Friday, November 30, 2012

A Day for Flying




But isn't that always the way it is when you're in a hurry?

So, for a few minutes at least, I'm putting hurry aside now. I'm sitting here calmly at the keyboard, serenely typing a few words which I hope will make their way into "Chosen Words." 

Not a worry in the world.

Like, yeah, sure.

Meanwhile, here's the poem (I hope):


A DAY FOR FLYING

Crisp autumn breeze sliding off
some unseen glacier, sun busy
burnishing the copper leaves,

as though trees were incapable
of doing it themselves, and not
a cloud in sight. A day made

for flying. Indeed, overhead
dozens of silent chalk marks
of planes drag themselves along,

blade marks slowly multiplying
on a blue rink, crisscrossing,
widening, turning into fluffy

cotton batting stretched along
the cold, these diaphanous
contrails abandoned in a flight

to somewhere, as though planes
of the world were gathering
on this day to make clouds,

being impatient for the regular
kind and for the needed rain,
the prodigal, dallying rain.
© 1997
(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: diaphanous

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Call of the Mousse






It was one of those day trips that you take with a group of strangers.

You do some walking, some talking and gawking ... then comes the highlight, lunch ... if you're lucky it will be in some fancy place with big windows and a view of the city.

And so it was.

I don't remember many of the details, but I do remember the view of the city ... and the excitement when the dessert arrived. Of course, my doctor had recently put desserts (my favorite food group) on a forbidden list.

I could watch. Period. Oh, but I made some mental notes, jotted a few words on a scrap of paper later, when the bus was rolling toward home. That night it all came together in this little poem.

Then, after the usual polishing and tweaking ... patiently sending it out ... and waiting ... and waiting ... it was published.

Time has passed ... quite a bit of time ... but my mouth still waters a little as the memory is renewed.

And now ... on this morning after I've slept like a log ... awakened as hungry as a bear ... can't wait to get to the breakfast table ... the poem:

CALL OF THE MOUSSE

Fearing that my doctor
might instinctively know,
might be informed
by some skulking spy
in our midst, or that I might
blurt out a full confession
while sitting on his table,
I declined chocolate mousse
when it came crashing
through the underbrush
of after-lunch conversation,
and I sat silently, hungrily
watching while the other five
at my table devoured theirs,
particularly the lady
who, moments before,
had surrendered her fork
with the sad announcement
that she simply couldn't
eat another bite.
© 2001

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: chocolate

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chance of Rain






"Chance of Rain" is my lucky poem. It began life as a much longer poem, written at the kitchen table after one of my summer walks.


It was so hot that I had paused in the shade to consider whether I really thought I could make it up the next hill and then home. Just then I felt a slight breeze. Thus encouraged, I set off again toward home.


But I had started thinking of how the oppressive heat and humidity were so like the area of Southern Illinois where I grew up. I kept thinking about that, recalling what it had been like, that terrible heat.


When I got home, I started writing. I imagined an older person, about my age, sitting on a porch, scanning the skies for signs of rain. I imagined the rain's coming, sweeping across the fields. I described the old man's reaction to the rain ... all of this in considerable detail.


This narrative became a long poem which I submitted to Capper's.


It was there that an alert editor, Ann Crahan, spotted eight lines that appealed to her in the middle of my poem. How lucky for me!


She suggested that we keep those eight lines and my title. I agreed, and it became my first poem accepted for publication.


Over the years, I wrote many more pieces about rain ... or its absence ... and when those poems suggested themselves to me as a possible collection, it seemed fitting that "Chance of Rain," my first-born, my lucky poem, should be the title piece of that collection, published by Finishing Line Press in 2003.


The poem:


CHANCE OF RAIN

The rain comes
in great galloping
gulps, faster than
the soil can sop it up.
It drums on the roof,
dances in the yard,
celebrates all the way
down the hill.
© 2003

Today's word: lucky

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Butterfly






I will always remember that butterfly, and that once in a lifetime event, as described in today's poem.


I remember precisely the hillside on which I was sitting when the butterfly found me.


I had been mowing the grounds of a friend's summer home in Southern Ohio. It was a hot, steamy day. The mower had become balky, so I decided we both needed a rest ... a bit of cooling off.


I was just sitting there, hoping for a bit of breeze, when it happened. But let's let the poem tell what occurred:


BUTTERFLY

I remember sitting
so still, feeling
the sweat trickling
down my back, beading
along my forearms,
a touch like
an angel's breath
when a butterfly
fluttered down
onto my sunburned
hand and sat there
for the longest time
before sipping
that moisture born
of hard labor, then
lifted lightly off, wafted
away like a dream.
© 1996

(originally published in Read, America!)

Today's word: wafted

Monday, November 26, 2012

Autumn Crossing






Autumn is one of my favorite seasons ... largely because I tire of blazing hot weather ... thank you very much ... and start looking forward to cooler nights ... good sleeping weather ... the fall colors, which I always enjoy ... the sight of leaves sifting gently to the earth ... the sounds and the feel of them as I go kicking through on my daily walk.


Today's poem happens to be one of my favorites, too. it was written on a bus, of all places. We were humming along northward, somewhere in Ohio.

The highway seemed to be an endless ribbon unspooling toward us ... but there on both sides ... oh, there was something to watch! The autumn trees were at their absolute peak, as though they were expecting us ... expecting "company."

And there we were.

I was struck by how the colors seemed to be parting, then closing behind us ... something like the parting of the Red Sea in those old movies.

Naturally, I dug out a scrap of paper and began writing ... and here's the result:

AUTUMN CROSSING

A sea of color
rages ahead,
parting for us
with the soft
hum of miles
falling away,
gently washing
back into place,
cloaking all
traces of our
safe crossing.
© 1997
(originally published in The American Scholar)

Today's word: crossing

Sunday, November 25, 2012

After the Muffin







"After the Muffin" is a love poem ... that's right, love poem ... which was included in O Taste and See: Food Poems, an anthology co-edited by David Lee Garrison and Terry Hermsen and published by Bottom Dog Press ... and the book was a sellout ... all 5,000 copies! 

"After the Muffin" then was discovered by Paul Carey, composer, who is also music director for Vox Caelestis Women's Chorus, a 16-voice professional women's chorus based in Chicago's western suburbs. 

He liked "After the Muffin" and set it to music, along with several other food-related poems.

For a sampling of their work:


"After the Muffin" made an appearance in three performances of "The Musical Food Groups" by Chicago a cappella, a vocal ensemble of nine voices, "dedicated to performing innovative concert programs at the highest possible musical standards."

I've heard a recording of their presentation of "After the Muffin," thanks to Matt Greenberg, executive director, who also sings bass with the group ... and it is a superb piece of work ... their rendition of my poem, that is. 

For a sample of Chicago a cappella:


Meanwhile, the poem:

AFTER THE MUFFIN

You've something on
your lip, you say,
your finger, gentle
as a kiss, floating
to show me where.

Blueberry! For
we have just shared
a warm muffin
by candlelight.

And now, all these
hours later, I still
feel that touch
like a kiss, still
hear you saying:
You've something
on your lip.
© 2003

(Published in O Taste and See: Food Poems, Bottom Dog Press, 2003)


Today's word: blueberry

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Winter Rain




We have two towering maples in our back yard, one of them just outside our bedroom window.

I woke up one winter morning to the gentle sound of rain, looked out the window and was greeted by a view of those glistening tree trunks. It was a scene that sent my imagination into overdrive.

I probably put some of my thoughts to paper that morning in the midst of shaving. They often plague me so that I have to pause and write, pause and write.

The end result in this case, a poem. Other times these scribblings end up in an envelope labeled "Bits and Pieces," possible fodder for future works.

But for now, this:

WINTER RAIN

All night it comes,
falling as quietly
as snow, trickling
down our green roof,

a soft song drifting
among the branches
of our dark maples,
trunks glistening

like the taut bodies
of stevedores under
the summer sun,
like sailing ships

tossing and leaning,
rigging creaking,
brass bells ringing,
greeting a new day.
© 2003

(From Chance of Rain, my first collection of poems - Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: trickling

Friday, November 23, 2012

Take a Peek




(No ... that's not a self-portrait ... just another of my randomly-shot photographs)

This is one of my "dream" poems. I remember the sensation of waking up in a strange place (I'm dreaming this, remember), being asked by some remote, impersonal voice to produce something that would identify me.

I knew there was this slip of paper in my billfold, but I couldn't find it, couldn't, in fact, find my billfold. I kept searching and searching.

Then I woke up. The dream would have been lost, had I not scribbled something on a scrap of paper as a reminder.

I don't usually dwell on the meanings of dreams.

Sometimes they mean nothing more than the excesses of a late-night snack.

Or they may reveal deep-rooted frustrations, unattainable goals, hunger, thirsts, fears ... all the makings of a poem.

Still, I try to save them all. I don't always manage, but I try.

And here's today's:

TAKE A PEEK

My billfold
contains a slip
of yellow paper
with the name
of the President
written on it.

I feel secure
having it with me,
like a number,
next of kin,
t
o be called
in an emergency.

Perhaps someday
after surgery,
responding to
trick questions:

What's your name?

Who's President?

I can say,"Take a peek
at my billfold. There's
a slip inside. It's all
I've got left."
© 1995

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: identify

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Shovel? Maybe Later



(One of the many photos I've taken during my walks here and there ... a scene you might see, if you happen along in the right season and look out a door in one of the tunnels at Wright State University


Sometimes, it seems, I have this thing about "going against the season."


A couple of times a year it happens ... in summer ... and winter. Spring and fall? Hardly ever.


What do I do? Oh, when we're sizzling in summer temperatures, I like to think about those cool ... er, cold ... days and nights of winter.


And in the winter, of course, when I'm freezing, I keep my mittens on ... and try writing something about summer.


Perhaps I should have my mittens on right now ... though I've found that to be something of a hindrance, when it comes to typing.


Oh, I know, recent conditions haven't really been that bad ... temperature-wise. But it's coming. I know it is. I've already given some thought to locating the snow shovel, so when it does happen ... 


And our shy little car ... I can tell ... is beginning to think about those icy, slushy, slippery-dippery streets, too ... that difficult climb up the steep, ice-covered approach to that magnificent driveway at Brimm Manor ... all that. 


It's coming.


Meanwhile, here's a glimpse of my firm resolve in the face of that, when it does arrive:


SHOVEL? MAYBE LATER

From door to street
Isn't all that far,
But with a sleet-
And snow-bound car
Stuck in the drive,
I might just as well
Take another five
And snooze a spell.
© 1995
(originally published in Mature Living)

Today's word: later

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reunion





What a great surprise it was to find that our tired old mailbox was offering up a DVD, titled "Homecoming 1988." We're looking at it now, in bits and pieces, relishing the memories it stirs ... and we're eternally grateful to our niece, Julie, for having rescued it from old, old movie footage of a  family gathering, then  providing us with this copy. It naturally followed, I suppose, that today's poem was called to mind:


My earliest memories include family reunions ... noisy gatherings, it seemed to me, as people hugged, slapped each other on the back, stood around trading stories ... then there was the food, acres of it, it seemed ... and the bees or yellow jackets who always seemed to know where to find us.

I was puzzled in those early years. I couldn't understand how all these people ... most of them absolute strangers to me ... could possibly know each other ... how they could all be part of the same family.

With time, an understanding of that came. I also came to know ... and need ... that annual gathering of family ... that renewal of links to others ... the mending of neglected fences ... the promises of "same time next year."

Unfortunately, some were destined not to make it to the next reunion ... but they would be remembered as remaining members of the family gathered once more.


I don't know if families still maintain the "reunion" practice. I hope they do.

In my case, though, I've become a dropout, of necessity, since my driving ... all kind of travel, in fact ... is almost entirely local.


But I have my memories of those gatherings ... kept like pressed flowers in the pages of a favorite book. I look at them, one by one, on occasion, and remember ... oh, how I remember ...

The poem:


REUNION

Like worn pieces of a jigsaw puzzle,
we came back together, sliding
into place at that agreed-upon time
in the room provided for us, drawn 


by the prospect of a field-hands meal,
the sound of children pattering
and laughing, the clatter and fury
of games, hum of quiet conversations,

memories burnished by renewed handling,
but mostly drawn back to this place
by that strongest pull, family.
It was not as easy as it once was,

this coming back together, but we did
come back from our scattered places
to be near that place where we began
our journeys along a single path,

then diverged as circumstances and
choices led us away, coming back now
to cross paths for this day, at least.
It was a day for remembering those

pieces missing from the puzzle, a day
for savoring the picture we still make
by our presence, a day for a few tears
as we touched scars of old wounds,

a day given over to hugs and handshakes,
welcomings and lingering farewells,
a bittersweet, pressed-flower day,
this coming home, this healing.

© 2008


(from Wood Smoke, my third collection of poems, published by Finishing Line Press in 2008)

Today's word: remembering

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Passing in Review





Today's poem is another example of material ... fodder, if you will ... lurking almost anywhere.

Naturally, I keep an eye out for subject matter, possibilities for a small painting, perhaps, or even a poem, when I'm out walking ... when I'm sitting, waiting for a bus ... whatever.

In this instance, I had passed the flowers many times, casually observing their color, their sprightliness, but not feeling any particular connection with them ... until one day when there was a slight breeze. 

Their movement, "nodding their heads," caught my eye well before I was in front of them.

It was then, I think, that it seemed they were the "reviewing stand" and it was I, the lonely marcher, who was being inspected as I strode past.

Hardly more than a haiku moment, but that impression, that image, stuck with me all the way home, where I sat at the kitchen table and started writing.

The poem, originally published in Capper's:

PASSING IN REVIEW

Flowers arrayed
like a reviewing stand
in my neighbor's yard
seem to be nodding
recognition of me,
and perhaps they are,
for I march by twice
on my daily walk.

© 1995

Today's word: nodding

Monday, November 19, 2012

Promises






I've often said that I can't rhyme worth a dime ... but here I go again.


I keep trying. For me it's something like trying to leap over a high picket fence ... uphill ... and on a slippery slope, at that. I have trouble maintaining any kind of a rhyme scheme while trying to tell a story ... if, indeed, I have a story to tell.


I keep promising that I won't, but I do ... keep trying, that is. It's simply the challenge, I guess.


The result? Today's poem ... a double-edged blunt blade, if you will ... a poem about the difficulty ... at least the difficulty I have ... with keeping promises, especially to myself ... a poem in rhyme.


And I can't promise you that it won't happen again.


I keep being drawn back to this difficult task. I keep thinking that this time it will go well and I'll end up with something I can share with others. But it seldom does.


Today's illustration, I suppose, speaks to promises unkept ... I prefer to think of them as promises I will keep ... just as soon as I can get around to them.


Actually, it represents things I should've done yesterday ... must do today ... but probably will still be working on tomorrow.


Ah, tomorrow ...


Meanwhile, today ... and the poem:


PROMISES


I begin my year
With high resolve,
But my plans, I fear,
Start to dissolve
As the new wears off
The leaf I've turned
And the flames flare off
Bridges I've burned.
© 1996
(originally published in Mature Living)

Today's word: rhyme

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Nightsongs






As some of you know, I write a lot about rain. 

It was such a central part of growing up in rural Southern Illinois. There were many summers when our garden wilted ... never mind the grass that seemed to turn to confetti in our yard ... the cistern ran low ...

Ah, but there were summers, too, when there was an abundance of rain ... and all was well with the world.

We city dwellers tend to forget the importance of rain. We lose touch.

This poem is an effort to restore that touch ... to explore some of the possibilities in the music ... the magic, if you will ... of rain. In the end, I guess it all boils down to "this rain tonight, tremblng leaf to leaf ... to earth."

The poem:

NIGHTSONGS

I lie listening
to the summer night,
wondering what
it might have been like
before roofs came
to glorify the rain,
to magnify the sound.

Was there gentle
crackle and murmur
of a small fire,
a faltering lullaby?

A song kept going,
stick by stick,
until the words
finally surrendered
to deep silence?

The silence of
ashes giving up
their warmth?

Perhaps there was
only the faintest
of songs, like
this rain tonight,
trembling leaf
to leaf ... to earth.
© 2003

("Nightsongs" first appeared online on Poetry Tonight. It also became a part of my first collection of poems, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press in 2003)

Today's word: murmur

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Moment





Memories. We can't live in the past, of course, but memories can help to make the going easier in the present.


Today's poem is based on earliest memory.


I find it hard to believe that I'm going all the way back to the cradle in recalling my mother's words ... not the specific words, but the memory of the sounds, enhanced, perhaps, by the distance, the years since I heard them.


Or I may just be imagining it all, the product of my wanting to "hear" them.


When I was about two years old, I went to live with my grandparents, who reared me to adulthood. My contact with my mother, over those years, was, by various circumstances, limited to a certain degree.


It would be natural for me to have more memories of my grandparents than my mother. Still, there is that connection, that need to go back as far as I can to those earliest days.


It's a wistful poem, a semi-dream poem. And I found a certain healing in the writing of it, a certain comfort in reading it again. It was originally published in Capper's:


THE MOMENT

In the moment
between sleeping
and waking,
when morning light
drifts strangely
through the trees
and sounds seem
borne aloft
by distant voices,
my mother’s words
come curling back
like wood smoke
on a rainy night,
and I am comforted
by that memory.
© 2001

Today's word: wistful

Friday, November 16, 2012

Messengers



(One of the many photos I've taken during my walks at Cox Arboretum ... and I'm looking forward to seeing this scene again in all its beauty, one of these days)


"Chosen Words," which began in 2004, has welcomed more visitors than I ever thought it would, thanks to those who have taken a look ... and told others.


Without these "messengers" ... people telling other people ... the counter would have moved hardly at all.


But it has, and that has been my inspiration, my impetus to continue, even on those days when I might prefer simply going with the flow.


I've gone through the ritual of selecting a poem for each day, thumbed through photos, drawings or other pieces of illustration ... and then undergone the sometimes-tedious process of putting them all together.


These elements have become my "light in the window," beckoning visitors to pause in their daily routines, to "stand in the shade a bit," to enjoy a few quiet moments, to listen to the murmur of words committed to paper and to this new medium we're sharing.


I hope that when each visitor then resumes the journey, takes up the next task at hand, he or she is at least less burdened, if not inspired, for having paused here.


I hope these have been pleasant interludes for you. I appreciate your stopping by for a visit ... and I thank you for telling a friend about this place.


Thank you for making this a pleasant journey for me, too.


Today's poem, about another kind of messenger:



MESSENGERS


Weary of the small,
murmuring fire
in the wood-burning
stove, I step outside
on a still, crisp night
to look at the stars.



Far overhead,
a flight of geese
moves slowly northward,
spreading the good news
to all who would hear
on this lonely night.
© 2000


(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: murmuring

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Laughter





Have you listened ... I mean really listened ... to children laughing?

They are so completely given over to it. They can't help themselves.

Things are not just a little funny, eliciting a polite chuckle. 

They are really, really funny. There's a sudden explosion of laughter, and when they try to control it ... the more they try ... the more it comes bubbling out.

Even the most confirmed grump is likely to find a certain contagion in the children's laughter, may find himself beginning to smile, inwardly, at least, may find himself joining in ... remembering a time when things were just so unbearably funny.

Originally published in Capper's:

LAUGHTER

What luxury

the laughter
of children,
the champagne
of sounds
unexpectedly
uncorked,
cascading,
filling
the glasses
of those nearby,
tickling
their noses.
© 1996

Today's word: contagion

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Delia's Morning Quiet






Delia was my grandmother. I went to live with her when I was two years old ... and she reared me until I grew up and went into military service.


Little wonder that I've written about her ... even when cautioned by one instructor that he didn't want to see any "grandmother poems."


This particular poem is a combination of memories of her, of things she said, or might have said. I may have taken some liberties, but, knowing her the way I did, I don't think she would mind.


I don't think she would mind at all.


DELIA'S MORNING QUIET

Morning quiet was
always best, Delia said.


Not the soft silting
of minutes after a day
in the fields, not those
first precious seconds
after childbirth,
nor the calm after
summer storms, tearing
of an envelope, labored
reading of its words,
evening fire, supper done,
dishes stored, children
in bed.


But the kind
of quiet that came
stealing up with the sun,
sharing rooster crow
and the crackling murmur
of fire, a skillet sliding
across the kitchen stove,
sound of an eggshell
breaking with importance.

© 1999

(originally published in Poem)

Today's word: crackling

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Ashes Are Still Hot





















(Today's photo was taken aboard a bus. Where we were, or where we were headed, I don't recall ... but I liked the sky, was glad I captured it ... and never let it go)


Today's poem brings a renewal of a frightening childhood memory.

I couldn't have been very old when this incident occurred, but the memory of it is still vivid. 

The fire seemed to spring up suddenly along the railroad, the flames were threatening our house ... we had no running water, no telephone ... no fire department, as a matter of fact.

We stood and watched in horror. Then, suddenly, the fire seemed to veer away. It was over. We had survived.

The poem:

THE ASHES ARE STILL HOT

When a white-hot summer sun
hangs high in a cloudless sky,
when it must be thought
there can be no more burning

in this poor punished land,
there comes the crackling,
leaping, lurching dance
of the very flames of hell,

consuming sere weak willows
along the thirsting creek,
leaping to fence-line elms,
sending their leaves towering

like swarms of angry hornets,
smoke and fire entwining
in an eerie, deadly spiral
from which rain the hot seeds

of more on our shingled house.
We stand there in the garden,
my grandmother praying, and I,
a child of only four, crying.

Wind, born of the fire itself,
where there has been no wind
for long, dry, dragging days,
snatches up the pitching flames,


takes them away from the house.
My grandmother sees a miracle,
but to me it’s a nightmare, for,
see, the ashes are still hot.
 © 1997

(originally published in Block's Magazine)
Today's word: towering