Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Stolen Minutes




I write a lot about writing. It's not that I'm ... by any stretch of the imagination ... an expert on the subject. On the contrary, the process often baffles me.

Do we know all there is to know about love? Or Nature? Or God?


No! But we pursue these, and other subjects, with a passion, because we want to understand.


So it is with the subject of writing.


I write wherever and whenever I can. Afterward, I don't always understand what I've written, or why I wrote it. But I write.


I keep a scratch pad beside the bed, a pen ... actually, it once was a pen with a light in it ... just in case I wake up with some thought bugging me, something that will be lost if I don't write it down right away.


Sometimes, even that isn't enough to preserve it. My scrawl, coupled with the morning mental fog that follows a restless night, can be a tough code to crack.


Oh, well, there will be another time, another place, and maybe that same thought will pop up like a rabbit, go running across the clover field of my mind ... and maybe, just maybe, I'll grab it this time, tame it, make it mine, all mine.


But don't worry. I've learned to share. Oh, have I ever.


For example:


STOLEN MINUTES

I steal minutes when I can,
take them for my own use,
sometimes to sit thinking
my own odd-angled thoughts,
sometimes watching as a pencil
searches its way across
the untracked page, sometimes
listening to that voice,
imperceptible except to that
part of the ear that feels,
more than it hears, what is said.
© 1996

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: imperceptible

Monday, March 30, 2015

Passing in Review




















Today's poem is another example of material ... fodder, if you will ... lurking almost anywhere.

Naturally, I keep an eye out for subject matter, possibilities for a small painting, perhaps, or even a poem, when I'm out walking ... when I'm sitting, waiting for a bus ... whatever.

In this instance, I had passed the flowers many times, casually observing their color, their sprightliness, but not feeling any particular connection with them ... until one day when there was a slight breeze. 

Their movement, "nodding their heads," caught my eye well before I was in front of them.

It was then, I think, that it seemed they were the "reviewing stand" and it was I, the lonely marcher, who was being inspected as I strode past.

Hardly more than a haiku moment, but that impression, that image, stuck with me all the way home, where I sat at the kitchen table and started writing.

The poem, originally published in Capper's:

PASSING IN REVIEW

Flowers arrayed
like a reviewing stand
in my neighbor's yard
seem to be nodding
recognition of me,
and perhaps they are,
for I march by twice
on my daily walk.

© 1995

Today's word: nodding

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Outside




Memories! How we cherish the good ones, make them forever ours, polish them, enhance them, store them away, pull them out to comfort us in our old age.


Such is this memory of our grandson, now becoming a young man, but barely a toddler then.


How proud I felt, watching him go to that window, pointing and pronouncing that word with all the authority he could muster: "Outside!"


I just had to write a poem about it. I know ... I know ... it would embarrass the life out of him, if he were to find out that I had posted it here.


You won't tell, will you? Promise? Then here it is:

OUTSIDE!

"Outside!" he says,
tiny finger folding
as it touches the glass
of our dining room
window. "Outside!"

It carries the tone
of discovery, that ancient
"Eureka!" still echoing,
an air of possession.

He runs repeatedly
to the window, pointing
and exclaiming, savoring
this, another horizon
beckoning, a romance
budding, perhaps growing
until he's my age
and beyond, this love
of the outside world.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: beckoning

Saturday, March 28, 2015

My Heart Listens






This poem was written during a few quiet moments on Christmas Eve, 1997. You will note that it was published approximately eight years later. Patience, my writing friends. Patience.

During those eight years it received many tweakings (that happens almost every time I look at something I've written) ... and, because I keep track of such things, I note that I did seven major revisions.

It was sent out about twenty times, and came back to me, for various reasons. Patience, remember? Ah, but then it arrived in the right place at the right time, pleased an editor, and was published.

I glory in that, not because it will make me rich or famous, but because I believe poetry is meant to be shared. I am delighted that this piece was shared with Brave Hearts readers, and now with you.

I don't remember the weather on the evening it was written. Wintry, no doubt, with cold winds and falling snow.

It reminded me of so many winter evenings when I was growing up. What beauty the snow brought to the countryside.


What magic there seemed to be in that transformation. What music seemed to enter my being. How my heart danced at the thought of tomorrow.

And now, all these years later, my heart still "listens" ... and dances when it snows.

The poem:

MY HEART LISTENS


This winter night
like no other I have
known, trees glisten
with newborn snow,
shining armor that
seizes the moonlight,
sends it dancing
down the corridors
of my mind. Oh, this
quiet night, my heart
listens to the song
and dances, too.
 © 2005

(published in Winter, 2005 issue of Brave Hearts)

Today's word: newborn

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Leaky Roof





The morning seemed to start off with a bit of fog ... most of my mornings seem to start that way, even when the sun is shining brightly ... so it was no surprise when ... I woke up ... late, thirsty ... thinking foggily of clouds, rain, roofs, leaky roofs ... and this poem came to mind:


THE LEAKY ROOF

We knew just where
to put pots and pans
when the rain came
suddenly weeping
through our roof,
its pit, pat, pit-pat
lullaby lingering
long after the storm
had droned off into
distant, grumbling
thunder, leaving
a morning residue
of splatters
and puddles,
blankets on a line,
featherbed sprawled
like a newborn calf
broadside of the sun.
© 2001

(received an honorable mention award in Ohio Poetry Day competition; subsequently published in my first collection, Chance of Rain ... Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: grumbling

Thursday, March 26, 2015

In Praise of the Mundane




(Today's art is a cooperative effort ... my grandson, Thomas, did the construction ... I took the photo ... quite a long time ago


It seems like only yesterday ... but obviously was a little longer ago than that ... when I shared my poem, "Ordinary Things," with you ... and mentioned that it was an outgrowth of a rejection.

In response to my request for his comments on some poems I had submitted, the editor had scrawled something about "mundane treatment of ordinary subjects" on the rejection slip. 


My initial reaction? I had hoped for something a little more constructive. 


But I managed. As a matter of fact, I managed to get two more poems out of that comment.


Oh, and both were subsequently published ... elsewhere. I think there's an obvious lesson in that ... so obvious that even Professor Squigglee (anybody remember him?) would be unlikely to fly into a detailed explanation.


Today's poem:

IN PRAISE OF THE MUNDANE


I don't howl at the moon,
read the entrails of chickens,
plumb the mysteries that reside
in the implacable eyes of cats,
nor take up strange, aromatic
cigarettes, sip unaccumstomed
teas, nor leave my body
to roam the universe.

I do write across the chalkboard
of my mind, or on a torn paper,
an envelope, about simple things
that come to me of their own accord,
quiet, mundane things that I welcome
and treasure as old friends.
© 1996

(originally published in ByLine Magazine)
Today's word: mundane

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How to Reach 80







We had braved a roaring winter storm, and there we sat, celebrating an 80th birthday ... no, not mine ... a friend's.

You'll have to read the poem to share in her secret of how to achieve that venerable age ... the Big Eight-OH!

At the time I thought it was funny. I remember joining in the laughter as she revealed the "secret" ... a statement so like her. I didn't think it was very useful advice, really. Just funny.

And once I'd crept a bit closer to that mile marker, I began thinking, well, maybe ... and after I'd passed that mark (yes, I really did pass it) ... I began to see what she'd said in a different light. 

The poem:

HOW TO REACH 80

We ate Cajun food,
savored the singing,
all the memories
of this tiny lady
celebrating and
being celebrated
for her active life
as mother, fellow
worker, confidante,
for bringing us
sunshine on cloudy
days. And we all
leaned forward
to catch every
word as she stood,
she said, to share
her secret: "Just
keep breathing."
 © 2001
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: celebrating

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Grandfather Writes



Who knows? Perhaps it was my early witnessing of my grandfather's attempts at learning to write his name ... the effort he was willing to put into it so late in his life ... the obvious importance he attached to it ... 

Perhaps it was all of these - or none - that impelled me to write.


I'm sure there were other factors, too, other lessons he taught me by example, as he and his wife, my dear grandmother, undertook the task of rearing me, of making me the person I am today.


I remember watching him, first at a distance, then a bit closer, and, finally, quite near as those shaky letters took form.


I remember the feeling of shared pride in this accomplishment, in knowing that the painfully written X ("his mark") no longer need be his signature.


It was a quantum leap.


My only regret, as I say in the poem, was that I neglected to tell him how proud I was of his achievement. 

But I think he knew. I think he always knew I was proud of him.


The poem:

GRANDFATHER WRITES

My grandfather sat
in sweltering shade
beside the house,
holding a pencil stub,
practicing, practicing,
ignoring the heat,
the droning flies,
straining to focus
with dime-store glasses
while his cramping
fingers sent the pencil
crawling on the page,
strange, angular marks
scratched on the back
of the sale bill,
letters later emerging
in more fluid shapes
as he labored to write
his very own name.
How proud I felt
of his achievement.
How I wish
I had told him so. 
© 2000

(second-place winner in the 2000 Ohio Poetry Day Contest)

Today's word: quantum

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fireflies



















Fireflies seemed such magic creatures in the place where I spent my early years.

They still do.

Especially in that period of transition from day to night, when darkness is beginning to settle in, they do seem to be wavering up some kind of invisible ladder.

They do seem to be signalling to us "that dreams still take wing."

Today's poem:

FIREFLIES

Slowly, randomly they rise
from daytime resting places
into the cool, embracing night.

Tiny wings whirring against
the sodden, clinging atmosphere,
they labor to lug their lights


blinking up wavering ladders,
beacons signaling that dreams
still take wing on such a night.
© 1997

(originally published in Sisters Today)


Today's word: randomly

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Early Writer
























I write any time I can, but I've found mornings best, before other details of the day ... yesterday's unfinished chores, today's agenda ... begin pressing in.

Still, I'm not naturally a morning person.

I don't spring out of bed singing and laughing and dancing.

I'm not a total grump either. It's just that I'm not fully wound at that time of the day, as evidenced by this little poem ... which is, itself, further evidence of why I don't write much rhyme, and perhaps shouldn't.

But here's the poem:

EARLY WRITER

Up at the crack of dawn
After a restless night,
Sleeves rolled up, thinking cap on.
The time has come to write.
Outline great, title gold,
The rest should be a snap,
But I feel vaguely old,
Like I should take a nap.
Still, I grope for the keys,
Get set to take the leap.
One moment, if you please:
My brain is still asleep.

© 1999
(originally published in PKA's Advocate)


Today's word: asleep

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Defying Gravity















Oh, wouldn't it be great to be able to rise above the everyday problems that continue to plague us?


I thought about that.


I thought about literally rising above them, sailing off as carefree as a bird ... or more like a big red balloon which had just gained its freedom.


Of course, I came back to earth, to the reality that things would still bug me, but I felt better able to cope.


How's that for a bit of therapy ... at least in the realm of things which, in the long view of things, aren't all that important?


Maybe if I practice on the little things I will be better able to rise above the larger, more serious hurdles which lie ahead.


It's a thought, anyway. Now the poem:

DEFYING GRAVITY

With practice, I fully expect
someday to defy the gravity
of situations that bug me now.

A promise broken beyond repair,
an umbrella gone inside-out,
the spilled beans of some urgent
secret, the hole in my sock,
a lost mitten, broken shoelace,
a bookmark gone astray,
my coffee cup gone stone cold,
things I’ve forgotten,
crawling out, feeling old.

I see myself like a giant
red balloon, rising easily
 
above them all. And don’t you
dare grab the string.
 © 2002
(originally published in Potpourri)
Today's word: balloon

Friday, March 20, 2015

Carrying the Water




(Just a photograph, no relation to the poem, really, taken on one of my daily walks)

This is another poem based on childhood memories of that place where I grew up in the care of my grandparents.

We had no running water, no indoor plumbing ... not unusual for that time and place.

Our water source for the house was a cistern, with a crank and chain which brought the stored rain water up. It was situated just outside the back porch.

Water for other purposes, watering the flowers, providing drinking water for the chickens, the cats, the dog, was carried from the well, some distance from the house.

This was not easy work. Like most young children, however, I wanted to try it.

Grandpa was willing. In fact, he probably took a certain pleasure in my struggles with that heavy bucket ... the water was so heavy, too, and it really wouldn't sit still ... I can imagine he also relished the memories that my struggles stirred, of his own young efforts at the same thing.

I simply couldn't fathom how he could carry water without spilling some ... while I always spilled a lot.

Eventually I learned the value of experience.

And now, the poem:

CARRYING THE WATER

My grandfather could take
the swaying bucket
all the way,

uncertain as he was, from
well to house, and not
spill a drop.

The water sat, contented,
even though his hands
were trembling,

his step less steady than
mine, his eyes unsure
of the path.

But, hard as I might try,
I couldn't carry it
without loss.

Rising up against me, it
bounded over the top
of the pail,

splashing against my calf,
making dark splotches
on red soil

when I dared set it down,
like sins denied
but still mine.

© 2007

(This poem received an honorable mention in a Sinclair Community College contest; it was subsequently published in Capper's, and is part of my second collection of poems, Hollyhocks, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, KY)

Today's word: contented

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Building Poems





Still another poem about writing.

Not that I'm expert on the subject. On the contrary, the more I write, the more I'm mystified by the process. 

Oh, I've gotten the mechanics right ... after all these years of practice: Fingers on the home keys, and away we go.

It's that other part ... the part in which the ideas come hopping along like shy rabbits looking for that last nibble of clover at dusk ... that's the part I don't really understand.

I know, a quiet place helps ... or even a noisy place, like a bus, a waiting room at the hospital ... places like that will work, if you can tune out all that's going on outside of you.

The blank page, believe it or not, can be a stimulus, too ... an invitation to scribble a few random thoughts.

Then the plot thickens ... the mystery deepens ... and sometimes ... sometimes, mind you ... what you've started, that seed you've planted, goes on, grows up ... and becomes a poem.

Even one who uses ellipses so recklessly ... one who remains mystified by those final steps in the writing process ... can do it. And so can you.

Indeed, bring on more sand!


The poem:


BUILDING POEMS


My poems are built
on the crawling sands
of memory; see how
they tilt and teeter
on the brink of meaning,
how they race past us
in the stopped-time
dimension into which
they’ve been thrust,
how they collide head-on
with indifference, then
come reverberating back
like struck gongs,
resting finally in my
outstretched hands.
Oh, how I love it,
this ever-changing,
never-changing process.
Bring on more sand!
© 2005

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)

Today's word: reverberating

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

An Iowa Night


















Time flies.


It seems such a short time ago that I was there in Iowa, participating in that study ... but it was actually many years ago ...


We had come from all parts of the country that summer, people from various professions, gathering at the University of Iowa for an intensive study of biography.


I was one of the participants in that National Endowment for the Humanities seminar. I had looked forward to it as a means of escaping, if only briefly, a work situation with constantly demanding deadlines.


What could be better than to get far, far away from that, to focus on something entirely different?


Deadlines? Oh, we had those in the seminar ... every day. We had a mountain of reading material to cover, to digest, to discuss. It was definitely not playtime.


But it was valuable ... when I returned to work, and all these years later. It helped to steer me in the direction of more writing and, eventually, into what I'm still doing today, exploring the avenues of poetry and a bit of art.


Today's poem recalls one particular evening when we were invited out to the rural home of our seminar moderator.


I recall our standing on the porch ... but let's let the poem tell it:


AN IOWA NIGHT


Day's work done, we
gathered on a farm porch,
watching the lush, dark
corn trembling toward us
as rain slid
through the dusk.


No towering buildings
muffled the crumpling
thunder, no traffic
softened the sound
of plump drops spattering
thirsting shingles.


It was the velvet edge
of an Iowa night.


I have bridged back
to it many times, seeking
those faces, wondering
what happened next,
what the others became,
where they are now.
© 1997


(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review; also included in my first collection of poems, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press in 2003)

Today's word: wondering

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

When the Frost Comes




Most of my poems are fairly upbeat. Oh, there are those I've written just for myself ... a little less than upbeat in instances, I suppose ... poems that deal with pain ... and healing.

I find some release ... some relief ... for having written them. They are unlikely ever to be shared.

Then there are those like today's.

It's not an upbeat subject ... this matter of loss ... personal loss.


Still, in coming to grips with loss, we sometimes do find a degree of comfort ... I don't know if that's the right word ... an easing, I guess, of the burden imposed upon us.


I hope that comes through in today's poem:


WHEN THE FROST COMES

We miss the flowers
that kept us company
during summer months.
Well into the winter
we savor the memories
of their nodding under
the weight of foraging
bees, of their colors
lifting our spirits.

And so it is
with dear friends
and companions.

When they have gone,
we remember the bright
times we shared, how
we cheered each other,
and we cherish these
good memories, flowering
long after the frost,
to give us sustenance.
© 2003
(originally published in Brave Hearts)

Today's word: sustenance

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tall







































I don't often do dream poems ... that is, poems about dreams ... simply because I have trouble recalling the dreams when I wake up.


This one was different, though.


I had this sense, as I say in the poem, of actually being taller than John Wayne on his horse. What a feeling that was. I wrote down what I recalled of that feeling.


Then, later ... that's right, pardner ... this one turned into a poem about writing, a subject that I find mysterious and perplexing. Even when the words come together neatly to form a poem, I'm sometimes puzzled as to how that really happened.


Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm not completely baffled by the writing process, but it sometimes seems that poems, in particular, "write themselves," and I can't help expressing some amazement at that.


And now, the poem:



TALL

I dreamed that I
was tall, taller than
John Wayne, taller than
John Wayne on his horse,
and I just stood there
looking tall

and silent,


looking at all those
people looking up
at me, at last,
looking down at them,
but treating them
quietly as equals,


because that's the way
it is with me,
pilgrim,
no matter how tall
I get, nor how many
poems I’ve roped
and led home.
© 2000

(originally published in ByLine)

Today's word: equals

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Solitary Candle



Again, the illustration doesn't mesh readily with the poem, but this scene ... those stream-side rocks with their collection of autumn leaves ... happened to catch my attention ...  and here it is)


I've shared today's poem with you before ... when I was having computer problems. And who hasn't had those?


I hoped that visitors would remain patient while my computer and I continued our recovery from our latest adventure/misadventure ... 


I was a little tentative, but I said that I thought the computer was working right ... "now" ... though the counter didn't seem to be counting ... 


As to whether I was "working right" ... I admitted that I still bump into furniture ... misplace my car keys (there they ARE ... in my OTHER pocket) ... trip on cracks in the sidewalk. 


You know, the kinds of ordinary things that ordinary people do as they pick their way through the fog of the day.


Meanwhile, today's poem:



SOLITARY CANDLE


My candle sculpts
itself in its corner
of the room, flame
gyrating in the draft,
tiny avalanches
of wax slithering
into the maw,
a fungible, seething
mass that labors
back up the wick
to sacrifice itself
as a bit of light,
distant warmth. It
flickers, warning me
that I shall soon miss
the warmth, its quiet
companionship, gently
flowing memories, its
solitary, sustaining
work of holding
the darkness at bay.

© 1996

(originally published in Anterior Poetry Monthly)

Today's word: fungible