, it's true,
And getting caught was SO SCARY
The next time I was more wary.
© 1997 

(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)


Today's word: scary

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Building Poems





Still another poem about writing.

Not that I'm expert on the subject. On the contrary, the more I write, the more I'm mystified by the process. 

Oh, I've gotten the mechanics right ... after all these years of practice: Fingers on the home keys, and away we go.

It's that other part ... the part in which the ideas come hopping along like shy rabbits looking for that last nibble of clover at dusk ... that's the part I don't really understand.

I know, a quiet place helps ... or even a noisy place, like a bus, a waiting room at the hospital ... places like that will work, if you can tune out all that's going on outside of you.

The blank page, believe it or not, can be a stimulus, too ... an invitation to scribble a few random thoughts.

Then the plot thickens ... the mystery deepens ... and sometimes ... sometimes, mind you ... what you've started, that seed you've planted, goes on, grows up ... and becomes a poem.

Even one who uses ellipses so recklessly ... one who remains mystified by those final steps in the writing process ... can do it. And so can you.

Indeed, bring on more sand!


The poem:


BUILDING POEMS


My poems are built
on the crawling sands
of memory; see how
they tilt and teeter
on the brink of meaning,
how they race past us
in the stopped-time
dimension into which
they’ve been thrust,
how they collide head-on
with indifference, then
come reverberating back
like struck gongs,
resting finally in my
outstretched hands.
Oh, how I love it,
this ever-changing,
never-changing process.
Bring on more sand!
© 2005

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)

Today's word: reverberating

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Little Envy









Today's poem is about driving ... another area in which I am certainly no expert. 


No, it's not about some adventure, or misadventure, with our former conveyance, The Little Red Car ... whose exploits were often detailed inSquiggles & Giggles, which had a life as a weekly newsletter.


Little Red was fine for local driving, and we still do a lot of that, but now, when we go out of town, those lo-o-o-n-g-g-g trips, we let Little Red's successor rest while we pick up a rental car.


Our regular vehicle is a very basic, usually reliable car, but lacking some of the bells and whistles, not to mention mysterious buttons and tracking devices found on the newer models.


That has led to some adventures, too ... like the time we drove all the way to Illinois before we found out, thanks to a friend, how to dim the headlights.


It usually takes me a couple of counties, at least, before I master the "set speed" and "resume speed" settings.


This is a poem about discovering one of those marvels:

A LITTLE ENVY

Leaving a town,
heading west,
the car senses
my light touch
on a button,
and I marvel
as it resumes
highway speed,
this collection
of steel, plastic
and fabric
with a memory
better than mine.

© 1997 

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

Winter Comes







(Just a spur of the moment shot I took last winter of a table sitting alone outside a dining place; it reminds me of one of my favorite foods, now on my forbidden list: C-A-K-E)

No ... winter hasn't come to Ohio ... yet. 

But winter will come, believe me. 

Today, though, I'm thinking ahead ... well beyond winter to ... those things I speak of at the end of the poem.

Take a look, please:

WINTER COMES

When it arrives like
a gentle rustling
descending a stairway,
the wary resident
might slam a deadbolt
against it like some
grumping, groggy bear,
were it not for a tiny
preserved memory
of a far warmer world,
where flowers are not
mere speculations,
where the ice has fallen
away, the bees jubilant.

© 
2000 

(received an honorable mention award in a Poets Study Club competition)

Today's word: jubilant

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Trail of Thanks







Sometimes I think I spend too much time explaining the poems I post here.


Oh, I think it's helpful to describe what inspired a particular poem, where I was when I wrote it, why I went ahead to share it with you (a lot of my poems ... shy creatures that they are ... still reside in my handwritten journals ... or on tiny scraps of paper).

But the poem ... like today's ... sometimes explains itself. It requires no further words from me. And still I go on and on ... sometimes ... but not today. I am trying very hard ... today ... not to overdo it.

That said, here's the poem:

TRAIL OF THANKS

Tiny morsels
of my thanks
mark the trail
I have come,
leading back
to a grandmother
who reared me
as her very own,
etching her lessons
on the innermost
growth rings
of my young mind.
I am thankful
for her lessons,
her example making
my journey easier.
 © 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: thanks

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sea of Beauty






Confession: Today's poem speaks of wheat ... the photo doesn't ... at least not directly.

The illustration is one of mine, of course ... a photo of some decorative grass. I don't know exactly what kind, but it did remind me of the wheat I had seen making waves in a field ... now all part of distant memories.

And the sky?

That's sky as reflected in the windows of the tall building near which I found the decorative grass growing. I was taken by the color and the shapes ... so I snapped it ... kept it ... and here it is, today ... famous. Well, a little more "famous" than it otherwise might have been.

I really hope I haven't spoiled the mood for today's poem, but I thought the photo and the poem made something of a match.

The poem: 

SEA OF BEAUTY 


The wheat leans

and straightens
in the summer breeze,
a sea of beauty
set in motion
toward the horizon
by plain hard labor
and the hand of God.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: wheat

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My Song








A dozen or so years ago, when I wrote today's poem, I had no idea I would still be writing in 2012 ... or even that there might still be "wisps of thought gathering softly in the valleys of my mind."

But I am, and there still are.

Writing, of course, is a gift. I view it not as a talent which few others have, but as a gift, because the words simply come, freely, to the patient writer ... all writers know this. 

When they are ready, the words will come ... showing themselves softly, perhaps, like a thistle drifting past, or like a blast entering through a door suddenly opened to it. But they will come.

Writing derives from other gifts, as well. The gift of time, for example. I have been given time to write, thanks to Phyllis, who allows me the quiet moments I need, who gives me the encouragement I crave, who is so patient and caring, so vital to me ... like the air I breathe.

Then there are the gifts of support, encouragement, advice, concern, from other family members, from friends and fellow writers, from editors who've liked my work, from those who listen attentively at readings.

These things make writing the greatest gift I can imagine receiving ... they keep making me feel "like a teakettle on the verge of song." And I thank you, one and all.

The poem:

MY SONG

Like a teakettle
on the verge of song,
I have endured
the silent years
and now give vent
to the poems welling,
willing themselves
into being.

My joy-filled song
is the scratch
of pencil on paper,
racing to catch
the wisps of thought
gathering softly
in the valleys
of my mind.
© 1997
(originally published in ByLine)

Today's word: verge

Monday, October 15, 2012

Brittle Poems




Still another poem about writing, but without any technical advice.




No how to- piece. Instead, some sounds, some images painted with words.




Add a bit of a twist with "fireflies ... looking for someone with a jar," and there you have it.



Many of my poems are "little thoughts" ... whether they blink on and off is another matter ... but they are ordinary little topics, depending a great deal on what the reader brings to them for completion.



Also, I keep saying that poems are meant to be shared ... so much depends on "someone who/ will catch them, enjoy/ them, let them fly again."



And there are so many out there worthy of being caught ... enjoyed ... shared.



The poem:

BRITTLE POEMS

My poems are written
on brittle paper, little
thoughts that blink
on and off like fireflies
scouring summer nights
looking for someone
with a jar, a quick
hand, someone who
will catch them, enjoy
them, let them fly again.
 © 2001
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: brittle

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Autumn!







We had some nippy temperatures in Ohio recently ... and a blanket felt good at night ... but I'm not complaining ... much. 

Oh, I do some shivering, and I do comment on the cold ... as it takes possession of my toes and fingers ... but that's not really complaining, is it?

It is autumn, after all ... time for cooler temperatures ... and, despite a period of adjustment to lower temperatures, autumn is one of my favorite seasons. 

I really get a kick out of watching the trees changing, day by day ... all those beautiful colors fanning out across the countryside.

In my childhood years I always looked forward to that annual display ... then, as a working adult, the autumn colors faded into the background ... but now ... oh, now ... I'm watching them again.

As far as today's poem is concerned ... one of my rare excursions into the world of rhyme, because I don't do it well ... I know that "piling up to my thighs" is a slight exaggeration. 

But stretching the truth is one of the building blocks of humor, right?

And rhyming "rises" and "thighs as" is a bit of a stretch, too ... but all done in an effort to be funny ... at least to elicit a smile.

Enough said. The poem:


AUTUMN!

My temperature rises
When leaves begin to fall,
Piling up to my thighs as
I try to rake them all.
© 1997

(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)


Today's word: exaggeration

Saturday, October 13, 2012

After the Chores








A poem, sometimes, is an accumulation of memories.

This one is like that. It goes all the way back to my childhood, when I would sit on the steps and watch the sky in the evening. It was like magic, the way the stars would start popping out.

It was magic, too, the way the moon would come floating up over the hills, like a giant balloon set loose to spend the night with us.

Lightning bugs would emerge, and there would be a chorus of sounds from the trees and the nearby fields. Occasionally there would be the hooting of an owl, or ... somewhere in the distance ... the mournful call of the whippoorwill.

I thought of those evenings many times, when I was in places distant from that beginning. 

There weren't always steps to sit on in the evening, and it was often a day job, rather than "chores," that brought fatigue settling onto me at the end of the day.

But I found comfort in thinking about those evenings, so long ago. I still do.

And now, the poem:

AFTER THE CHORES

Night voices rise
in growing chorus
as I sink to the steps
and sit, watching,
waiting like a child,
for a first twinkle
on that darkening
blue dome of sky.
 © 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: darkening

Friday, October 12, 2012

Tomato Patch






How long ago ... and yet how vivid the memories of those childhood summers helping in the garden that my grandparents had each year.

I'm sure I wasn't much help in those early years. That came later, when I had the stature and muscles to be an effective weed chopper.

Oh, but I still recall how hot and steamy it was there ... how a bit of shade and a drink of water did seem to be so far, far away. But, as the poem indicates, those memories are still valuable to me ... I still treasure them.

Of course, memories tend to lose their rough edges over time. They become smooth and shiny ... much like the blade I remember, chopping those weeds, loosening the soil to help retain the moisture the plants so sorely needed.

The poem:

TOMATO PATCH

I found no poetry
in the tomato patch,
drone of a horsefly
drilling the silence,
drops of my sweat
salting the soil,
my hoe dispatching
smartweed, with shade,
a drink of water
so far away. Why,
then, do I miss
that seasoned handle,
so glassy-smooth,
sliding in my hands,
that dark blade
worn thin and shiny,
glinting like
treasure in the sun?
 © 1998
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: glinting

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Stolen Minutes






I write a lot about writing. It's not that I'm ... by any stretch of the imagination ... an expert on the subject. On the contrary, the process often baffles me.

Do we know all there is to know about love? Or Nature? Or God?


No! But we pursue these, and other subjects, with a passion, because we want to understand.


So it is with the subject of writing.


I write wherever and whenever I can. Afterward, I don't always understand what I've written, or why I wrote it. But I write.


I keep a scratch pad beside the bed, a pen ... actually, it once was a pen with a light in it ... just in case I wake up with some thought bugging me, something that will be lost if I don't write it down right away.


Sometimes, even that isn't enough to preserve it. My scrawl, coupled with the morning mental fog that follows a restless night, can be a tough code to crack.


Oh, well, there will be another time, another place, and maybe that same thought will pop up like a rabbit, go running across the clover field of my mind ... and maybe, just maybe, I'll grab it this time, tame it, make it mine, all mine.


But don't worry. I've learned to share. Oh, have I ever.


For example:


STOLEN MINUTES

I steal minutes when I can,
take them for my own use,
sometimes to sit thinking
my own odd-angled thoughts,
sometimes watching as a pencil
searches its way across
the untracked page, sometimes
listening to that voice,
imperceptible except to that
part of the ear that feels,
more than it hears, what is said.
© 1996

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: imperceptible