Monday, June 30, 2014

Line Dancing




Sometimes what appears to be one thing is actually another.

It's not really a secret ... a little surprise, maybe ... but not really a secret. There's a reason that I'm treading carefully with this introduction. I don't want to give away the surprise.

Perhaps I've already said too much.

Some of you will have figured out what the surprise is. I hope that doesn't spoil your reading of the poem.

And now, before I give it all away, here's the poem:

LINE DANCING

Movement trickles
along the line,
rising, billowing,

falling, undulating.
Dancers pause,
regroup, aligned.

Tentatively they
resume swaying,
echoing the moves.

Legs flick, snap,
arms reach, fall,
then reach again.

The line quivers,
flutters and flaps.
Sagging, it rests;

itinerant breezes
have glided away
to other laundry.
© 1998

(originally published in Moose Bound Press)

Today's word: swaying

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Interlude



















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


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


Sometimes that works. Sometimes not.


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

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


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


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


INTERLUDE

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

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: crawling

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Heading South























I was out for my daily walk when I saw those geese rising ... stood watching them ... don't remember if I sat at the next bus stop to put my reactions on paper, or waited till I got home ... but I had a poem in the making, right there on that street.

The poem:

HEADING SOUTH

Just beyond the trees
giving up their gaudy
leaves of autumn, five geese
rise slowly, dark against
a mottled sky, heading
generally southward,
seeking those highways
that the wild geese take,
while I stand rooted
where chance has put me.
I shall think of them,
wishing vaguely that I had
their gift of flight
as I ride out the storms
of winter, waiting to hear
their honking again,
telling me the season
is breaking, melting into
spring, skein of renewal
linking those who can fly,
those who can only wish. 
 © 1997
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: renewal

Friday, June 27, 2014

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Encounter

















(It has nothing to do with today's poem ... I just felt like sharing my little watercolor with you)

It was such a strange encounter. I was startled, but not frightened. After all, it just took me a second or two to realize that what I was seeing was my own reflection.

But I'll never forget that feeling, as I turned slowly, not thinking about anything in particular ... perhaps about where my bus was, when it would pull up at that corner ... and there was this reflection in the store window, a reflection so much like the image of my grandfather, one I had carried in memory for so many years ...

I had never thought that I looked very much like him. Still, that first glance at the reflection was like seeing him again ... my reaction, as I saw it in that window, was like seeing him reach out for me ... again ... as he did when I was just two years old, and needed a home.

It didn't occur to me to rush home and write about the encounter. I wasn't writing poetry then. But, much later, when I began learning the practice of sitting in a quiet place, waiting for the words to come to me, these are the ones that made their presence known to me:

ENCOUNTER

There was no mistaking the slope

of his shoulders, the shape
of his head; it was my grandfather
staring from the store window
while I stood in sprinkling rain
waiting for an afternoon bus.


I recalled how it was raining
when I had stood in uniform
at his deathbed in that darkened
room, how I had wanted to say
things he could not hear, how I
had finally broken and wept.


And now, all these years later,
I watched as he reached his hand
toward me, the unwanted child,
then, as I stood watching his image
blur in the rain against the window,

we knew I had finally become him.
© 2003

(part of my first collection of poetry, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003)


Today's word: image

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Departure
























Today's poem is not literally true. If it were, it would be about the heat of summer ... like Southern Illinois was when I left home to go into military service.


I've looked back many times on that departure.


I had won a scholarship to study at a Big Ten university. Trouble was, it didn't include bus fare ... and I didn't have any way to get there.


Oh, I had been assured, in a form letter, that there would be part-time employment opportunities ... when I got to campus ... but I never got there ... not to that particular campus, at least.


Instead, I let the scholarship go to someone else ... and entered the only door open to me at the time ... military service.


It was certainly a turning point in my life, a new beginning. It was the biggest move I'd made in my young life. There were to be others. Many others. But none quite as wrenching as this decision ... which had been forced on me.


What I've tried to capture in this metaphor for growing up ... for that entry into what passes for independence ... is the feeling of loneliness that creeps in, the sudden sensation of isolation, the cold, of looking back, being torn between what was ... what is going to be.


The poem:


DEPARTURE

I looked back once,
seeing lights
grown small now,
and dim, silently
giving up their warmth
to the bare-limbed trees.


I kept walking
through the weeping snow,
my collar upturned
against any call
that might somehow
overtake me.
© 1995
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)
Today's word: loneliness

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Chance of Rain


















"Chance of Rain" is my lucky poem. It began life as a much longer poem, written at the kitchen table after one of my summer walks.


It was so hot that I had paused in the shade to consider whether I really thought I could make it up the next hill and then home. Just then I felt a slight breeze. Thus encouraged, I set off again toward home.


But I had started thinking of how the oppressive heat and humidity were so like the area of Southern Illinois where I grew up. I kept thinking about that, recalling what it had been like, that terrible heat.


When I got home, I started writing. I imagined an older person, about my age, sitting on a porch, scanning the skies for signs of rain. I imagined the rain's coming, sweeping across the fields. I described the old man's reaction to the rain ... all of this in considerable detail.


This narrative became a long poem which I submitted to Capper's.


It was there that an alert editor, Ann Crahan, spotted eight lines that appealed to her in the middle of my poem. How lucky for me!


She suggested that we keep those eight lines and my title. I agreed, and it became my first poem accepted for publication.


Over the years, I wrote many more pieces about rain ... or its absence ... and when those poems suggested themselves to me as a possible collection, it seemed fitting that "Chance of Rain," my first-born, my lucky poem, should be the title piece of that collection, published by Finishing Line Press in 2003.


The poem:


CHANCE OF RAIN

The rain comes
in great galloping
gulps, faster than
the soil can sop it up.
It drums on the roof,
dances in the yard,
celebrates all the way
down the hill.
© 2003

Today's word: lucky

Monday, June 23, 2014

Beyond the Reach




















It was today's photo ... of one of my favorite trails in a park not too far from home ... which set a certain train of thought in motion. 

Autumn ... I may have said this before ... is one of my favorite seasons ... actually, there are things I like about the other three, too.

I do like autumn's cooler weather after summer's scorching days and stifling nights ... and the changing colors ... I look at them as a struggling watercolorist might be expected to ... wondering how I might put them into a painting.


Sometimes I settle for a photograph, resolving to study it later, perhaps transform it into a painted interpretation of the scene.

Each season, of course, marks the passage of time ... each with its own characteristics registering that onward march.

Today's poem is about that onward march, with a focus on the seeming suddenness with which it sometimes occurs ... and that squirrel's nest "being parceled now by an autumn wind":

BEYOND THE REACH

I had walked there last summer,
pausing almost daily to enjoy
the shade, little suspecting
a drama unfolding overhead.

Then, overnight, it seemed,
the maples shed their burnished
leaves, stood starkly splaying
nerve endings against the sky.

High in the branches of one,
a nest beyond the reach
of muttering traffic noises,
made with no special plan,

yet an ageless pattern marking
nursery, rec room, school, point
of departure for a another
curiosity-stoked generation

of squirrels, all of this being
parceled now by an autumn wind.
What a shame, I thought, a shame
to let the wind steal such work.
 © 1997
(originally published in Block's Magazine)
Today's word: parceled

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Alone
























I don't recall the date, exactly, but I do recall that winter evening, sitting, trying to read, pausing as I felt the house "filling with quiet," then reaching for a pen, a scrap of paper, so I could record my feelings.

My thoughts did seem to be "shy and skittery," like field mice, it occurred to me. I imagined the sound of their tiny feet, running in a quiet place, like the house where I was alone that winter evening, or perhaps a country church ... during prayer.

Fortunately, my being alone was a condition of short duration ... only a few evenings, as I recall ... but it helped me to identify with those for whom sitting alone in the quiet of a house, apartment, or room, is a continuing thing.

I hope I managed to capture a degree of that, too. The poem:

ALONE

The house fills
with quiet tonight,
only my thoughts
moving about,
shy and skittery
like field mice
in a country church
during prayer.
 © 1999
(originally published in Riverrun)
Today's word: skittery

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Autumn Crossing


















Autumn is one of my favorite seasons ... largely because I tire of blazing hot weather ... thank you very much ... and start looking forward to cooler nights ... good sleeping weather ... the fall colors, which I always enjoy ... the sight of leaves sifting gently to the earth ... the sounds and the feel of them as I go kicking through on my daily walk.


Today's poem happens to be one of my favorites, too. it was written on a bus, of all places. We were humming along northward, somewhere in Ohio.

The highway seemed to be an endless ribbon unspooling toward us ... but there on both sides ... oh, there was something to watch! The autumn trees were at their absolute peak, as though they were expecting us ... expecting "company."

And there we were.

I was struck by how the colors seemed to be parting, then closing behind us ... something like the parting of the Red Sea in those old movies.

Naturally, I dug out a scrap of paper and began writing ... and here's the result:

AUTUMN CROSSING

A sea of color
rages ahead,
parting for us
with the soft
hum of miles
falling away,
gently washing
back into place,
cloaking all
traces of our
safe crossing.
© 1997
(originally published in The American Scholar)

Today's word: crossing

Friday, June 20, 2014

What'll You Have?

















(Yes, I took the photograph ... I don't remember where or when, exactly ... but it's mine, all mine)

One of the early things I learned about sending my poems off into the company of strangers ... on the chance that some very busy person might pause to read, to savor, to accept something I'd written ... is that there's an awful lot of rejection involved.

In fact, unless you have editors writing to you, begging you to submit something, it's mostly rejection.

Not long after my first acceptance, I thought I was having a particularly good run of luck, so I did the math and found I had an acceptance rate of 12 per cent.

Of course, while achieving that "hot streak," I was also having an 88 per cent rate of rejection.

"What'll You Have?" was probably written during one of those intervals when no math was necessary to tell me my rejection rate was high, high, high.

How nice it would be, I thought, if, instead of sending my poems all over creation, I could just have a little shop on a quiet little street ... a place where editors could drop in when they felt the need for a poem.

I would have poems on the wall, on the shelves, in racks ... all over the place ... even "teetering in the back room of my mind." I would, of course, hope that visitors would find something they simply couldn't live without.

I have yet to realize my dream of becoming the proprietor of a poetry boutique, catering primarily to editors, but at least this one little poem apparently did make a favorable impression on the poetry editor at 
ByLine, and there I was, way back in '96, dancing on the table again. How sweet it was!

The poem:


WHAT'LL YOU HAVE?


Poems, lady?
What would you like?
I have these
written in the nights
of my despair,
a few over there
when I felt better.


A love poem?
Not much in demand
these days, but I may
be able to find one
somewhere on the shelf.


No picks among these?
I have more written,
on the back racks,
aging a bit
before they travel,
and, of course,
stacks and stacks
teetering recklessly
in the back room
of my mind.

© 1996

Today's word: teetering

Thursday, June 19, 2014

That New Day























I've thought of country mornings a lot of times when I was struggling into another day, far removed from those early beginnings.

I've missed the "leisure" of "working by the sun," rather than under the stern eye of the ever-glaring clock. I've missed those mornings when I could lie in bed a few extra minutes, savoring the return to wakefulness.

I've missed the sounds that filled the spaces between the trees back then. Now it's the sounds of the cars and trucks and buses that echo off the buildings and clog our senses.

What I've missed most, I think, is the sound of a cow bell coming to me from a meadow just beginning to fill with light.


Now that was music to a young boy's ears.

And now, the poem:

THAT NEW DAY

Sounds came crawling across the coolness
of the damp night air, climbed into the cot


where I lay stretching to touch the sides
of that new day. A screen door squeaked


open, then shut again. A tractor groaned,
fired up, deep, throaty song floating to me


like a breeze. Struggling early light visited
a hint of warmth high on the hilltop trees,


an image of candy-apple red slowly rising
in my mind's eye over the wooded brow


of the opposite ridge. A cow bell clanked
into the silence the tractor left as it went


rolling off toward a waiting field; so long
ago, but like yesterday. And I hear it now.
© 2005

(published in Brave Hearts, summer 2005)

Today's word: meadow

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Supplication

























(You may have seen this illustration before ... and, no, it isn't the O'Keeffe painting mentioned in today's poem; that has far more going for it than my little photograph does)

It was like a haiku moment.

I was walking along, just letting my mind wander, when I noticed the young oak which had been planted near the sidewalk.


A winter breeze waggled the leaves, and it was almost like they were beckoning me. I paused to watch them, then realized that they reminded me of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting I had seen at the Dayton Art Institute.


As soon as I got home, I sat at the kitchen table, as I often did then, and started writing ... so I could preserve my impressions ... and share them with Phyllis.

Somewhat later, thanks to the folks at The Christian Science Monitor, those impressions found a larger audience.

And here they are again:


SUPPLICATION

The oak
retains its leaves,
purple-palmed mittens
hanging out to dry,
waving in supplication,
inviting a closer look
that shuts out all
except those few
as painted
by Georgia O'Keeffe,
and then not purple,
exactly, but that
kind of purple
that was
her gift to us.
 ©1996

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: waggled

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Someday, Yes!

















(Another of my little watercolor sketches, possibly taken from real life ... or maybe just from memory)

I think I grow by pushing, reaching, imagining, achieving ... pushing myself into areas where I may have been reluctant to go ... reaching for new challenges ... imagining what it is like to "clear the crossbar" at a height I have never before reached ... achieving small increments of progress on which I can build.

I use the metaphor of the high-jump in this poem, because it encompasses the approach I used in training. 

It turned out that I was a better sprinter than jumper, but I still think there is something to be learned from the metaphor, of setting the crossbar higher, challenging myself.


As for dancing up out of the pit, I see that coming someday, not because I have become better than someone else ... that's not my aim ... but because I have simply become a better person as a result of setting my own goals and working toward them.

I'll keep trying ... and trying ... and trying. And someday ... YES!


The poem, originally published in Capper's:


SOMEDAY, YES!

I keep setting
the crossbar higher
on personal goals,
practicing harder
on my approach,
take-off, landing,
working toward
that height
my mind's eye
sees as my limit,
that level I will
someday clear,
adrenalin pumping,
glitter of sawdust
showering off me
as I come dancing
up out of the pit
into the circle
of winners. Yes!
© 1998

Today's word: increments

Monday, June 16, 2014

Searching for Words

















I'm always searching for words, it seems.

I see something that's new to me, and I search for a word or phrase which will help me to store the image of it ... that first impression ... somewhere that I can retrieve it ... so I can tell somebody else about it.

At my age, retrieving it is sometimes a problem ... but I don't let that keep me from trying to store it where I think it will be easy to find again. I do keep trying.

When I write ... which is often, for I'm always jotting things down on little scraps of paper ... I search for words then, too ... casually on first writing something ... I'm not looking to make a photo-realist image, but to form a rough sketch, something to build on later.

And when later comes ... time for revising ... that's when the really serious search begins.

As this poem began toying with me, it occurred to me that I might find some magic in those early words which first presented themselves to me ... "that sprang upon me like playful kittens." 

I try to maintain as much of that as possible, that element of surprise in hearing something for the first time, or seeing something through new eyes, as though for the first time.

I think it must have been a winter evening when I first began writing what would become "Searching for Words." 

I must have been reminded of other moonlit winter evenings when the wood smoke rose lazily from chimneys, and I knew that dreams were visiting the residents while I trudged the lonely road toward home.

I hope you search for words, too. I hope you'll find a lot of beautiful, soothing ones ... words you'll want to keep ... and share with others ... like seashells, or beautiful stones discovered during a walk along the beach. Happy hunting!

And now, the poem:

SEARCHING FOR WORDS

I search the silent
corridors of my mind,
seeking words that
softly sought my young
ears, that sprang
upon me like playful
kittens, turning
into songs, casting
their spell, as haunting

as the thin gray curl
and reach of wood smoke
on a winter evening.
 © 1999
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)
Today's word: kittens