Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A New Leaf




Whoa! Can it be? The end of another year. Time to turn over a new leaf, right?

There was a time, children, when ... each month ...we did turn over a new leaf (page) of the calendar ... which was a printed collection of the days, weeks, months of the year ... usually hanging on the wall in the kitchen.

"Turning over a new leaf" also meant that we had resolved to do better at our assigned tasks, to try to become a better person ... and that generally coincided with the end of the year ... out with the old, in with the new.

In my early years, when I was still being shaped by the caring, loving, sacrificing grandmother who reared me, I generally sat down with pencil and paper at the end of the year to pledge my efforts at improvement in the coming year.

I felt I owed her that. I felt I owed it to myself.

I don't do New Year's resolutions now ... haven't written them out for a number of years.

But I think each day ... whether I crawl slowly out of bed, hoping the floor will rise up gently to touch my feet ... or leap out ready to face whatever the day may hold for me ... each day offers this opportunity for that "new leaf" ... a new beginning of sorts.

I've encountered some detours along the way. But here I am, still plodding along, still being drawn along by what may lie ahead, around the next bend in the road.

So I guess I do think sometimes about that "new leaf," too.

Meanwhile, the poem:


A NEW LEAF

How soothing the sound
of it, like the feel
of clean sheets, crisp
and cool to the touch,
hinting airy freshness
as we snuggle in.
How comforting it is
to lie here thinking
of this whole new year
fresh and inviting,
opening the prospect
that things might be
better, perhaps could
be, if we could just
approach each new day
with the same sense
of purpose we feel
at this moment.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: freshness

Monday, December 30, 2013

Morning Song






As some of you may know by now ... I grew up in a rural area ... in the hill country of Southern Illinois, as a matter of fact.

No surprise, then, that today's poem ... an attempt to paint some images with as few words as possible ... has roots that go all the way back there.

No, I didn't live on a farm. By the time I came along, my grandparents had opted for a smaller place ... just big enough to have a few cats, a few chickens, a dog, rows of berries, corn, potatoes, a couple of fruit-bearing trees, and ... my favorite place ... a grape arbor.

But we were well within earshot of several farms ... and their sounds  ... their music, if you will.

One of my favorite numbers involved a barn door sliding open ... and a tractor rolling out with its throaty song all about work.

So there you are ... and here's the poem:

MORNING SONG

First light comes
stealing across
slumbering fields,
a door slides open
like muffled thunder
rolling, distant,
then, on the breeze,
a tractor's song.
 © 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: slumbering

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Let Them Try




Another poem about writing, the concentration it demands ... and the distractions which intrude, especially if the writing is being done in an attic room -- er, studio -- and the squirrels are playing games overhead.


Before we had our maple trees trimmed, our roof seemed to be a favorite gathering spot for those rascals.


It sounded like they were having squirrel conventions up there, or the Squirrel Olympics, maybe even doing some line dancing, although I couldn't hear the music, just those little feet, back and forth, back and forth ... back and forth ...


Oh, there were moments of quiet ... I suppose while they were choosing up sides again ... plotting their next moves. During these suspenseful moments I could get a few words written. Then the commotion resumed.


As I recall, my first draft, instead of talking about "teeny-tiny feet," said something about "obnoxious little feet," but I mellowed a bit after that.


In the quiet that followed the trimming of those overhanging limbs, I guess mellowing was to be expected.


Oh, and I purposely kept the lines short ... in order to underscore the tension of writing under such pressure.

The poem:


LET THEM TRY

Squirrels go
trickling across
my green roof
while I write,
trying to break
my concentration.

Hah! Let them
try. I am so
focused not even
booming thunder
could faze me;
certainly not
this constant
pitter-patter,
pitter-patter,
pitter-patter,
pit of their
teeny-tiny feet.
© 2001
(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)
Today's word: pitter-patter

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Inscrutable Scrap



(Again, the photo has no direct relationship to the poem ... just something that caught my eye when I was out walking)

I have this thing about thrift stores.

I find it difficult to pass one without going inside.

Once there, I have trouble getting back out without buying something ... at least a book. At the very least, a book.

Aside from the story the book may have to tell, there are other stories, too ... a note on the flyleaf from the person who originally gave the book to someone else ... marginal notes, sometimes ... underlined passages ... a bookmark indicating a favorite portion ... or where the previous owner stopped reading.

All of these are dividends, I think. I'm curious about people and their reading habits. I like to "know" who the previous readers were.

Then, in this one instance, I got an extra dividend.

When I got home with my "prize," I noticed a bit of brown paper ... like a tiny piece of a grocery bag ... peeking out from the book.

I pulled it out ... and discovered ... and, well, that's what the poem's all about:


INSCRUTABLE SCRAP

A scrap of paper
jaggedly torn
from a husky brown bag,
held prisoner
by the dusty book;
a frayed finger,
beckoning, pleading,
it surrenders
its shakily-penciled
long-lost message:
I LOVE YOU
but keeps its
secrets, too, like
who wrote it, and why
had she kept it
all these years?

© 1995
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)
Today's word: secrets

Friday, December 27, 2013

Hello, Morning




During my working years, mornings were not my favorite time of day, largely because of the early hour at which my work days began, partly because of the pressures of work.


Ah, but retirement brought a change. Now I could sleep in, if I chose, and I could ... within certain limits ... set my own agenda for the remainder of the day.


So what did I do? Miracle of miracles, I started getting up early ... voluntarily ... and I found things to occupy my day ... a bit of art, a bit of writing, a bit of walking, a bit of watching the sun come creeping up over the horizon ... or watching it melting slowly into the western rim of the world.


The poem:



HELLO, MORNING

Early light
feels its way
across the top
of my fence,
gently warming
weary, weathered
boards, faint
yellow softness
spreading like
creamy frosting
on this new day.
© 1997
(originally published in Capper's)



Today's word: melting

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Grilled Cheese and Shake



(As is often the case, the art/photo has nothing to do with today's posting, really, but I like the mood it conveys, and thought I'd share it)

It took me a long time to get through college, and it wasn't because I was a slow learner.

I didn't have any money. That, of course, delayed the start.

Even after a bit of military service, I still didn't have any money to speak of. But that's another story.

Let's just say I was finally in college ... and on a budget.

Oh, I had a place to sleep, a rented room, and I had a couple of places where I could grab a bite to eat at a reasonable price. The fact that I was a breakfast skipper helped the bottom line, too.

I fell into the habit of eating at those few chosen places regularly, and the people on the other side of the counter soon knew what I'd have, even before I announced it.

Ah, those were the days.

In the poem, of course, I've changed the names ... to protect the innocent, as they say ... even the name of this one particular place bears no resemblance to its actual name.

The rest of it is true ... quite true, as a matter of fact. The name of the bread? That was its real name. Honest!

The poem:

GRILLED CHEESE AND SHAKE

Betty knew her customers
down at the Lunch Box
Cafe, where conversations
slid to the back burner
when hulking trains
came lurching past.

I'd walk in, starved,
as skinny as a snake,
and she’d toss two slices
of buttered Bunny Bread
and a thin slice of cheese
into the smoke rising
from the grill, power up
a blender, add a squirt
of strawberry flavoring
to a prospective shake.
I'd straddle my favorite
wobbly stool, sit savoring
the smoke, anticipating
that last surreptitious slurp,
its sweet, sticky essence,
sit watching Betty at work,
marveling at her memory,
how cool she was when
the orders piled up,
how she knew when to turn
the sandwiches, snatching
them back from disaster,
wondering if she knew how
those skinny sandwiches
and thick, frothy shakes
were snatching me back, too.
© 2001

(originally published in A New Song)

Today's word: frothy

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Fireflies






Fireflies seemed such magic creatures in the place where I spent my early years.

They still do.

Especially in that period of transition from day to night, when darkness is beginning to settle in, they do seem to be wavering up some kind of invisible ladder.

They do seem to be signalling to us "that dreams still take wing."

Today's poem:

FIREFLIES

Slowly, randomly they rise
from daytime resting places
into the cool, embracing night.

Tiny wings whirring against
the sodden, clinging atmosphere,
they labor to lug their lights


blinking up wavering ladders,
beacons signaling that dreams
still take wing on such a night.
© 1997

(originally published in Sisters Today)


Today's word: randomly

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Evensong




"Evensong" is a word picture painted from memory ... the memory of those times when the storms had passed and we emerged to assess the damage to the garden, our trees ... the neighbors' trees ... our house, their houses.


That was always the aftermath, that slow evaluation of what had happened to our world, what steps needed to be taken next.


It was almost as though the birds were doing the same thing, echoing our concerns, beginning to express their feelings after having survived another onslaught.


"Evensong" was not the result of a single experience, but a distilling of several, a boiling down to the essence of that feeling of kinship with the natural world, the world around us, a world, thank goodness, that had birdsong ... and still does, if we but listen.


The poem:


EVENSONG

Dark clouds scud off
toward the east, while
twilight descends
onto hail-torn foliage,
then from somewhere
overhead, tentative notes
slowly gain strength,
blossoming finally
into full-throated
birdsong near a lone
figure who pauses
on the slope of the hill,
eyes searching vainly
for just a glimpse
of this small creature,
then turns toward home,
less burdened now
for having been given
this healing moment.
 © 1999
(originally published in PKA's Advocate)
Today's word: healing

Monday, December 23, 2013

Defying Gravity




Oh, wouldn't it be great to be able to rise above the everyday problems that continue to plague us?


I thought about that.


I thought about literally rising above them, sailing off as carefree as a bird ... or more like a big red balloon which had just gained its freedom.


Of course, I came back to earth, to the reality that things would still bug me, but I felt better able to cope.


How's that for a bit of therapy ... at least in the realm of things which, in the long view of things, aren't all that important?


Maybe if I practice on the little things I will be better able to rise above the larger, more serious hurdles which lie ahead.


It's a thought, anyway. Now the poem:

DEFYING GRAVITY

With practice, I fully expect
someday to defy the gravity
of situations that bug me now.

A promise broken beyond repair,
an umbrella gone inside-out,
the spilled beans of some urgent
secret, the hole in my sock,
a lost mitten, broken shoelace,
a bookmark gone astray,
my coffee cup gone stone cold,
things I’ve forgotten,
crawling out, feeling old.

I see myself like a giant
red balloon, rising easily
 
above them all. And don’t you
dare grab the string.
 © 2002
(originally published in Potpourri)
Today's word: balloon

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Clear Blue Morning



(I know, the photo doesn't represent a "clear blue morning," but I liked the way the light was hitting the clouds, the way the wind was dancing with the trees, the young leaves overhead, watching it all.)

Most of my life, I have not been a morning person.

Oh, there were times when I grudgingly enjoyed a sunrise, savored the cool morning air during the summer, enjoyed a hearty breakfast.

But most of the time ... my growing up years and my working years ... I found it a real struggle to get my feet on the floor again, to get my eyes open and in focus, simply to get moving. 

I had reasons ... or excuses ... but basically I simply was not a morning person.

Then I retired.

Admittedly, there was a period of transition ... weeks afterward in which I had a deep-seated feeling that I should be dragging my body off to a job someplace. 

But gradually I came around to accepting this new "freedom," this absence of a fixed schedule, except to the extent that I imposed a pattern on myself.

I soon learned the true meaning of "rattling around" ... with nothing in particular on the agenda for the day.

Then I started writing. What a discovery that was! I soon found myself looking forward to mornings so I could resume the activity of the evening before. 

There's just something about the quiet of the morning ... the brain so far uncluttered with details ... the imagination fully wound and ready to go.

Oh, what I had been missing!

And now, the poem:


CLEAR BLUE MORNING

How I savor
fresh dew
between my toes,
melodies
of light beginning
to seize me,
words gathering,
pencil moving
to claim a place
on paper, this.
© 1999
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)
Today's word: gathering

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bridge Builder





Sometimes, I think, it's best just to let the poem tell its own story. My comments about a poem's beginning ... the inspiration for it ... my purpose in writing it ... in transforming scribbled notes into the finished product ... all of these, sometimes, are helpful.


Today, though, I think I'll just step back and let the poem do the telling ... all of it:

BRIDGE BUILDER

My grandfather built bridges, 
not the bright, towering
monuments to engineering like
those spanning the Mississippi.

His bridges were squat, dark,
wooden things, put up by gangs
of common laborers who spent days,
weeks, sometimes, away from their
families, so trains could go
rolling smoothly across the creeks
and small streams that wrinkled
the face of the earth.

One evening I watched as his
rough, scarred hand gripped a stub
of pencil, and the pilings,
cross-members, all the timbers,
ties and rails took shape across
a ruled page of my writing pad.

His eyes glistened when my small
voice asked how far he had traveled
in this work, eating alien food
that strangers plopped on his plate,
trying to sleep in crowded, hot
bunk cars alongside the mainline.

"Too far, and too long," he said,
and I knew the story was over.

That paper is gone, his bridges
replaced by steel structures,
or abandoned as railroads began
surrendering to the superhighways
and airplanes, but how I wish
I had that little drawing, so I
could slide it out, look at it
again, something of him to hold,
now that I’ve come to appreciate
his most important bridge, those
huge hands reaching out to me,
the child nobody wanted, saying,
"Come ... live with me."

© 2006

(Second place winner, Dayton Metro Library 2006 Poetry Contest)
Today's word: reaching 

Friday, December 20, 2013

At Daybreak





Okay, so I'm a little preachy in this one. So be it.


That's probably sufficient commentary on this particular poem. After all, I'm not really a morning person ... never was, probably never will be ... but I have to admit that morning is ... can be ... a beautiful time of day.


There is just something about the kind of quiet which accompanies a sunrise, especially if you've pitched your tent in a good spot ... or if you're just rolling out of bed at home, feeling rested, ready to face another day.


There's something about seeing each day as an opportunity ... a new beginning ... no great need for fanfare or ceremony ... just a new beginning.


And I don't think it's too much to ask of ourselves ... myself ... (I'm not big on forcing others to see things as I do) ... to do our part to avoid ruining our environment ... after all, this is our home, this is where we live ... 

That said, here's the poem:


AT DAYBREAK

The day glistens
with natal dew,
freshness riding
still-cool air,
booming red sun
nudging thin clouds
aside, a perfect
setting for pursuit
of the serious
business of saving
this while we can.
© 1998

(originally published in Candlelight Poetry Journal)

Today's word: environment

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Autumn Night





Perhaps these images, written about so wistfully, have little meaning to others, but to me they are the essence of things I miss about that place where I grew up.

I think it is quite natural that we have this connection with our beginnings, and quite natural that we should think of them again ... and again ... as we look back and see just how far we've traveled in all these years.

Thank goodness for that "bridge of memories." I often go strolling across it.

The poem:

AUTUMN NIGHT

Stars spilled
across dark velvet,
thin ribbon of smoke
climbing the air,
lettuce-crisp, clear,
toward a lemon moon,
square of window
whispering its light
through the trees,
beckoning to me,
wanderer still,
with only a bridge
of memories
to carry me back.
 © 1996
(originally published in Explorer)

Today's word: wanderer

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Walnut Wisdom





Walnut trees ... the black-walnut variety, in particular ... have long been a part of my life.

There were two which grew near the bluffs, a short hike from the house in which I was growing up. 

The walnuts were mine for the gathering. I would wait for some windy autumn weather, then I would venture up there with a burlap bag in which I would stow the found treasures which carpeted the ground underneath those trees.

Of course, that was just the beginning. The next step was to lug them home. Then the fun really began. 

I used a hammer to remove the juicy hulls which covered the shells. The result: A hefty pile of walnuts ready to begin drying out ... a process of "curing," becoming ready for cracking open to expose the delicious meats inside. 

Another result was a pair of thoroughly stained hands. I recall my hands being so stained that they looked like they were wearing gloves.

Ah, the memories.

Every autumn I find myself thinking of those trees again ... wondering if they're still there ... if some youngster is enjoying their output as much as I did. 

Meanwhile, the poem:


WALNUT WISDOM

The black walnut's
seething green leaves,
steeping all summer
in the raging sun,
are turning yellow,
randomly twirling
to earth, the leaden
thumps of fallen
fruit providing
an uneven cadence
on the long bridge
of sunny afternoons.


Bruised and smashed,
their juicy hulls
draw back from those
dark interiors where
their secrets lie,
awaiting squirrels,
whack of a hammer,
the outside chance
of becoming a tree.


This, the walnut
knows, is autumn’s
beginning, a time
of payoffs, endings,
another slow turn
of the wheel.
© 2002

(originally published in Potomac Review)

Today's word: twirling

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

There, Almost





On reading this poem quietly to myself again, it occurred to me that the whole poem can be summed up in its first two words: "I dream ... "


In the poem I'm dreaming of London, Rome, Paris ... places I've never been ... and I'm dreaming of actually being there.


Well, you'll see the details of that as you read on.


As my orbit continues to grow smaller, I continue to dream ... not just of those exotic places so far beyond my reach ... but of places close at hand ... places I would like to see, but probably never will.


But I don't dwell on the "never will" aspect.


Nor do I dwell, particularly, on the opposite side of that coin ... the possibilities, remote or otherwise. I live, after all, in the real world ... a world that contains obstacles ... impediments ... realities that we must all face in some form, to some degree or other.


And still, I dream ... Oh, do I ever.


These dreams are the magnets ... tiny though they may be ... which draw me along. They beckon to me in the morning ... throughout the day ... and even when day is done and I sometimes find that I'm so weary.


I dream ... yes, I dream ... and I hope you do, too.


Meanwhile, the poem:

THERE, ALMOST

I dream of London,
Rome, sometimes Paris,
strolling their streets
on a spring day,
listening to voices
spilling like clear water
over rounded stones,
feeling the whisk of wind,
touch of rain, the quiet
of a hailed cab, tires
smacking puddles
on the curving streets,
tasting the food
in a warm cafe, tables
draped and waiting,
as though they knew,
all along, I'd be there.
© 1997

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)
Today's word: smacking

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sudden Thunder





The skies were a bit threatening, but nothing serious, as I set out on my morning walk. Still, I had chosen one of my intermediate routes, which would add two miles to my good-behavior record, rather than the usual one mile ... or, in warm, sunny weather, three miles.

I'm sure there had been some rumblings, but nothing to worry about, just a bit of background music as I went strolling along, my thoughts a million miles away.

I was somewhere along Watervliet Avenue, heading generally east, when a sudden explosion of thunder got my attention.

Did it ever. It was so loud that "nearby" seems an understatement.

I remember turning - I have no idea what I expected to see - but I turned, found myself looking down this driveway, and there, in the wind and rain, was this beautiful rose, bending and straightening, almost as though beckoning to me.

I've tried to fix that exact location in memory, but I have yet to locate that precise driveway, that fence, that rose again.

I must have been soaked by the time I got home, but I don't remember changing into dry clothing. I don't think I was chased all the way home by lightning. I would certainly remember that. But I do remember that moment when I turned and discovered that rose.

I'll always remember that.

The poem:


SUDDEN THUNDER

I was walking,
cradled in thought,
when a nearby
crash of thunder
wheeled me
and I stood looking
down a long driveway
at a deep red rose
that was leaning
and straightening
beside a dark
gray fence.

For the longest
moment I remained
rooted there, letting
the rain trickle
down my neck,
drip from my
fingers, admiring
this beautiful flower
that had drawn me
to it with
a clash of cymbals,
brittle song
of thunder.
© 2003

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

Today's word: thunder

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reaching Out





I'm not sure where or when this poem actually began. 

Poems sometimes have a way of hanging around ... lurking ... waiting for the right moment ... and then presenting themselves to me.

I think this one had its roots in the time and place where I grew up. We lived on a small piece of land just outside a small farming community, so it was not truly a lonely existence, in the sense of being a stranger among strangers.

We knew everybody ... and I presume everybody knew us. We were among friends.

Still, there were times of loneliness, times when there were no playmates, times when there was nobody to talk to, except my grandparents ... and they were sometimes occupied with their own concerns.

So I think this poem may have been speaking to that time and place, particularly with its reference to the hills ... "my voice flying" ... "someone hearing, answering" ... but I really think it speaks of a hopeful outcome.

We could all use a bit of that.

And now the poem:

REACHING OUT 


Let me stand
in the clear blue
of morning,
sun rising, warming
the waiting hills,
and my voice flying
through the silence,
someone hearing,
answering, more
than an echo,
a kindred spirit.
© 1998

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: kindred

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Passages




Strange how ... and where ... poems sometimes reveal themselves to a person.


As I recall, I was sitting in the car in front of a Post Office, waiting for Phyllis to go in, mail a letter, and return.


I noticed the reflections of the vehicles going by on the street behind me ... how the warped window made them appear to be leaping ... like horses or hunting hounds ... bounding over a hedge.


I thought about reflections I had seen in store windows in my home town ... and of one window, in particular, on one of my last visits there. That store was vacant. Oh, the memories I had of that little country store!


Then the poem started asserting itself ... I reached for a scrap of paper ... always waiting in a handy pocket ... and began writing.


And now, the poem:


PASSAGES

The cars change shape
as they come and go
in the warped window glass
of a store that once was,
dusty now, this begrimed
keeper of secrets,
these windows that
have seen it all
in this small town: deaths,
funerals, weddings, births,
departures of its young
who sometimes come back,
stand beside a grave,
listen to an acorn falling,
slow ticking of eternity.
© 2007

(originally published in Waterways)


Today's word: ticking

Friday, December 13, 2013

Old Dog Asleep







It was our neighbor's canine, "Houdini," who inspired today's poem. 

"Houdini" enjoyed lying in the back yard, belly to the sun, dreaming, no doubt, of some great escapades ... or of being suddenly nose-to-nose with a wandering raccoon ... or of catching the squirrels stealing food.

Or perhaps only soaking up the sun.

But it was "Houdini" who set in motion a series of memories of my own canine pals from my growing-up years. They enjoyed the sun, too. They also enjoyed exploring the hills around my boyhood home, and they were always ready to head out on some new adventure with me.

Sometimes, though, they were tired. At my approaching footsteps, the head would be lifted slightly, I would receive a look of recognition, the tail would thump-thump-thump a few times on the ground, and the head would be lowered again to sleeping position, presumably to pick up the loose threads of some interrupted dream.

I still miss those early companions. 


I miss "Houdini," too. Always the good neighbor, "Houdini" only barked at me once ... when the family was moving in next door.

A quiet word from the owner, and that was that. I couldn't help admiring that kind of restraint. I'm sure there were times ... in all those years that we co-existed ... when I must have deserved a good barking at.

And the picture? Sorry, I don't have a photo of "Houdini." Instead, today we share a photo of shadows ... a subject that I find intriguing ... restful ... soothing. 

Thank you for stopping by ... and, "Houdini," this one is for you: 

OLD DOG ASLEEP

Sprawled like a tired
old tree toppled against
the slope of the hill,
your belly soaking up
afternoon sun, tail wilted
to earth, ear twitching,
plucking at the sound
of my footsteps; what
memories we share,
old pal, how alike, now,
our dreams must be.
© 1998
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: toppled

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Now They Offer




Story of my life. 

I never thought I would end up walking as much as I do. At first it was a little difficult. Actually, quite difficult. When I first started trying, my goal was to walk to the corner ... and back. 

Then, over time, I was able to make it all the way around the block and back home.

That was years ago, at the suggestion of my doctor, and with the encouragement of Phyllis, who became my daily walking companion.

And now I just walk, walk, walk.

The poem was written in those early years. I must admit that I was sometimes tempted to accept the offer of a ride from a neighbor or a friend. But I always managed to tell them, "Thanks ... I'm taking a walk." And kept on walking.

And now? Well, I can't remember the last time one of them actually offered me a ride, although they do sometimes slow, wave, and go on their way.

The poem:


NOW THEY OFFER

Skinny years,
when I could've
used a ride,
nobody stopped.
Now that I'm
walking it off,
 
everybody slows
to offer a lift.
© 1996

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