Monday, November 30, 2015

Cup of Memories




We didn't have a "drinking gourd" when I was growing up, and I always felt deprived ... in the early years, at least.


Instead, we had a common aluminum dipper (we all drank from the same dipper) beside the water bucket in the kitchen.


Germs aside, it offered a cool, refreshing drink, when the weather was cool, refreshing. During the summer, as I recall, we went directly to the source, the cistern just a few steps from the back porch, to fill the dipper.


The "drinking gourd," on the other hand, resided at a neighbor's house on a nearby hill. Judging from the frequency of our visits, they were probably distant relatives.


They had a well which, I thought, contained the coldest water around.


And that gourd, that marvelous old weather-beaten gourd. I just had to have a drink from it, even when I wasn't thirsty.


Oh, how I remember sipping slowly, dawdling, while enjoying both the cold water and the great shade of the tree near the well.


The poem:


CUP OF MEMORIES

The well water
was never colder
nor more sweet tasting
than when it was sipped
from an ordinary,
but memorably special
gray gourd dipper. 
© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: dawdling

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Body of Work



(This photo preserves memories of a place where we once lived)


Sometimes when I'm scribbling on a scrap of paper, I turn thoughtful ... and when that happens I try not to spoil the mood by talking too much.


Today's poem:


BODY OF WORK

No massive volumes
nor learned footnotes
preserve my tracks,
no ripples mark
my gentle passage,
yet my being here,
scribbling away,
may have made
a difference
to someone else.
If that's the case,
I am pleased,
verging on proud,
of my body of work.
© 1996

(originally published in Anterior Poetry Monthly)

Today's word: verging

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Aromatherapy




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

AROMATHERAPY

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

Friday, November 27, 2015

What Was That?






(One of my colored pencil drawings. It has nothing to do with today's poem, really, but it worked its way to the top of a stack again, and I thought I'd share it again.)


I write a lot about ordinary things ... those things all around me ... things which are seen ... or heard ... almost every day ... things which might go unnoticed, had I not started trying to "see things with new eyes."

Or, I suppose, in this instance, to hear things with new ears.

The poem deals with a bit of ancient history ... so much time has passed since the incident about which I've written ... but it's good to be able to look back, sometimes, to remember ... to chuckle again over something that happened ... something, in the broad sweep of things, quite ordinary ... but still valued.

The poem:

WHAT WAS THAT?

When I heard
a chorus of crickets
in my son's room,
I wasn't surprised.
When I heard bird calls,
that didn't faze me
in the least.
But when I heard
the songs of whales,
I sat upright
and took notice.
Just a CD, Dad,
he reassured me,
and I drifted off
with hardly a ripple.
© 1995

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: ripple

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Two Below



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

This is a winter poem. No doubt about that.


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


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


This one was originally published in Southern Humanities Review:


TWO BELOW

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


Today's word: unmercifully

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sliding Into Third




Don't worry.

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


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

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

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

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


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


But, for now, the poem has legs:

SLIDING INTO THIRD

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Persimmons





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

Those memories had sustained me all these years.


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

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

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


The poem:

PERSIMMONS



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



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

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

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

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

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


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


(received an honorable mention in a ByLine contest)

Today's word: sweet

Monday, November 23, 2015

On Waking





I grew up in hill country, where fog was rather common. I still identify waking up, the beginning of the day, with fog that lingers in the valleys.

It's something like the fog that lingers in my own head ... beading on the cobwebs there ... but that's another story.

Meanwhile, today's poem:


ON WAKING


The dense gray fog, that
silent stalker of valleys,
crept in like a dream
while we slept, lingered,
defying the sun's efforts
to take back this place
where the sassafras shares
a hillock with honeysuckle,
outdoing the dew itself,
globules riding a coolness
that speaks of changes
coming, a shift of seasons,
a briskness that will make
the covers more precious
in the morning, gentle fire
like a warm embrace when
evening brings us home.
© 2001

(originally published in Waterways)

Today's word: embrace

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Next Shade





















(It's not one of my summer photos ... and that's shadow, rather than shade, but I find shadows interesting, too)

Phyllis and I, circumstances permitting, go for a walk every day.

We prefer walking outdoors, but if the weather is particularly disagreeable, as it can sometimes be in this part of the world, we duck into a shopping mall, or its equivalent, and do our walking there. 

We've even done the building-connecting tunnels at Wright State University ... all a part of survival.

In the hottest part of summer, we adopt another strategy, which allows us to walk outdoors ... and survive.

We call this our "shade hike." We find some place with lots of trees ... and we're blessed with a lot of parks like that in this area ... then we go strolling from shade to shade.

These brief interludes of relative coolness make it possible for us to walk outdoors in the hot, sultry months ... and survive.

If we hear rumbles of thunder, it's back to the mall.

While we are darting ... relatively speaking ... from shade to shade, I often think about this poem, based on childhood memories ... as many of my poems are ... but also a metaphor for dealing with problems:


NEXT SHADE

Once, walking to town,
I complained that it was
too hot, too dusty, far
too far, but Grandma,

who had walked it many
times before, simply
said, "We can make it
to next shade, then

we'll rest. Next shade,
rest," and it became
a game, the next shade
our refuge, drawing

us along like a magnet,
the trip getting easier.
I've thought of that
a lot of times when it

seemed the going had
become too demanding,
and I always found
next shade, some rest,

before pressing on,
her words still making
it easier for me.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

And so it is. We find that "next shade" ... in words of comfort ... a pause ... a summoning of inner strength ... a moment in our own quiet cove ... respite ... before pressing on ... and on.


Today's word: survive

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Morning Mist





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

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


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

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


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

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

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


Meanwhile, the poem:

MORNING MIST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today's word: gnats

Friday, November 20, 2015

Morning Flight




Poems have many ways of presenting themselves to me.

Sometimes they wait patiently for me to discover them ... and am I ever surprised ... because they've been there all the time ... I just hadn't noticed until now.


Sometimes they almost literally leap out at me. Some event, some thought sets them into motion ... and they're often so fragile ... so like the smoke from an evening fire ... that I have to capture them quickly on paper, or they're gone ... gone forever.


I remember exactly where I was when this poem leaped out at me.


I was walking alone, east on Wayne Avenue, just a block west of Smithville.


Something glinted in the early-morning sky, and I paused to stare at it. It was a plane ... just a tiny speck on that deep, deep blue blanket of sky.


When I got back home, I sat at the kitchen table, as was my custom then, and started writing. The result, after many revisions (that process of slowly boiling it down to its very essence):


MORNING FLIGHT


Great silver-gray fish
gliding silently
across the cold blue
of morning
toward that huge red
bait of a sun,
passengers settled
in your slender belly,
flying away from 
earthbound creatures
just stirring awake,
waiting for the sun
to begin reaching
toward them, too.
© 1998

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: essence

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lattes for Two



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

Each of my poems has a past life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest is history, as they say.

The poem:

LATTES FOR TWO

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


Thank you for taking a look.)

Today's word: hooked

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Homage




(One of my colored pencil drawings)

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

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

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

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

The poem:

HOMAGE

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

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

I stand there thanking
them for their love.
© 2007

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

Today's word: becoming

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Giving Advice





(This is an early work by my grandson, Thomas, who has moved on to more serious artistic endeavors ... but I still treasure this piece)

I had a boss, many, many years ago, who repeatedly expressed his concern about "putting out the fire" ... that is, discouraging creative thinking and constructive effort.


He avoided that perceived hazard by not riding herd too closely on his employees. He didn't afford them free rein, of course, but he did want them to think for themselves, to offer suggestions and constructive criticism.


His admonition, "Don't put out the fire," stuck with me long after. It finally begged me to put it to paper. In doing so, I visualized an old man, quite unlike my boss, teaching a rank beginner how to build a fire and to keep it going.


The old man is the narrator, and there is no two-way conversation: We don't hear anything from his young pupil, obviously a good listener. 


There aren't even any quotation marks in this piece. But, despite that violation, I think it works.


I think the poem works on two levels, and I like that.


The poem:

GIVING ADVICE

Now be careful, he said,
or you’ll put out the fire,
the spark, the flame,
the desire that sprang up
and wavered, waiting.

Fan it too much, or pile on
more than it can handle
in its early, struggling,
starved-for-oxygen stage,
and it’s a sure goner.

Neglect it and it’s doomed,
too. Oh, it may flash up
and dance in the darkness,
but it’ll soon burn out,
without some new fuel.

It takes a gentle touch,
the hat back and forth
just so, a sure eye watching
for signs that it can
stand alone, in its own heat.

Remember, he said, plopping
his battered hat back on,
how it was when you started,
how you needed that touch,
that sweet warmth of success.
© 2001
(originally published in Kaleidoscope)

Today's word: success

Monday, November 16, 2015

Flight




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


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


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


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


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


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

The poem:


FLIGHT

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

Today's word: judge-like

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Emergency Kit







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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile:

EMERGENCY KIT

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

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: emergency

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Don't Dance on My Toes






Phyllis and I were on a day-trip, visiting Chillicothe, Ohio, and the magnificent, neighboring Adena.

Among those at our table during lunch were some couples who enjoy line dancing ... oh, do they ever. Their enthusiasm was catching ... almost.

I say almost, because my early experience with dancing was ... well, catastrophic.

I must have been in fifth or sixth grade ... we were giving a demonstration of some kind of historic dance for a school assembly.

Afterward, I was thinking that it had gone fairly well. But then my partner complained that I had stepped on her toes ... several times, I believe she said.


I still blame that early, scarring experience for keeping me off the dance floor to this day. I can only hope that my partner in that early dance wasn't similarly scarred for life. 

I suppose that first ... and last ... dance led me, eventually, to the writing of today's poem.

As those who know me will agree, I don't go toe-to-toe or nose-to-nose with anybody on any issue. It's not that I couldn't, or wouldn't ... nor that I haven't.


It's just that I've learned that it doesn't solve anything. Rather, it does create a new set of problems ... often far more serious than the original offense did. 

I prefer, instead, to take my frustration, disappointment, and, yes, sometimes anger, to the keyboard, where I can work myself through to a better frame of mind.

Sometimes this results in something like:

DON'T DANCE ON MY TOES

I don't care
if you’ve got rhythm
and grace galore,
please
don't dance on my toes.

I don't care
if you're wild as a daisy,
sweet as a rose,
just, please,
don't dance on my toes. 


I don't care
if you're rich, smart,
sophisticated,
and stuff like that -
don't dance on my toes.


'Cause, brother,
I've got troubles
and pain galore,
and I just
don't need any more.
 © 2000
(originally published in Art Times)

And today's art? Oh, it was done by an artist friend of mine, Thomas, who also happens to be my - our - young grandson. He was visiting us, probably waiting patiently for the meal to begin, when inspiration struck. In addition to pieces like this, he also does great drawings ... and paintings ... he is, after all, my - our - grandson.

Today's word: scarred