Sunday, January 31, 2016

After Shopping





Chances are, if you've done any shopping at all, you've seen someone searching for a car. This poem is about that. It came to me on one of those hot summer days ... not a good time to do that kind of searching.

It seemed to me that the couple I had observed was confronted with a lot of choices, a lot of directions to go, among a whole sea of vehicles ... "oceans" occurred to me. I kept going with that, explained their predicament, then concluded by detailing my own problems.

"Losing" your car like that isn't really funny ... until later. I know. Been there, done that.

I shared this poem one evening with an audience at an "open mike" program. The person who followed me to the microphone explained that cars are so hard to find after shopping, "because they all trade places while we're inside."

You know, I can almost believe that.

The poem, originally published in Capper's, now part of a collection entitled Strawberry Wine, in search of a publisher:

AFTER SHOPPING

Oceans of vehicles
heave and settle
in the parking lot,
and a sea of traffic
goes shimmering
toward the horizon.

While she sails
steadily on,
gripping the tiller
of a wobbly cart,
he remains awash
in her wake, keys
dangling forlornly
from a finger.

They're looking,
looking, lost.

I'd like to tell
them not to despair,
but I have other
fish to fry: Celery
wilting, a cabbage
shaking its head,
potatoes rolling
their eyes over my
chances of ever
finding my own car,
the poor ice cream
beginning to beg me
for mouth-to-mouth
resuscitation.
© 2006

Today's word: resuscitation

Saturday, January 30, 2016

What'll You Have?








(Yes, I took the photograph ... I don't remember where or when, exactly ... but it's mine, all mine)





One of the early things I learned about sending my poems off into the company of strangers ... on the chance that some very busy person might pause to read, to savor, to accept something I'd written ... is that there's an awful lot of rejection involved.

In fact, unless you have editors writing to you, begging you to submit something, it's mostly rejection.

Not long after my first acceptance, I thought I was having a particularly good run of luck, so I did the math and found I had an acceptance rate of 12 per cent.

Of course, while achieving that "hot streak," I was also having an 88 per cent rate of rejection.

"What'll You Have?" was probably written during one of those intervals when no math was necessary to tell me my rejection rate was high, high, high.

How nice it would be, I thought, if, instead of sending my poems all over creation, I could just have a little shop on a quiet little street ... a place where editors could drop in when they felt the need for a poem.

I would have poems on the wall, on the shelves, in racks ... all over the place ... even "teetering in the back room of my mind." I would, of course, hope that visitors would find something they simply couldn't live without.

I have yet to realize my dream of becoming the proprietor of a poetry boutique, catering primarily to editors, but at least this one little poem apparently did make a favorable impression on the poetry editor at 
ByLine, and there I was, way back in '96, dancing on the table again. How sweet it was!

The poem:


WHAT'LL YOU HAVE?


Poems, lady?
What would you like?
I have these
written in the nights
of my despair,
a few over there
when I felt better.


A love poem?
Not much in demand
these days, but I may
be able to find one
somewhere on the shelf.


No picks among these?
I have more written,
on the back racks,
aging a bit
before they travel,
and, of course,
stacks and stacks
teetering recklessly
in the back room
of my mind.

© 1996

Today's word: teetering

Friday, January 29, 2016

Under the Oaks





The oaks may have been "massive" only as their size was relative to my own, but they did seem to be towering, dominating, clustered there at the foot of the bluffs.

But the shade was mossy. I am positive of that.


Where the memory may be playing tricks ... it was a long time ago, you know ... is that the young trees I remember may not have been oaks at all. They could well have been hickory, or even maple.


Still, I like to think of them as "understudies," waiting for their turn in the spotlight ... in the sun.


I suppose there is some deeper lesson to be taken from this. Perhaps I had some application to humans in mind when I wrote the poem ... or it might just have been a little piece about trees. 


Oh, and the illustration? It's a digital photograph I snapped because the leaves reminded me of a painting by Georgia O'Keeffe.


The poem:


UNDER THE OAKS


I really admire
the persistence
of those small
trees struggling
in the mossy shade
of massive oaks,
understudies
learning their
lines, patiently
waiting their
turn to take
the stage, too.

© 2001

(originally published in Capper's)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

That New Day

























I've thought of country mornings a lot of times when I was struggling into another day, far removed from those early beginnings.

I've missed the "leisure" of "working by the sun," rather than under the stern eye of the ever-glaring clock. I've missed those mornings when I could lie in bed a few extra minutes, savoring the return to wakefulness.

I've missed the sounds that filled the spaces between the trees back then. Now it's the sounds of the cars and trucks and buses that echo off the buildings and clog our senses.

What I've missed most, I think, is the sound of a cow bell coming to me from a meadow just beginning to fill with light.


Now that was music to a young boy's ears.

And now, the poem:

THAT NEW DAY

Sounds came crawling across the coolness
of the damp night air, climbed into the cot


where I lay stretching to touch the sides
of that new day. A screen door squeaked


open, then shut again. A tractor groaned,
fired up, deep, throaty song floating to me


like a breeze. Struggling early light visited
a hint of warmth high on the hilltop trees,


an image of candy-apple red slowly rising
in my mind's eye over the wooded brow


of the opposite ridge. A cow bell clanked
into the silence the tractor left as it went


rolling off toward a waiting field; so long
ago, but like yesterday. And I hear it now.
© 2005

(published in Brave Hearts, summer 2005)

Today's word: meadow

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Slice of Summer




Now I've done it.

In today's poem I've used a made-up word to describe what I think is going on.

I was going to say that I made it up out of thin air, but I think thick air would be more like it ... thick, moisture-laden summer air, so heavy with dampness that it feels like layer-upon-layer of water bearing down on us.

There's a related ... real word ... that has something to do with water and a cavity created in it.

I pictured the fan as doing something similar  with the heavy summer air. So, not finding a suitable word in my handy-dandy dictionary, I made up one.

It's like grabbing a tool ... one not really intended for the task at hand ... and making it serve a different function.

And my photo which accompanies today's entry?

Oh, that's a tranquil scene at Cox Arboretum, a local favorite walking place, with lots of shady places in the summer to sit and just enjoy the view.



But enough of that. The poem:

SLICE OF SUMMER

The cavitating fan,
patiently oscillating,
slicing the air,
lets it fall
like cold bacon
across the griddle
of my overheating
horizontal body.
© 1996
(originally published in Anterior Poetry Monthly)

Today's word: cavitating

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Passing in Review






















Today's poem is another example of material ... fodder, if you will ... lurking almost anywhere.

Naturally, I keep an eye out for subject matter, possibilities for a small painting, perhaps, or even a poem, when I'm out walking ... when I'm sitting, waiting for a bus ... whatever.

In this instance, I had passed the flowers many times, casually observing their color, their sprightliness, but not feeling any particular connection with them ... until one day when there was a slight breeze. 

Their movement, "nodding their heads," caught my eye well before I was in front of them.

It was then, I think, that it seemed they were the "reviewing stand" and it was I, the lonely marcher, who was being inspected as I strode past.

Hardly more than a haiku moment, but that impression, that image, stuck with me all the way home, where I sat at the kitchen table and started writing.

The poem, originally published in Capper's:

PASSING IN REVIEW

Flowers arrayed
like a reviewing stand
in my neighbor's yard
seem to be nodding
recognition of me,
and perhaps they are,
for I march by twice
on my daily walk.

© 1995

Today's word: nodding

Monday, January 25, 2016

Now They Offer






Story of my life. 

I never thought I would end up walking as much as I do. At first it was a little difficult. Actually, quite difficult. When I first started trying, my goal was to walk to the corner ... and back. 

Then, over time, I was able to make it all the way around the block and back home.

That was years ago, at the suggestion of my doctor, and with the encouragement of Phyllis, who became my daily walking companion.

And now I just walk, walk, walk.

The poem was written in those early years. I must admit that I was sometimes tempted to accept the offer of a ride from a neighbor or a friend. But I always managed to tell them, "Thanks ... I'm taking a walk." And kept on walking.

And now? Well, I can't remember the last time one of them actually offered me a ride, although they do sometimes slow, wave, and go on their way.

The poem:


NOW THEY OFFER

Skinny years,
when I could've
used a ride,
nobody stopped.
Now that I'm
walking it off,
 
everybody slows
to offer a lift.
© 1996

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

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Loss of a Tree



















Today's photo is one I took during an autumn stroll at Cox Arboretum. The poem is part of my third small collection, 
Wood Smoke, published by Finishing Line Press:


LOSS OF A TREE

Streets, the inexorable ooze of cities,
were already there when you arrived
to be ritually planted as recompense

for what had been stolen from the land.
Thus began life among strangers, thirst
of confinement, trimmings when you

reached for wires, the salt-laden spray
of passing cars, signs tacked to your
trunk, bark-scarring injury from a van

run amok. Despite abuse, neglect, you grew
through recession, depression, ebb and flow
of fashion, through those times called

war, interludes known as peace. You grew
over the curb, began upending sidewalk,
but provided shade for strollers, let fall

showers of crinkled leaves for children
to go kicking through. Finally, when winds
tried to break you, but, failing that,

uprooted you with a horrible groan, you
took with you an anachronistic jumble
of flashing trolley wires and lay, silent

and dying in the street, waiting for crews
 

to gather you up, truck you away, leaving
only your winged seed, scattered and golden.
© 2010


Today's word: inexorable

Saturday, January 23, 2016

If Elected








(No ... this is definitely not a self-portrait)








Don't worry. I'm not running for office.

Honest. I'm not planning any long-winded speeches, I won't be asking for money ... or even your vote ... and I certainly won't be making any promises I can't keep. I promise you that.

Then what?


Today's poem was written at another time ... in another place ... when and where it seemed that everybody else in the whole universe was vying for a position at the public trough.


It was a time when politicians were talking our ears off ... and dogs were barking all night. What a wonderful combination, I thought ... and there's no disrespect for dogs intended in that, I assure you.


If I WERE to be elected ... to anything ... it seemed to me at the time ... I would prefer to be the officeholder responsible for "mudging" curs (whatever that means) ... not the first time that a responsibility has been invented out of pure air (remember when we still had some of that?) ... in order to garner the votes of the undecided ... and unsuspecting ...


Well, from there it was strictly downhill ... and fast. But I had fun with the poem (remember, no disrespect for dogs intended). Here it is:


IF ELECTED

When finally I have
attained full growth,
I think that I
should like to be
a curmudgeon, which,
I'm told by my pal,
clear-eyed Ed,
is one who
mudges curs.


It's the least they
deserve for barking
all night at nothing
in particular while
decent folk are
pounding pillows,
trying to sleep,
but only attaining
grouchyhoodedness.


I promise, if elected,
not to be stingy
with my curmudgeoning.

 © 1997

(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)


Today's word: curmudgeon

Friday, January 22, 2016

How to Reach 80







We had braved a roaring winter storm, and there we sat, celebrating an 80th birthday ... no, not mine ... a friend's.

You'll have to read the poem to share in her secret of how to achieve that venerable age ... the Big Eight-OH!

At the time I thought it was funny. I remember joining in the laughter as she revealed the "secret" ... a statement so like her. I didn't think it was very useful advice, really. Just funny.

And once I'd crept a bit closer to that mile marker, I began thinking, well, maybe ... and after I'd passed that mark (yes, I really did pass it) ... I began to see what she'd said in a different light. 

The poem:

HOW TO REACH 80

We ate Cajun food,
savored the singing,
all the memories
of this tiny lady
celebrating and
being celebrated
for her active life
as mother, fellow
worker, confidante,
for bringing us
sunshine on cloudy
days. And we all
leaned forward
to catch every
word as she stood,
she said, to share
her secret: "Just
keep breathing."
 © 2001
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: celebrating

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Encounter






(The illustration has nothing to do with today's poem ... I just felt like sharing my little watercolor with you)

It was such a strange encounter. I was startled, but not frightened. After all, it just took me a second or two to realize that what I was seeing was my own reflection.

But I'll never forget that feeling, as I turned slowly, not thinking about anything in particular ... perhaps about where my bus was, when it would pull up at that corner ... and there was this reflection in the store window, a reflection so much like the image of my grandfather, one I had carried in memory for so many years ...

I had never thought that I looked very much like him. Still, that first glance at the reflection was like seeing him again ... my reaction, as I saw it in that window, was like seeing him reach out for me ... again ... as he did when I was just two years old, and needed a home.

It didn't occur to me to rush home and write about the encounter. I wasn't writing poetry then. But, much later, when I began learning the practice of sitting in a quiet place, waiting for the words to come to me, these are the ones that made their presence known to me:

ENCOUNTER

There was no mistaking the slope

of his shoulders, the shape
of his head; it was my grandfather
staring from the store window
while I stood in sprinkling rain
waiting for an afternoon bus.


I recalled how it was raining
when I had stood in uniform
at his deathbed in that darkened
room, how I had wanted to say
things he could not hear, how I
had finally broken and wept.


And now, all these years later,
I watched as he reached his hand
toward me, the unwanted child,
then, as I stood watching his image
blur in the rain against the window,

we knew I had finally become him.
© 2003

(part of my first collection of poetry, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003)


Today's word: image

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Departure



























Today's poem is not literally true. If it were, it would be about the heat of summer ... like Southern Illinois was when I left home to go into military service.


I've looked back many times on that departure.


I had won a scholarship to study at a Big Ten university. Trouble was, it didn't include bus fare ... and I didn't have any way to get there.


Oh, I had been assured, in a form letter, that there would be part-time employment opportunities ... when I got to campus ... but I never got there ... not to that particular campus, at least.


Instead, I let the scholarship go to someone else ... and entered the only door open to me at the time ... military service.


It was certainly a turning point in my life, a new beginning. It was the biggest move I'd made in my young life. There were to be others. Many others. But none quite as wrenching as this decision ... which had been forced on me.


What I've tried to capture in this metaphor for growing up ... for that entry into what passes for independence ... is the feeling of loneliness that creeps in, the sudden sensation of isolation, the cold, of looking back, being torn between what was ... what is going to be.


The poem:


DEPARTURE

I looked back once,
seeing lights
grown small now,
and dim, silently
giving up their warmth
to the bare-limbed trees.


I kept walking
through the weeping snow,
my collar upturned
against any call
that might somehow
overtake me.
© 1995
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)
Today's word: loneliness

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Abandonment




You've noticed that I write a lot about rain?


Well, yes, I do. In fact, my first collection of poems was called Chance of Rain (Finishing Line Press, 2003). My second collection, Hollyhocks, has some mention of rain in it, too. 


Today's poem, like most of mine, is pretty straightforward ... a series of images ... the opening, in which the rain catches my attention while I'm intent on something else, reading, perhaps ... more likely, writing something ... or trying to decipher something I've written ... and, of course, the conclusion, where we have those "trickling, fading fingers clinging to the pane."


As I often say, the reader brings something special to the poem ... a like or dislike of rain in general, personal experience, the mood of the moment ... and that tends to give the poem a particular flavor for them.


I'm thankful, as I've often said, for the reader who simply stops by to read the poem ... but also for those who leave thoughtful comments ... who do something to advance the "conversation" here at "Chosen Words."


Poetry, after all, is meant to be shared ... as are the reactions to it.


Today's offering:


ABANDONMENT


Like spilled needles
at first, the droplets
touch my window,
tugging at my mind.


Then, in furtive
little squirrel hops
up the slope of my roof,
great plump drops test
the surface. A distant,
gruff reply of thunder
to a flick of lightning
and the tempo quickens.

Ragtime! Rain gallops off
toward a light left on,
an invitation to dance,
and I am left to study 
trickling, fading fingers
clinging to the pane.
© 2006
(originally published in A New Song)
Today's word: ragtime

Monday, January 18, 2016

Waiting to Play





This is another "walking" poem.

I had no idea, when I took up walking as a regular, daily pursuit, that it would also lead to poetry ... or at least fragments of thought that might become something akin to poetry.

But there's something about the rhythm, the cadence of walking, that seems to stimulate words and phrases.

When this happens, I try to keep them in mind until I get home ... where I used to sit at the kitchen table while I jotted them down to share with Phyllis later.

Now I usually head to the computer.

In this case a scattering of leaves on the sidewalk caught my attention.

It struck me that they looked like colorful, broken pieces ... how the sunlight danced across them ... and some of them seemed to come to life when a breeze came gliding through.

From there it was just a short leap to imagining that the leaves were really waiting for children to come out to play with them.

Those images turned into this little poem:

WAITING TO PLAY

The leaves lie
like broken pieces
of fine porcelain,
catching sunlight
in the autumn quiet,
stirring slightly
as a breeze comes
gliding through,
but mostly they’re
waiting for children
to come romping out
to play with them.
© 1999
(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: romping

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mulch Ado


 






(Just another of my little watercolor sketches, done during a pause on one of my daily walks with Phyllis ... thought it might go with today's entry, or might ... someday ... grow up to be something bigger, maybe better)




If I didn't do so much looking back, maybe I wouldn't bump into so many things along the way. Right.

But I've reached the age ... never mind the exact figure(s) ... where I feel that I might be permitted a glance or two back down that road which brought me here.

Maybe, just maybe, those glances back put me in a position to help someone else avoid the sharp turns or deep ruts that I encountered  at times along the way. 

If so, I'm glad to be of help.

And what brought all this up? I glanced at today's bit ... which may not be poetry ... or even close to being ... but I noticed it was published ... way back in '96 ... 1996, that is.

But I thought I'd share it, because it gives me an excuse for imposing another of my little watercolor sketches on you.

The poem ... or whatever:


Mulch Ado


What with all
the sowing, mowing,
watering, weeding,
feeding, spraying
and trimming,
it's been a challenge
that's a yard wide
and a summer long.
© 1996

(originally published in Mature Years)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Leaky Roof





The morning seemed to start off with a bit of fog ... most of my mornings seem to start that way, even when the sun is shining brightly ... so it was no surprise when ... I woke up ... late, thirsty ... thinking foggily of clouds, rain, roofs, leaky roofs ... and this poem came to mind:


THE LEAKY ROOF

We knew just where
  
 to put pots and pans
when the rain came
suddenly weeping
through our roof,
its pit, pat, pit-pat
lullaby lingering
long after the storm
had droned off into
distant, grumbling
thunder, leaving
a morning residue
of splatters
and puddles,
blankets on a line,
featherbed sprawled
like a newborn calf
broadside of the sun.
© 2001

(received an honorable mention award in Ohio Poetry Day competition; subsequently published in my first collection, Chance of Rain ... Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: grumbling