Thursday, December 31, 2015

Howdy!




 
Some of you may have seen today's poem before ... when it was originally published ... or later here on "Chosen Words." Sorry about that, but I think it might be worth a second look.


It all began when ...


There was a lull in the festivities at my high school class reunion, class of ... let's just say we graduated somewhere in the previous century ... and Floyd was saying, "You know what I remember about you?"


Uh-oh. I braced myself and allowed as how I didn't have the foggiest notion of what he remembered.


"During study hall, you'd go to that big dictionary at the east windows, and I'd swear you were standing there, just reading it for pleasure," he said.


That's right! I remembered that, too. 


It was a huge dictionary. I would go to it to unlock the mystery of some new word I'd encountered ... then I'd get sidetracked. There were so many other words I was curious about ... so many other avenues to explore. 


I can't imagine how much time I must have spent with that book. Oh, what great times those were!


My reverie was interrupted.


Floyd was saying, "As a matter of fact, you introduced me to the word 'laconic'. I'll never forget that."


Well, I had certainly forgotten. That didn't even ring the teeniest of bells. But I was intrigued by the fact that he had remembered "laconic" all those years. The wheels started turning. In coming weeks and months, I thought about Floyd's comment. A lot.


It wouldn't turn me loose. It released its grip slightly when I finally sat down and wrote "Howdy!" ... and a little more when it was accepted for publication.


The moral (I suppose): Words you've planted with someone, years and years ago, may come back to haunt you. But then you have material for another poem, right?


Right.


The poem goes something like this:


HOWDY!

I grew up
wanting to be laconic,
because my models
were mostly Saturday
matinee heroes.


Their voices were
leathery, dust-covered,
wind-blown, spare
sounding voices.


I dreamed of my own
young voice becoming
like theirs, joining
those deep voices,
saying deep things.


But laconic?

Tried it. Liked it.
Some. Found it lonely,
though, on those long
rides between words.
© 2005

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: laconic

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Forecast: Rain




























Those who've paid many visits to "Chosen Words" know that I write about rain ... a lot ... maybe too much.


I suppose that can be traced to my roots, which reach all the way back to a rural beginning ... not on a farm, really, but in a country home ... just outside a small town ... a very small town.


It was there that I first learned the importance of rain. Too much, and our garden would suffer disastrous results ... too little, and our garden would suffer. So would we ... since we depended on a cistern for our drinking, bathing, cooking water ... and our chickens and Grandma's flowers depended on water from the well.


Rain was important ... but it had other roles, too.


I still remember the songs it played on our roof ... how soothing the sound of it could be on a spring night ... how it washed away the dust which drifted in from the gravel road ... the cinders from passing freight trains ... how it made puddles for a little boy to go splashing through ...


Little wonder that I've written so much about it.


I thank you for your patience as I've explored the mysteries and wonders of rain.


And here I go again:

FORECAST: RAIN

They said it would
come tumbling off
the slanting roofs,
go dancing down
the street, glancing
off the bare-limbed
trees, peppering
fields with kisses,
would greet us
in the morning and
be with us all day,
like a promise meant
to be kept, would
dampen our spirits,
but would sweep away
the lingering crusts
of winter, would sing
of the coming spring.

But it didn't do any
of that. It just
rained, and rained,
and rained and rained.

© 2006

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Empty Boxes




This is an inventory poem, a listing of items. But it's far more than that. It's a poem about departure, loss, a certain amount of pain.

"Healing," perhaps, is too strong a word for the ending, although I felt a need for something ... for comforting, I guess, as I looked over some of the items left behind by one of our sons.

He had discarded them as being of no use to him in his new location, his situation of being out there in the world on his own. I was double-checking, I suppose, to make sure he wasn't throwing away anything of value.

The basement was very quiet that evening. The memories came flooding back. It was the same ... all those memories ... with the departure of each of our four sons.

There was always that twinge of sadness at the ending of another chapter in our lives. Even with the good memories to bolster me, there was this sense of loss at their leaving to live on their own.

In that awful quiet that settled in then, I had to remind myself that they would do well, they would stay in touch, they would be back. We would still be a family, as we had always been.

Then I could throw away the empty boxes. But I kept the memories.

This poem received a First Place award in the Ohio Poetry Day Competition of 2000, and is now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:

EMPTY BOXES

I touch worn corners,
torn, misshapen lids,
as though mere touching
might ease the pain,

and in the scattered
emptiness I find
a battered brown bag
with a piece of paper

crumpled in a corner
like a dried leaf,
folders for your
drawings, writings

sprawling across pages,
a fragment of pastel,
pencils, a flattened
glove, engulfing me

with memories as I
sort through, hoping
to find somewhere
a measure of healing.
© 2006

Today's word: crumpled

Monday, December 28, 2015

Defying Gravity

















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


I thought about that.


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


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


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


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


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

DEFYING GRAVITY

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

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

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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Behold, the Dogwood





When summer comes sizzling in, I try to nestle into a bed of cooling thoughts ... about winter ... about autumn (one of my all-time favorites) ... and ... yes, spring.


Spring also brings to mind the struggling little dogwood that stood ... actually still stands on the front lawn of our former residence ... near the sloping driveway where I labored so long to lay the brick when we first moved there.

Twice a year the little dogwood gave us a magnificent show ... particularly in the spring ... with its remarkable display of blossoms ... but again in the fall, too ... with its fiery red foliage.


I think today's poem pretty well tells its own story (and if you discover one of my "sermons" in it, well, so be it):


BEHOLD, THE DOGWOOD

Poor, struggling,
glorious little dogwood,
you have survived
drought and freezing,
even neglect, and yet
this year you bestow
an abundance of blossoms,
you teacher of lessons.
© 1996

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: teacher

Saturday, December 26, 2015

At the Wheel






I sometimes write about driving ... or other drivers ... but not today.

The wheel referred to in today's poem is a potter's wheel ... that device on which a glob of clay is tossed, then, with an expert touch as the wheel goes spinning around and around ... that glob gradually becomes a work of art.

It may become something quite fragile, or it may turn out to be a very substantial piece, depending on the imagination ... and skill ... of its creator.

I feel that same process at work when I "toss a glob of words on the wheel" (I always hope it's a somewhat orderly collection of words, even in the beginnings of a poem). Then the revision, the serious shaping and reshaping, begins.

Over time those words take on new shapes, new meanings, sometimes quite fragile, sometimes substantial. Then I let the reader judge ... in light of his or her own experience, for the reader always brings something to the poem.

This one was originally published in Candlelight Poetry Journal:


AT THE WHEEL

I sit watching
these words
mounded, whirling,
rising at the touch
of my fingers,
becoming something
I shall slide
into the glowing kiln
of understanding
and, warmed by it,
stand marveling
at what I've made.
© 1998

Today's word: substantial

Friday, December 25, 2015

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

















Today's poem is about picking up coal from alongside the railroad tracks. It's about the crackling fire those found lumps of coal brought to us during what we knew then, and recall now, as "hard times."

It was an adventure for a young boy growing up in the care of his grandparents. It was a lesson never forgotten.


But the careful reader will also note that it's a poem about writing. Take a look at the opening: "Words." Hold on to it as you follow the thread of the poem.


I do feel that words are, indeed, like those lumps we thrust into that burlap bag. They have the potential for heat, if we lay them carefully in the stove ... and ignite them with our own inspiration ... fan them into flame.


They will bring us comfort on long winter nights. They will warm our hands ... maybe our hearts, too.


This one was originally published in Southern Humanities Review, and has become the title poem of a manuscript in search of publisher:


THERE'S FIRE TONIGHT

Words, how like
the lumps of coal
Grandma and I found
along the tracks
where hopper cars,
lurching, loping
up the long grade
toward Cobden,
had dropped them,
each a gift
in our dirty hands,
holding promise,
as they were thrust
into the burlap bag,
of shared warmth,
soft, crackling song,
sooty smoke rising,
telling our world
there's fire tonight,
all's well.
© 1997

Today's word: lurching

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Promises





I've often said that I can't rhyme worth a dime ... but here I go again.


I keep trying. For me it's something like trying to leap over a high picket fence ... uphill ... and on a slippery slope, at that. I have trouble maintaining any kind of a rhyme scheme while trying to tell a story ... if, indeed, I have a story to tell.


I keep promising that I won't, but I do ... keep trying, that is. It's simply the challenge, I guess.


The result? Today's poem ... a double-edged blunt blade, if you will ... a poem about the difficulty ... at least the difficulty I have ... with keeping promises, especially to myself ... a poem in rhyme.


And I can't promise you that it won't happen again.


I keep being drawn back to this difficult task. I keep thinking that this time it will go well and I'll end up with something I can share with others. But it seldom does.


Today's illustration, I suppose, speaks to promises unkept ... I prefer to think of them as promises I will keep ... just as soon as I can get around to them.


Actually, it represents things I should've done yesterday ... must do today ... but probably will still be working on tomorrow.


Ah, tomorrow ...


Meanwhile, today ... and the poem:


PROMISES


I begin my year
With high resolve,
But my plans, I fear,
Start to dissolve
As the new wears off
The leaf I've turned
And the flames flare off
Bridges I've burned.
© 1996
(originally published in Mature Living)

Today's word: rhyme

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Outside




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


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


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


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


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

OUTSIDE!

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

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

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

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: beckoning

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Mere Words





Like I've said many times, I'm not a morning person.

But what is a non-morning person to do when he wakes up around five o'clock ... wide awake ... with a thought buzzing through his mind?

Well ... I lie there for a while ... watch the clock unscrolling the crawling minutes ... then reach for the small light I keep on the table beside the bed ... find a pencil ... and my multi-colored notepad in the shape of the letter B (thank you, Michelle) ... and start writing.

What I wrote is barely decipherable ... now that I'm fully awake ... and it's far from becoming a poem, but someday it might. I'll keep it, try to break the code, try to decide what it's trying to say to me.

And if it does turn into a poem, I'll feel compelled to share it with somebody ... I always have that "look what I found" feeling when something I've written does seem to make sense ... not "look at what I did" ... never that ... and when I share it with somebody, that somebody is likely to be a poetry editor.

I always treasure that second opinion ... especially on those rare occasions when the decision goes in my favor.

But if it doesn't ... well, I speak of that circumstance in today's poem:


MERE WORDS

You, my children,

offspring of my mind,

are going forth

into an imperfect world,

where you will be judged

by strangers. I hope

they will listen

and treat you kindly,

perhaps accept you

as their own.

If not, please return

and we shall comfort

each other.

© 1997

(originally published in Writer's Journal)

Today's word: comfort

Monday, December 21, 2015

Linoleum Days




According to my handy-dandy dictionary, "linoleum" comes from the Latin linum (flax) plus oleum (oil), and describes "a smooth, washable floor covering, formerly much used, esp. in kitchens."

That established, class, let us proceed.

In the home in which I grew up, linoleum reigned, not only in the kitchen, but the dining room ... and the living room. Maybe in the bedroom, too.

It was a regal floor covering. Or so I thought then. Actually, I still do. 

But let's get right to the poem:

LINOLEUM DAYS


Linoleum was forever,
or so it seemed,
lying regally there
with its smell of new
filling the room,
cupped at the ends
from having lain
in a tight coil,
waiting patiently
at the general store
until someone
purchased its freedom,
took it home
and unscrolled it,
where it still lies
in the living room
of my mind,
so fresh, aromatic,
I hardly dare think
of walking on it.
© 1997
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: aromatic

Sunday, December 20, 2015

It's Not Easy



Well, yes, one of my favorite bridges, at Cox Arboretum (again), but at a slightly different season ... and with people on it this time.


OK, so I was having a little fun with an idea when I wrote today's poem.

Still, it seems to speak to me, at least, of the impatience that seems to crowd into everyday life.

I hop into Little Frisky (successor to our aging Little Red Car) and head to the grocery ... I get honked at when I don't start up quickly enough as a traffic light turns from red to green ... I don't select a cart as quickly as others ... I don't yield enough times to other shoppers at the ends of the aisles ... I seem to be holding up the checkout line as I fumble for the exact change ... and on the way home ... well, I get honked at again ...

Oh, I get impatient, too.

We don't have time for all that today, though. I can see that some of you are starting to fidget. Let's just say that I have my share of impatience, mainly with myself ... and the time it seems to take me to complete simple tasks these days.

I was thinking about that when I wrote today's poem, I guess.

I really would like to be a more patient person. 

I really would, except ... well, you'll soon enough see what the "except" is about, when you read today's short piece (meanwhile, thanks for your patience):


IT'S NOT EASY

I admire people
who have patience.
I wish I had
more myself,
and I'm working
on it, but it just
seems to take
so long to learn. 
 © 1996

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

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Handle With Care





Quite often, a poem, or the beginnings of a poem, will come to me suddenly, and in such a way that I will always remember that moment when the spark started the flame.


Not so in this case.


I'm not sure what the trigger was. 

Perhaps it was as simple as seeing a "Handle With Care" label on a package. 

Perhaps it was a quiet evening and I was thinking back to a time when I was quite young, swimming in dreams of what I was to become someday.


I don't know.


But I do know that I was struck by how fragile those dreams can be ... like a bubble glistening in its freshness ... a bubble so delicate that even a most careful touch can burst it.


I hope I stopped short of becoming preachy in this little poem ... and I hope to stop short of that in these comments.


I generally hope, when I'm writing, that I will end up with something that is thoughtfully assembled ... that it will be thoughtfully received by the reader ... and that it may have some residual, lasting value for that reader.


The poem:


HANDLE WITH CARE

There are few things
as beautifully crafted,
gilded or etched,
as magically alluring,
and yet so vulnerable
to the careless touch,
as the dreams
of a young child.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: vulnerable

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Glorious Day






It was a glorious day.


It didn't start out that way. I'll spare you the details, but regular readers already know that most of my days don't start out ... let's just say that I'm not a morning person.


I attribute that to a symphony of aches and pains, certain stresses that never seem to go away - sorry about that ... I did promise to spare you the details, didn't I?


Let's just say that the day, as my days often do, thank goodness, got better as it wore on.


And I was reminded of an afternoon of poetry readings, some time ago.


As always, I had enjoyed the portion of the program in which I shared something I'd written, but I also relished sitting back and taking in the music of words written ... and now being read ... by others.

My poem was written some time ago, but I liked it when it came to me one quiet evening, and I never lost faith in it. 


Once again, I'm dealing with the subject of writing in the poem - and ... I always hasten to add ... I'm no expert on that.


But let's let the poem tell the story:


A GLORIOUS DAY


Someday I shall lie abed
in the innocent hours
of the afternoon, too weak
to walk, too tired to talk,
but writing, because it
pleases me so, gives me 
great comfort, a purpose,
a sense of worth that makes
the hours pass like sugar
coating on a bitter pill,
and I shall curl my toes,
flex my tired fingers,
while remarking, to no one
in particular, that this
has been a most remarkable
day, a time of butterflies
fluttering across my mind,
a glorious day of drowsy 
scratchings on the page, 
a time to go drifting
softly into sleep.


(2nd Place winner in 2009 Dayton Metro Library Poetry Contest, Senior Division)


Today's word: fluttering

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Fickle Petunias



(I know, these definitely aren't petunias ... but that's another story ... so let's just consider them stunt doubles ... and I hope you won't mind)



There's something about walking ... that steady rhythm ... the relative quiet ... the way thoughts float in and out ... nothing in particular ... just random thoughts ...

One of my favorite walking routes ... even in dry years ... is blessed with flowers.

It's obvious that the owners ... give a lot of thought to the flowers' gift of color ... that they tend them carefully ... and they enjoy sharing the beauty of flowers with others.

This poem is an outgrowth of some of those flowers.

Actually, I only became casually aware of this particular clump of blossoms ... my thoughts were wandering ... and then it seemed that the blossoms were actually nodding at me ... as if in greeting.

I thought about that ... thought about it some more ... and when I got back home, I sat at the kitchen table and wrote this little whimsical piece:

FICKLE PETUNIAS

I have a nodding
acquaintance
with some petunias
who bob excitedly
when I walk by,
but then they
do the same when
a stranger passes.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: excitedly

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Early




My intention was to spring out of bed early to start working those stacks down.


And what really happened? I slept in. So there I was, late again ... which, naturally, brought to mind my poem, "Early."


I hate to be late. Oh, I sometimes am ... it just happens ... but I always try not to be.


I used to think I could start late and arrive on time ... not by speeding, mind you. Oh, no. Never!


I thought I would get lucky ... traffic would be thin ... all the traffic lights would be working in my favor, etc. ... but, mainly, that I could observe (obey) the speed limits, and, with steady, serious driving, make up for a late start.


Hah!


So what did I do in the instance which brought the poem into original being? I started early, fully expecting to lose a lot of time along the way. And, of course, I arrived early.


But that wasn't all bad. I had noticed things along the way ... the traffic lights ... the splashing water ... a school bus, turning ... and then those golden leaves scattered on the parking lot.


I sat in my car and wrote a poem ... at least the beginnings of a poem. With some polishing and tweaking, it turned into a poem:


EARLY


Because it was raining and I thought
traffic would be doing an Olympic crawl
through boiling rivers along the curbs,

I left early, splashed wildly through
pools of surging waters toward green lights
that nodded and winked at my recklessness,

and here I sit, forty-five minutes before
writers group. I watch a school bus making
a slow, deliberate turn, its rain-coated riders

tilting and chattering like a cage full of birds,
flick off my lights, wipers, defroster, and sit,
listening as the rain subsides to a sprinkle.

Then I see the yellow autumn leaves lying
like wet kisses all across the parking lot.
© 2004

(originally published in ByLine)
Today's word: kisses

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Driving to Marengo




This is one of my favorites, largely because of the memories it has preserved of a young family taking affordable outings.


We were living in Northern Illinois at the time, and Marengo was one of our favorite destinations.


Memories of those outings were still "rotating on the carousel of my mind" as Phyllis and I returned from a now-rare outing, a trip out of town.


Traffic had thinned a bit (all the trucks, buses and cars of the world had gone zip-zip-zipping past us ... because I always poke along at the posted speed limit).


During those few moments when we had only the humming of our own car's tires to keep us company, my thoughts drifted toward those summertime outings.


What delicious memories! I had no choice. I had to dig out "Driving to Marengo" and share it with you again:


DRIVING TO MARENGO

We urged the old station wagon
along curving country roads
toward that place just across
from the school, to consume
those remarkable foot-long
hotdogs with chili peppers
and onions, dripping mustard
and juices, filling the air
with an aroma that lingered
all the slow, dark drive home,
and for days afterward,
like a spirit moving softly
among us, implanting memories
still turning, slowly rotating
on the carousel of my mind.
© 1998

(originally published in Raintown Review)
Today's word: delicious

Monday, December 14, 2015

Carrying the Water





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually I learned the value of experience.

And now, the poem:

CARRYING THE WATER

My grandfather could take
the swaying bucket
all the way,

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

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

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

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

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

splashing against my calf,
making dark splotches
on red soil

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

© 2007

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

Today's word: contented