Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Winter Comes






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

No ... winter ... severe winter weather, that is ... hasn't come to Ohio ... yet. 

But winter will come, believe me. 

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

Take a look, please:

WINTER COMES

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

© 2000 

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

Today's word: jubilant

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Touch of Spring



(One of the paintings I've done ... of a favorite place, Charleston Falls) 

We were out and about ... had a few errands to run ... had to get out for our daily walk ... a bit abbreviated, but still a walk.


It was a little too crowded indoors ... and a little too nippy outdoors, so we compromised, cut the walk a tad short, stopped in at a favorite place for a cup of soup, a bit of conversation, and came on home.


The weather had me thinking about spring.


No harm in looking ahead, I always say ... or, in this case, back to a particular day well before this poem was originally published.


I still recall that moment ... a brisk day, the exact bus stop where I felt the sun bouncing off the brick building ... like it was putting an arm around me ... offering reassurance.


And so it is with that season of renewal, of hope, that warm promise of things to come.


The poem:



TOUCH OF SPRING

I feel a touch
like a friendly hand
on my back, an arm
across my shoulders,
for the sun has
broken free of clouds
and is projecting
a warmth I had
almost forgotten.
I smile at strangers
and they smile back,
for they're feeling
that touch, too,
that warm embrace.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)



Today's word: embrace

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sunflowers





(No, they aren't sunflowers, but I liked the color, the patterns, when I took the photo ... and just now when I was searching for something to go with today's posting)

I remember tooling along the highway somewhere in the Midwest.

The sun was shining, the landscape a quilt of varying shades of green, a sprinkling of houses and farm buildings.

Then suddenly ... it seemed sudden at the time ... I became aware of those acres of sunflowers "staring" at me. 

I was reminded of a classroom, not as a teacher, for I was never privileged to have that role, but as a visitor entering quietly, yet becoming, for the moment, the center of attention ... all those young heads turning, those eyes all focused on me, evaluating, questioning.

Oh, how that field of sunflowers reminded me of that moment. And now, this morning ... I'm enjoying the memory of that sun-drenched scene ... and how it set the wheels turning toward another poem.

It goes something like this:



SUNFLOWERS

Great gray ribbon
of road unspooling
steadily beneath me,
then, to my left,
acres of big brown eyes
all intently focused;
first day of school,
teacher's talking.
© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
                            
Today's word: focused

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reunion



(I know, I'm repeating myself with this, but thoughts of summer always bring certain memories to mind ... again ... and again.)

What a great surprise it was when our tired old mailbox offered up a DVD, titled "Homecoming 1988." We relished the memories it stirred ... 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 ... calling today's poem 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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Quiet Nights at Fuzzy's



Fuzzy's was a real place in my hometown. It still is, as far as I know ... Fuzzy's Tavern. 


I was never inside, but I was always intrigued by the swinging doors, just like in the movies, and by the mixture of sounds ... music and voices ... and those alien smells, a mixture of smoke and booze, I suppose, which came flowing out onto the street.


Fuzzy's is among my earliest memories of my hometown. I recall how Grandma would take my hand and guide me past.


As I say, I've never actually been inside Fuzzy's, so "Quiet Nights ..." is a product of a combination of early memories and my imagination. Oh, how that always enhances the memories.


When I wrote this poem, I imagined how it would have been to have followed the smoke as it drifted slowly through ... like a movie camera taking it all in ... then out the screened back door, out into that darkness "teeming with crickets and stars."


Someday I may go back to that little town where my journey began.


I'll go strolling down the east side of Main Street and, though I may feel that Grandma is still watching over where I go and what I do, I may venture inside Fuzzy's to see what it's really like.


Then again, I might just go strolling on by, like when Grandma led me past. I'd kinda hate to learn that it isn't anything like I imagined it to be.


The poem:




QUIET NIGHTS AT FUZZY'S


A lazy blue haze wove its way through
a tide of voices rising against
the solemn blare of the jukebox,



curled past booths lining the walls
like dark coffins, crawled into the dim
light hanging forlorn, discontented,



at a tattered table where the deliberate
clack and roll of spheres marked
the ebb and flow of local riches,



back where lonely drinkers got serious
in the grips of sweaty brown
bottles, washing themselves beyond



remembering the din of summer rain
on the tin roof, beyond even caring
about fighting, then the smoke seeped



out the screened back door, off,
night after night, into a darkness
teeming with crickets and stars.
© 1999

(second-place award winner in a Dayton Metro Library literary contest, and now part of a manuscript, a work in progress)


Today's word: memories

Friday, December 26, 2014

Purple



(Today's photo is a worm's eye view of some hyacinths which caught my attention while I was walking in Lincoln Park ... not recently, mind you ... too wintery for that)


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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Morning Songs




Back in the days when I was known as "The Cake Man" among my co-workers, it was, as you might guess, my favorite food. Any kind of cake could get my attention ... and have me reaching for a fork at the same time.


Even the smell of a freshly-baked cake would catch my attention as little else could.


I still relish the smell of that now-forbidden food.


Where am I going with this? I'm wandering just a bit down memory lane. Just as I still relish the smell of a freshly-baked cake, I relish old memories.


They don't feed me like present events do, but they bring me comfort ... and I like that.


I certainly don't live in the past ... any more than I can experience a future which hasn't arrived yet. I do like to pay visits to some events of the past, though ... just like I enjoy "visits" to the possibilities of a future which lies vaguely ahead somewhere out there.


That said, the poem:


MORNING SONGS


Cold mornings,
when I fold
my towel, drape it
again on the rack,
I sometimes hear
the music of eggs
sizzling, gravy
burbling softly
in the frying pan,
coffee perking,
leaping against
its knobbed glass
ceiling, muttering
in darkening tones,
and sometimes
I catch the scent
of that kitchen,
that magic time
 
so distant, but
still wafting.
© 1998
(originally published in Moose Bound Press)


Today's word: sizzling

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lost Pencils




Phyllis pretends she's not with me when I discover a pencil lying on the sidewalk. She knows I can't resist. I'll simply have to pause, pick it up and put it in my pocket.


I've learned not to do that with pens. Sometimes they leak.


But pencils?


There's something safe, reassuring about a pencil.


Even the most chewed up, stubbiest, disreputable looking pencil has the potential of a few more words, of writing a few lines, perhaps, that could someday turn into something big ... maybe a poem.


Here's one now:


LOST PENCILS


I find them during my walks
past schools, lying there, poor,
fallen things, pointing forlornly
to some vague destination.


Many bear the jagged markings
from anxious scholars' teeth,
some have been sharpened
to the point of extinction,


some are broken, and might not
write again, without my timely
arrival to bring them home.
Handling each with the care


one would accord a fallen bird,
I slide it into the warmth
of an inner pocket to keep
it safe, for this could be


the one I've always needed,
the one with something to say
that I really need to hear.
© 2000

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: potential

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Help Wanted




Ah, I remember it well. We had stopped in Terre Haute to stretch our legs a bit. 

We'd been walking the corridors of a shopping mall, turned the corner into the food court, and there he was.

The elderly gentleman was sitting alone, one elbow resting on the edge of the table while he squinted at the newspaper he had tilted toward the light ... and his coffee sat, growing cold. 

We took a turn through the food court and walked on.

When we came by again, he was still there, sitting the same way, still poring over the paper.

I have no idea what he was actually reading, nor what his particular interest might have been, but something told me to find a place to sit and scribble a few words on a scrap of paper that I carry, just in case: 

"HELP WANTED - Conversationalist ... "

In due course, a poem was born of that experience, that chance observation, those three words I had scribbled.

The poem:


HELP WANTED

Having grown old,
I haunt the ads,
hoping to find one
that might say:
Help Wanted -
Conversationalist.
Witty, yet reserved.
Willing to listen.
Flexible hours.
No travel required.
Age no barrier.
© 1997

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: conversationalist

Monday, December 22, 2014

Goodbye, Old Hat




Years have passed now, and the mystery of the missing hat is still unsolved ... although I do have "a person of interest" in mind.


The last time I recall seeing it was when I put it in the laundry. It never came back. That would seem to limit the number of suspects ... possibly to just one.


I have the feeling that one particular person, a very dear friend who used to pretend she wasn't with me when I wore that hat, gets the feeling that I think she did it. Not so. You're all under suspicion. Nobody leaves the room, understand?


It's possible, of course, that I ... of all people ... might, in a moment of delirium, have thrown the hat away. I'd hate to think I did that to my faithful, trusting, trusted old hat. I really would.


would sort of like to know what really happened to it though.


I don't even have a picture of it. The original had never, to the best of my knowledge, sat for a portrait, nor even had its photo snapped by someone mistaking its wearer for a celebrity.


So I had to resort to a stunt double to illustrate the poem about its plight ... and (sniffle-sniffle) mine.


The double, of course, is a younger version of the vanished one, but it's gradually becoming ... well, quite comfortable, like an old pair of shoes.


But now, the poem:



GOODBYE, OLD HAT


"My old brown hat is gone!"
I cried.
"When did you have it on?" she sighed.
"This year, or last.
Time goes so fast."

"The one rumpled, crumpled,
and torn?"
"Yes, yes! Tattered, spattered,
forlorn.
Twenty years my best buddy ...
all that.
My oldest, dearest friend,
my hat.

Now it's gone, left no trace.
I'm wild ..."
"I'm sure it's, uh ... someplace," 
she smiled.
And, looking me straight in
the eye:
"But it was time to say
goodbye."
 © 1997

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: vanished

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Finally, Sleep



Sleep, that blessed escape from the cares of the day, is not always easy to come by ... but I recently slept well for two nights in a row ... and woke up thinking about a certain poem ...  about those mortal enemies - writing and sleep.


At least I've found them often directly opposed to each other. 

When I'm in the throes of writing, sleep is the last thing I want ... and then, sometimes, when I sleep before I've finished a project, I wake up feeling writing-deprived.

"This attic room" used to be the place where all of my serious writing took place. Excluding, of course, those frantically written notes while waiting at the bus stop, or in the doctor's office ... any place I had a few free moments and an idea that just wouldn't wait.

You know the story about that.

That place just beneath the roof was peaceful and quiet ... and when it rained, I enjoyed rain's gentle cadence that accompanied the tick-tick-tap-tick of the keyboard, the rustling of papers, the stifled yawns, and ... finally, a bit of sleep.


But we've moved ... and, though I don't miss that extra set of stairs ... I do miss those evenings up there.

Especially on rainy nights ... I find myself pausing to think about those crinkling ribbons of light, the words which came streaming across the screen as I continued my quest for a poem, in this case:


FINALLY, SLEEP

Ribbons of light
crinkle across
the glass atop
this attic room,
moving slowly
to the cadence
of gentle rain,
then vanish
in the quiet
of these small
hours that call
me to sleep.
© 2001

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)

Today's word: ribbons

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ever a Circle




Today's poem is written, seemingly, about autumn ... and it is ... but it deals with other seasons, too.

So I guess I'm not too far off base in using one of my photos that speaks ... from a worm's eye view ... of spring.

The seasons, as I say in the poem, form a recurring circle. 

From that standpoint, I think it doesn't matter at which point we mount the whirling merry-go-round of seasons.

They keep coming around ... going around ... and we sometimes find ourselves complaining about this one ... too hot or too cold ... too dry or too wet ... find some fault in the present season, while looking forward to the next one ... or maybe even its opposite number.

Meanwhile, the poem:


EVER A CIRCLE

The pursuits of summer
have finally relented,
releasing children
to the autumn slide
of gathered books,
the shuffling of feet,
pencils crawling
on paper; the glimpsed
dogwood, glorious
with snowy blossoms
last spring, shows
first crimson now
on a clump of leaves.
How the months have
fallen away, piling
like shattered petals
across our memory,
in a depth sufficient
to sustain us over
another crossing
of bare-limbed winter
to spring, where
warm light is waiting
to help us celebrate
another completion
of this circle.
 © 1999

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Beyond the Words




Regular visitors to "Chosen Words" know that I often discuss ... in far too much detail, I'm afraid ... a particular poem's origins ... what it was that prompted me to write a particular piece in a particular way.

That can be interesting sometimes ... and even helpful to the reader.

But I frequently overdo it. I hope to avoid that today by simply presenting the poem. 

Oh, if it happens to resonate in a certain way with you ... if it takes on a special meaning as you read it ... I'd certainly be glad to hear about that.

It's sometimes helpful to know what the readers feel I've said, rather than ... or in addition to ... what I think I've said.

Meanwhile:

BEYOND THE WORDS


I was born hungry for words
that tempted me like popcorn
on a string, rested lightly,
melted sweetly on my tongue.

I grubbed them out, devoured
them, savored their aftertaste,
grew in vision as their images
nourished and sustained me.

Now, lulled by the puffed up,
empty words I'm fed each day,
I sleep fitfully, wake up starved,
not for words, but for meaning.
© 2005

(published in the November, 2005, issue of Poem)

Today's word: hungry

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

After Summer Rain



(Another view of Charleston Falls ... one of my favorite spots ...)

Today's poem, based on an early memory, could easily have been the title poem in my first published collection, Chance of Rain (Finishing Line Press, 2003). Instead, it quietly took its place among the others.


"After Summer Rain," with its starring character, a tiny bug swimming in a laundry tub which had filled with rain water, did become the inspiration for the cover illustration, designed by my son, Alan.


In the poem itself, I like what's happening ... the relationship between this tiny bug, which has suddenly appeared, and this "young man" who is drawn to it, pondering "what it might become, where it might go," questions he had barely asked himself.


Selection of a title poem, in the instance of this first collection, seemed obvious to me, albeit with overtones of designating a favorite child. That honor had to go to "Chance of Rain," my "lucky poem" ... those eight 
lines which were discovered in the middle of a longer poem by  an alert editor at Capper's who spotted them, liked them, suggested that we keep them and my title.


I quickly agreed, and "Chance of Rain" became my first poem accepted for publication. Thus began this great adventure.


But today I'd like to share that other poem:


AFTER SUMMER RAIN

When the storm passed
and the sediment settled
in the tub so recently
sitting empty beneath
the downspout, a tiny bug,
exploring its new world,
memorizing the boundaries,
looking for others,
or savoring the solitude
of this galvanized galaxy,
swam to and fro,
oblivious of the young man
pausing to watch,
puzzled over its sudden
coming to be there,
pondering what it might
become, where it might go,
doubly perplexing because
he had barely posed such
questions about himself.
© 1998
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)
Today's word: exploring

Monday, December 15, 2014

Who Writes Poetry?




This is a rather whimsical piece which began when a certain intriguing question popped into my head and triggered a series of images.


I had fun writing it, I've enjoyed sharing it, especially with its eventual publication. Oh, and was I ever excited when it was called out for an encore appearance!


Marion Roach, whose program, "The Naturalist's Datebook," is heard on Sirius Radio ... Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius 112 ... read "Who Writes Poetry?" for her listeners.


In my seemingly perpetual situation, clinging by my fingertips to the trailing edge of technology, I didn't have access to Sirius Radio ... and I still don't ... but I was excited about what had happened to this little poem.


And today's art? It has no direct connection with the poem, but I liked the way the sun was breaking through the clouds ... a metaphor for a glimmer of hope, perhaps ... maybe just an interesting moment captured with my small digital camera ...


Meanwhile:


WHO WRITES POETRY?


Horses, standing head-to-tail
beside each other, the better
to swish the flies away,

are they thinking up poems?
How about cows, studiously
worrying their warm cuds?

Do mules stubbornly pursue
clip-clopping couplets, compose
sonnets, sestinas, villanelles?

Perhaps it's the tiny finch,
singing his easy promises
while she builds the nest.

But I think it might be
the solitary snail, crawling
through the night, leaving

lines going this way and that
on the sidewalk, evidence,
surely, of some kind of angst.
© 2000

(originally published in Kaleidoscope)

Today's word: solitary

Sunday, December 14, 2014

That I May Know




In selecting the art for these postings, I try to be as careful as I am with the chosen words which make up the poem, as careful as I am in selecting the poem itself.

I don't want the art to overpower or distract, but to illustrate the point I'm trying to make with the poem.

In this instance I believe I have a match with my photo of a stump. 

I like the stump simply because of the way the sun plays across its features. 

It also speaks of all those years spent growing in the woods ... and now this final stage of giving way, of returning to the soil from which it came, devolving into nutrients for new plants.

The presence of green in the photo represents the onset of this new growth. It is spring, a time of renewal. 

The stump remains, that symbol of the past, but it will eventually be overrun by new growth, new flowers, new dreams ... the renewal of life.

In the poem I am attempting to address this ongoing cycle of life, attempting to bridge the gap between the old and the new ... the present and the past ... a bit wistfully, perhaps ... while also trying to touch on the future. 

The poem:

THAT I MAY KNOW

When I am old
and wizened,
feeble and forgetful,
then I hope
you will read to me
a poem I wrote
in younger days,
so that I may know
once again
what it was like
to dream.
 
© 1996 
(originally published in Poetic Eloquence)

Today's word: wizened

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Solitude




Today's poem was written at a time when I was setting a particular kind of challenge for myself with my writing: Take a randomly-selected word and define it, not in dictionary terms, but in personal, human terms ... terms that readers would understand for having lived or witnessed some of them.

It helped that I had some experiences to call on ... the relative isolation of a rural upbringing ... military service ... being "alone" on a crowded subway in New York City.

It helps, too, to be able to block out present surroundings, for at least those few minutes of the writing exercise ... all of those things of the moment which are the opposite, in this instance, of the word you're trying to define: friends, family, companions, even the voices coming from the TV in the other room ...

The poem, originally published in Shawnee Silhouette:

SOLITUDE

It's not just
the hollow, echoing
sound of nights;
days can be
lonely, too,
with a consuming
emptiness spreading,
crinkling as it burns
the thin paper of time
on which we scratch
the names of our thoughts.
With no one to touch,
no one to hear,
no one to care
that we exist,
there is no breaching
the walls of that cell
in which we are locked,
listening as the minutes
slide into hours,
pyramiding themselves
into coldness,
the absolute zero
of solitude.

© 1996

Today's word: emptiness