Friday, January 31, 2014

Moment





Only once in this lifetime have I experienced the sensation of a butterfly settling onto my hand.


I'm sure, as a child, I must have dreamed of such a thing, without ever really expecting it to happen. It was like lying on a hillside, looking up at the clouds, and imagining what it might be like to fly, literally fly, above them ... something to speculate on, but not to be attained.


Then there I was, an adult ... a very tired adult ... sitting on a hillside far from those amid which I did so much of my early dreaming ... and there was a butterfly ... sitting on my hand.


Had I known then what a haiku moment was, I would have declared that to be one. Instead, I simply sat, transfixed, watching, waiting ... and finally squinting to follow its path as it departed.


I suppose some will read into the poem a feeling, not just of the butterfly's departure, but of loss, too. I prefer to think of what I had gained.


And so it has been with the visits of those who stop by to take a look at "Chosen Words."


Then the crowd moves on. There are other journals to visit, to explore, to evaluate and comment on.


It grows quiet here.


If I were to read "Moment" aloud now, I might be the only one listening. But I would savor the words ... I would read them carefully ... and I would recall the heat of that day ... the sun ... that butterfly ... just as I am now looking back on the past several months, savoring the words you have left with me.


As I continue reading your words in the days to come, I will remember ... your thoughtful comments ... the kind things you've said ... and I will think of all I have gained from your visits.


And I thank you for all of that.


Meanwhile, the poem:


MOMENT


The butterfly sits so lightly
on the back of my sunburned
hand that I barely feel
its tiny feet clinging, tongue
tasting the essence of me.


I sit stone-still, watching
as it clings, seeing its tongue
uncurling to taste, feeling
my breathing subsiding
into the rhythm of its wings,
folding, unfolding,


sit savoring the reverie
attending the encounter with this
being that has flown to me
like a tiny fleck of fly ash,
but has chosen me, the most
unlikely of choices, and keeps
sitting here while I consider
whether I might seize it.

Then, as though sensing
my intentions, it lifts lightly
off, flying raggedly, majestically
across the sun-swept field,
perhaps pursuing a search
for someone more worthy,
leaving the weight of absence
pressing my hand.
© 1999

(originally published in Vincent Brothers Review)

Today's word: majestically

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Let There Be Light




I haven't the foggiest idea of what I was watching on the TV that July evening ... just sitting, vegetating in front of the tube, when ... suddenly ... I was alone with my thoughts ... in total darkness.


What a jolt that was.


I thought at first a fuse had blown (yes, we had fuses then) ... but I fumbled down the stairs, looked up and down the street ... and arrived at a slightly different verdict: We had a bigger problem.

At least I got a poem out of it.


This poem came to mind when I got home after an enjoyable evening of listening to an author describe her adventures with first, second and third novels ...


I opened an e-mail from a friend and fellow-writer in Kansas ... who was expecting to lose power at any moment.


"Over 30,000 already without lights here in this area," she said. "I doubt that I will be online much longer. Don't worry ... we'll be fine ... just have to ride it out!"


Her rather frightening situation brought to mind "Let There Be Light," though there is little similarity between her situation and the relatively minor inconvenience that I was experiencing on that steamy summer night.


When I looked up my poem, I noticed that the original version had ended: "powerless again/ in the hands/ of the trusted/ utility company."


Given the benefit of the perspective provided by time, I think I may have been taking an unfair swipe at the utility company then. What do you think ... original ending ... or a modified version?


Of course, the question is relatively moot, once the poem has been "abandoned" to a publisher ... but I was just wondering ...


The poem:


LET THERE BE LIGHT


In the hottest part
of summer,
in the darkest part
of night,
our reverie is torn asunder
as the picture we are watching
is swallowed by the tube,
accompanied
by a wheeze
that dies with a sigh deep
inside the air-conditioner,
and here we sit,
powerless again
in the hands
of the trusted
utility company.
© 1997

(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)

Today's word: powerless

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

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 ... a finished attic space, carpeted, well-lighted ... I called it "my studio").


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

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Frozen Pond




There were a lot of ponds in the area where I grew up, but this poem is about one particular pond ... on the property where my brothers and sisters lived at that time.


When I got to visit them (but that's another story), it was our favorite gathering place. I did my first fishing there. I went sledding down the hill and out onto the ice of that pond.


It was one of the first places I wanted to see when I came home on furlough after completing basic training.


Years later, during a visit back to Illinois, I drove out in that area to show my wife that pond. But the house was gone, the land was overgrown, and we didn't even get a glimpse of the pond.


For all I know, the pond may not even exist now, but it's very much alive in my memory. The poem was originally published in Capper's ... and I know, I know ... some of you have heard it before ... but it talks to me about a special place ... and I hope you won't mind.


The poem:


THE FROZEN POND


The pond was always home
for wayward leaves,
adding, in late summer,
the yellowed offerings
of the black walnut tree,
then the reds and golds
of maple and tulip trees,
like tiny boats lazing
among the ducks, twirling
at the tiniest stirrings
of air or water, remaining
trapped below the surface
when winter came, as though
waiting for us to come
thundering down the hill
on our sleds, out onto
the ice, that marvelous,
jeweled surface spinning
us around and around,
our laughter spilling out,
still echoing back.
© 1998

Today's word: echoing

Monday, January 27, 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

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Dawning



Those who know me well ... family and friends ... will be surprised to find I've written somewhat favorably about the beginning of the day.

Mornings have generally not been easy for me.

But this poem is not just about morning. It's about the experience of returning to an awareness of surroundings, discovering "words already dancing/ across the softly-lighted/ ballroom of my mind," of being on the verge ... after all that struggle ... of beginning to put words on paper.

Yes, it speaks to me about what I like best, writing, that activity which takes over after that "ballroom" activity, the real "dawning" that occurs with the writing itself.

The poem:

THE DAWNING

When the earth is still
hovering between sleep
and consciousness, when
birdsong is finding voice
and a distant bell
sways in the gentle wash
of sound, I come floating
out of a recurring dream,
yawning, stretching, eyes
struggling in darkness,
feet reaching cautiously
for the reality of floor,
words already dancing
across the softly-lighted
ballroom of my mind.
© 1999

(originally published in Sisters Today)

Today's word: yawning

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Catching a Wave



(No waves evident here; I just thought it might be good to share one of my peaceful photos ... this one taken at Cox Arboretum ... with this particular poem)

I don't think I was intended to be a morning person. Mornings have always been a struggle for me.


I know, I know. Morning is the best part of the day for the writer. Other concerns have not begun to intrude. 
The house is quiet. The brain is rested, ready to rev. Here's a whole new day beckoning.


But for me it's ... well, it's just morning. It takes me a little while to build some momentum.


I roll over, get one foot on the floor, then the other. I stand. I go teetering off in the general direction of the keyboard. I find the switch, flick it on.


By this time I have both eyes open. Things are starting to come into focus. And then, look out. Oh, look out! I'm starting to roll. I may even be writing soon.


This one was first published in Capper's:


CATCHING A WAVE

Down the avenues of my early-morning
mind zooms a flood of crowded, honking
thoughts that seek a place to park.

I’m too tired to direct traffic, too stressed
to sort them out. That must wait till later,
tongue losing its taste of suede, on the

verge of talk. But then they’re gone, not
a thought in sight, not a word of that
early-morning roar. Perhaps tomorrow.
© 1999

Today's word: momentum

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bouncy Pine




Things I say, particularly in those pieces which may eventually become poems, are not always intended to be taken literally.


That's the case today, of course.

Anybody who has ever looked even casually at a pine tree knows it doesn't have springs, concealed or otherwise.

But it doesn't take much observation to lead one to the thought that it looks like there must be some kind of mechanism at work there.

There have been times when I've been in the company of pine trees, unaware of a slight stirring of air, but there is movement in their needled branches.

How else explain that movement?

It seemed to be the way to describe them at the time. The moral of the story ... the "lesson" ... the "mini-sermon" ... seemed to follow naturally.

It's a thought, at least ... and I use it sometimes to cheer myself up.

Here's the poem:

BOUNCY PINE


The boughs of the pine
ride on concealed springs,
rising and falling
at the slightest touch
of a summer breeze.


Oh, that we could be 
as resilient, as quick
with our enthusiasm.
 © 1996

(originally published in Explorer)


Today's word: concealed

Thursday, January 23, 2014

All Those Trees




Memory ... how important it is ... not just so we can find things we seem to have hidden from ourselves only minutes before ... but for preserving events along the way ... to be savored later.

They may not be vitally important ... or important at all, in their own right ... but I'm convinced that they do have a role to play.

I enjoy recalling pleasant events ... or even just enjoyable moments ... when all the world seems to be working against me.

I guard against "living in the past," of course ... an impossible task, but also an activity that can have disappointing, if not disastrous, results.

I am pleased, however, when I see someone I haven't seen for a while ... and I remember their name. 

I am doubly pleased when I can remember where I put something. Memory ... memories ... so important to all of us, I think.

Today's poem owes much to the memories associated with a day trip taken with a group of "senior citizens."

Phyllis and I had sort of wandered off from the group ... intentionally, mind you ... I like to do that sometimes ... simply to enjoy a bit of quiet, to stretch my legs, to view the scene from a different angle.

But let's let the poem tell the story:


ALL THOSE TREES


We'd grown tired of winding
along with the other tourists
through the aromatic rows

upon rows of captive plants,
felt our own tendrils tugging
gently toward a nearby hill.

We had paused half-way up
when there was a sudden
flutter of excited footsteps,

the clatter of young laughter,
and we were swiftly engulfed
by a surging flood of children

racing tree-to-tree, so intent
on their game they didn't see
us standing there, recalling

a game we had played so like
theirs, savoring the memories,
and now, loving all those trees.
© 2001

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)


Today's word: aromatic

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Transformation




I think today's poem requires little in the way of explanation.

When the idea came to me and I tried to capture it on paper, I struggled to squeeze as much into eight short lines as I possibly could.

I was operating then under the mistaken impression that Capper's ... where I was thinking I might submit it ... only published eight-line poems.

I believe, however, that I may have succeeded in conveying my central message: The world does take on a new aspect when we view it with "new eyes."

Oh, if we could just manage to maintain that perspective.

The poem:

TRANSFORMATION

The landscape
seems different
from yesterday,
brighter, softer,
and yet the same
in all details.
Could it be that
have changed?
 © 1996
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: transformation

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Strawberry Wine





(Barely a watercolor sketch ... one of many I've done while on my daily walks, exploring the countryside, avoiding the confines of closed spaces, when weather permits ... but I just thought I'd share it today.)



Today's poem is about lunar eclipse. 


I think it's about other things, too: It's a love poem, a poem about the exhilaration, if not intoxication, that comes from quietly, thoughtfully observing nature.


That's what I thought when the poem came to me after watching a lunar eclipse with Phyllis.

 
Those moments on that winter night brought back so many memories for me, principally the red of all those strawberries against all that green of the fields. 


It reminded me of the strawberry wine I once saw as a child. It reminded me of so many things.


I had faith in that little poem. I had faith in it when I presented it at a workshop, where the moderator dismissed it with the comment that "the writer was obviously drunk on words when he wrote this."


I couldn't help thinking that he had given it a rather superficial reading. 


But he was partly right. I was "drunk on words." I still am ... in the sense of enjoying that elation which comes from having listened carefully to the words coming to me, then having written them equally as carefully on the page. 


I maintained my faith in this little poem, and I am so glad I didn't give up on it. 


Now it has been published in the noted literary journal, Plainsongs. It is also the title poem of a 64-poem collection looking for a publisher.


And now, here it is:


Strawberry Wine ...


We stood gazing through the tangle

of dark branches suddenly still,
holding the moon in a vast silence,

watching, as others must have done
eons ago, wondering at this sight,
this transfiguration taking place

as the silvered moon glided slowly
into the shadow of a frozen earth,
going golden, pink, then deepening

red of strawberry wine translucent
in the glass, bearing the aroma
of fields snowed over with blossoms

and redolent of ripeness, that fruit
hiding in the quivering green leaves,
the sun bearing down, and now this,

this sweetness of witnessing a most
ancient of miracles, going to bed
with the distinctive taste of it

on our tongues, the scent of it
lingering on our measured breaths,
sleeping heavily, as though drugged.
© 2005 

(published in the Fall, 2005 issue of Plainsongs; received a special honorable mention in a ByLine contest; now the title poem of a manuscript in search of a publisher)


Today's word: redolent

Monday, January 20, 2014

Play BALL!





Today's poem comes to mind each year as  ice-encrusted winter months start retreating and I resume walking past those ball diamonds waiting for crowds of kids ... or would-be kids ... to return.

It also comes to mind with the onset of nippy nights and chilly mornings ... a reminder that the things of summer will soon be put aside while we search for the leaf rake ... and the dreaded snow shovel.

I like to store away sunnier memories ... something to tide me over in less inviting times, weather-wise. 

What better memory than a sun-drenched ball park?

There's one ball park in particular that holds a certain fascination. I guess it's because there's seldom anybody else around as we go strolling by.

I do pause there ... sometimes approach the backstop, and my fingers do grip the wire mesh like "some abandoned vine" ... while I think of days long, long ago, when I actually ran the bases a few times.

There's still that momentary urge to try it again. But I'm a little smarter now ... and a lot slower ... and I never do.

The poem:

Play BALL!

Standing behind
the sagging backstop
at the deserted field,
my fingers gripping
the wire mesh like
some abandoned vine,
I'm tempted to go
tearing around second,
sliding into third
in a cloud of dust;
instead, I linger
a few moments more,
enjoying the quiet,
 
just imagining that
roar of the crowd.
© 1998

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

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ordinary Moments



(Just an ordinary gathering of leaves at curbside ... but they caught my eye with their colors, shapes, texture ... and I captured the moment with my camera)

Sometimes it seems that all my poems are rooted in memory.


This one is no exception.


From those distant beginnings ... the foundation stones of all those "ordinary moments" in a young boy's life ... to today ... there's a long bridge of discovered excitement, adventure.


I often go trudging back across that bridge, in search of those beginnings, because I see them now as more than just ordinary events.


Isn't that always the case?


The poem:


ORDINARY MOMENTS


... in which I discover

travel-rounded stones

on the meandering

creek bed of my mind,

each a found treasure

whirring me back

to rainy days spent

with musty books, nights

floating in wood smoke,

mornings with eggs

frying in a dark skillet,

moments when the world

seemed to be

just waiting for me

to kick off the covers,

resume my pursuit

of this great adventure.

© 2001

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: travel-rounded

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Night Echoes



How vivid the memory is of those trucks "grumping and rumbling" in the night.

I don't recall exactly when it was, but I remember being bedded down for the night in a motel at Terre Haute. Then I heard them. It sounded like a parade of trucks, although there weren't nearly that many ... and there wasn't exactly a steady stream of them.

I recall getting up to take a look. There was a single, huge dump truck grinding past on the highway. I don't recall which highway, but It seems to me that it was a north-south route.

I went back to bed.

The trucks kept rolling. It wasn't a loud noise, but it seemed persistent ... and it seemed that there was just enough of a grade in the road, right beside the motel, that their grumbling ... all of them ... increased right there as they shifted to a lower gear and went on climbing the hill.

I got back up ... jotted down my impressions ... and went back to bed. And really slept then. Oh, did I ever!

The poem, which later became part of my first published collection:

NIGHT ECHOES

Mud-laden trucks
grump and rumble
outside my room,
hauling mounded
loads of quiet
down the highway,
letting it spill
in the darkness,
come rolling back,
thunder’s echo
muffled, distant,
washing across
this emptiness
like surf crashing
on my pillow.
© 2003


(originally published in Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: crashing

Friday, January 17, 2014

Making It Count




This is one of my "walking poems," written in my early retirement years, when I was in the habit of sitting down at the kitchen table after my daily walk and writing bits and pieces that I could share with Phyllis when she got home from work.

There's nothing profound about it. Still, I think it says a lot.

I like it for the economy of words, for the walking cadence which brought it to me, but also for the outlook: Not that there should be wild partying, as though each day were the last, but that the certainty of today should be seized, taken advantage of, used to do something really worthwhile, against the uncertainty of tomorrow.

I don't recall precisely where I was when it came to me, but I do recall how I felt the rhythm of the words beginning to arrange themselves as I strode along: "I try to do my best today ... "

I still do.

MAKING IT COUNT

I try to do
my best today,
for I may not
have tomorrow.
© 1997
(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)

Today's word: cadence

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lost in Thought





I sometimes like to take a figurative statement and pursue it as though it were literally true ...


I remember a teacher who pointed out the mental images brought up by "catching a bus," for example, if taken as literally true ... likewise with "taking the plunge," "beating the bushes," etc.


In this case, I considered "lost in thought."


Literal pursuit of that concept takes us rushing down the winding path toward several improbable possibilities, all the way to the somewhat illogical conclusion. Or is it?


The poem:



LOST IN THOUGHT


If I were to become
lost in thought,
would I wander forever?
Would anybody notice
that I hadn't come
home for supper?
Would search parties
form sagging lines, go out
into the darkness,
beating the bushes
and calling my name?
Would I be
on the six o'clock news?
Would I ever
be myself again,
or would I return
as someone completely
different, a person
I have never met?
© 1999
(originally published in ByLine)
Today's word: literal

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

In Praise of the Mundane




(Today's art is a cooperative effort ... my grandson, Thomas, did the construction ... I took the photo ... quite a long time ago

It seems like only yesterday ... but obviously was a little longer ago than that ... when I shared my poem, "Ordinary Things," with you ... and mentioned that it was an outgrowth of a rejection.

In response to my request for his comments on some poems I had submitted, the editor had scrawled something about "mundane treatment of ordinary subjects" on the rejection slip. 


My initial reaction? I had hoped for something a little more constructive. 


But I managed. As a matter of fact, I managed to get two more poems out of that comment.


Oh, and both were subsequently published ... elsewhere. I think there's an obvious lesson in that ... so obvious that even Professor Squigglee (anybody remember him?) would be unlikely to fly into a detailed explanation.


Today's poem:

IN PRAISE OF THE MUNDANE


I don't howl at the moon,
read the entrails of chickens,
plumb the mysteries that reside
in the implacable eyes of cats,
nor take up strange, aromatic
cigarettes, sip unaccumstomed
teas, nor leave my body
to roam the universe.

I do write across the chalkboard
of my mind, or on a torn paper,
an envelope, about simple things
that come to me of their own accord,
quiet, mundane things that I welcome
and treasure as old friends.
© 1996

(originally published in ByLine Magazine)
Today's word: mundane

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hope Renewed




Today's poem reminds me of the good old days, way back when I was putting together a free, weekly e-mailed newsletter (anybody remember that version of "Squiggles"?).

One of our annual rituals was a countdown toward spring.

It was not unusual for it to begin with the first frost in the autumn, struggle through the gray days of winter, then go marching toward brighter, sunnier, warmer ... growing ... days of spring.

This poem also reminds me of a time when Phyllis and I shared a sleeping room high under the roof of the house, where the sound ... the music ... of rain was so soothing, so reassuring.

Though I can't hear the rain thumping on the roof now, the sound of it slanting against the bedroom window is still a pleasant interlude, a reminder ...


The poem:


HOPE RENEWED

Spring rain
thumps on my roof
as though testing it
for ripeness,
and in the sunny
back yard of my mind
I see red roses
blossoming again.
 © 1994

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

Monday, January 13, 2014

Glimpse




Just as distance changes the perspective of things in the physical world, so does it change the perspective we have on events of long ago.

It's been a long time since I "lived in the country." By today's standards, it was a rather restricted life. We had no running water, no indoor plumbing, no central heat, no telephone, no car.

Ah, but there are other things I remember about life back then, and I still savor them. Actually, their flavor seems to improve ... like warmed over soup ... each time I bring up those memories.

Perhaps I've overdone it a bit with my talk about "that bit of heaven so far beyond the grasp of cities, and all their suburbs ... " but perhaps not.

The poem:

GLIMPSE

Those who have never been
lulled by a country breeze,
savored the scent of hay
lying in the sun, caught
the sweet, wafting hint
of honeysuckle, who have
never heard the raucous call
of a crow gentled, distanced
by the summer air, well,
they've never glimpsed that
bit of heaven so far beyond
the grasp of cities, and all
their suburbs still to come.
© 2000

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)
Today's word: grasp