Saturday, August 31, 2013

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, August 30, 2013

My Song






When I wrote today's poem, I had no idea I would still be writing in 2013 ... 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. 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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

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, August 28, 2013

If It Rains





As are most of my poems, today's is fairly straightforward, dealing with harsh realities.


These are still just as harsh, and just as real, I'm sure, as when I was growing up in Southern Illinois.


How dependent, how at the mercy of the weather, were those who tried to make a living from the soil.


Life was one big gamble, and nobody knew the odds, exactly, except that they always seemed to be against the players.


Rather than a single, memorable incident, this piece represents an accumulation of impressions, and is about no particular, single farmer, but all farmers who face the odds and keep playing this most difficult game, betting against the weather year after year.


The poem:


IF IT RAINS


Paper-dry corn emits a sigh
as an arid breeze riffles
the long, dead rows
of ochre and gray, searching
for moisture. Even weeds
are limp with thirst.


Last year had been a good one,
so he paid down some debt
and, less burdened,
plowed and planted once more
on gentle, warming slopes
as spring returned.
It may rain tomorrow, he says,
knowing that it's too late
to salvage this crop.


But if it does rain tomorrow,
next week, or next month,
that may be enough
to sustain last spring's hopes
through the rages of winter,
and he will plow again.
© 2003

(Originally published in Capper's, this poem is from my first collection, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: if

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hungry Eyes Feasting






This is one of my dream poems. No, I'm not saying it approaches perfection ... not in any respect. It's a poem about one of my dreams.

It seemed so real to me because it took place in familiar surroundings, much of it in my home neighborhood. The familiar went streaming through my sleep, in one of those dreams which seem to go forever.

I thought it would never end ... especially when it took the mysterious, sinister overtones of my feeling that, although I was on a deserted street, I was being watched.

Usually I wake up, the dream bubble bursts, and that's that.

Not this time.

I reached immediately for that pad and pen which are always nearby, just in case. I'm glad I captured some of those images before they got away from me.

This poem went on to be published in Waterways:

HUNGRY EYES FEASTING

Awash in the buzz and crackle wafting from
The Hillside Tavern’s enchanted neon signs,
I wake to the sound of nothing in my room,
Find the aching cold of yesterday's shoes,
Then, exploring the hall's echoing darkness,
Hear the ticking clock, the click of the lock
Before I go strolling past houses haunted
By the absence of dreams, empty windows
Staring back, thousands of broken promises
That will not be mended - not this night;
Slowly I march to the song of something
I can almost hear, feel its hungry eyes
Feasting on me, sense its crouching, tensing,
Preparing to pounce, and I dare not scream.
© 2005

Today's word: feasting

Monday, August 26, 2013

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.

However, 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

Sunday, August 25, 2013

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

Saturday, August 24, 2013

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

Friday, August 23, 2013

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

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Antidote






I don't know how many nights I had tossed and turned. Let's just say there were a lot of them.

So many times, during those restless nights, I would think of something that seemed to be the start of a poem, perhaps ... or a bit of fiction ... something I might do something with, if only I could remember it the next morning.

I never could. The next morning? Gone ... the slate wiped clean ... not a trace of that "great idea" which had nagged me so much the night before.

Aha! The solution? That's explained in the poem.

But it didn't solve the problem I expected it to ... far from it.


You'll have to read on to discover what problem was solved:

ANTIDOTE

All those nights
of tossing, turning,
I lay awake wishing
I had pad and pencil
to preserve thoughts
dancing fleetingly
across the ballroom
of my frazzled mind.
When finally one night
I remembered to place
these vital tools
within arm's length,
I went smugly to bed.
And slept like a log.
© 1997

(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)

Today's word: fleetingly

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Waiting to Play





This is another "walking" poem.

I had no idea, when I took up walking as a regular, daily pursuit, that it would also lead to poetry ... or at least fragments of thought that might become something akin to poetry.

But there's something about the rhythm, the cadence of walking, that seems to stimulate words and phrases.

When this happens, I try to keep them in mind until I get home ... where I used to sit at the kitchen table while I jotted them down to share with Phyllis later.

Now I usually head to the computer.

In this case a scattering of leaves on the sidewalk caught my attention.

It struck me that they looked like colorful, broken pieces ... how the sunlight danced across them ... and some of them seemed to come to life when a breeze came gliding through.

From there it was just a short leap to imagining that the leaves were really waiting for children to come out to play with them.

Those images turned into this little poem:

WAITING TO PLAY

The leaves lie
like broken pieces
of fine porcelain,
catching sunlight
in the autumn quiet,
stirring slightly
as a breeze comes
gliding through,
but mostly they’re
waiting for children
to come romping out
to play with them.
© 1999
(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: romping

Monday, August 19, 2013

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

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Summer Showdown








I've recently been lulled into a sense of invincibility (OK, so I'm exaggerating just a bit) ... actually, I have been thoroughly enjoying the somewhat cool weather we've been having ... 



I've tried to contain myself, though, and speak cautiously about it, because I know it's going to come to a sudden halt. This is Ohio, after all.


Story of my life.

The coolness ends suddenly, and the heat is back. Then as I sit at the sizzling keyboard at mid-morning, the temperature still rising, I can almost hear eggs frying on the sidewalks around town.


Anyway, what I'd really like is a little more of that steady, cool ... not COLD, mind you ... but cool, pleasantly cool weather ... ple-e-e-e-ase.

Meanwhile, today's poem:

SUMMER SHOWDOWN


Summer sun’s so boiling hot
I can almost hear the soft
clinking of spurs, stealthy
creaking of the boardwalk,
a sudden, smothering silence
in which the buzz of a fly
sounds sinister, foretelling
a showdown on the sun-baked,
hoof-pocked, clatter-plaited
street, where a tumbleweed
pauses in the sanctum of shade
cast by a tumble-down saloon,
where I stand, suddenly struck
by a lightning flash of thirst.
© 2003

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger; now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher)

Today's word: tumble-down

Saturday, August 17, 2013

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

Friday, August 16, 2013

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

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Naming the Fish




Today's poem is based on a phone call from my son, describing how he had taken his son fishing for the first time.

I could say that I made up some of the details, but that wouldn't be true, exactly ... the feel of the rod, the quivering fish, the sights and sounds that go along with fishing ... are based on memories of outings I had with my own sons.

The poem, incidentally, is part of a manuscript in search of a publisher.

NAMING THE FISH

First, there was the long
practice, getting the feel of the rod,
the flick that would send the lure
spinning out across the expanse
of driveway toward the evening sun,
the steady clicking of retrieval,
another flick, and another.

And now the blue water dazzles,
an early sun glinting, wind-stirred
ripples moving in such a way that you
feel you are moving, instead, drifting
toward some vague destination.

The sheath is removed from the barbs
of the lure now, a soft hum of line
extending, the plop, the long wait.

Then the line goes suddenly taut,
tingling, the feeling of life
racing its length, bending the rod
until, finally, the water parts
and you’re holding a slippery,
wiggling, gasping fish, looking
into its large, imploring eyes,
giving it a name, a person’s name,
then letting it slip gently back
into the water and swim away.

© 2006

Today's word: spinning

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Late Run






I have ridden a lot of buses. The bus was my main mode of transportation when I was in military service ... later when I started college ... still later, during a good portion of my working life.

There's something about a bus.

Absolute strangers will take a seat beside you and start telling their life's story ... at least that's been my experience ... and the drivers ... when you're the first one on the bus in the morning, as I often was ... or the last one off at night ... as I sometimes was ... they'll strike up a conversation ...

There's just something about a bus.

You can't help but pick up information about people and places ... bits and pieces of information ... even if you're not a writer ... things, impressions that stick with you ... things that resurface at the strangest times.

That's what makes this poem what it is ... the bits and pieces.


It comes together as though it's all happening along a certain route ... on a certain Saturday night ... on a rainy Saturday night ... a certain driver ... a particular bus. Not so. It's a combination of those bits and pieces, gathered during hundreds of rides over thousands of miles.

So it didn't really happen? Oh, but it did. Not in the neat little package starting at Point A and ending at Point B. But it did happen.

I imagine it was ... as is often the case ... a rainy night that set the memories into motion ... this gathering of impressions from the recesses of my mind ... the narrative that followed ... the driver ... rain ... the sweeping turn ... rain peppering the dead roadside grass ... all of it coming together to form a poem.

And that, I suppose, is an example of poetic license.

THE LATE RUN

An almost-empty bus,
and I'm dozing as it
splashes down a lane
toward St. Leonard's.

Its headlights sway
as it makes a sweeping
turn, pauses, then goes
grinding off again.

"It's that way most
Saturdays," the driver
says. Then, glancing
at me: "I make that
loop, you know? Just
in case. But there’s
hardly ever anybody
waiting." A pause.
"Now ain't that life?"

We jolt along, listening
to the wipers slapping
the rain aside, tires
smacking puddles, and I
ponder what he has just
said. The rain peppers
the dead roadside grass
and dances its lonely
Saturday night dance,
while I sit thinking,
tired and a little sad.
© 2003

(from my first poetry collection, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press, 2003)



Today's word: license

Monday, August 12, 2013

Interlude





Today's poem likely began life somewhat larger than the version I'm sharing with you.


That's not unusual. When a poem ... or what may become a poem ... begins to present itself to me, I often just let the words go trickling across the page.


Sometimes that works. Sometimes not.


In between that kind of beginning, and publication, there is a lot of revision. That usually means tightening.

Fewer words. More left to the imagination of the reader.


Does this one work? Well, the editor thought it did ... but I tend to think the reader has the final say on that.


If you've ever watched the sunshine come crawling (swarming?) through a window, the poem may work for you as it did for me. If not, well, ... it may still be food for thought:


INTERLUDE

See how the sun
comes crawling
through the window,
like hungry bees
on a single sprig
of goldenrod.
© 1997

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: crawling