Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Three Loves




I think a love poem might be in order today ... this one  mainly about my eighth-grade teacher, who stirred an abiding interest in reading in me.

But it's also about the librarian I met at another time, in another town, as a result of my interest in reading.

That librarian and I are still sharing a mutual interest in reading, and she is the one who listens patiently to the things I've written.

But, getting back to the main thread of the poem: I was so glad when I was able to visit my former teacher, Miss Pearl, a few years ago, to thank her for imparting her love for reading ... and to introduce her to that librarian, my wife, Phyllis.

The poem:

MY THREE LOVES

Could Miss Pearl have known
that her own love of reading
would so transform the life

of a hungering eighth grader
whom her gentle, healing voice
touched with daily readings?

Fragile fingers softly turning
the pages of her beloved books,
she made visions of mere words,

openings to worlds where people
could dream, hope, and achieve.
These, she told us, were worlds

where we, too, might go, in fact,
belonged. Did she know, or did she
merely dream the teacher's dream

that the tiny seeds might endure,
take root, flower? Did she know
that her devoted love of reading

would become my own, eventually
leading me to that certain library
where I would find you? How else

could she have sustained herself
through those despairing years?
Questions still seek answers,

but of this I'm sure: Her gift,
so freely given, became more dear
than I, or even she, ever dreamed.
© 2001


(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: sustained

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hello, Morning




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


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


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


The poem:



HELLO, MORNING

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



Today's word: melting

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Green Glass Bottles






As I've said before, I write quite a bit about writing, not because I've become expert on the subject, but because certain aspects of it remain a mystery to me and are, therefore, so intriguing.


Some of that mystery, an uncertainty, surrounds the process of submitting poetry to others, not just to seek their opinion of it, though that can be valuable, but on the outside chance of its being accepted for publication.


The result of that game, of course, is mostly rejection ... at least in my case. Sheer numbers argue against the chances of any particular poem's seeing its way into print.


Still, we continue the game.

I sit on my island ... writers do so much of their work in that kind of isolation ... carefully selecting the poems which will go out to seek their fortunes among strangers.

I compare the process to putting tiny, scribbled notes in green glass bottles, in hope that some of them will be discovered, accepted, published.

Then there's the waiting game, the suspense of wondering how the submissions are being received, and, when the green glass bottles return, the excitement, the anticipation ... still ... about what, precisely, has been their fate with that particular editor.

Meanwhile, there are more poems ... more green glass bottles ... that surging sea upon which so many of our hopes will ride. Oh, what a wonderful game it is!

This one was originally published in Midwest Poetry Review:

GREEN GLASS BOTTLES


If the wind is right
and the sea is surging,

I shall place another poem
in a green glass bottle
and send it bobbing off.
But mainly I shall sit

on the windward side
awaiting those bottles
sent off months ago,
scattered distant dots

nodding now and glinting
in the froth of return,
finally clinking ashore
to my trembling, bony

fingers, fingers fearing
the messages inside.
© 1997

Today's word: mystery

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Early Morning





I'm not a power walker ... I don't pump my arms like a windmill ... my legs aren't a blur ... and the only time I pass anyone is when they're going in the opposite direction.

But I do walk.

Mornings are best, I've found. If I walk in the afternoon ... especially if that means missing my nap ... I'm a grumpy walker ... and I have more than the usual difficulty in maintaining a forward motion. I just don't seem to have as much energy.

So the morning it is.

Well, there I was ... walking ... actually, struggling a bit on the uphill climb during a morning walk out in Illinois. 

Although we were on vacation ... particularly because we were on vacation ... I was out early for my daily walk.

Summertime. Southern Illinois can be pretty steamy then. The air gets heavy, the legs are laboring, the lungs struggling ... and there I am (puff-puff), trying to make it up the hill. And then ...

But let's go to the poem:


Early Morning

I'm walking along, enjoying the prospect
of maybe making it all the way to the top
of a stubborn hill, when three young ladies

in very short shorts go legging it past me
and out of sight, as though I were standing
stump-still, but I really can't help admiring

the way they've crested the hill, left me
there, still laboring up the slope, recalling
a time when I might have overtaken them,

instead, and gone breezing past, but now
I feel my legs flagging, beginning to burn,
and I'm wondering if I can reach the top

(please be still, my thudding heart), and if
I do, whether I'll catch a glimpse of them
while I'm struggling to catch my breath.
© 2007

(received a third place award in a Dayton Metro Library poetry contest)

Today's word: thudding

Friday, September 26, 2014

Clear Blue Morning



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

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

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

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

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

Then I retired.

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, what I had been missing!

And now, the poem:


CLEAR BLUE MORNING

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

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Because We Must




Some of you may have seen today's poem before.

It even made a guest appearance on "Squiggles & Giggles" ... my then-weekly ... free, mind you, free... e-mailed newsletter about writing ... and a multitude of other subjects.

But that ended long ago.


Meanwhile ... I'm always a little surprised ... on the verge of amazed ... at the amount of discussion this little poem fires up. It did that on the newsletter ... 

But none of those ugly fights in the parking lot afterward. I'm glad for that.

Today I was thinking about what I had said about this little poem once before:

When we strip away the outer trimmings, the pretense, the spins which have become the standard of the day, what do we have left?

The truth.

And I like that. Writing, with a few exceptions, is certainly not for the money. Not really. 

That's true, even with those who write for pay.

They ... and we ... write because we must

Because we're looking for a truth ... THE TRUTH, perhaps.

For now, the poem:

BECAUSE WE MUST

A voice whispers
and we listen.
Again. We answer,
more rapidly now,
with paper and pen.
We write
because we must.
No ear may hear
our stories, nor
voice answer our
earnest pleadings,
and still we write.
Because we must.
© 2005

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: impelled

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Air Like Fog





I'll always remember those bluffs, those canyons they embraced, the cool air on the trails, the kind of quiet that is only found in the woods.


Giant City State Park, located in the hills of Southern Illinois, seemed an almost magical place to go when I was a child. 

Alas, I understand that time has taken its toll on the bluffs, and the trails simply are no more. 

But what a treat it was then to trudge those trails, imagining all the others who had walked there before, when it was all wilderness.


As a child I relished family outings there, especially those which extended into the evening, when we'd sit around, watching the crackling flames dancing in a fireplace in one of the shelters, listening to the adults trading stories, hoping to catch some of the night sounds of the woods, too.


Later, I took my own young family there to camp, to go tramping down the same trails I had explored, to let them feast on the same sights and sounds I had enjoyed.


In more recent years, when there were just the two of us on trips back to the place where I grew up, we always managed at least a drive through the park. 

Those drives rekindled so many memories ... so many ...


This poem, which embodies some of those memories, is part of my first collection, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press:


AIR LIKE FOG


Morning air clings to me like fog
as I enter the deep, cool canyons
that thread the water-rounded bluffs,


where I pause for a moment to look
about, to drink an ancient silence
that flows and deepens while lichens


struggle up the pocked, towering walls,
up, up toward a swallow's nest, high
where clinging ferns await the random


blessings of summer shade and transient
yellow light; then I notice soft-edged
flecks of light dancing on the trail

where others must have stood watching,
where they may have heard, as I do now,
a crow, distant, calling them by name.
© 2005

Today's word: crackling

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Little Envy









Today's poem is about driving ... another area in which I am certainly no expert. 


No, it's not about some adventure, or misadventure, with our former conveyance, The Little Red Car ... whose exploits were often detailed in Squiggles & Giggles, which had a life as a weekly newsletter.


Little Red was fine for local driving, and we still do a lot of that, but now, when we go out of town, those lo-o-o-n-g-g-g trips, we let Little Red's successor rest while we pick up a rental car.

Our regular vehicle is a very basic, usually reliable car, but lacking some of the bells and whistles, not to mention mysterious buttons and tracking devices found on the newer models.


That has led to some adventures, too ... like the time we drove all the way to Illinois before we found out, thanks to a friend, how to dim the headlights.


It usually takes me a couple of counties, at least, before I master the "set speed" and "resume speed" settings.


This is a poem about discovering one of those marvels:

A LITTLE ENVY

Leaving a town,
heading west,
the car senses
my light touch
on a button,
and I marvel
as it resumes
highway speed,
this collection
of steel, plastic
and fabric
with a memory
better than mine.

© 1997 

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

They're Watching





I used to see them all the time.

I could hardly set foot out the door without encountering one ... dressed as Santa Claus ... as a witch ... a clown ... a cowboy ... as almost anything ... or anybody ... except what they really were: concrete geese.

And now I can't even find one of the photos I took of them.

I can't imagine where they've all gone ... flown south for the winter? Oh, I hope not. The very thought of them aloft scares me a bit.

Perhaps the fad is ebbing. But while it was here, almost everybody ... at least in my neighborhood ... had at least one ... sometimes more.

Understandable then, that I eventually gave in and wrote something about them ... and here it is:


THEY'RE WATCHING


Concrete geese!
Heads held high,
unblinking
dots for eyes,
they guard
the porches, line
the lawns, ever alert
for the gawkers
wandering by.

They never move,
nor honk, nor
even threaten
hostile action,
but in their cold,
concrete hearts
seem to know
the intentions
of those
who dare even
steal a glance.
© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: gawkers

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sun Catcher






Delia was my grandmother. I can still see her in that cold kitchen, the old wood-burning stove starting to throw out some heat, the skillet in place, waiting for warmth, a dab of oleo, an egg.


The kitchen faced west, but there was a side WINDOWthat caught a bit of the morning sun. That's where the "film of frost gathered the gold ... poured it softly, like warm milk ... "


Of course, our memories become polished with much handling ... they take on a sheen far beyond that of the original event, and that has happened with this mental picture I still carry with me.


Oh, how I treasure it. The poem was originally published in A New Song:


SUN CATCHER


A film of frost
gathered the gold
of morning sun
on the WINDOW,
poured it softly,
like warm milk,
into the kitchen
where Delia
stood working,
embracing her
with a radiance
like the words
of her prayer
being whispered
to the music
of preparations
for another day.
 © 1998
Today's word: sheen

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Now They Offer




Story of my life. 

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

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

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

And now I just walk, walk, walk.

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

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

The poem:


NOW THEY OFFER

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

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

Morning Talk




(Not the kind of tree I'm talking about in today's poem ... but I thought I'd share my little watercolor sketch with you)

I like to think that poems come to me ... and they will, I've discovered, if I can just sit still in one place long enough.

This one may not have come to me, exactly, but I found the material for it in the tree just outside my WINDOW

I sat listening to a certain sound, then located its source ... and watched.

From there it was simply a matter of putting my impressions on paper before they ... the impressions, that is ... flew away.

I admit that I found more than just the sights and sounds of a mother-and-daughter exchange between two cardinals to write about.

Before I'd finished, I couldn't resist drawing the parallel between these two beautiful little creatures and the rest of us ... we superior beings who "own" so much of this material world ... and are, perhaps, so bent on possessing more of it ... that we neglect to build little bridges between us ... particularly between the generations.

End of sermon. 

And now, on to the poem:

MORNING TALK

Amid a rising tide of summer sounds,
I slowly become aware of one pair 
catching my ear more than the others.

Then there they are, a mother cardinal
and her offspring, flitting and talking
to each other in the blue spruce.

Talking of food, perhaps, or safety
in these thick boughs, weighty subjects,
or maybe just chit-chat between
 
this mother and her young daughter.
I have no way of knowing, but they
seem to have found an understanding,

a quiet accord, like a gently swaying 
footbridge between the generations,
that we humans keep hoping to find.

© 2003

(originally published in Capper's) 

Today's word: chit-chat

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Late Night Serenade




I don't like giving away the poem in my opening remarks ... because then there's no incentive to explore the poem, right?

So, okay, this one is about a dog. He wasn't just a dog, but a special personality. Maybe I should just stop there.

We had a lot of canine neighbors in the years that we lived at Brimm Manor. There was one small one a couple of doors up ... whose favorite activity seemed to be running in circles and barking at the sun.

Then there was the one who deligted in galloping into the alley, hackles up, barking, barking, barking ... like he really meant business ... when I tried to move our trash container back onto our property.

My favorite, though, was Houdini, who lived right next door. I remember how, soon after they moved in, Houdini barked at me. His owner spoke quietly to him ... I couldn't tell what he said ... and that was the last time Houdini ever barked at me.

We got along famously.

Then there was this other dog ... a situation which could easily become a problem ... but I detect a bit of sympathy in what I wrote about him.

The poem:

LATE-NIGHT SERENADE

Sometimes at midnight, sometimes
three o'clock in the morning,
I hear him pouring out his soul,
and I know he's lonely, or lovesick,
or both, poor fellow, even though
I can't make out the words, just
the emotion of his mournful song
that goes on and on, rising in pitch,
subsiding, resuming, reminding me
of a gray wolf sending a message
somewhere in the wilds. He persists,
night after night, sitting beside
his doghouse, two doors down, nose
pointing heavenward, ears laid back,
howling, yowling, pitifully crying
his poor heart out over a lost bone,
a failed romance, the solitude
of the bachelor's way of life --
something that's obviously bothering
him. And it bothers me that he
doesn't start thinking about it
until I'm trying to get some sleep,
then howls the rest of the night.
© 2002

(originally published in Kaleidoscope)

Today's word: yowling

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Handful of Dust




Oh, the memories ... how they come flooding back during quiet moments ... away from the keyboard ... no TV blaring in the background.

Today's poem deals ... seemingly ... with a single memory ... a single day ... a single set of circumstances ... and, when I wrote it, I was thinking about a specific day which stood out in memory.

Looking at it now, I think it's more than that. It must be. 


There were many times that I looked wistfully toward the crest of that hill, wondered what lay beyond ... wanted to find out ... wondered if I ever would.

Well, eventually I did. Oh, did I ever!

But now I seem to be rooted more firmly than ever in those beginnings ... dealing with those bittersweet memories ... finding that the emphasis is more on the second portion of "bittersweet" than on the first.

The poem:

HANDFUL OF DUST

I stood watching a breeze
moving toward me through
hazy green rows of corn,


listened to it overhead
whispering its secrets
to a wafer-dry box elder,


saw it picking up just
a handful of dust,
twirling it, letting it


settle quickly back
to the hoof-pocked soil,
remember thinking


that I might follow,
off somewhere beyond
those barren hills,


but stood drinking
from a rusty tin cup,
dribbled the dregs


on my thirsting toes,
went padding back
where I’d always be.

© 2002

(originally published in Capper's; now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher)

Today's word: twirling

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Grilled Cheese and Shake




























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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, those were the days.

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

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

The poem:

GRILLED CHEESE AND SHAKE

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

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

(originally published in A New Song)

Today's word: frothy

Monday, September 15, 2014

Frozen Flight

















I'll never understand computers.

One recent morning I woke up to what appeared to be just a normal day. I bounded out of bed when the alarm finally went off ... dashed to the computer to see how many visitors had stopped by to take a look at "Chosen Words" ... and maybe had left a comment.

I stretched and yawned and sat in my squeaky chair in front of the screen. I checked "Chosen Words." Mmmm ... not bad. The numbers are still clicking right along.

Time for another entry.

I said ... Time for another entry. The computer wasn't listening. I tried to log on. I could look, but couldn't touch. I tried again ... and again ... and again.

As usual, I wondered what I had done wrong.

I closed the door softly as I left Brimm Manor and went about the business of running some errands ... getting out for my morning walk, etc.

Much later I returned ... tried again ... and things were working.

Mystery solved? Nope.

But things ... in this new location ... seem to be working this morning ... and I have a summer poem.

No, sorry, I don't have a picture of a sweat bee to go along with the poem. Those rascals are too tiny, too unpredictable, too fast for me and my camera.

I do have a reminder of summer, however, with today's photo, one of many I've snapped during my daily wanderings ... -er, walks.

The poem itself is almost a haiku moment, a tiny flicker of activity broken off before I became fully focused on what was happening.

But it became a little more than that ... and it carries so many memories of all those places this kind of "stare down" has happened to me over the years.

Originally published in Capper's:

FROZEN FLIGHT

A sweat bee
hovers in my face,
wings invisible
in the heavy air,
then, satisfied
at having won
this stare down,
darts away.
© 1996


Today's word: invisible