Saturday, January 31, 2015

Deadly Sin





Let's see, now. I was riding along on a city bus. My stop was coming up, so I had put my magazine inside my briefcase ... snug there beside my lunch ... and I was sleepily watching the street signs.

Actually, I guess I was watching buildings and store signs, more than anything. I had ridden this route so many times, I hardly had to watch for street signs.

Then I heard it.

The click of a ballpoint pen was unmistakable. The sound came from the seat immediately behind mine. Obviously, somebody was preparing to write something.

Was it a thought which had just jumped out at them? A line for a poem? Maybe just a reminder. Maybe another item on the grocery list. But writing.

Someone writing! Another writer? Someone who, like I had done so many times on the bus, was jotting something down that would later become a real poem?

Oh, how tempting it was to turn to see this person ... to ask, "Are you a writer?" To ... well, the poem says it all:

DEADLY SIN

I heard the click of a pen
in the seat behind me,
imagined the scratch of words
across paper, the beginnings
of something so compelling
I was tempted to turn, to peer,
suggest, but resisted as though
in the presence of deadly sin,
and at the next stop got off
the bus, feeling I had been cast
out of The Garden as the doors
folded firmly shut behind me.
© 1998

(originally published in ByLine)

Today's word: tempted

Friday, January 30, 2015

Cool Hat





I know, I should throw it away ... at the very least, not wear it in public.


But I can't bear to give it up. It's my hat. We've been together so long, through so many things. It's like a part of me. And there it sits, "like a cabbage leaf on my head."


The poem began, as many poems do, while I was out walking, this time with Phyllis.


Actually, we encountered two young girls, strolling in the opposite direction. Strangers, but I probably smiled and spoke to them.


One of them smiled and said something in reply, but I didn't catch what it was.


After we had walked far enough that I thought we were out of earshot of the two, I asked Phyllis: "What did she say?"


"Cool hat," she replied.


"Cool hat?"


"That's right. Cool hat," she assured me.


That's when I had the impulse to toss my hat in the air and do a few dance steps right there. Who says I'm not in touch with the younger generation?


Today's poem, part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:


COOL HAT

It has been
wind-stripped,
limb-grabbed,
lost and found,
rumpled, crumpled,
laundered until
it cries for mercy,
and it sits like
a cabbage leaf
on my head.

But then she,
a young girl about
half my height,
flashes a smile,
says, "Cool hat!"
and for a moment,
just a heartbeat,
a quickened stride,
I feel like
tossing my hat
in the air
and dancing.
 © 1999

(orignally published in Capper's)

Today's word: heartbeat

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bubble




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


This little poem is laced with memories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How like that bubble of so many years ago.

The poem:

BUBBLE

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

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)


Today's word: shimmering

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Aromatherapy



I arrived early at a place in the country where a few of us were gathering to share poetry.


I had time to do a little walking, so I headed down a path that eventually wound its way around a small lake. It was so quiet there ... that is, there was an absence of traffic noises, nobody was setting off fireworks ...


It was quiet in respect to the usual sounds I've become accustomed to, but there was a lot of "conversation" going on as the birds were calling it a day, settling into roosting or nesting places for the night.


I had forgotten how they sounded at that time of day, as though discussing their activities, discoveries they had made, narrow escapes they'd had ... and, I imagined, reassuring each other of the relative safety night would bring.


I was musing about that, enjoying the wildflowers along the path, the aromas gently enfolding me, the relative absence of mosquitos ... when I noticed movement in the grass ahead.


Ah, a ground squirrel, I thought ... but no, as I ventured nearer, it turned out to be a very young bird who apparently had left the nest too soon. It stared at me with interest and no evidence of fear as I gave it a wide berth.


Ah, but the parents. They were a different matter. They swooped and scolded me for intruding ... and one of them followed me some distance along the path as I kept moving toward completion of my circuit.


I kept hoping this story had a happy ending ... that the youngster was rescued, was at least watched over ... and will be ... until it's ready to fly off to seek other adventures.


It occurred to me that we ... and nature ... do seem at times to intrude on each other ... but we seem to manage a sort of accommodation ... and life goes on.


All of which has so little to do with today's poem ... except, perhaps, the aroma of those path-side blossoms which reminded me of this little piece ... and I dusted it off again.

AROMATHERAPY

The freshness
after summer rain,
honeysuckle wafting,
pie still bubbling,
smoke of a wood fire,
that new-car smell.
In a former time,
our aromatherapy. 
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: honeysuckle

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Under the Oaks




The oaks may have been "massive" only as their size was relative to my own, but they did seem to be towering, dominating, clustered there at the foot of the bluffs.

But the shade was mossy. I am positive of that.


Where the memory may be playing tricks ... it was a long time ago, you know ... is that the young trees I remember may not have been oaks at all. They could well have been hickory, or even maple.


Still, I like to think of them as "understudies," waiting for their turn in the spotlight ... in the sun.


I suppose there is some deeper lesson to be taken from this. Perhaps I had some application to humans in mind when I wrote the poem ... or it might just have been a little piece about trees. 


Oh, and the illustration? It's a digital photograph I snapped because the leaves reminded me of a painting by Georgia O'Keeffe.


The poem:


UNDER THE OAKS


I really admire
the persistence
of those small
trees struggling
in the mossy shade
of massive oaks,
understudies
learning their
lines, patiently
waiting their
turn to take
the stage, too.

© 2001

(originally published in Capper's)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Two Below


(Not a recent photo, but an example of what I remember a certain fence looking like on occasion)

This is a winter poem. No doubt about that.


It's reminiscent of Northern Illinois, where we spent several bitterly cold winters, but it was written during, and about, winter in Ohio ... or any place where temperatures sink unmercifully low, then struggle to rise, fall again, struggle again ... fall.


Little wonder that we find an unnamed couple sleeping under that "pale slice of lemon floating in thin clouds" ... "like two ... bears dreaming of spring."


This one was originally published in Southern Humanities Review:


TWO BELOW

Pale slice of lemon
floating in thin clouds
far above temperatures
fallen, clicking,
struggling to rise
where they were
some time yesterday
before falling back
in the sullen darkness
that will cradle us
like two sleeping bears
dreaming of spring.
 © 2006


Today's word: unmercifully

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sliding Into Third



Don't worry.

I'm not about to slide into third base ... or even run the bases, for that matter. Not even slowly.


Still, there's the imagination which is stirred by warm breezes, the proximity of a playing field, the sun on my back.

The possibilities ... and even that is a stretch, too ... are interesting.

If I were really to try it, I can imagine that I might have to call time out ... if and when I reached first base. From there it would be rapidly (or slowly, perhaps) downhill.

I can just see myself going into that slide ... sliding ... and sliding short of the bag ... just lying there like a bag of potatoes.


No thank you. I'll stick to the poetic possibilities ... thank you very much ... as opposed to the reality of these tired old legs.


But, for now, the poem has legs:

SLIDING INTO THIRD

Sometimes,
when I’m walking past
the empty field,
I’m tempted
to go legging it
around the base paths,
sliding into third,
maybe stealing home,
but then I think
about getting caught
in a run-down
between second
and third, cut down
trying to extend
a beseeching leg
to hook the refuge
of that dusty bag,
and the vision
of that humiliation,
the disgrace of being
the winning run
tagged out, finished,
game over, is more
than I can chance.
Still, on one of my
better days,
I just might try it.
 © 2000
(originally published in Potpourri)
Today's word: beseeching

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Persimmons





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

Those memories had sustained me all these years.


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

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

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


The poem:

PERSIMMONS



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



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

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

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

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

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


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


(received an honorable mention in a ByLine contest)

Today's word: sweet

Friday, January 23, 2015

Morning Mist




Do you ever have trouble finding things? I do. I hope it's just a phase I'm going through, but I've recently found that ... no matter what it is ... it always seems to be in a secret hiding place.

Then ... surprise! ... there it is, right under my nose.


Well, my first search of the day didn't turn out that way this morning.

When I bounded out of bed ... not really, but I like the sound of that phrase ... anyway, at the beginning of the day I was thinking about ... well, about beginnings ... and how I might utilize them.


This brought to mind one of my little poems, "Beginnings" ... and it seemed to me that it would be the perfect piece.

I searched everywhere ... beginning with where it should be ... and then all the places it shouldn't be. No luck. Not even a whiff of it. I'm convinced at this point that not even a bloodhound could have found it.

So ... I've fallen back on one of the poems from my first collection ... Chance of Rain ... Oh, that sounds so much like ancient history now, doesn't it?


Meanwhile, the poem:

MORNING MIST

Invisible morning mist explores my face
like cotton candy melting at the touch,
reviving memories of that sweet softness

as droplets seek my eyes and slip inside
unseen. But there in the swirling distance,
there against the trees where it bivouacs,

ready to invade in ever growing numbers,
there against a sagging barn, there against
the dim, straining headlights of a silent,

bouncing car peering back at me, and here,
high above me in the drenched, dripping
leaves of a hickory giving what shelter

it can, the mist makes itself visible.
Such workings must be meant to conceal,
but what? The past which clings to me

like the smell of smoke? Or the future,
lost somewhere in the effervescing spell
that embraces these hills, their valleys?

Knowing mystical mist steals the vapors
of my breath and returns only a silence
that swarms about like tiny ghostly gnats

touching my ears and dancing on ahead, 
ever ahead, seeming to point the way
I should take as I labor back up the hill.
© 2003
(from my first collection, Chance of Rain)

Today's word: gnats

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Lattes for Two



(Just a photo of an old fence, you say? Oh, but I think fences ... old ones in particular ... have things to say to us, if we will just listen)
                                   
Meanwhile:

Each of my poems has a past life.

Sometimes that background is quite complicated ... though the poems are usually pretty straightforward ... ordinary subjects presented with few adornments.

This one, I suppose, might be considered as having a "complicated" earlier life. I'll try to present the short version.

When I started painting, I simply started painting. It was later that I decided it wouldn't hurt to have a few lessons ... maybe a lot of lessons ... but that's another story.

When I started writing poetry, it was much the same. Eventually, I signed up for a class.

Needless to say, I was an older student ... THE oldest in the group, even counting the instructor. The class was very accepting of me, though, and I really enjoyed it.

Among those with whom I became acquainted was a young student who worked part-time in a coffee shop.

Possibly because I reminded her of her grandfather, she one day gave me a couple of coupons for free coffees.

Phyllis and I couldn't resist. We were soon sitting under the umbrellas, sipping our coffees ... er, lattes. It was the first latte I had ever had. I found it rather nice ... inspiring, in fact.

The rest is history, as they say.

The poem:

LATTES FOR TWO

We're sipping vanilla lattes while sitting
beneath the umbrellas outside the coffee shop,


enjoying the soothing warmth of the cups
against our hands, the coffee sweet and gentle,


not aggressive, as it can sometimes be.
In my coffee and cigarette days, I slugged down


many a cup, always automatically topping off
after absently stubbing out another butt


and lighting up again, phones ringing, nerves
jangling, my paradigm of perpetual dependence.


But I've grown independent of such things,
an enforced laying to rest of my worst habits


in these years of summing up, a slow falling away
from a tendency to overindulge in so many


things that cheered me up or calmed me down.
Until today. Lured inside by the tempting offer


of a sample, I've wavered, weakened, lifted the cup
again, and after a few tentative sips to make sure

my taste buds weren't playing tricks on me, I think
I might be hooked, feel myself being reeled in.


Oh, if Eve had only suggested a hot, sweet latte
back then, what a different world this might be.
© 2005


(Part of a my third collection, Wood Smoke, issued by Finishing Line Press. To visit the Finishing Line Press site, please click here:


Thank you for taking a look.)

Today's word: hooked

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Homage



(One of my colored pencil drawings)

I grew up within sight of that cemetery which held the grave of a great-grandmother I never knew ... a sister ... a brother ... and so many others who had peopled the small community in which I was growing up.

I remember the curving road which carried the funeral processions up and around ... the parked cars ... the tent covering the grave site ... the mourners gathering ... heads bowed ...

I remember the flowers ... the small flags moving gently in the breeze ... the sound of the rifles being fired in salute ... a silence as the echoes of that gunfire ebbed and flowed away ... the faltering, mournful sound of a bugle ... somewhere distant ... up there among the bluffs ...

I remember it all ... especially now that I am unable to travel back that great distance ... but I think they would understand my absence ... as they understood my presence among them then ... they would understand ...

The poem:

HOMAGE

I stand in the silence
beside the graves
on the slope of that hill
where the acorns fall
like spent minutes.

I stand, thinking
of those who helped me,
gave me that gentle push
in the small of my back,
sent me off toward places
they had never been,
would never be, sent me
off toward becoming
what I am, what I may
yet become.

I stand there thanking
them for their love.
© 2007

(Received First Place award, ByLine Contest; published in Brave Hearts, Fall, 2007)

Today's word: becoming

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Glorious Day






It was a glorious day.


It didn't start out that way. I'll spare you the details, but regular readers already know that most of my days don't start out ... let's just say that I'm not a morning person.


I attribute that to a symphony of aches and pains, certain stresses that never seem to go away - sorry about that ... I did promise to spare you the details, didn't I?


Let's just say that the day, as my days often do, thank goodness, got better as it wore on.


And I was reminded of an afternoon of poetry readings, some time ago.


As always, I had enjoyed the portion of the program in which I shared something I'd written, but I also relished sitting back and taking in the music of words written ... and now being read ... by others.

My poem was written some time ago, but I liked it when it came to me one quiet evening, and I never lost faith in it. 


Once again, I'm dealing with the subject of writing in the poem - and ... I always hasten to add ... I'm no expert on that.


But let's let the poem tell the story:


A GLORIOUS DAY


Someday I shall lie abed
in the innocent hours
of the afternoon, too weak
to walk, too tired to talk,
but writing, because it
pleases me so, gives me 
great comfort, a purpose,
a sense of worth that makes
the hours pass like sugar
coating on a bitter pill,
and I shall curl my toes,
flex my tired fingers,
while remarking, to no one
in particular, that this
has been a most remarkable
day, a time of butterflies
fluttering across my mind,
a glorious day of drowsy 
scratchings on the page, 
a time to go drifting
softly into sleep.


(2nd Place winner in 2009 Dayton Metro Library Poetry Contest, Senior Division)


Today's word: fluttering

Monday, January 19, 2015

Flight



It was a hot summer day and I was about mid-way through my daily walk.


I paused in the shade near the corner, to look around and cool down a bit. I had just been standing there a few moments when it caught my eye: The shadow of something ... moving across the lawn of a nearby house.


As I followed the movement of that shadow, my gaze shifted slowly upward to the source. It turned out to be a crow, moving slowly, gracefully toward a perch high in a tree across the street.


It was quiet as it flew, then sat there looking around ... "judge-like," it appeared to me.


When I got home, I once again sat at the kitchen table and started writing. I had the makings of a poem.


Eventually, after several revisions, it became a poem ... and then, in time, was published.

The poem:


FLIGHT

The crow's shadow folds
and unfolds diagonally
across the lawn, up the fence
and away, almost before
I can fix my gaze on
that true flight taking place
well above the rooted houses.
Then silently he courses
toward a high, unobstructed
limb on which to sit
looking down, judge-like in his
dark robe, at the rest of us.
© 1996
(originally published in Read, America!)

Today's word: judge-like

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Emergency Kit






I beg particular patience from those who may have seen today's poem before. It seems to have worked its way to the top again.


It's still a good little poem, I think ... a bit whimsical ... and I think we can use a sprinkling of whimsy with the world in which we live today.


Bear with me now, while I dust off a bit of history:

I started carrying a printout of one of my poems in response to the recurring question from acquaintances: "What are you writing these days?"

Carrying a single printout, I thought, was a simpler, a more efficient approach than going into detail about all of the things I was working on at the time (I seem to go riding off in all directions, but I do bring some of my projects to completion ... honest).

From there it was a short leap to the image of some poor motorist sitting somewhere on a dark, poemless road, hoping someone would come to the rescue ... and, ta-DA! ... there I would be, poem at the ready ...

I have one regret - I neglected to offer an alternative, like regular fill-ups of poetry before heading out on those lonely roads ... or, I suppose, simply keeping an eye on the poetry gauge ... or pulling into the nearest library - where the price is always right - to top off the poetry tank.

But if you do run out of poetry, just hang in there. I should be along soon.

Meanwhile:

EMERGENCY KIT

I always carry
a spare poem or two.
Who knows? I may
find a motorist
stranded, run out
of poetry somewhere
on a poemless road,
looking for rhyme,
if not reason,
in the scheme
of things, someone
in need of metaphor,
simile, structure,
a triolet, perhaps,
but mostly free verse,
free for the taking,
and this one's for you.
Enjoy. Pass it on.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: emergency

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Day for Flying




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

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

Not a worry in the world.

Like, yeah, sure.

Meanwhile, here's the poem (I hope):


A DAY FOR FLYING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today's word: diaphanous

Friday, January 16, 2015

Biking by Degrees




In discussing a poem, particularly one of my own, there's the temptation to say so much about it that there's no need to read the poem itself.

I hate it when I do that.

I'm trying not to with today's offering, but I'm afraid even the title may tend to give it away.

Let me just say that while I have an aversion to making New Year's resolutions, I have occasionally conceded there were some activities I needed to take up ...

"Biking" was one of them. And I did, over the years, pursue it, quite seriously, at times. Then, as we made plans to move, that all changed. We had no place in the apartment to put it, so it found a new home. 


But that kind of biking appealed to me because I liked it when I could engage in "multi-tasking" ... at least to the extent of doing two things at once ... not that I'm such an efficient person. Quite the contrary.

Here, now that I've verged on giving the whole thing away, is the poem, originally published in Capper's:

BIKING BY DEGREES

I’ve put tons
of happy miles
on this bike,
clinging to its
slender seat,
pedaling steadily
while I catch up
on my reading,
its single wheel
whirring, pages
blurring, while
I exercise here
in my basement. 
© 1996
Today's word: multi-tasking

Thursday, January 15, 2015

At Sunset




I can usually recall the starting point ... the impetus ... of something I've written. Not so in this case.

It might be because I've written so many. It becomes a bit difficult to recall precisely what triggered each one.

I have a feeling, though, that this one promised to be a longer piece ... perhaps a short story. I was letting my imagination run free on this scene from the close of the day. I'm not sure where it was headed ... its ultimate destination.

Writing is like that sometimes. I always like to get the words on paper ... those bits and pieces of thought which come to me of their own accord ... for, on later reflection ... and a bit of tweaking ... they may turn into something worth keeping and sharing.

This one didn't go on to bigger things. But I liked the descriptive phrases, and it appears that the editor liked them, too.

With that, here's the poem:


AT SUNSET


Dying embers of day
arc slowly on drapes
drawn tightly
like an old man's mouth
sealed against saying
that which must
not be said. His room,
steeped in darkness,
recalls a steely pool
of tension, burdened
dome of sky,
dark leaves stirring
now, a gathering
of thoughts seeking
shelter for the night.
© 1999

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: steeped

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

When, at Last, It Rains




I learned about rain, or its absence, at an early age. That happens when you grow up in a rural area. So much ... in fact, everything ... depends on rain, whether you have it or you don't, whether too little or too much.


That early experience shaped me, no doubt about it. It shaped my writing, too, when I finally took that up. It created the shape of my first collection of poems, published in 2003.


This particular poem requires little explanation, I believe. Except ... except that, while it is written as something which happened one evening, it is the sum of many evenings ... spent on the front porch, "watching the stars, counting the days since last rain."


It embodies my reaction to the ending of a long drought.


It could be taken further than that, if you wish, to a celebration, not just of the return of rain to the parched soil, but to the ending of one of the many kinds of droughts we endure in our lives.


WHEN, AT LAST, IT RAINS

I sense its talking to me in the depths
of my sleep, hear its melody settling


softly on my ear like a lover's whisper,
see it, with my mind's eye, falling


into a steady rhythm, slipping slowly
down the slope of the tattered roof


on the porch where I sat last week
watching the stars, counting the days


since last rain; then with a shout,
a slam of the screened back door, I'm


standing in the crusted yard, greeting
the rain with my arms outstretched,

dancing wildly with it, receiving its
healing kisses on my upturned face.
© 2006


(published in my first collection, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003; included in Common Threads, issued by Ohio Poetry Association, Spring-Summer issue, 2006)

Today's word: healing