Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Day for Flying





But isn't that always the way it is when you're in a hurry?

So, for a few minutes at least, I'm putting hurry aside now. I'm sitting here calmly at the keyboard, serenely typing a few words which I hope will make their way into "Chosen Words." 

Not a worry in the world.

Like, yeah, sure.

Meanwhile, here's the poem (I hope):


A DAY FOR FLYING

Crisp autumn breeze sliding off
some unseen glacier, sun busy
burnishing the copper leaves,

as though trees were incapable
of doing it themselves, and not
a cloud in sight. A day made

for flying. Indeed, overhead
dozens of silent chalk marks
of planes drag themselves along,

blade marks slowly multiplying
on a blue rink, crisscrossing,
widening, turning into fluffy

cotton batting stretched along
the cold, these diaphanous
contrails abandoned in a flight

to somewhere, as though planes
of the world were gathering
on this day to make clouds,

being impatient for the regular
kind and for the needed rain,
the prodigal, dallying rain.
© 1997
(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: diaphanous

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Caught on the Brink




Have you ever found yourself in "the twilight zone," that location which lies vaguely somewhere between sleeping like a baby ... and being fully awake?

Well, I have. Many times.

Thank goodness, it has only happened to me a couple of times when I was behind the wheel ... and without serious outcomes in either instance.

Oh, on one of those occasions ... one very dark night ... I was pulled over by a highway patrolman somewhere in Indiana ... but that's another story.

But let me settle into my favorite chair ... with a favorite book ... and it's like I've been given a knockout potion. Soon the words become blurry ... the room seems to melt away ... the book grows heavy ... my eyelids grow heavier ...

Whoa! I'm getting ahead of myself here. I'll just step aside and let you glide right into the poem:


CAUGHT ON THE BRINK

Something I had just read
struck a chord with me,
sent sympathetic vibrations
dancing down the corridors
of my mind. I could feel
something stirring deep
within me, a new knowledge
coming like a rescuer's lamp
shooting fingers of light
this way and that,
drawing nearer in the murky
darkness, promising a sip
from the cup of understanding,
a way to come clawing out
of this abyss, into fresh air
and natural light. "Bob!" I
heard the distant voice calling.
"Bob! Put down your book,
take off your glasses, recline
your chair!" It was as though
the Thought Police had me
surrounded. What could I do?
What else? I surrendered.
© 2000

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: murky

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bubble





(No, those obviously aren't bubbles, but a cluster of lights which caught my eye at one of my favorite walking places, Lincoln Park)


This little poem is laced with memories.

It began, as many of my poems have, when I was observing people.

This time I was riding the bus. Sitting near the front, on one of those aisle-facing bench seats, was a young mother who was chewing gum and entertaining her infant daughter by blowing bubbles.

Watching them, I was reminded of an incident long ago ... I may have been three, or younger, certainly in my pre-school years ... of being seated outdoors in a tub of warm water ... summertime ... bright sunshine.

I still have a distinct memory of a bubble my mother made from that sudsy water, how the bubble glistened in the sunlight. How fragile it was. How magical.

The poem was written, eventually published, and put away. But the memory lingered.

Then, I was out walking with Phyllis, looked up at the fluffy clouds lazing in the sunshine, and noticed the lights near the pavilion ... how like bubbles they seemed to me, as they glistened in the sunlight.

How like that bubble of so many years ago.

The poem:

BUBBLE

My mother's
hand descended
into sudsy water,
a delicate circle
of forefinger, thumb
slowly emerging,
soft lips breathing
life into a bubble
I still see, quivering,
shimmering, a miracle
unmatched in all
of my three years,
and all of these
searching years
since then.
© 1998

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)


Today's word: shimmering

Thursday, March 27, 2014

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wintertime Waltz







Stop me if you've ... actually, don't stop me if you've heard this before.

It's an old story that went something like this:

I may have commented in a December a couple of years ago that, after having unseasonably warm weather in our neck of the woods, winter arrived. Oh, did it ever!

It snowed, and snowed, and snowed. And then we had freezing rain and sleet on top of that.

It reminded me of the time we had similar weather conditions ... I stepped out the back door ... checked on the steps before starting down ... they seemed fine ... one step ... and DOWN I went. Ka-BOOM!

I went crawling back into the house with a lump on my head.

The next time I was carrying salt ... to put on the driveway.

Out the back door ... a careful look ... one cautious step ... and down I went ... Those icy steps had outsmarted me AGAIN!

Nothing broken, thank goodness, except the container of salt I was carrying.

But that reminded me of this particular poem, "Wintertime Waltz." After all, where would we be, if we couldn't have a little laugh at our own mishaps and minor misfortunes?

The poem:

WINTERTIME WALTZ

I have no
sense of rhythm,
no grace, no pace,
no with-it moves
from some great
dancing school.
But on ice? Hey,
I'm a dancing fool.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: dancing

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

There's Fire Tonight



Today's poem is about picking up coal from alongside the railroad tracks. It's about the crackling fire those found lumps of coal brought to us during what we knew then, and recall now, as "hard times."

It was an adventure for a young boy growing up in the care of his grandparents. It was a lesson never forgotten.


But the careful reader will also note that it's a poem about writing. Take a look at the opening: "Words." Hold on to it as you follow the thread of the poem.


I do feel that words are, indeed, like those lumps we thrust into that burlap bag. They have the potential for heat, if we lay them carefully in the stove ... and ignite them with our own inspiration ... fan them into flame.


They will bring us comfort on long winter nights. They will warm our hands ... maybe our hearts, too.


This one was originally published in Southern Humanities Review, and has become the title poem of a manuscript in search of publisher:


THERE'S FIRE TONIGHT

Words, how like
the lumps of coal
Grandma and I found
along the tracks
where hopper cars,
lurching, loping
up the long grade
toward Cobden,
had dropped them,
each a gift
in our dirty hands,
holding promise,
as they were thrust
into the burlap bag,
of shared warmth,
soft, crackling song,
sooty smoke rising,
telling our world
there's fire tonight,
all's well.
© 1997

Today's word: lurching

Monday, March 24, 2014

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

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Persimmons








Today's poem is about going back home, the place where so many memories were stored up, where I lived with my grandparents from pre-school days until I left to go into military service.

Those memories had sustained me all these years.


They had been renewed with my visits back to the area, each one including a slow drive past that special place, now inhabited by others.

Then one year I returned, found the place in ruins. There had been a fire. A few years later, even those traces were gone.

This is a poem about the last time I was there, about standing there as a stranger, recalling all those early years. What wonderful innocent years they were.


The poem:

PERSIMMONS



The house, with its two bedrooms, its swing on the porch, is gone. The tar-papered garage, coal shed, the chicken house, the outhouse, all gone. I climb out of my car to have a look around. I discover, to my surprise, squared-off pieces of sandstone still there where the front walk was, but smothered now in matted dead grass.



               I turn toward where the garden was, where I spent childhood summers chopping weeds in the long, suffocating rows, picking shiny beetles and yellow-orange eggs from potato plants. It has a building on it now, property of the village, a hand-lettered sign says, a further shrinking of the site that seemed to have such endless rows then.

                                          A single cedar tree stands beside where a cindered driveway once struggled up a slight slope. Three other cedars, the lilac, two box elders, a maple, all gone.

                                                   The cemetery sexton approaches, extends a callused hand, says he saw me standing at the graves on the hill, and now here, thought I might be hunting persimmons, tells me to help myself from a tree growing back from the road, where I remember a plum tree standing.

                         We stand and talk, bridging the years between us, and he thinks he remembers when the house was still standing, but he has trouble remembering who lived there, and really can't place me.

Then, as we part, he offers persimmons again. "They’re terrible sweet this year," he says. "Not a-tall puckery."


                                     I thank him for offering, but have one final look, turn and leave without taking any.
© 2001


(received an honorable mention in a ByLine contest)

Today's word: sweet

Friday, March 21, 2014

Outside!






Memories! How we cherish the good ones, make them forever ours, polish them, enhance them, store them away, pull them out to comfort us in our old age.


Such is this memory of our grandson, now becoming a young man, but barely a toddler then.


How proud I felt, watching him go to that window, pointing and pronouncing that word with all the authority he could muster: "Outside!"


I just had to write a poem about it. I know ... I know ... it would embarrass the life out of him, if he were to find out that I had posted it here.


You won't tell, will you? Promise? Then here it is:

OUTSIDE!

"Outside!" he says,
tiny finger folding
as it touches the glass
of our dining room
window. "Outside!"

It carries the tone
of discovery, that ancient
"Eureka!" still echoing,
an air of possession.

He runs repeatedly
to the window, pointing
and exclaiming, savoring
this, another horizon
beckoning, a romance
budding, perhaps growing
until he's my age
and beyond, this love
of the outside world.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: beckoning

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Morning Flight





Poems have many ways of presenting themselves to me.


Sometimes they wait patiently for me to discover them ... and am I ever surprised ... because they've been there all the time ... I just hadn't noticed until now.


Sometimes they almost literally leap out at me. Some event, some thought sets them into motion ... and they're often so fragile ... so like the smoke from an evening fire ... that I have to capture them quickly on paper, or they're gone ... gone forever.


I remember exactly where I was when this poem leaped out at me.


I was walking alone, east on Wayne Avenue, just a block west of Smithville.


Something glinted in the early-morning sky, and I paused to stare at it. It was a plane ... just a tiny speck on that deep, deep blue blanket of sky.


When I got back home, I sat at the kitchen table, as was my custom then, and started writing. The result, after many revisions (that process of slowly boiling it down to its very essence):


MORNING FLIGHT


Great silver-gray fish
gliding silently
across the cold blue
of morning
toward that huge red
bait of a sun,
passengers settled
in your slender belly,
flying away from 
earthbound creatures
just stirring awake,
waiting for the sun
to begin reaching
toward them, too.
© 1998

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: essence

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Late Summons





(Just another of the many photographs I've taken along the way)

It was, as I've said many times, like a summons, when it finally came ... 


Oh, I had written a lot of things along the way ... love letters when I was in military service, business letters later, a memo here and there ... things like that.


But writing? Real, creative writing? I hadn't had time, nor the inclination for that, it seems.


Still, there was something that drove me in the direction of writing ... just sitting down and putting thoughts ... memories ... images ... on paper.


And, as I say in today's poem, it was like the whir of that most beautiful, most graceful, most fragile of insects ... the butterfly ... which brought that latent interest to life ... so that here we are today ... these few years later, sharing these moments, these thoughts.


The poem:


LATE SUMMONS

After enduring
vast, hollow
echoing years
in which words
lay silently
on my heart,
there came
a whir as soft
as the flight
of a butterfly,
summoning
them awake,
and my voice,
sounding strange
to my own ears,
rose in song.
© 1997
(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: whir

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

If Elected




(No ... this is definitely not a self-portrait)

Don't worry. I'm not running for office.

Honest. I'm not planning any long-winded speeches, I won't be asking for money ... or even your vote ... and I certainly won't be making any promises I can't keep. I promise you that.

Then what?


Today's poem was written at another time ... in another place ... when and where it seemed that everybody else in the whole universe was vying for a position at the public trough.


It was a time when politicians were talking our ears off ... and dogs were barking all night. What a wonderful combination, I thought ... and there's no disrespect for dogs intended in that, I assure you.


If I WERE to be elected ... to anything ... it seemed to me at the time ... I would prefer to be the officeholder responsible for "mudging" curs (whatever that means) ... not the first time that a responsibility has been invented out of pure air (remember when we still had some of that?) ... in order to garner the votes of the undecided ... and unsuspecting ...


Well, from there it was strictly downhill ... and fast. But I had fun with the poem (remember, no disrespect for dogs intended). Here it is:


IF ELECTED

When finally I have
attained full growth,
I think that I
should like to be
a curmudgeon, which,
I'm told by my pal,
clear-eyed Ed,
is one who
mudges curs.


It's the least they
deserve for barking
all night at nothing
in particular while
decent folk are
pounding pillows,
trying to sleep,
but only attaining
grouchyhoodedness.


I promise, if elected,
not to be stingy
with my curmudgeoning.

 © 1997

(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)


Today's word: curmudgeon

Monday, March 17, 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

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Good Deed



My reaction at the time the event occurred went from puzzlement ... to surprise ... to that pleasant feeling you get when somebody does a good turn for you ... and doesn't want, in fact, would refuse, anything in return.


The poem tells that story.


Oh, I suppose my neighbor was grateful for the small favors we did him and his family when they had a house fire shortly after moving in. But he didn't owe us anything for our help, either.


That's what neighbors do for each other.


He was grateful then ... and I was certainly grateful for all that shoveling he was doing for me. I had been waiting out the storm, dreading the task that confronted me.


Then, suddenly, there he was, the good neighbor.


If I were to go ahead with this, I'd probably become preachy ... so, I'll just say that this one was originally published in The Christian Science Monitor:


THE GOOD DEED


All day the snow
has come sifting down,
obscuring objects
in our shaken globe,
and I'm standing
staring out the window
when I see the shape
of a person who's
obviously been driven
wild by the storm,
who pauses and turns
into someone I know
... my neighbor,
shoveling my
 walk.
© 2003

Today's word: shoveling

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Flowering Friendship





I remember how sad it was that year to look out the window and see what had happened to the tulips, daffodils and peonies as a result of a late freeze.

We had enjoyed summer-like weather, and then this. All those beautiful plants wilting to the ground, as though someone had taken a blowtorch to them.

But my thoughts quickly turned to those who had likely suffered greater losses ... those who had fruit trees budding and blossoming, for example.

And then, as if to console me, this poem came to mind.

It was written at the end of a season, rather than the beginning, and it paid tribute to a good year in which no late frost had occurred, in which we had enjoyed watching the flowers, from their first shoots breaking through the soil, to their greening and blossoming, and, finally, as the season came to a close, their departure.

I was already looking forward to the next year. I knew I would miss them during the winter months, but felt assured that they, like old friends, would be back.

The poem:

FLOWERING FRIENDSHIP

Summer-weary flowers,
what beauty came
of your being with us
another season,
what pleasure grew
from your growing.
We must, by all means,
meet again next year.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: pleasure

Friday, March 14, 2014

End of the Day









Today's poem is about a bit of "ancient history." 

Written well after the fact, it's a recounting of a time when I traveled much more than I do now, a time before interstate highways began crisscrossing our country, when passenger trains were still in abundance.

It was sometimes faster, or "more convenient," to travel by car. Oh, how I recall trying to think of that convenience as I fell into bed somewhere along the way and tried to get a few hours' sleep before pressing on. 

Ah, those were the days.

But for now, the poem: 



END OF THE DAY

The ceiling grows vague
and cold, its tiles swirling
like snowflakes toward me,

and I taste them, melting,
the bed sways under me
as though bearing me away

to some strange place, my eyes
close, and I see highway,
an undulating ribbon whirring

toward me, narrow out there,
broadening here where it gains
speed, goes threading beneath

my car, as it has all day,
dull pewter funnel pulling
me in, pouring me out here

where I lie on a strange bed
in a cheap motel, thinking
of the events bringing me

here, thoughts drifting
like the slow, curling smoke
in a room suddenly empty,

being pulled toward the ache
and soreness of tomorrow,
not caring, not caring at all.
© 2000

(originally published in Waterways; now part of Wood Smoke, my third collection, published  by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: fatigue

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Don't Dance on My Toes







Phyllis and I were on a day-trip, visiting Chillicothe, Ohio, and the magnificent, neighboring Adena.

Among those at our table during lunch were some couples who enjoy line dancing ... oh, do they ever. Their enthusiasm was catching ... almost.

I say almost, because my early experience with dancing was ... well, catastrophic.

I must have been in fifth or sixth grade ... we were giving a demonstration of some kind of historic dance for a school assembly.

Afterward, I was thinking that it had gone fairly well. But then my partner complained that I had stepped on her toes ... several times, I believe she said.


I still blame that early, scarring experience for keeping me off the dance floor to this day. I can only hope that my partner in that early dance wasn't similarly scarred for life. 

I suppose that first ... and last ... dance led me, eventually, to the writing of today's poem.

As those who know me will agree, I don't go toe-to-toe or nose-to-nose with anybody on any issue. It's not that I couldn't, or wouldn't ... nor that I haven't.


It's just that I've learned that it doesn't solve anything. Rather, it does create a new set of problems ... often far more serious than the original offense did. 

I prefer, instead, to take my frustration, disappointment, and, yes, sometimes anger, to the keyboard, where I can work myself through to a better frame of mind.

Sometimes this results in something like:

DON'T DANCE ON MY TOES

I don't care
if you’ve got rhythm
and grace galore,
please
don't dance on my toes.

I don't care
if you're wild as a daisy,
sweet as a rose,
just, please,
don't dance on my toes. 


I don't care
if you're rich, smart,
sophisticated,
and stuff like that -
don't dance on my toes.


'Cause, brother,
I've got troubles
and pain galore,
and I just
don't need any more.
 © 2000
(originally published in Art Times)

And today's art? Oh, it was done by an artist friend of mine, Thomas, who also happens to be my - our - young grandson. He was visiting us, probably waiting patiently for the meal to begin, when inspiration struck. In addition to pieces like this, he also does great drawings ... and paintings ... he is, after all, my - our - grandson.

Today's word: scarred

Wednesday, March 12, 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