Friday, October 31, 2014

Gently Falling



It was a quiet, rainy evening, and I had been working at the computer in the attic (a place 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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Folding the Laundry





Memories! Where would we be without them?

Oh, how they help us to keep our bearings ... pointing out where we've been ... and sometimes helping us to remain pointed in the direction we should go.

They don't have to be of the greatest moments of our lives. They may even be of moments that could have been easily forgotten.

What, after all, is memorable about folding the laundry? Something obviously was ... and still is ... for me.

I still remember how the sun played across the items hanging from that sagging line ... how the movements of those items reminded me of dancing ... line dancing, I suppose ... long before I knew what line dancing was.

And now, before I wander off in some other direction, the poem:

FOLDING THE LAUNDRY

Still warm as though
just sloughed off
the bodies of wearers,
it yields softly
to my hands tonight,
recalling those times
Grandma and I pulled
sweet-smelling armloads
of hand-washed laundry
from a sagging line
in the back yard.

I feel the fatigue
again, bare feet
picking their way
among the honeybees,
finding little comfort
as she directed me
to look up, see
the clouds, which,
she insisted,
were somebody else's
laundry left out,
still flapping,
and now, an easing
of my tired back
as that memory
gently enfolds me.
© 1998
(originally published in Riverrun)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Embrace of Sound





(One of my photographs, symbolizing nothing in particular - "mere interlude")

Another bit of ancient history.

The scene: Phyllis was called out of town because of an illness in her family. I was alone in "Brimm Manor" ... totally in charge, preparing the meals, doing the dishes ... all alone.

This may help in understanding the origin of the poem ... what started the wheels to turning, to bring the poem into being ... but really isn't essential to the poem itself. 

I'm speaking in a general way about the absence of familiar sounds, and what effect that absence can have on the individual.

The poem is also witness to the fact that poetry needn't always be a light, "happy song" rendition. Poetry can, and does, roam the range of human emotions.

I like the way this one came together, the way the silence symbolizes the loneliness which is at the core of it.

But I also like the happy ending, or at least the prospect of a happy ending in "embrace of our voices" ... and that last line: "preparation for a next great leap."

The poem:


THE EMBRACE OF SOUND


I endure the silence, knowing
it will end with a teakettle's
shrilling, the dog's ticking
toward water waiting to be lapped,
the phone's late-night ringing,
embrace of our voices, for this
is mere interlude, this intaking
of breath, this hunkering down,
preparation for a next great leap.
 
© 2001
 
(originally published in Potpourri)
Today's word: ticking

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dandelions



Sometimes even the writer is not sure of the full intent of a poem.

This one represents an attempt to capture one of my earliest memories. 

I was a pre-schooler, and we lived in town then. I remember the long, sloping yard as always being flooded with sunshine.

There was a cat, perhaps more than one ... and those beautiful golden dandelions. I remember tiger lilies, too, but it's the memory of those dandelions that stands out.

Whose hands they were, I'm not sure. My mother's or my grandmother's, I suppose.

I do recall plucking the blossoms and running with them like newly-found nuggets of gold. They were so bright, so treasured. I just had to share them.

Then the memory blurs, becomes "a tangle of wilt." The poem ends, but there are those "promises of things to come." And I sit here wondering ...

Meanwhile, the poem:

DANDELIONS

Plucked like pats
of butter amid
the swirling hum
of puzzled bees,
taken at a run
toward waiting
hands, lying now
a tangle of wilt
and promises
of things to come.
© 1999

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: promises

Monday, October 27, 2014

Come, Butterflies




I hope you won't mind my repeating myself.


That's just naturally one of the hazards of hanging out with an older person, I suppose.


Or maybe it's not really a hazard. Could it be a benefit?


In any event, I've been thinking about spring ... yes, spring ... you know, that season when the sun puts a friendly arm across your back ... things are greening up ... there are spots of color here and there ... the weather becomes stable, dependable, predictable.


In that vein ... the expectation of spring ... real spring, I was thinking about today's poem, about butterflies ... about how fleeting (flitting?) events of our lives ... or seemingly, large portions of our lives ... can be.


It's also about how much writing has meant ... still means ... to me.


I write because it keeps my mind occupied ... it's the warm sun on my back in the wintertime ... my shade in the summer heat ... the air I breathe ... a quiet sip of water ... food for my soul ... 


I write because I must. I am most reluctant to give it up. That thought was uppermost ... 


But now the poem:

COME, BUTTERFLIES

There must come a time,
I suppose, when I no longer
reach for a scrap of paper
when thoughts descend,
gentle, winged things,
butterflies seeking
the nectar of a poem,
but then I'll simply sit
and let them flit
across my mind's eye,
grateful for how once
they softly touched
the paper of my heart.
© 1998

(originally published in Sisters Today)

Today's word: nectar

Sunday, October 26, 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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Already Pocketed




"Writer's block"? I'm not sure it exists.

Oh, there are times when the ideas flow with the slowness of cold molasses ... there are times when the well seems to have gone completely dry ... but usually not for long.

I always carry a scrap of paper and a pen or pencil, just in case.

Then there are times when the thoughts come gushing forth ... and I wish I had my handy-dandy pocket recorder with me, so I could capture them in the midst of the heavy traffic that I'm trying to pick my way through.

Thoughts ... writing-related ideas ... are, indeed, fleeting ... and the intervals between them can seem to be endless ... but "writer's block"?

I don't really think there is such a thing ... and I hope I'm right.


I hope I can keep riding down this seemingly never-ending trail ... writing and sharing ... until ... well, until the very end.

And now, today's poem:

ALREADY POCKETED

Sometimes,
when I search
the rock pile
of my mind
for new ideas
to grind
and polish,
my hand goes
to a pocket
where one lies
already shaped
and shined,
just waiting
for a setting
worthy of it.
 © 2000
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: pocketed

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Only Tree



(A "family" of cedar trees which caught my eye on one of my daily walks ... and stirred some memories)

We are rooted in the places of our beginning.


Oh, we may develop tendrils as we reach for new ideas, seek new adventures, pursue careers. 

We may even become "tumbleweeds," traveling the countryside ... perhaps visiting ... and even settling ... abroad.


But our roots remain in those places where we began, and this is apparent to us when we sit quietly, thinking ... really just thinking.


One example, in my case, involves Christmas trees. Ours was always a cedar tree, because they grew so abundantly on the hills overlooking our home. It was a special treat to go trudging out with Grandpa ... a few days before Christmas ... to pick just the right tree ... not too tall ... not too skinny ... for our living room.


There was just something about the smell of cedar filling the whole house.


When I saw another kind of Christmas tree ... on my first visit to Chicago, which seemed so distant, like another planet ... I couldn't believe THAT was their Christmas tree.


It didn't look like OUR tree at all. Its branches seemed almost bare, compared to what I had been accustomed to. It didn't have that cedar smell. And it certainly didn't have the bird's nest which I had come to expect to find somewhere in our tree.


Oh, I've finally come around to accepting other kinds of Christmas trees ... even the artificial models ... but I still find myself thinking about those other trees from my early years.


The poem:


THE ONLY TREE

I grew up believing
that a cedar was
the only true tree
for Christmas,
plain, struggling
stubbornly
on hillside clay,
having so much
in common
with folks like us.
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: cedar

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Moon Tonight





I grew up in the country ... not on a farm, but in the country ... away from city lights.

As a result of that ... and hearing my gandfather talk so many times about the phases of the moon ... its importance in the planting of crops ... knowing about its pull on those distant oceans ... its effect on young lovers ... I was always intrigued by the moon.

The front porch swing provided a great vantage point for watching the giant harvest moon rising slowly over the hills.

I remember being so intrigued by the quarter moon ... the new moon ... the moon showing in the late daytime sky.

When one lives in the city, though, the moon can become a forgotten item ... unless it really asserts itself as we're coming up the driveway on a late-winter evening.

Then there's no denying it. I still remember that evening ... can almost hear a choir, singing a cappella, celebrating the rising of that moon.

The poem:

THE MOON TONIGHT

What a gorgeous sight,
lodged in the darkness
of the walnut tree,
the nearer maples joining
to hold it, glowing
in the late-winter sky,
broken, and yet whole,
like a stained-glass
window catching evening
light, holding it high
under the ceiling while
voices rise in song.
© 2004

(originally published in Capper's)


 Today's word: a cappella

Wednesday, October 22, 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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ice-Cold Memories







When I was a youngster, winter was probably my favorite season.

Oh, I could've done without the tingling toes, the fingers sticking to cold metal ... the nose that froze ... but I loved the snow. It was like having a featherbed ... albeit a very cold one ... to romp on.

But that changed.

I suppose age has something to do with it, and I don't know if the weather is becoming more extreme ... or if I am becoming more sensitive to changes ... or it's all just my imagination.

I'm sure of one thing, though, a search of my extensive records would show that today's poem was written in the middle of one of those sizzling summer months when the pavement starts turning to goo and thoughts turn to the prospect of frying an egg on the sidewalk.

And I know this, too: I was looking for ways of surviving.

Ice-cold memories pressed to the sizzling brow may not be the answer, but I think they help. 

The poem:


ICE-COLD MEMORIES

In the root cellar
of my mind
I have memories
of last winter
lying on the shelves
to help me survive
these front-burner
days of summer.

I shall pull them out
one by one, to press
to my sizzling brow,
daily hoping that
I have stored enough
to carry me through
until autumn
comes galloping up.
 © 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: sizzling

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bridge Builder





Sometimes, I think, it's best just to let the poem tell its own story. My comments about a poem's beginning ... the inspiration for it ... my purpose in writing it ... in transforming scribbled notes into the finished product ... all of these, sometimes, are helpful.


Today, though, I think I'll just step back and let the poem do the telling ... all of it:

BRIDGE BUILDER

My grandfather built bridges, 
not the bright, towering
monuments to engineering like
those spanning the Mississippi.

His bridges were squat, dark,
wooden things, put up by gangs
of common laborers who spent days,
weeks, sometimes, away from their
families, so trains could go
rolling smoothly across the creeks
and small streams that wrinkled
the face of the earth.

One evening I watched as his
rough, scarred hand gripped a stub
of pencil, and the pilings,
cross-members, all the timbers,
ties and rails took shape across
a ruled page of my writing pad.

His eyes glistened when my small
voice asked how far he had traveled
in this work, eating alien food
that strangers plopped on his plate,
trying to sleep in crowded, hot
bunk cars alongside the mainline.

"Too far, and too long," he said,
and I knew the story was over.

That paper is gone, his bridges
replaced by steel structures,
or abandoned as railroads began
surrendering to the superhighways
and airplanes, but how I wish
I had that little drawing, so I
could slide it out, look at it
again, something of him to hold,
now that I’ve come to appreciate
his most important bridge, those
huge hands reaching out to me,
the child nobody wanted, saying,
"Come ... live with me."

© 2006

(Second place winner, Dayton Metro Library 2006 Poetry Contest)
Today's word: reaching 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Accepting Change




I don't know where I'd be, if I hadn't accepted change ... a lot of change ... make that changes ... along the way.

I can remember when television was just an idea ... something far, far down the road. 

Likewise the idea of sitting at a keyboard (I'd done that, thank you very much) ... but with the typed words appearing on a screen, much like a TV screen, in front of the writer.

Yeah, sure. I could accept the concept, but had serious doubts about ever witnessing such a thing in my lifetime.

And here I am, sitting at a keyboard, watching as the letters turn into words and the cursor keeps crawling across the screen.

Oh, and the idea of someone ... a human being ... actually ever setting foot on the moon. 

I came to accept that as reality, too.


I've even learned to accept some of the fashions I've seen over the years ... not for me, though ... but for others. 

But I think it's the smaller things ... smaller,  personal things ... and I won't go into detail here ... except to say that they involve habits, like hanging onto old magazines long after I've finished reading them ... or picking up a pencil or a crayon someone has lost near a school ... things like that ... habits that I simply find hard to give up.

Oh, and yes, the other day, as I finally discarded a watercolor brush which had worn out eons ago, it occurred to me that perhaps I should get some sworn statements from witnesses. 

How else was I to convince Phyllis that I had thrown something ... anything ... away?

And I guess we might as well include my inclination to say I won't go into detail ... and then unleash an avalanche of detail. I find it hard to break that habit, too.

I guess you get the idea. I find it hard to accept change ... in certain areas.

Meanwhile, the poem:

ACCEPTING CHANGE

I'm not always
a willing partner,
but I must go
with the times,
leaving a trail
of scuff marks
where I've been
dragged along.
 © 1998
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: change

Saturday, October 18, 2014

What a Gift






It wasn't always thus, nor will it always be. 

I'm not naturally a morning person, and I don't recall exactly what I had in mind when I wrote this one; perhaps I was trying to cheer myself up.

Perhaps I had just discovered the magic of retirement: No more punching the clock, no more deadlines, no more phones ringing ... no more ...

It may well have been that I was recalling my childhood outlook, that time in my life when each day seemed a new adventure, a new leaf, a new chapter in the book that was to become my life.

I don't know. 

But I do know that I look forward to the new day now ... despite some of the concerns that always seem to have spilled over from the day before ... like computer problems ... and the frantic effort to catch up on postings here.

It does beckon like a new toy and, best of all, it comes with "batteries included," whether "just for me" or not. 

WHAT A GIFT!

What excitement
as I tear off
the wrapping paper,
open the box,
and find inside
a whole new day,
 
batteries included,
just for me.
© 1996

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

Shovel? Maybe Later


(One of the many photos I've taken during my walks here and there ... a scene you might see, if you happen along in the right season and look out a door in one of the tunnels at Wright State University


Sometimes, it seems, I have this thing about "going against the season."


A couple of times a year it happens ... in summer ... and winter. Spring and fall? Hardly ever.


What do I do? Oh, when we're sizzling in summer temperatures, I like to think about those cool ... er, cold ... days and nights of winter.


And in the winter, of course, when I'm freezing, I keep my mittens on ... and try writing something about summer.


Perhaps I should have my mittens on right now ... though I've found that to be something of a hindrance, when it comes to typing.


Oh, I know, recent conditions haven't really been that bad ... temperature-wise. But it's coming. I know it is. In the past, I would already have given some thought to locating the snow shovel, so when it does happen ... 


But somebody else does the shoveling where we live now, thank goodness.

And our shy little car ... I can tell ... is beginning to think about those icy, slushy, slippery-dippery streets, too ... but it's thankful, too, that it no longer is confronted by that steep driveway ...  


Meanwhile, here's a quick look back:


SHOVEL? MAYBE LATER

From door to street
Isn't all that far,
But with a sleet-
And snow-bound car
Stuck in the drive,
I might just as well
Take another five
And snooze a spell.
© 1995
(originally published in Mature Living)

Today's word: later

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A New Leaf



Whoa! Can it be? The end of another year appears to be looming just around the bend. It will soon be time to turn over a new leaf, right?

There was a time, children, when ... each month ...we did turn over a new leaf (page) of the calendar ... which was a printed collection of the days, weeks, months of the year ... usually hanging on the wall in the kitchen.


"Turning over a new leaf" also meant that we had resolved to do better at our assigned tasks, to try to become a better person ... and that generally coincided with the end of the year ... out with the old, in with the new.

In my early years, when I was still being shaped by the caring, loving, sacrificing grandmother who reared me, I generally sat down with pencil and paper at the end of the year to pledge my efforts at improvement in the coming year.

I felt I owed her that. I felt I owed it to myself.

I don't do New Year's resolutions now ... haven't written them out for a number of years.

But I think each day ... whether I crawl slowly out of bed, hoping the floor will rise up gently to touch my feet ... or leap out ready to face whatever the day may hold for me ... each day offers this opportunity for that "new leaf" ... a new beginning of sorts.

I've encountered some detours along the way. But here I am, still plodding along, still being drawn along by what may lie ahead, around the next bend in the road.

So I guess I do think sometimes about that "new leaf," too.

Meanwhile, the poem:


A NEW LEAF

How soothing the sound
of it, like the feel
of clean sheets, crisp
and cool to the touch,
hinting airy freshness
as we snuggle in.
How comforting it is
to lie here thinking
of this whole new year
fresh and inviting,
opening the prospect
that things might be
better, perhaps could
be, if we could just
approach each new day
with the same sense
of purpose we feel
at this moment.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: freshness

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My Window



I write a lot about writing. Don't get me wrong ... I'm no expert. 

am intrigued by the process, the way ideas come creeping up, the shape-shifting of words and phrases, the way poems are born.


I write essentially for myself, expressing my feelings, my thoughts, my dreams, in the hope that I might understand them better.


Still, much of the process remains a mystery to me. I am intrigued, entranced sometimes, by that process.


And I share. What I've written is always shared with Phyllis, who has sat through so many first readings, who has given me so much encouragement, that I shall never be able to repay her.


I share some of what I've written with poetry groups.


I share when I give public readings.


I share by way of this journal. I share when an editor discovers something I've written, likes it, publishes it.

Oh, I share.

And I depend on the listener or reader to share reactions with me. I really do. I value these reactions, because they provide a measure of whether I have truly hit the mark with what I have written.


They tell me much about what I have written, of course, but their reactions also tell me something about the listener or reader ... the poem becomes that window through which we view each other.


Thank you for looking in while I continue looking out.

The poem:


MY WINDOW

The pristine page
is a window
through which
I view the world
with my imperfect
vision, attempting
to make sense
of what I see,
while the world,
at least a small
portion of it,
stares back, trying,
equally, to see
what’s up with me.
© 2000
(originally published in PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: pristine

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Inside Job







Regular visitors to "Chosen Words" are aware that I don't often engage in structured verse.


I enjoy reading well-crafted rhyme, but I find the process of making it difficult and frustrating.

This poem is an effort to reconstruct a minor crime that I became witness to as a child. You may notice that some of the details of the poem vary from the official version of what really happened:

We had a screened-in back porch, and a lot of cats. The porch was sometimes, but not always, off-limits to the cats.

Naturally, when my grandparents discovered the cats sitting on the inside looking out, I ... the most innocent of young children ... was the prime suspect.

I had not let the cats in, really. While there was no apparent punishment for my "crime," I was determined to clear my name, and clear it I did.

With careful watching and waiting, I caught the real culprit in the act.

One of our cats ... not "Fuzzy," I hasten to add ... had learned that if he sank his claws into the opening edge of the screen door, he could pull it open just enough for his buddies ... and him ... to slip inside.

I showed my grandparents this feline felon in action ... and we lived happily ever after.

Today's art? 

I know, it doesn't really serve to illustrate today's poem, but I don't seem to have any pictures of six cats peering out the window.

The art is a creation by Grandson Thomas. It  just sort of popped out at me again today, so there it is.

The poem:

INSIDE JOB

When we got home the cats were all
At the front window, looking out;
Six, counting Fuzzy, standing tall,
And purring to themselves, no doubt.
Picture perfect, but then chagrin.
"They were supposed to be waiting
Outside," I heard myself grating.
"That rat, Fuzzy, has let them in."
© 2005

(originally published in Grit magazine)

Today's word: chagrin

Monday, October 13, 2014

Grandpa Will Getcha




Okay, maybe I'm rushing the season a bit ... or maybe I'm late ... or maybe I'm a bit confused (so what else is new?) ... I seem to be bumping into a lot of pumpkins these days ... but I'm also seeing a lot of Christmas items on display in the stores.

We are approaching Halloween, aren't we?

One of these years, I suppose, all of the designated commercial holidays will be combined into one giant celebration ... taking up a whole week ... or maybe a whole month ... or how about the entire year?


Be that as it may ... this poem, based on an early frightening experience, is further evidence of why I write very few rhyming poems – and perhaps shouldn't attempt any.
I keep telling friends and fellow writers that I find it very difficult to advance the story line while maintaining even a semblance of meter and rhyme. It's true. So true.

To borrow a phrase, it's hard work. Really hard work.

But, with much labor in this instance, the dirty deed was done. The poem was sent out to mingle with strangers, found a friend at one magazine, and was published.

The poem:

GRANDPA WILL GETCHA


It was a dark Halloween night
With nary a goblin in sight,
No place to go, nothin' to do.
Where to turn, I hadn't a clue.

But wait! My brain just clicked on:
SOAP A FEW WINDOWS flicked on,
And quickly it was bar to pane,
Making abstract strokes, in the main.

Then, looking in, what did I see?
My Grandpa, looking out at me.
No little smile did he bestow
As he swiftly took me in tow.

So with a pail and a wet sponge
My fine art I had to expunge
Till the windows were far cleaner
Than they had been. My demeanor?

Subdued now. A tad smarter, too:
Soaping our own was dumb, it's true,
And getting caught was SO SCARY
The next time I was more wary.
© 1997 

(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)


Today's word: scary