Saturday, October 31, 2015

I Could Have Played Piano






For the moment, let's revisit the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center, Troy, Ohio, on a cold, cold evening back in February of 2008.


The worst of winter conditions had been predicted ... for just about the time the program was scheduled to get under way.


I was convinced that travel was going to be horrible, weather-wise, and advised those who called throughout the day ... either to express regrets ... or to get some advice ... that I would advise them to play it safe ... and not venture out.


The expected horrible weather didn't arrive. At least not that night. Highway conditions ... except for traffic ... couldn't have been better ... both before and after the program.


Oh, what people missed by following my advice! Even so, we had what I thought was an impressive turnout.


I went in expecting an interesting mix of poetry and music ... but the program ... a blending of music ... improvised on the spot by Joel Hoffman, Professor of Composition, College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati ... with my reading of some poems ... well, the program far exceeded my expectations.


I stood at the rostrum watching as Prof. Hoffman coaxed a delightful program of sounds ... rhythms ... passages ... interludes ... from the piano ... a perfect blending with the poetry I was sharing with the audience.


Afterward, I was really taken by the number of people who thought it was a carefully-rehearsed program.


In truth, Prof. Hoffman and I had not met before that night ... had not rehearsed ... and had had only a brief discussion of our "game plan" before the program began.


I say bravo! Bravo to Prof. Hoffman for so deftly working in the music around ... and with ... my readings ... Bravo! to the audience for shruggng off the dire weather forecasts and joining us for an evening that I will never forget ... and Bravo! to all those who put that program together!


By the way, Prof. Hoffman wears several hats in addition to Professor of Compositon ... including Artistic Director, Music08 and President, Chamber Music Cincinnati.


I thought of today's poem while I was standing at the podium enjoying his music, particularly a portion of the program in which I read "What Might Have Been" to a most beautiful piano accompaniment.


Perhaps it was just as well that I hadn't brought a copy of it to the reading. It might have spoiled the moment ... as my attempts at humor sometimes do.


But I've dug it out this morning ... along with one of my most definite winter photographs.


Background for the poem:


Once upon a time ... way back in the previous century ... my grandparents had a piano. I believe it was for my mother, but I never heard her play it.


It sat in our living room. I remember a piano tuner coming once to do his magic on it. But mostly it just sat. Oh, I plinked and plunked on it when nobody was looking. But, of course, I couldn't play it.


I didn't feel deprived, and I don't now.


On the contrary, there was that imposing upright musical instrument which fed my imagination. I dreamed of playing it someday ... like I dreamed of many other things.


Then one day it was sold. Strangers came to move that magical creation carefully through the front door, down the front steps and into the truck.


And that was that ... except for the poem (be prepared for a slight twist with this one), originally published in Midwest Poetry Review:



I COULD HAVE PLAYED PIANO


My long, skinny fingers
itching for things to do,
toes just barely reaching
the pedals, and my bottom
gripping the slippery edge
of the bench, I dreamed
of playing ragtime, gospel,
boogie-woogie, maybe even
some of that girl-pleasing,
tough, classical stuff.



What I did was what
seemed to come naturally.



With only one lesson,
I flung myself into all
of the old favorites,
playing each several times
before going exuberantly
to the next. Finally,
Grandpa admitted he was
sorry he had taught me
what could be wrought
with a comb and paper.



Oh, I could have played
piano, no doubt, but my lips
wouldn't feel all numb
and fuzzy, like they do now.

© 1997

Today's word: fuzzy

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hollyhocks






I hope you'll forgive my repeating a bit of ancient history with this posting ... the memories of those excursions to the bluffs to gather that rich soil ... those furry-jacketed seed, saved year-to-year by Grandma ... the resulting flowers.


They are such sweet memories. I still find great comfort in them ... and in the poem itself. No surprise that I share it at almost all of my poetry readings ... 


Yes, I do readings. You may have gathered that I really believe it when I say: Poetry is meant to be shared.


But relax. I haven't quite resorted to going door-to-door to inflict my poetry on the unsuspecting ... yet.


I do appreciate those, though, who stop by here to take a look ... to pause to listen ... to let the words wash over them ... to let me share ... and I hope they ... and you ... leave with a feeling of having dined on poetry ... or at least have an appetite newly whetted for more ... here, there ... everywhere.


Thanks so much for stopping by.


Oh, and the illustration today is a small watercolor I did some time ago. It also went on to bigger things ... becoming the cover art for my second collection of poems.


Now, the poem:



HOLLYHOCKS


We went to the bluffs,
up the narrow path
along the spine of the ridge,
up where the tall oaks
clustered among the rocks,
where the soil was dark
and crumbly, cool to our
digging fingers, and piled
that loose, rich soil
into a coal bucket,

lugged it back in many
trips to a dedicated circle
of depleted yellow clay
behind the house,
heaping this found food
there for furry-jacketed
seed from a deep pocket
of Grandma's apron,

and they became the most
sun-catching, bee-luring,
beautiful flowers
I had ever seen, almost
as though God had just
said: Let there be
hollyhocks.

And there were.
© 1999

("Hollyhocks" received an honorable mention in the Dayton, Ohio, Metro Library Contest in 1999, and went on to become the title poem of my second collection of poetry, published by Finishing Line Press in 2007)
***
Today's word: bee-luring

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Good Deed




My reaction at the time the event occurred went from puzzlement ... to surprise ... to that pleasant feeling you get when somebody does a good turn for you ... and doesn't want, in fact, would refuse, anything in return.


The poem tells that story.


Oh, I suppose my neighbor was grateful for the small favors we did him and his family when they had a house fire shortly after moving in. But he didn't owe us anything for our help, either.


That's what neighbors do for each other.


He was grateful then ... and I was certainly grateful for all that shoveling he was doing for me. I had been waiting out the storm, dreading the task that confronted me.


Then, suddenly, there he was, the good neighbor.


If I were to go ahead with this, I'd probably become preachy ... so, I'll just say that this one was originally published in The Christian Science Monitor:


THE GOOD DEED


All day the snow
has come sifting down,
obscuring objects
in our shaken globe,
and I'm standing
staring out the window
when I see the shape
of a person who's
obviously been driven
wild by the storm,
who pauses and turns
into someone I know
... my neighbor,
shoveling my
 walk.
© 2003

Today's word: shoveling

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Flowering Friendship






I remember how sad it was that year to look out the window and see what had happened to the tulips, daffodils and peonies as a result of a late freeze.

We had enjoyed summer-like weather, and then this. All those beautiful plants wilting to the ground, as though someone had taken a blowtorch to them.

But my thoughts quickly turned to those who had likely suffered greater losses ... those who had fruit trees budding and blossoming, for example.

And then, as if to console me, this poem came to mind.

It was written at the end of a season, rather than the beginning, and it paid tribute to a good year in which no late frost had occurred, in which we had enjoyed watching the flowers, from their first shoots breaking through the soil, to their greening and blossoming, and, finally, as the season came to a close, their departure.

I was already looking forward to the next year. I knew I would miss them during the winter months, but felt assured that they, like old friends, would be back.

The poem:

FLOWERING FRIENDSHIP

Summer-weary flowers,
what beauty came
of your being with us
another season,
what pleasure grew
from your growing.
We must, by all means,
meet again next year.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: pleasure

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

End of the Day









Today's poem is about a bit of "ancient history." 

Written well after the fact, it's a recounting of a time when I traveled much more than I do now, a time before interstate highways began crisscrossing our country, when passenger trains were still in abundance.

It was sometimes faster, or "more convenient," to travel by car. Oh, how I recall trying to think of that convenience as I fell into bed somewhere along the way and tried to get a few hours' sleep before pressing on. 

Ah, those were the days.

But for now, the poem: 



END OF THE DAY

The ceiling grows vague
and cold, its tiles swirling
like snowflakes toward me,

and I taste them, melting,
the bed sways under me
as though bearing me away

to some strange place, my eyes
close, and I see highway,
an undulating ribbon whirring

toward me, narrow out there,
broadening here where it gains
speed, goes threading beneath

my car, as it has all day,
dull pewter funnel pulling
me in, pouring me out here

where I lie on a strange bed
in a cheap motel, thinking
of the events bringing me

here, thoughts drifting
like the slow, curling smoke
in a room suddenly empty,

being pulled toward the ache
and soreness of tomorrow,
not caring, not caring at all.
© 2000

(originally published in Waterways; now part of Wood Smoke, my third collection, published  by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: fatigue

Monday, October 26, 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

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Caught on the Brink





Have you ever found yourself in "the twilight zone," that location which lies vaguely somewhere between sleeping like a baby ... and being fully awake?

Well, I have. Many times.

Thank goodness, it has only happened to me a couple of times when I was behind the wheel ... and without serious outcomes in either instance.

Oh, on one of those occasions ... one very dark night ... I was pulled over by a highway patrolman somewhere in Indiana ... but that's another story.

But let me settle into my favorite chair ... with a favorite book ... and it's like I've been given a knockout potion. Soon the words become blurry ... the room seems to melt away ... the book grows heavy ... my eyelids grow heavier ...

Whoa! I'm getting ahead of myself here. I'll just step aside and let you glide right into the poem:


CAUGHT ON THE BRINK

Something I had just read
struck a chord with me,
sent sympathetic vibrations
dancing down the corridors
of my mind. I could feel
something stirring deep
within me, a new knowledge
coming like a rescuer's lamp
shooting fingers of light
this way and that,
drawing nearer in the murky
darkness, promising a sip
from the cup of understanding,
a way to come clawing out
of this abyss, into fresh air
and natural light. "Bob!" I
heard the distant voice calling.
"Bob! Put down your book,
take off your glasses, recline
your chair!" It was as though
the Thought Police had me
surrounded. What could I do?
What else? I surrendered.
© 2000

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: murky

Saturday, October 24, 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

Friday, October 23, 2015

Autumn Dreams






It wasn't raining as I stirred, turned my pillow cool side up, and went drifting off again, but I thought about the coolness of that pillow, later, while I was shaving, thought about the sound of rain ... and about this poem.


So here it is again:


AUTUMN DREAMS

Softly, the rain
descends, puddling
in the darkly
glistening street,
pausing to quench
the thirsting roof
before dripping,
a muffled sighing,
to the ground.

Wind chimes stir,
and the cows
are suddenly home,
winding along
that narrow path
where the sun
lately streamed.

I stir, savoring
quilted warmth,
softness of pillow,
go drifting off
again like a puff
of milkweed.
© 2000

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)

Today's word: puddling

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Solitude





Today's poem was written at a time when I was setting a particular kind of challenge for myself with my writing: Take a randomly-selected word and define it, not in dictionary terms, but in personal, human terms ... terms that readers would understand for having lived or witnessed some of them.

It helped that I had some experiences to call on ... the relative isolation of a rural upbringing ... military service ... being "alone" on a crowded subway in New York City.

It helps, too, to be able to block out present surroundings, for at least those few minutes of the writing exercise ... all of those things of the moment which are the opposite, in this instance, of the word you're trying to define: friends, family, companions, even the voices coming from the TV in the other room ...

The poem, originally published in Shawnee Silhouette:

SOLITUDE

It's not just
the hollow, echoing
sound of nights;
days can be
lonely, too,
with a consuming
emptiness spreading,
crinkling as it burns
the thin paper of time
on which we scratch
the names of our thoughts.
With no one to touch,
no one to hear,
no one to care
that we exist,
there is no breaching
the walls of that cell
in which we are locked,
listening as the minutes
slide into hours,
pyramiding themselves
into coldness,
the absolute zero
of solitude.

© 1996

Today's word: emptiness

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Autumn's Leaves







I know ... those who have long memories will recall having seen this one before ... but I hope they ... and you ... will forgive my repeating myself.

It is beginning to seem autumn-like again here in Ohio ... cooler temperatures ... and some of the trees in my neck of the woods have started hinting at autumn hues.

Now where did I put that rake?

Even with all the raking involved, I still consider autumn my favorite season. 

Oh, there are certain redeeming qualities about spring, the new growth signaling the end of winter. And summer, too, if it doesn't get unbearably hot ... I like the good walking that season provides. And even winter has its moments of beauty.

But autumn ... well, there's just something about autumn ... quiet, cool evenings ... the play of late sunshine across the colors of the foliage ... and sunrise ... oh, sunrise simply outdoes itself. 

I like the show that the trees provide. Always have. Always will ... even with all that raking.

The poem:


AUTUMN'S LEAVES

Across the fence,
my neighbor's trees
droop with tons
of gorgeous leaves,
and here I stand
with a single rake
to defend against
the inevitable.
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: inevitable

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Autumn Night


 





Perhaps these images, written about so wistfully, have little meaning to others, but to me they are the essence of things I miss about that place where I grew up.

I think it is quite natural that we have this connection with our beginnings, and quite natural that we should think of them again ... and again ... as we look back and see just how far we've traveled in all these years.

Thank goodness for that "bridge of memories." I often go strolling across it.

The poem:

AUTUMN NIGHT

Stars spilled
across dark velvet,
thin ribbon of smoke
climbing the air,
lettuce-crisp, clear,
toward a lemon moon,
square of window
whispering its light
through the trees,
beckoning to me,
wanderer still,
with only a bridge
of memories
to carry me back.
 © 1996
(originally published in Explorer)

Today's word: wanderer

Monday, October 19, 2015

Already Pocketed





"Writer's block"? I'm not sure it exists.

Oh, there are times when the ideas flow with the slowness of cold molasses ... there are times when the well seems to have gone completely dry ... but usually not for long.

I always carry a scrap of paper and a pen or pencil, just in case.

Then there are times when the thoughts come gushing forth ... and I wish I had my handy-dandy pocket recorder with me, so I could capture them in the midst of the heavy traffic that I'm trying to pick my way through.

Thoughts ... writing-related ideas ... are, indeed, fleeting ... and the intervals between them can seem to be endless ... but "writer's block"?

I don't really think there is such a thing ... and I hope I'm right.


I hope I can keep riding down this seemingly never-ending trail ... writing and sharing ... until ... well, until the very end.

And now, today's poem:

ALREADY POCKETED

Sometimes,
when I search
the rock pile
of my mind
for new ideas
to grind
and polish,
my hand goes
to a pocket
where one lies
already shaped
and shined,
just waiting
for a setting
worthy of it.
 © 2000
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: pocketed

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Avalanche!




(Another of my quick watercolor sketches ... done along the way)

As always, please keep in mind that these ramblings generally reflect only my viewpoint ... and they may not be really current (I understand that's the way the mind works, sometimes, as  it ages).

So-o-o-o … I was driving (some months ago, now) as we started out to run some errands.

At our first stop Phyllis gathered up a double armload of covers … not heavy, but really bulky …  and headed toward the laundry/dry cleaners. 

I sat behind the wheel and pulled out a tattered crossword puzzle collection … to, as is my custom, fill in a couple of minutes by filling in some blanks.

Then I glanced into the rearview mirror (I do that occasionally, so I‘ll be ready to go when Phyllis returns).

Oh, NO!

There was Phyllis on the ground … on the pavement, actually … and someone was helping her up.

By the time I got out of the car and to the building, she was already just inside the door … and the proprietor was trying to help her. 

Her glasses were badly scratched, but weren’t broken. Her lip was bleeding, she had a cut just below her left eye, and there was a large discolored (bruised) area there, too, all the result of tripping and falling. While I was fumbling for a tissue to apply to her lip, another customer entered.

What perfect timing!

“I’m a surgeon,” he said, in a quiet, matter-of-fact voice, and started checking her out … advising against stitches for her wounds, but recommending some remedies … which we followed.

Meanwhile, if you happened to see Phyllis … and noticed that she had a black eye … I hoped you understood … I didn’t do it. 

Meanwhile ... I’ve said it before ... and I’ll say it again: I can’t rhyme worth a dime.

It’s true. Oh, I can sometimes put a couple of lines together, maybe, but then I get so bogged down in the mechanics of it that I can’t tell the story I started out to relate.

So, I stick mainly to what I CAN do ... and that’s what’s called free verse. It has a certain rhythm to it, a certain amount of rhyme, though not always where expected (no end rhyme, for example), and I do ... sometimes ... manage to tell a story, or get a point across.

(Oh, how I envy those who have the gift for creating structured, rhyming poetry which tells their story for them!)

And now, Exhibit A in the case for "can’t rhyme worth a dime":

AVALANCHE!

When I wrote my first poem,
It was really quite a chore,
But I just had to show 'em
I could do one, maybe more.

Now poems spill off the end
Of my desk, across the floor.
If this continues, my friend,
They'll be sliding door-to-door.
© 2011 
(originally published in PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: rhyme

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Autumn Trees





(One of the photos I took during a visit to Pondview)



Yes, my children, there was a time ... no, not back in the days of the dinosaurs ... a little more recent than that ... when there were candy stores, and others, I suppose, which sold their sweet wares for a penny apiece (I hear that the price has gone up a bit since then).

The poem is not about the penny candy store, exactly, but it helps if you can bear that image in mind as you work your way through. 

Imagine, if you will, a place where there are so many choices all around you, each one seemingly more appealing than the one you just hovered over, and that one over there ... so mouth-watering alluring that you simply must have it.


No, wait ... there's another one.


Transfer that to a tree-lined highway at its autumn peak, you're driving along enjoying ... well, you've got the picture. This one was originally published in Capper's:


AUTUMN TREES 


Lining the highway
like penny candies,
they invite us
to pick this one,
no, maybe that one
there, each seeming
a little prettier,
more alluring,
all bidding wildly
for those precious
pennies clutched
in our sweaty hand.

© 1998 

Today's word: alluring 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Strawberry Wine





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



Today's poem is about lunar eclipse. 


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


And now, here it is:


Strawberry Wine ...


We stood gazing through the tangle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Today's word: redolent