Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Reunion




(I know, I'm repeating myself with this, but thoughts of summer always bring certain memories to mind ... again ... and again.)

What a great surprise it was when our tired old mailbox offered up a DVD, titled "Homecoming 1988." We relished the memories it stirred ... and we're eternally grateful to our niece, Julie, for having rescued it from old, old movie footage of a  family gathering, then  providing us with this copy ... calling today's poem to mind.

My earliest memories include family reunions ... noisy gatherings, it seemed to me, as people hugged, slapped each other on the back, stood around trading stories ... then there was the food, acres of it, it seemed ... and the bees or yellow jackets who always seemed to know where to find us.

I was puzzled in those early years. I couldn't understand how all these people ... most of them absolute strangers to me ... could possibly know each other ... how they could all be part of the same family.

With time, an understanding of that came. I also came to know ... and need ... that annual gathering of family ... that renewal of links to others ... the mending of neglected fences ... the promises of "same time next year."

Unfortunately, some were destined not to make it to the next reunion ... but they would be remembered as remaining members of the family gathered once more.


I don't know if families still maintain the "reunion" practice. I hope they do.

In my case, though, I've become a dropout, of necessity, since my driving ... all kind of travel, in fact ... is almost entirely local.


But I have my memories of those gatherings ... kept like pressed flowers in the pages of a favorite book. I look at them, one by one, on occasion, and remember ... oh, how I remember ...

The poem:


REUNION
 

Like worn pieces of a jigsaw puzzle,
we came back together, sliding
into place at that agreed-upon time
in the room provided for us, drawn 


by the prospect of a field-hands meal,
the sound of children pattering
and laughing, the clatter and fury
of games, hum of quiet conversations,

memories burnished by renewed handling,
but mostly drawn back to this place
by that strongest pull, family.
It was not as easy as it once was,

this coming back together, but we did
come back from our scattered places
to be near that place where we began
our journeys along a single path,

then diverged as circumstances and
choices led us away, coming back now
to cross paths for this day, at least.
It was a day for remembering those

pieces missing from the puzzle, a day
for savoring the picture we still make
by our presence, a day for a few tears
as we touched scars of old wounds,


a day given over to hugs and handshakes,
welcomings and lingering farewells,
a bittersweet, pressed-flower day,
this coming home, this healing.

© 2008


(from Wood Smoke, my third collection of poems, published by Finishing Line Press in 2008)

Today's word: remembering

Monday, June 29, 2015

Messengers


















(One of the many photos I've taken during my walks at Cox Arboretum ... and I'm looking forward to seeing this scene again in all its beauty, one of these days)


"Chosen Words," which began in 2004, has welcomed more visitors than I ever thought it would, thanks to those who have taken a look ... and told others.


Without these "messengers" ... people telling other people ... the counter would have moved hardly at all.


But it has, and that has been my inspiration, my impetus to continue, even on those days when I might prefer simply going with the flow.


I've gone through the ritual of selecting a poem for each day, thumbed through photos, drawings or other pieces of illustration ... and then undergone the sometimes-tedious process of putting them all together.


These elements have become my "light in the window," beckoning visitors to pause in their daily routines, to "stand in the shade a bit," to enjoy a few quiet moments, to listen to the murmur of words committed to paper and to this new medium we're sharing.


I hope that when each visitor then resumes the journey, takes up the next task at hand, he or she is at least less burdened, if not inspired, for having paused here.


I hope these have been pleasant interludes for you. I appreciate your stopping by for a visit ... and I thank you for telling a friend about this place.


Thank you for making this a pleasant journey for me, too.


Today's poem, about another kind of messenger:



MESSENGERS


Weary of the small,
murmuring fire
in the wood-burning
stove, I step outside
on a still, crisp night
to look at the stars.



Far overhead,
a flight of geese
moves slowly northward,
spreading the good news
to all who would hear
on this lonely night.
© 2000


(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: murmuring

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Late-Night Serenade





I don't like giving away the poem in my opening remarks ... because then there's no incentive to explore the poem, right?

So, okay, this one is about a dog. He wasn't just a dog, but a special personality. Maybe I should just stop there.

We had a lot of canine neighbors in the years that we lived at Brimm Manor. There was one small one a couple of doors up ... whose favorite activity seemed to be running in circles and barking at the sun.

Then there was the one who deligted in galloping into the alley, hackles up, barking, barking, barking ... like he really meant business ... when I tried to move our trash container back onto our property.

My favorite, though, was Houdini, who lived right next door. I remember how, soon after they moved in, Houdini barked at me. His owner spoke quietly to him ... I couldn't tell what he said ... and that was the last time Houdini ever barked at me.

We got along famously.

Then there was this other dog ... a situation which could easily become a problem ... but I detect a bit of sympathy in what I wrote about him.

The poem:

LATE-NIGHT SERENADE

Sometimes at midnight, sometimes
three o'clock in the morning,
I hear him pouring out his soul,
and I know he's lonely, or lovesick,
or both, poor fellow, even though
I can't make out the words, just
the emotion of his mournful song
that goes on and on, rising in pitch,
subsiding, resuming, reminding me
of a gray wolf sending a message
somewhere in the wilds. He persists,
night after night, sitting beside
his doghouse, two doors down, nose
pointing heavenward, ears laid back,
howling, yowling, pitifully crying
his poor heart out over a lost bone,
a failed romance, the solitude
of the bachelor's way of life --
something that's obviously bothering
him. And it bothers me that he
doesn't start thinking about it
until I'm trying to get some sleep,
then howls the rest of the night.
© 2002

(originally published in Kaleidoscope)

Today's word: yowling

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Into Warm Light






Those of us who write ... and there are a lot of us ... thank goodness ... know about obstacles.

My day ... and I'm sure yours, too ... is filled with little distractions, interruptions, barriers, hurdles which must be cleared, if I am going to have a few minutes that I can devote just to writing.

I must.

I have this burning need to write ... for myself, if nothing else ... possibly to share what I've written ... possibly to submit it to an editor who may ... or may not ... have time to give it a leisurely, thoughtful reading.

But finding time ... those few minutes for scrawling something on paper ... or, these days, sitting at the keyboard and watching the words as they appear across the screen ... is the problem ... a major problem.

Somehow we do find a few minutes to listen to those voices which beckon us ... and we do write ... and we do sometimes emerge, then, into the warm light of understanding.

The poem:

INTO WARM LIGHT

An afghan draped
on my legs, fingers
aching with cold,
fatigue slowing
the curl of letters
unspooling to become
words, I write
in a house gone quiet
except for random
creaks and groans,
the laboring clock,
going where voices
softly beckon me,
down the corridors
that eventually
widen out, opening
into the warm light
of understanding.
© 2001

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: understanding

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hello, Morning





During my working years, mornings were not my favorite time of day, largely because of the early hour at which my work days began, partly because of the pressures of work.


Ah, but retirement brought a change. Now I could sleep in, if I chose, and I could ... within certain limits ... set my own agenda for the remainder of the day.


So what did I do? Miracle of miracles, I started getting up early ... voluntarily ... and I found things to occupy my day ... a bit of art, a bit of writing, a bit of walking, a bit of watching the sun come creeping up over the horizon ... or watching it melting slowly into the western rim of the world.


The poem:



HELLO, MORNING

Early light
feels its way
across the top
of my fence,
gently warming
weary, weathered
boards, faint
yellow softness
spreading like
creamy frosting
on this new day.
© 1997
(originally published in Capper's)



Today's word: melting

Thursday, June 25, 2015

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dandelions




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the poem:

DANDELIONS

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

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: promises

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


CLOUDS AT SUNSET


Today's offering is an ekphrastic poem, that is, one written about a painting ... actually, one of my own creations.


It's one of the poems I shared with the audience in a "Poets Respond to Art" series at the Dayton Art Institute.


Sorry, I don't have a photo of that particular painting. I didn't get a shot of it before it went off to a new home in Illinois.

Still, I hope the poem will convey the images ... since I keep trying to "paint pictures with words" ... that the poem will, at the very least, give the reader the feeling of being there in front of the painting, studying it.

The poem:

CLOUDS AT SUNSET

Mountains tower
on the left, clouds lie
piled like bubbles on the right,
while the sun
lowers itself into the sea,
and a white sail with
a horizontal red stripe
leans across the curving waves
in the foreground.


It's such an old painting,
it might have been the thirties,
awash in Depression, an art
seeking escape while accepting
the realities of that time,
or something as recent
as yesterday, made
to freeze-frame things
in the midst of change,
the clouds, the sun, the sea,
even those sturdy mountains,
eroding while we watch.

It could be just a dream.
© 2003

(From my first collection, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: foreground

Monday, June 22, 2015

Beach Music

























I grew up far from the ocean ... any ocean ... so the one time that I got to walk on a real ocean beach was ... to put it mildly ... a most memorable occasion.


Oh, I had glimpsed the ocean at the movies ... in books or magazines ... but never the real thing.


I think I was most impressed, when a face-to-face meeting finally came, with the immensity of it ... its power ... its beauty ... its music.


I tried to get some of that music in this little poem:



BEACH MUSIC

Waves come tumbling
onto the docile shore,
flinging foamy fingers
across the ochre plane.

Teeming with bubbles,
they search and settle,
soothingly diminuendo,
on a healing chord.

Eliciting a sigh
from pliant, sandy keys,
the fingers slide off
into the lap of the sea,


where joyous whitecaps
merrily urge them,
jostle and encourage them
to play it all again.
© 1998

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: joyous

Sunday, June 21, 2015

After the Chores

























A poem, sometimes, is an accumulation of memories.

This one is like that. It goes all the way back to my childhood, when I would sit on the steps and watch the sky in the evening. It was like magic, the way the stars would start popping out.

It was magic, too, the way the moon would come floating up over the hills, like a giant balloon set loose to spend the night with us.

Lightning bugs would emerge, and there would be a chorus of sounds from the trees and the nearby fields. Occasionally there would be the hooting of an owl, or ... somewhere in the distance ... the mournful call of the whippoorwill.

I thought of those evenings many times, when I was in places distant from that beginning. 

There weren't always steps to sit on in the evening, and it was often a day job, rather than "chores," that brought fatigue settling onto me at the end of the day.

But I found comfort in thinking about those evenings, so long ago. I still do.

And now, the poem:

AFTER THE CHORES

Night voices rise
in growing chorus
as I sink to the steps
and sit, watching,
waiting like a child,
for a first twinkle
on that darkening
blue dome of sky.
 © 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: darkening

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Tomato Patch



















How long ago ... and yet how vivid the memories of those childhood summers helping in the garden that my grandparents had each year.

I'm sure I wasn't much help in those early years. That came later, when I had the stature and muscles to be an effective weed chopper.

Oh, but I still recall how hot and steamy it was there ... how a bit of shade and a drink of water did seem to be so far, far away. But, as the poem indicates, those memories are still valuable to me ... I still treasure them.

Of course, memories tend to lose their rough edges over time. They become smooth and shiny ... much like the blade I remember, chopping those weeds, loosening the soil to help retain the moisture  the plants so sorely needed.

The poem:

TOMATO PATCH

I found no poetry
in the tomato patch,
drone of a horsefly
drilling the silence,
drops of my sweat 
salting the soil,
my hoe dispatching 
smartweed, with shade,
a drink of water
so far away. Why,
then, do I miss
that seasoned handle,
so glassy-smooth,
sliding in my hands,
that dark blade
worn thin and shiny,
glinting like
treasure in the sun?
 © 1998
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: glinting

Friday, June 19, 2015

Summertime Blues























I've got 'em today. I really have. 

After being blessed with a smattering of cool days ... so nice that I almost quit complaining about the weather ... summer ... real summer ... is in the process of returning here.

So, I thought it might be fun to dwell for a few moments on that Impending heat ... perhaps in a hot-headed way, too. I hope you won't mind.


Posting this particular poem today also gives me an excuse for dragging out this self-portrait that occurred with the addition of a digital camera to my arsenal.


I noticed that my new toy had a self-timer.

Naturally, I had to try it; however, it seemed that nothing was happening. Finally, after several seconds, I decided to check. Just at that moment something did happen.



Surprise!


The camera was working, and the result was this blurry picture, snapped precisely as I turned to sneak a peek.


I thought it was the perfect representation of how I so often appear ... early in the morning ... late at night ... and in between ... always a bit behind schedule, and generally befuddled.


The poem:

SUMMERTIME BLUES


I've got those
low-down,
good for nothin'
summertime blues.

My handkerchief
has wilted,
my shorts have
turned to glue,
my socks have
already melted
and run down
into my shoes.

Oh, I've got 'em bad,
as bad as they can be,
those prickly-pested,
heat infested
good for nothin'
summertime blues.

© 1995

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

Thursday, June 18, 2015

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Memory
















Sometimes, you may have noticed, I try to use an illustration that goes along with the poem. 

I was stumped at first, when I tried to think of something to match today's little offering.

Then it occurred to me ... there it was, under my nose, practically ... the side view mirror on the Little Red Car, famous among readers of my former weekly newsletter, "Squiggles & Giggles," for its many escapades.


And what is memory? Why, it's a looking back at things which are sometimes indistinct, blurred, reversed, or "closer than you think."

And now the poem:


MEMORY

I know I've stashed
scads of things
in the dusty attic
of my mind . . .
but in which boxes
are they hiding,
when I really,
really need them?
 © 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: hiding

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Let Them Try





Another poem about writing, the concentration it demands ... and the distractions which intrude, especially if the writing is being done in an attic room -- er, studio -- and the squirrels are playing games overhead.


Before we had our maple trimmed, our roof seemed to be a favorite gathering spot for those rascals.


It sounded like they were having squirrel conventions up there, or the Squirrel Olympics, maybe even doing some line dancing, although I couldn't hear the music, just those little feet, back and forth, back and forth ... back and forth ...


Oh, there were moments of quiet ... I suppose while they were choosing up sides again ... plotting their next moves. During these suspenseful moments I could get a few words written. Then the commotion resumed.


As I recall, my first draft, instead of talking about "teeny-tiny feet," said something about "obnoxious little feet," but I mellowed a bit after that.


In the quiet that followed the trimming of those overhanging limbs, I guess mellowing was to be expected.


Oh, and I purposely kept the lines short ... in order to underscore the tension of writing under such pressure.

The poem:


LET THEM TRY

Squirrels go
trickling across
my green roof
while I write,
trying to break
my concentration.

Hah! Let them
try. I am so
focused not even
booming thunder
could faze me;
certainly not
this constant
pitter-patter,
pitter-patter,
pitter-patter,
pit of their
teeny-tiny feet.
© 2001
(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)
Today's word: pitter-patter

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Handful of Dust




Oh, the memories ... how they come flooding back during quiet moments ... away from the keyboard ... no TV blaring in the background.

Today's poem deals ... seemingly ... with a single memory ... a single day ... a single set of circumstances ... and, when I wrote it, I was thinking about a specific day which stood out in memory.

Looking at it now, I think it's more than that. It must be. 


There were many times that I looked wistfully toward the crest of that hill, wondered what lay beyond ... wanted to find out ... wondered if I ever would.

Well, eventually I did. Oh, did I ever!

But now I seem to be rooted more firmly than ever in those beginnings ... dealing with those bittersweet memories ... finding that the emphasis is more on the second portion of "bittersweet" than on the first.

The poem:

HANDFUL OF DUST

I stood watching a breeze
moving toward me through
hazy green rows of corn,


listened to it overhead
whispering its secrets
to a wafer-dry box elder,


saw it picking up just
a handful of dust,
twirling it, letting it


settle quickly back
to the hoof-pocked soil,
remember thinking


that I might follow,
off somewhere beyond
those barren hills,


but stood drinking
from a rusty tin cup,
dribbled the dregs


on my thirsting toes,
went padding back
where I’d always be.

© 2002

(originally published in Capper's; now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher)

Today's word: twirling