Sunday, June 30, 2013

Like That









I try to look at simple things and extract their essence. In this instance it's the last drop of liquid in the cup.

How many times, occupied with ringing phones, converging projects all demanding to be done ... NOW ... how many times I absently lifted the cup and received two surprises: the unexpected emptiness of the cup, and then the suddenness of that last, single drop plopping onto my tongue.


I think this poem works on two levels.

On the surface, it's a descriptive passage of an event so minor that it's almost beneath writing about, yet will stir a bit of recognition from some readers, an acknowledgment that, yes, I've experienced that.

It also works as a metaphor for endings. How we cling to the memory of that which has just ended, how we hold on to the memories of those things which brought us to this ending.

"Like That" was originally published in Palo Alto Review, an honor in itself. Then the editors nominated it for Pushcart Prize honors.

Eventually, it became part of Hollyhocks, a second collection of my poems, published in 2007 by Finishing Line Press.

The poem:

LIKE THAT

It's like
when you think
the cup is empty
but you lift it
anyway,
tilting it toward
your mouth,
and a solitary drop
comes rolling
off the bottom,
goes bounding
onto your tongue
so now you really taste
the flavor of it,
far greater
than the rest
of what you've drunk,
and it quenches
the thirst of memory,
lying there
long afterward,
most valued
because there is
no more.
© 1999

(originally published in Palo Alto Review)

Today's word: bounding

Saturday, June 29, 2013

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

Friday, June 28, 2013

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

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hot Pursuit






OK, so I couldn't stand the suspense. 

I wanted to take a picture of my funny hat. I didn't want a straight-on shot, but a profile, which would really show off the hat, since it was the primary subject. 

So I set the timer, put the camera on a shelf, posed and waited ... and waited ... and waited. 

I was so sure the camera had snapped the picture without my hearing anything, so I stole a look -- at just the wrong moment! 


The result: a blurred photo of myself with two noses. Serves me right. 

Bottom line: I hate to throw anything away, so I kept the photo, eventually put it together with this little poem which seems the perfect match for it:

HOT PURSUIT

I go tramping
the echoing stairs
of this old house,
pursuing things
forgotten here,
remembered there,
getting exercise
enough for two.
© 1996

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: tramping

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Grandfather Writes








Who knows? Perhaps it was my early witnessing of my grandfather's attempts at learning to write his name ... the effort he was willing to put into it so late in his life ... the obvious importance he attached to it ... 

Perhaps it was all of these - or none - that impelled me to write.


I'm sure there were other factors, too, other lessons he taught me by example, as he and his wife, my dear grandmother, undertook the task of rearing me, of making me the person I am today.


I remember watching him, first at a distance, then a bit closer, and, finally, quite near as those shaky letters took form.


I remember the feeling of shared pride in this accomplishment, in knowing that the painfully written X ("his mark") no longer need be his signature.


It was a quantum leap.


My only regret, as I say in the poem, was that I neglected to tell him how proud I was of his achievement. 

But I think he knew. I think he always knew I was proud of him.


The poem:

GRANDFATHER WRITES

My grandfather sat
in sweltering shade
beside the house,
holding a pencil stub,
practicing, practicing,
ignoring the heat,
the droning flies,
straining to focus
with dime-store glasses
while his cramping
fingers sent the pencil
crawling on the page,
strange, angular marks
scratched on the back
of the sale bill,
letters later emerging
in more fluid shapes
as he labored to write
his very own name.
How proud I felt
of his achievement.
How I wish
I had told him so. 
© 2000

(second-place winner in the 2000 Ohio Poetry Day Contest)

Today's word: quantum

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Flight



It was a hot summer day and I was about mid-way through my daily walk.


I paused in the shade near the corner, to look around and cool down a bit. I had just been standing there a few moments when it caught my eye: The shadow of something ... moving across the lawn of a nearby house.


As I followed the movement of that shadow, my gaze shifted slowly upward to the source. It turned out to be a crow, moving slowly, gracefully toward a perch high in a tree across the street.


It was quiet as it flew, then sat there looking around ... "judge-like," it appeared to me.


When I got home, I once again sat at the kitchen table and started writing. I had the makings of a poem.


Eventually, after several revisions, it became a poem ... and then, in time, was published.

The poem:


FLIGHT

The crow's shadow folds
and unfolds diagonally
across the lawn, up the fence
and away, almost before
I can fix my gaze on
that true flight taking place
well above the rooted houses.
Then silently he courses
toward a high, unobstructed
limb on which to sit
looking down, judge-like in his
dark robe, at the rest of us.
© 1996
(originally published in Read, America!)

Today's word: judge-like

Monday, June 24, 2013

Empty Boxes





This is an inventory poem, a listing of items. But it's far more than that. It's a poem about departure, loss, a certain amount of pain.

"Healing," perhaps, is too strong a word for the ending, although I felt a need for something ... for comforting, I guess, as I looked over some of the items left behind by one of our sons.

He had discarded them as being of no use to him in his new location, his situation of being out there in the world on his own. I was double-checking, I suppose, to make sure he wasn't throwing away anything of value.

The basement was very quiet that evening. The memories came flooding back. It was the same ... all those memories ... with the departure of each of our four sons.

There was always that twinge of sadness at the ending of another chapter in our lives. Even with the good memories to bolster me, there was this sense of loss at their leaving to live on their own.

In that awful quiet that settled in then, I had to remind myself that they would do well, they would stay in touch, they would be back. We would still be a family, as we had always been.

Then I could throw away the empty boxes. But I kept the memories.

This poem received a First Place award in the Ohio Poetry Day Competition of 2000, and is now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:

EMPTY BOXES

I touch worn corners,
torn, misshapen lids,
as though mere touching
might ease the pain,

and in the scattered
emptiness I find
a battered brown bag
with a piece of paper

crumpled in a corner
like a dried leaf,
folders for your
drawings, writings

sprawling across pages,
a fragment of pastel,
pencils, a flattened
glove, engulfing me

with memories as I
sort through, hoping
to find somewhere
a measure of healing.
© 2006

Today's word: crumpled

Sunday, June 23, 2013

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

Saturday, June 22, 2013

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

Friday, June 21, 2013

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

Thursday, June 20, 2013

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, has some mention of rain in it, too. 


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

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Two Below



(Not a recent photo, thank goodness, but an example of what a nearby fence does look like on occasion)

This is a winter poem. No doubt about that.


It's reminiscent of Northern Illinois, where we spent several bitterly cold winters, but it was written during, and about, winter in Ohio ... or any place where temperatures sink unmercifully low, then struggle to rise, fall again, struggle again ... fall.


Little wonder that we find an unnamed couple sleeping under that "pale slice of lemon floating in thin clouds" ... "like two ... bears dreaming of spring."


This one was originally published in Southern Humanities Review:


TWO BELOW

Pale slice of lemon
floating in thin clouds
far above temperatures
fallen, clicking,
struggling to rise
where they were
some time yesterday
before falling back
in the sullen darkness
that will cradle us
like two sleeping bears
dreaming of spring.
 © 2006


Today's word: unmercifully

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

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

Monday, June 17, 2013

Purple



(Today's photo is a worm's eye view of some hyacinths which caught my attention while I was walking in Lincoln Park)


Memory is such a part of poetry - whether of something seen or envisioned, whether long ago or just moments earlier. Memory plays its role. 

In this instance, the memory was implanted so long ago I don't know exactly where or when I saw the sofa sitting on that front porch. It had to have been in my childhood, which would have placed it somewhere in a small town in Southern Illinois.

I remember how the light played across it, how I wondered what its story was, why it was sitting on that porch, neglected, but not really abandoned.

That image stayed with me, followed me, all these years until, finally, I put it to paper and, in doing that, gave it a life of its own. Perhaps it will now stir some memories for someone else, this tattered old sofa "where so many secrets still lie ... "

The poem:


PURPLE

Deep-purple couch sitting alone
in the darkness of the front porch,

lamplight threading a cracked
windowpane, settling like dust

across your back, cushions askew,
butt-sprung, cold, where suitors sat

enduring eternity, waiting, waiting
for that moment that never came,

where others, home from the wars,
found prickly refuge in your embrace,

slept nights away, bone-weary, safe,
where the sick found solace,

baby first slept, generations of cats
yawned, stretched, sank regal claws,

where so many secrets still lie
like lost coins, just beyond reach.
© 1998

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: lamplight

Sunday, June 16, 2013

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

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Leaky Roof





The morning seemed to start off with a bit of fog ... most of my mornings seem to start that way, even when the sun is shining brightly ... so it was no surprise when ... I woke up ... late, thirsty ... thinking foggily of clouds, rain, roofs, leaky roofs ... and this poem came to mind:


THE LEAKY ROOF

We knew just where
 
to put pots and pans
when the rain came
suddenly weeping
through our roof,
its pit, pat, pit-pat
lullaby lingering
long after the storm
had droned off into
distant, grumbling
thunder, leaving
a morning residue
of splatters
and puddles,
blankets on a line,
featherbed sprawled
like a newborn calf
broadside of the sun.
© 2001

(received an honorable mention award in Ohio Poetry Day competition; subsequently published in my first collection, Chance of Rain ... Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: grumbling

Friday, June 14, 2013

Impossible July






Today's poem is from my first collection, Chance of Rain.

As the collection's title implies, the poems in it are about rain, certainly, but it's also about the absence of rain ... equally important ... or worrying ... to those who raise the food on which we all depend.

This poem is about that absence. It was written in an attic room so perfectly fitted for talking about the "blue flame of sky/ leaping horizon-to-horizon/ and back ... "

It was a room never intended for air-conditioning, a place where "A fan labors, but fails" ... amidst a promise of rain, but an empty promise.

Oh, how it reminded me of those searing, rain-starved, melting days of July in Southern Illinois, where I grew up! And how I still sometimes miss them.

The poem:

IMPOSSIBLE JULY

End of July, and as far
as the eye can see
only a blue flame of sky
leaping horizon-to-horizon
and back to this room
so high, so near the sun,
that words have become
too hot to touch.

A fan labors, but fails,
to bring relief, while my
thoughts bubble and run
like tar on a lonely road.

And the sky flares up
with the promise of rain,
but an empty promise, full
of the heat of absence.

Wafting, shimmering lines
become a cruel mirage,
yesterday’s fading belief
 
that relief from this
might still be possible.
© 2003


("Impossible July" received a third-place award in a ByLine competition, and later became a part of my first poetry collection,Chance of Rain
, published by Finishing Line Press, 2003)


Today's word: promise

Thursday, June 13, 2013

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Gently Falling



It was a quiet, rainy evening, and I had been working at the computer in the attic (not as primitive as it may sound ... it's a finished attic space, carpeted, well-lighted ... I also call it "my studio" now).


I leaned back in my chair ... trying to decide whether to tackle just one more task ... or call it a day.


It was then I noticed that a gentle rain had begun. I could see the tiny droplets speckling the skylight, gathering, beginning to trickle down the slope.


Something about that scene brought the word "weeping" to mind. I just had to write that phrase down. There followed others ... the thought that rain is sometimes soothing, but that it can also elicit feelings of loneliness.


The poem started out in the direction of loneliness, sadness, but took a rather abrupt turn at the end with the question: "Or is it joy?" ... and my implied answer then was definitely in the direction of joy. 

It still is. Most definitely. Joy.


Now, the poem:


GENTLY FALLING

The rain
comes weeping
to the pane,
early few drops
catching late light,
pearly beads
trickling
down the glass
in remembrance
of some loss
long forgotten.
Or is it joy?
© 2003

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor; subsequently included in my first collection, Chance of Rain, Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: joy

P.S. - As some of you know (thanks to my previous celebration of milestones reached with these postings), lurking in the background is a "hit counter." Don't worry, it doesn't collect any personal information at all. It just counts each "hit," or visit, from someone ... whether just a quick glance or a careful reading of what I've posted. Well! Yesterday the counter passed the 32,000 mark. I thank you, one and all, for that encouraging milestone, and I hope I continue to merit at least an occasional visit from you ... and you ... and, of course, you, too!