Sunday, November 30, 2014

Autumn Rain




Thunderstorms were frightening to a youngster growing up in rural Southern Illinois.

They seemed so packed with fury, so unpredictable as they lashed out, leaving so much damage in their wake.

But rain, particularly a gentle rain at night, was a different matter.

I learned to listen to its comforting cadence against the windows or on the roof, to hear the music it contained.


Sometimes it was like a whisper. Sometimes a Saturday night hoedown.

But it was my kind of music. I loved going to sleep to it ... waking up to it ... or just lying there listening to it.

We forget, sometimes, what a gentle, soothing, healing sound rain can make, especially as harsh summer days begin slowly surrendering to the cooler days and cooler nights of autumn.

This poem is about that kind of rain. It was originally published in Capper's, then in my first collection, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003:

AUTUMN RAIN

Struggling awake
to the sound
of trees scratching
at my green roof,
I see their limbs
swaying against
rolling clouds.

Dancing lightning,
slanting drops,
steady drone
of falling water;
trees, docile now,
guiding droplets
to thirsting soil,
I turn my pillow
cool side up,
go drifting off
in this cradling
sea of sound.
 © 2003
Today's word: hoedown

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Who Lives There?






(One of my quick little watercolor sketches, done during a pause in my daily walk)

Today's poem came to me on the bus, was largely written on the bus, because it took hold of me ... and wouldn't let go.

Over time, I became aware of that particular window, that struggling plant. It got so I was watching for that cracked window each day when my bus went climbing back up the hill on the way home.

I kept expecting to see someone at the window, watering the plant, turning it in the sunlight, or simply looking out at the passing traffic. But I never did.

Still, the plant hung on, seemed to be growing, leafing out slightly, and I kept wondering who lived there with it ... "what small measures of encouragement" they shared.

Originally published in the literary journal, Poem, now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:

WHO LIVES THERE?

In an upstairs window,

below a sagging
gutter, beside siding
wind-peeled and flapping,
beneath a window shade
water-stained and torn,
behind a pane cracked
diagonally like a fragile
promise, sits a spindly
plant taking what sun
it can on a winter day,
while my bus struggles
in its uphill climb
toward a daily nagging
question: Who lives
there with this plant,
and what small measures
of encouragement do they
have to bridge the days?
© 2006

Today's word: encouragement

Friday, November 28, 2014

Teeming Waters



Today's illustration is another of my photos ... a fuzzy little snapshot taken to preserve the moment ... I don't recall exactly where or when I snapped it ... but the tranquility of the scene appealed to me.

Teeming waters? Hardly. 

The juxtaposition of the pair of ducks ... and the reflection of the large tree caught my eye.

I'm always intrigued by the ducks we encounter on our walks ... the ways they interact with each other ... and with us ... and the way the young tag along behind Mother, as though being tugged by an invisible string.

And trees? I'm not really a tree hugger, but I do like trees. They were so much a part of where I grew up ... so much of my early life ... and now, in my current stage, I am drawn more and more to their shade during my summer walks.

So it seemed a very natural combination for a photo ... and now, maybe a match with today's poem.

In it, I guess I'm saying that while I consider myself a painter of pictures with words ... the words I find here and there ... I don't really paint the BIG PICTURE. 

Where word-pictures are concerned, I'm not a muralist. I stick to the small subjects I know ... and mostly just as an observer, at that, things I take note of as I stroll by.

I'm not a philosopher, sometimes not even a thoughtful observer. 

But I do relish the little word-pictures that come to me in quiet moments. This one contains some of those.


The poem:


TEEMING WATERS

No ocean liners ply the waters
of my mind, no freighters,
and no reefers sitting low
with their burden of hefty ideas,
but smaller craft keep them
teeming, shadows following
in the shallows, crawling
the paths where pebbles lie
travel-rounded and waiting,
always waiting, for that poem.
© 1996

(originally published in ByLine)



Today's word: teeming

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Strawberry Wine





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



Today's poem is about lunar eclipse. 


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


And now, here it is:


Strawberry Wine ...


We stood gazing through the tangle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Today's word: redolent

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reverie





I've never been a skater ... on ice, that is ... but it seems to me that daydreaming is something like TWO skaters on ice.

You're vaguely aware of your surroundings ... but then you're also off somewhere else ... like a skating partner off somewhere on the ice, whirling ... and gliding ... maybe leaping ... while you're over here, doing your thing.

Then ... POOF! Back to reality.

That happened to me recently.

Earlier in the day, I had submitted three poems ... by e-mail, no less! ... to one of my favorite publications ... or I thought I had. Then I discovered that all of my efforts had come flying back ... wrong e-mail address!

Well, a little research fixed that ... and off they went again.

Then, just as I was winding down for the day ... checking for incoming e-mails one more time ... half-listening to the news on TV ... I got confirmation that all three of those little poems had been accepted for publication in three upcoming issues.

Wow! Did that ever set off a chain of images ... including one very brief thought about dancing on the table in celebration ... talk about reverie!

Speaking of which:

REVERIE

My tired brain,
sponge that it is,
busies itself
sopping up sights
and sounds, giving
nothing back
as we drift apart,
like two skaters
arcing slowly away
on a vast blue rink,
curling, curling
back, linking hands
again, a flurry of
upbladed ice
marking our sudden
juncture, skates
flashing in unison
again as though
we'd never parted.
© 2000
(originally published in A New Song)

Today's word: sponge

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ordinary Moments



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

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


This one is no exception.


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


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


Isn't that always the case?


The poem:


ORDINARY MOMENTS


... in which I discover

travel-rounded stones

on the meandering

creek bed of my mind,

each a found treasure

whirring me back

to rainy days spent

with musty books, nights

floating in wood smoke,

mornings with eggs

frying in a dark skillet,

moments when the world

seemed to be

just waiting for me

to kick off the covers,

resume my pursuit

of this great adventure.

© 2001

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: travel-rounded

Monday, November 24, 2014

New Growth




Today's poem contains some thoughts about what has happened to so much of our land ... thoughts driven largely, I suppose, by my having grown up in a rural area, where the poor, worn-out soil was gentled into producing food and flowers.


I have no special agenda, no axe to grind ... just some observations that simply came to me on a rainy day in a shopping center parking lot.


I may be wrong about grasses someday retaking "these smothered acres."


I take no comfort in the possibility that I might be right. Right or wrong, I shall never know, but it seems logical, reasonable to expect that the sprawl of what we've come to treasure as our way of life cannot be sustained forever.


Something to think about, perhaps.


The poem:



NEW GROWTH


Where crops once grew,

the skin of commerce
stretches into the distance,
acres in all directions.
On verdant prairie land
now grow waving fields
of carts, cars and customers.


They bring the green
to a soil long bereft
of plants, except token trees
planted as memorials
to what once was.


And when it rains, the rain
finds no welcoming soil.
It piles up at the drains
as it flees this alien surface.


What strange things
we now grow, and
how great the cost.

Someday the grasses
will retake
these smothered acres,
rightfully theirs
by prior claim.
The rain will come
in its gentle way
to bless this soil,
and it will prosper
as it did before.
© 1996

(originally published in Poetic Eloquence)

Today's word: smothered

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Making It Count




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

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

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

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

I still do.

MAKING IT COUNT

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

Today's word: cadence

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Let There Be Light




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


What a jolt that was.


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

At least I got a poem out of it.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The poem:


LET THERE BE LIGHT


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

(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)

Today's word: powerless

Friday, November 21, 2014

Handle With Care





Quite often, a poem, or the beginnings of a poem, will come to me suddenly, and in such a way that I will always remember that moment when the spark started the flame.


Not so in this case.


I'm not sure what the trigger was. 

Perhaps it was as simple as seeing a "Handle With Care" label on a package. 

Perhaps it was a quiet evening and I was thinking back to a time when I was quite young, swimming in dreams of what I was to become someday.


I don't know.


But I do know that I was struck by how fragile those dreams can be ... like a bubble glistening in its freshness ... a bubble so delicate that even a most careful touch can burst it.


I hope I stopped short of becoming preachy in this little poem ... and I hope to stop short of that in these comments.


I generally hope, when I'm writing, that I will end up with something that is thoughtfully assembled ... that it will be thoughtfully received by the reader ... and that it may have some residual, lasting value for that reader.


The poem:


HANDLE WITH CARE

There are few things
as beautifully crafted,
gilded or etched,
as magically alluring,
and yet so vulnerable
to the careless touch,
as the dreams
of a young child.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: vulnerable

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Glimpse




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

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

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

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

The poem:

GLIMPSE

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Frozen Pond




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


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


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


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


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


The poem:


THE FROZEN POND


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

Today's word: echoing

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Escaping Gravity





Spring! It was a time of celebration, a time of emerging, at last, from the cold of winter into the beginnings of warmth, a time when kites were tugging at their strings, pleading for more ... when jackets were left lying on the school grounds ... when we gave in to the call of the hills in which we were growing up ... and went galloping down them.


And gallop we did ... a few "no brakes" strides and a leap ... strides ... leap ... strides ... all the way to the bottom sometimes.


Other times we'd fall to the softening turf well before reaching bottom, and lie there, laughing at the picture we must have made, long legs carrying us careening down the slope, with little hope of reaching the bottom still standing.


It was as if we could ... if we tried hard enough ... defy gravity, that if we gained enough speed we might fly. The descent felt like flying. The air seemed to be trying to lift us. And those leaps! They were almost like flying.


Even as we lay there, laughing, our run completed, finally rolling over to look at the clouds, we still felt we might somehow break free of gravity ... next time ...


We had been so close to doing it this time!


In selecting the poem's title, "Escaping Gravity," I wanted it to serve double duty ... to say something about running down the hill, yes ... but also about the need to take our minds off the seriousness of life, even if only briefly.


We all need to do that sometimes.


The poem:


ESCAPING GRAVITY

How we challenged gravity's pull then,
our lanky legs held captive so long
by the dull gray of winter months, but now
freed, carrying us in ever lengthening
leaps until we finally fell, exhausted,
on the wet, green softness of earth,
laughing, pained with the joy of what
we had done, resting, trying again,
each new leap seeming to take us
ever so near that unreachable dream.
© 1998
(Originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: unreachable

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Dawning



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

Mornings have generally not been easy for me.

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

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

The poem:

THE DAWNING

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

(originally published in Sisters Today)

Today's word: yawning

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ceiling Monster







(Another of my little watercolors, an early attempt to capture a sunset)



A summer poem? Could be ... but it could be an anytime poem, because the "monster" is always there ... has been, ever since I installed it.


But simmer - er, summer, it is. At least in today's poem.


Oh, how many times this has happened to me ... I settle into my favorite chair, pick up a book ... or a magazine ... and lean back.


Next thing I know, I'm waking up again.


But this time, at least, I got a poem out of it:


CEILING MONSTER


Five blades embrace
heavy summer air
while four globes stare
at a pair of strings,
slender, descending
like spiders seeking
new worlds to claim,
and my eyelids flutter,
fighting against sleep,
for I have sat down
intending only to read
a few paragraphs,
but find I'm slipping
now, glasses off, my book
slowly rising, falling
as it rests on my chest,
both of us helpless
against that monster
cooling, whirring, 
soothing, hypnotizing
us in the afternoon.
© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)
 
Today's word: hypnotizing

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Before I Gallop



No, I don't have any immediate plans for another big move. The most recent one was big enough, thank you very much.

When I wrote today's poem, I was just beginning to think about the time when downsizing would be the practical thing to do. I looked around at all the things I had accumulated over the years, and it seemed an impossible task.

It still does.

It's really hard to turn loose of things ... I have trouble seeing them as being only "things" ... because they stir so many memories.

I'm actually making the effort now to turn loose of some items ... to use up others ... to give some away. It's still not easy, but I'm trying.

When I wrote the poem, I tried to take a light-hearted look at this dilemma which faces so many people.

Still, after one reading before a small group, one listener told me that she liked the poem, but found the ending a real downer. She thought I was referring to someting very dark there ... death.

That hadn't occurred to me ... in fact, was furthest from my thoughts. I was actually thinking of Hawaii, a place I've never been, but wouldn't mind seeing someday.

Meanwhile, back to the shredder ... but first, the poem:


BEFORE I GALLOP

The time has come,
in this hunkered down,
bunkered up life
of mine, to start
turning loose of all
those precious papers,
stacks of things
left unread,
undone, untouched
these many years,
to end each day
with less than I had
at the beginning,
to divest, to shed,
to shred, to trash
all those dear things
that I can't take
with me, whether
I simply move
to more fitting
local quarters, or go
the whole route,
whisking away
my tell-tale tracks,
then galloping off
toward some
distant paradise.
© 1999

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: furthest

Thursday, November 13, 2014

All Those Trees




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But let's let the poem tell the story:


ALL THOSE TREES


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

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

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

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

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

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

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)


Today's word: aromatic

Wednesday, November 12, 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