Sunday, May 31, 2015

Interlude



















Today's poem likely began life somewhat larger than the version I'm sharing with you.


That's not unusual. When a poem ... or what may become a poem ... begins to present itself to me, I often just let the words go trickling across the page.


Sometimes that works. Sometimes not.


In between that kind of beginning, and publication, there is a lot of revision. That usually means tightening.

Fewer words. More left to the imagination of the reader.


Does this one work? Well, the editor thought it did ... but I tend to think the reader has the final say on that.


If you've ever watched the sunshine come crawling (swarming?) through a window, the poem may work for you as it did for me. If not, well, ... it may still be food for thought:


INTERLUDE

See how the sun
comes crawling
through the window,
like hungry bees
on a single sprig
of goldenrod.
© 1997

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: crawling

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Hard Times





Not all of my poems are about sunsets, the beauty of cobblestone clouds, the wafting scent of roses. Life has a gritty side, too, and some of my poems reflect that.

This encounter came a long time ago at a bus stop, a favorite trolling spot for panhandlers. 


There was a time when I would almost automatically hand over a bit of change. I could remember tough times, too.


But I had grown tired of being hit up day after day. My initial response was not very charitable, I know, but I relented. I imagine there's a lesson in there someplace, perhaps having something to do with the poor sparrows of this world.


The poem appeared in Pebble Lake Review's Fall/Winter issue of 2005, and now is part of a manuscript (Strawberry Wine) in search of a publisher.

And here it is:

HARD TIMES

Suddenly he's in my face,

dirty, wind-blown, muttering, 

Spare a quarter? Refusing to let

his question assault me,

I turn away. Then back. My own
No, can you? comes spilling out

like a shot, freezing us there
in the snow-blasted morning

until finally his uncertain
chuckle descends into breath-

stealing, chest-stabbing coughs
and I fish deep in the warmth

of a pocket for a quarter,
hand it over, stand watching

as he moves away, this poor,

tattered sparrow with his crumb.
© 2006

Today's word: tattered

Friday, May 29, 2015

Green Glass Bottles






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


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


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


Still, we continue the game.

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

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

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

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

This one was originally published in Midwest Poetry Review:

GREEN GLASS BOTTLES


If the wind is right
and the sea is surging,

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

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

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

fingers, fingers fearing
the messages inside.
© 1997

Today's word: mystery

Thursday, May 28, 2015

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, May 27, 2015

Early Morning





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

But I do walk.

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

So the morning it is.

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

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

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

But let's go to the poem:


Early Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today's word: thudding

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Discontent



















Today's poem, I think, states the obvious. When we've always had little in the way of material things, we're content. Ah, but when we have more, the appetite is whetted. We want more.

I was interested in the content/discontent relationship as I jotted these few words on a scrap of paper. Later, it seemed to me that it had a certain feel, a certain sound ... a poem, perhaps.

Here it is:


DISCONTENT


I was content
with what I had,
until I had more.

After that,
I discovered,
I could not
be satisfied
with any less.

© 1996

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: satisfied

Monday, May 25, 2015

Clouds

























Normally I prefer punctuation ... you know, those little road signs which tell us when to slow, yield, or stop ... in written matter. 

In this case, however, when I'd finished jotting some notes on a scrap of paper ... while sitting in a quiet room with a large picture window ... it occurred to me that what I'd written somehow reflected the clouds I'd been watching.

Left alone, I reasoned, that string of images, without any punctuation to tell the reader when to slow or stop, might present a different, changing, cloud-like poem with each reading.


I did a little tweaking, naturally, but pretty much left it as it had presented itself to me.


The result:


CLOUDS 


They slide by
shaping opinions
on the fly
trailering
into one great convoy
heading east
dominating
the great blue
highway
slowing my thoughts
to a crawl
fleecing
me of ambition
stealing
my thunder
an elephant
a dog
a big-eared sheep
a parade
strike up
the band

© 2003

(from my first collection of poems, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press, 2003)    

Today's word: fleecing

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Brittle Poems




Still another poem about writing, but without any technical advice.


No how to- piece. Instead, some sounds, some images painted with words.


Add a bit of a twist with "fireflies ... looking for someone with a jar," and there you have it.


Many of my poems are "little thoughts" ... whether they blink on and off is another matter ... but they are ordinary little topics, depending a great deal on what the reader brings to them for completion.


Also, I keep saying that poems are meant to be shared ... so much depends on "someone who/ will catch them, enjoy/ them, let them fly again."


And there are so many out there worthy of being caught ... enjoyed ... shared.


The poem:

BRITTLE POEMS

My poems are written
on brittle paper, little
thoughts that blink
on and off like fireflies
scouring summer nights
looking for someone
with a jar, a quick
hand, someone who
will catch them, enjoy
them, let them fly again.
 © 2001
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: brittle

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Alone


























I don't recall the date, exactly, but I do recall that winter evening, sitting, trying to read, pausing as I felt the house "filling with quiet," then reaching for a pen, a scrap of paper, so I could record my feelings.

My thoughts did seem to be "shy and skittery," like field mice, it occurred to me. I imagined the sound of their tiny feet, running in a quiet place, like the house where I was alone that winter evening, or perhaps a country church ... during prayer.

Fortunately, my being alone was a condition of short duration ... only a few evenings, as I recall ... but it helped me to identify with those for whom sitting alone in the quiet of a house, apartment, or room, is a continuing thing.

I hope I managed to capture a degree of that, too. The poem:

ALONE

The house fills
with quiet tonight,
only my thoughts
moving about,
shy and skittery
like field mice
in a country church
during prayer.
 © 1999
(originally published in Riverrun)
Today's word: skittery

Friday, May 22, 2015

Walnut Wisdom








Walnut trees ... the black-walnut variety, in particular ... have long been a part of my life.

There were two which grew near the bluffs, a short hike from the house in which I was growing up. 

The walnuts were mine for the gathering. I would wait for some windy autumn weather, then I would venture up there with a burlap bag in which I would stow the found treasures carpeting the ground underneath the trees.

Of course, that was just the beginning. The next step was to lug them home. Then the fun really began. 

I used a hammer to remove the juicy hulls which covered the shells. The result: A hefty pile of walnuts ready to begin drying out ... a process of "curing," becoming ready for cracking open to expose the delicious meats inside. 

Another result was a pair of thoroughly stained hands. I recall my hands being so stained that they looked like they were wearing gloves.

Ah, the memories.

Every autumn I find myself thinking of those trees again ... wondering if they're still there ... if some youngster is enjoying their output as much as I did. 

Meanwhile, the poem:


WALNUT WISDOM

The black walnut's
seething green leaves,
steeping all summer
in the raging sun,
are turning yellow,
randomly twirling
to earth, the leaden
thumps of fallen
fruit providing
an uneven cadence
on the long bridge
of sunny afternoons.


Bruised and smashed,
their juicy hulls
draw back from those
dark interiors where
their secrets lie,
awaiting squirrels,
whack of a hammer,
the outside chance
of becoming a tree.


This, the walnut
knows, is autumn’s
beginning, a time
of payoffs, endings,
another slow turn
of the wheel.
© 2002

(originally published in Potomac Review)

Today's word: twirling

Thursday, May 21, 2015

That New Diet
















I can't really remember how long it has been since that four-letter word, C-A-K-E ... not to mention all forms of my favorite food ... dessert ... was put on my forbidden list.


Oh, how I remember the good old days when cake was my favorite food. Oh, how sweet it was! But no more. Not even a nibble.


But go ahead. Enjoy. I won't knock your serving off your plate. I promise. Nor will I sit up and beg, like I used to. And if I whimper a little, just ignore me. I'll get over it ... someday.



The poem:

THAT NEW DIET

On the pastry shelf
of my mind, cake
doesn't exist now,
but my poor stomach
keeps insisting that
it does. How much
longer can I take this
constant bickering?
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: cake 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Supplication

























(You may have seen this illustration before ... and, no, it isn't the O'Keeffe painting mentioned in today's poem; that has far more going for it than my little photograph does)

It was like a haiku moment.

I was walking along, just letting my mind wander, when I noticed the young oak which had been planted near the sidewalk.


A winter breeze waggled the leaves, and it was almost like they were beckoning me. I paused to watch them, then realized that they reminded me of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting I had seen at the Dayton Art Institute.


As soon as I got home, I sat at the kitchen table, as I often did then, and started writing ... so I could preserve my impressions ... and share them with Phyllis.

Somewhat later, thanks to the folks at The Christian Science Monitor, those impressions found a larger audience.

And here they are again:


SUPPLICATION

The oak
retains its leaves,
purple-palmed mittens
hanging out to dry,
waving in supplication,
inviting a closer look
that shuts out all
except those few
as painted
by Georgia O'Keeffe,
and then not purple,
exactly, but that
kind of purple
that was
her gift to us.
 ©1996

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: waggled

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Passages




Strange how ... and where ... poems sometimes reveal themselves to a person.


As I recall, I was sitting in the car in front of a Post Office, waiting for Phyllis to go in, mail a letter, and return.


I noticed the reflections of the vehicles going by on the street behind me ... how the warped window made them appear to be leaping ... like horses or hunting hounds ... bounding over a hedge.


I thought about reflections I had seen in store windows in my home town ... and of one window, in particular, on one of my last visits there. That store was vacant. Oh, the memories I had of that little country store!


Then the poem started asserting itself ... I reached for a scrap of paper ... always waiting in a handy pocket ... and began writing.


And now, the poem:


PASSAGES

The cars change shape
as they come and go
in the warped window glass
of a store that once was,
dusty now, this begrimed
keeper of secrets,
these windows that
have seen it all
in this small town: deaths,
funerals, weddings, births,
departures of its young
who sometimes come back,
stand beside a grave,
listen to an acorn falling,
slow ticking of eternity.
© 2007

(originally published in Waterways)


Today's word: ticking

Monday, May 18, 2015

One to Grow On














Winter rain, under the right conditions, can be like a lullaby as it dances softly on the roof and goes running off down the street.


But if conditions are right for freezing, as they are here sometimes, it's an entirely different story. We venture out gingerly and pick away at the layer that's still gripping our driveway.


One consolation, we tell ourselves, is that we're a little nearer to the beginning of spring, and we're warmed by the potential that implies.


Meanwhile, back to the subject of a kinder, gentler rain ... the kind which inspired today's little poem:


ONE TO GROW ON

Winter rain
comes sliding down
the glistening trunk
of a sleeping tree,
delivering a sip
to be savored
when it awakens
early next spring.
 © 1995

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

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A New Leaf




Whoa! Can it be? Almost 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

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Memories





There's no mistaking the signature on the art.

Tom, it appears, was the moving force behind this work, a collaboration with Alan, who is one of his uncles, and with Grandma Brimm, who was being honored on this particular Mother's Day weekend.

When the poem, "Memories," presented itself to me, this photograph of their Saturday afternoon efforts seemed the obvious choice to accompany it.

Here are memories in the making ... the vulture, the butterfly, the crouching creature (a lizard) ... and, of course, the signature.

We have stored up so many similar memories.

We look forward to slipping them out to savor them later, at a time when they will taste the sweetest to us.

And we hope that when TOM is ten times seven he will savor them, too ... that he will discover the sweetness of memories from that weekend when he honored his mother, Kathy, and one of his grandmothers, too ... and delighted them both with his art.

(Tom, by the way, is still pursuing his interest in art)

And now the poem:

MEMORIES


Resting, I search
the honeycomb
of my mind
for warm memories,
and those I find
have grown sweeter
than I ever
dreamed they could.
© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: honeycomb

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Late Run























I have ridden a lot of buses. The bus was my main mode of transportation when I was in military service ... later when I started college ... still later, during a good portion of my working life.

There's something about a bus.

Absolute strangers will take a seat beside you and start telling their life's story ... at least that's been my experience ... and the drivers ... when you're the first one on the bus in the morning, as I often was ... or the last one off at night ... as I sometimes was ... they'll strike up a conversation ...

There's just something about a bus.

You can't help but pick up information about people and places ... bits and pieces of information ... even if you're not a writer ... things, impressions that stick with you ... things that resurface at the strangest times.

That's what makes this poem what it is ... the bits and pieces.


It comes together as though it's all happening along a certain route ... on a certain Saturday night ... on a rainy Saturday night ... a certain driver ... a particular bus. Not so. It's a combination of those bits and pieces, gathered during hundreds of rides over thousands of miles.

So it didn't really happen? Oh, but it did. Not in the neat little package starting at Point A and ending at Point B. But it did happen.

I imagine it was ... as is often the case ... a rainy night that set the memories into motion ... this gathering of impressions from the recesses of my mind ... the narrative that followed ... the driver ... rain ... the sweeping turn ... rain peppering the dead roadside grass ... all of it coming together to form a poem.

And that, I suppose, is an example of poetic license.

THE LATE RUN

An almost-empty bus,
and I'm dozing as it
splashes down a lane
toward St. Leonard's.

Its headlights sway
as it makes a sweeping
turn, pauses, then goes
grinding off again.

"It's that way most
Saturdays," the driver
says. Then, glancing
at me: "I make that
loop, you know? Just
in case. But there’s
hardly ever anybody
waiting." A pause.
"Now ain't that life?"

We jolt along, listening
to the wipers slapping
the rain aside, tires
smacking puddles, and I
ponder what he has just
said. The rain peppers
the dead roadside grass
and dances its lonely
Saturday night dance,
while I sit thinking,
tired and a little sad.
© 2003

(from my first poetry collection, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press, 2003)



Today's word: license