Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dandelions





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the poem:

DANDELIONS

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

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: promises

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

CLOUDS AT SUNSET


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

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


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

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

The poem:

CLOUDS AT SUNSET

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


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

It could be just a dream.
© 2003

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


Today's word: foreground

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Antidote







I don't know how many nights I had tossed and turned. Let's just say there were a lot of them.

So many times, during those restless nights, I would think of something that seemed to be the start of a poem, perhaps ... or a bit of fiction ... something I might do something with, if only I could remember it the next morning.

I never could. The next morning? Gone ... the slate wiped clean ... not a trace of that "great idea" which had nagged me so much the night before.

Aha! The solution? That's explained in the poem.

But it didn't solve the problem I expected it to ... far from it.


You'll have to read on to discover what problem was solved:

ANTIDOTE

All those nights
of tossing, turning,
I lay awake wishing
I had pad and pencil
to preserve thoughts
dancing fleetingly
across the ballroom
of my frazzled mind.
When finally one night
I remembered to place
these vital tools
within arm's length,
I went smugly to bed.
And slept like a log.
© 1997

(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)

Today's word: fleetingly

Monday, March 28, 2016

Walnut Wisdom









Walnut trees ... the black-walnut variety, in particular ... have long been a part of my life.

There were two which grew near the bluffs, a short hike from the house in which I was growing up. 

The walnuts were mine for the gathering. I would wait for some windy autumn weather, then I would venture up there with a burlap bag in which I would stow the found treasures carpeting the ground underneath the trees.

Of course, that was just the beginning. The next step was to lug them home. Then the fun really began. 

I used a hammer to remove the juicy hulls which covered the shells. The result: A hefty pile of walnuts ready to begin drying out ... a process of "curing," becoming ready for cracking open to expose the delicious meats inside. 

Another result was a pair of thoroughly stained hands. I recall my hands being so stained that they looked like they were wearing gloves.

Ah, the memories.

Every autumn I find myself thinking of those trees again ... wondering if they're still there ... if some youngster is enjoying their output as much as I did. 

Meanwhile, the poem:


WALNUT WISDOM

The black walnut's
seething green leaves,
steeping all summer
in the raging sun,
are turning yellow,
randomly twirling
to earth, the leaden
thumps of fallen
fruit providing
an uneven cadence
on the long bridge
of sunny afternoons.


Bruised and smashed,
their juicy hulls
draw back from those
dark interiors where
their secrets lie,
awaiting squirrels,
whack of a hammer,
the outside chance
of becoming a tree.


This, the walnut
knows, is autumn’s
beginning, a time
of payoffs, endings,
another slow turn
of the wheel.
© 2002

(originally published in Potomac Review)

Today's word: twirling

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Teeming Waters





Today's illustration is another of my photos ... a fuzzy little snapshot taken to preserve the moment ... I don't recall exactly where or when I snapped it ... but the tranquility of the scene appealed to me.

Teeming waters? Hardly. 

The juxtaposition of the pair of ducks ... and the reflection of the large tree caught my eye.

I'm always intrigued by the ducks we encounter on our walks ... the ways they interact with each other ... and with us ... and the way the young tag along behind Mother, as though being tugged by an invisible string.

And trees? I'm not really a tree hugger, but I do like trees. They were so much a part of where I grew up ... so much of my early life ... and now, in my current stage, I am drawn more and more to their shade during my summer walks.

So it seemed a very natural combination for a photo ... and now, maybe a match with today's poem.

In it, I guess I'm saying that while I consider myself a painter of pictures with words ... the words I find here and there ... I don't really paint the BIG PICTURE. 

Where word-pictures are concerned, I'm not a muralist. I stick to the small subjects I know ... and mostly just as an observer, at that, things I take note of as I stroll by.

I'm not a philosopher, sometimes not even a thoughtful observer. 

But I do relish the little word-pictures that come to me in quiet moments. This one contains some of those.


The poem:


TEEMING WATERS

No ocean liners ply the waters
of my mind, no freighters,
and no reefers sitting low
with their burden of hefty ideas,
but smaller craft keep them
teeming, shadows following
in the shallows, crawling
the paths where pebbles lie
travel-rounded and waiting,
always waiting, for that poem.
© 1996

(originally published in ByLine)



Today's word: teeming

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Sudden Thunder





The skies were a bit threatening, but nothing serious, as I set out on my morning walk. Still, I had chosen one of my intermediate routes, which would add two miles to my good-behavior record, rather than the usual one mile ... or, in warm, sunny weather, three miles.

I'm sure there had been some rumblings, but nothing to worry about, just a bit of background music as I went strolling along, my thoughts a million miles away.

I was somewhere along Watervliet Avenue, heading generally east, when a sudden explosion of thunder got my attention.

Did it ever. It was so loud that "nearby" seems an understatement.

I remember turning - I have no idea what I expected to see - but I turned, found myself looking down this driveway, and there, in the wind and rain, was this beautiful rose, bending and straightening, almost as though beckoning to me.

I've tried to fix that exact location in memory, but I have yet to locate that precise driveway, that fence, that rose again.

I must have been soaked by the time I got home, but I don't remember changing into dry clothing. I don't think I was chased all the way home by lightning. I would certainly remember that. But I do remember that moment when I turned and discovered that rose.

I'll always remember that.

The poem:


SUDDEN THUNDER

I was walking,
cradled in thought,
when a nearby
crash of thunder
wheeled me
and I stood looking
down a long driveway
at a deep red rose
that was leaning
and straightening
beside a dark
gray fence.

For the longest
moment I remained
rooted there, letting
the rain trickle
down my neck,
drip from my
fingers, admiring
this beautiful flower
that had drawn me
to it with
a clash of cymbals,
brittle song
of thunder.
© 2003

(from my first collection, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: thunder

Friday, March 25, 2016

Passages





Strange how ... and where ... poems sometimes reveal themselves to a person.


As I recall, I was sitting in the car in front of a Post Office, waiting for Phyllis to go in, mail a letter, and return.


I noticed the reflections of the vehicles going by on the street behind me ... how the warped window made them appear to be leaping ... like horses or hunting hounds ... bounding over a hedge.


I thought about reflections I had seen in store windows in my home town ... and of one window, in particular, on one of my last visits there. That store was vacant. Oh, the memories I had of that little country store!


Then the poem started asserting itself ... I reached for a scrap of paper ... always waiting in a handy pocket ... and began writing.


And now, the poem:


PASSAGES

The cars change shape
as they come and go
in the warped window glass
of a store that once was,
dusty now, this begrimed
keeper of secrets,
these windows that
have seen it all
in this small town: deaths,
funerals, weddings, births,
departures of its young
who sometimes come back,
stand beside a grave,
listen to an acorn falling,
slow ticking of eternity.
© 2007

(originally published in Waterways)


Today's word: ticking

Thursday, March 24, 2016

One to Grow On


















Winter rain, under the right conditions, can be like a lullaby as it dances softly on the roof and goes running off down the street.


But if conditions are right for freezing, as they are here sometimes, it's an entirely different story. We venture out gingerly and pick away at the layer that's still gripping our driveway.


One consolation, we tell ourselves, is that we're a little nearer to the beginning of spring, and we're warmed by the potential that implies.


Meanwhile, back to the subject of a kinder, gentler rain ... the kind which inspired today's little poem:


ONE TO GROW ON

Winter rain
comes sliding down
the glistening trunk
of a sleeping tree,
delivering a sip
to be savored
when it awakens
early next spring.
 © 1995

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nightsongs





As some of you know, I write a lot about rain. 

It was such a central part of growing up in rural Southern Illinois. There were many summers when our garden wilted ... never mind the grass that seemed to turn to confetti in our yard ... the cistern ran low ...

Ah, but there were summers, too, when there was an abundance of rain ... and all was well with the world.

We city dwellers tend to forget the importance of rain. We lose touch.

This poem is an effort to restore that touch ... to explore some of the possibilities in the music ... the magic, if you will ... of rain. In the end, I guess it all boils down to "this rain tonight, tremblng leaf to leaf ... to earth."

The poem:

NIGHTSONGS

I lie listening
to the summer night,
wondering what
it might have been like
before roofs came
to glorify the rain,
to magnify the sound.

Was there gentle
crackle and murmur
of a small fire,
a faltering lullaby?

A song kept going,
stick by stick,
until the words
finally surrendered
to deep silence?

The silence of
ashes giving up
their warmth?

Perhaps there was
only the faintest
of songs, like
this rain tonight,
trembling leaf
to leaf ... to earth.
© 2003

("Nightsongs" first appeared online on Poetry Tonight. It also became a part of my first collection of poems, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press in 2003)

Today's word: murmur

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Messengers



















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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Today's poem, about another kind of messenger:



MESSENGERS


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



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


(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: murmuring

Monday, March 21, 2016

Let Them Try






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


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


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


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


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


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


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

The poem:


LET THEM TRY

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

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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

In Praise of the Mundane




(Today's art is a cooperative effort ... my grandson, Thomas, did the construction ... I took the photo ... quite a long time ago


It seems like only yesterday ... but obviously was a little longer ago than that ... when I shared my poem, "Ordinary Things," with you ... and mentioned that it was an outgrowth of a rejection.

In response to my request for his comments on some poems I had submitted, the editor had scrawled something about "mundane treatment of ordinary subjects" on the rejection slip. 


My initial reaction? I had hoped for something a little more constructive. 


But I managed. As a matter of fact, I managed to get two more poems out of that comment.


Oh, and both were subsequently published ... elsewhere. I think there's an obvious lesson in that ... so obvious that even Professor Squigglee (anybody remember him?) would be unlikely to fly into a detailed explanation.


Today's poem:

IN PRAISE OF THE MUNDANE


I don't howl at the moon,
read the entrails of chickens,
plumb the mysteries that reside
in the implacable eyes of cats,
nor take up strange, aromatic
cigarettes, sip unaccumstomed
teas, nor leave my body
to roam the universe.

I do write across the chalkboard
of my mind, or on a torn paper,
an envelope, about simple things
that come to me of their own accord,
quiet, mundane things that I welcome
and treasure as old friends.
© 1996

(originally published in ByLine Magazine)
Today's word: mundane

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Hard Times






Not all of my poems are about sunsets, the beauty of cobblestone clouds, the wafting scent of roses. Life has a gritty side, too, and some of my poems reflect that.

This encounter came a long time ago at a bus stop, a favorite trolling spot for panhandlers. 


There was a time when I would almost automatically hand over a bit of change. I could remember tough times, too.


But I had grown tired of being hit up day after day. My initial response was not very charitable, I know, but I relented. I imagine there's a lesson in there someplace, perhaps having something to do with the poor sparrows of this world.


The poem appeared in Pebble Lake Review's Fall/Winter issue of 2005, and now is part of a manuscript (Strawberry Wine) in search of a publisher.

And here it is:

HARD TIMES

Suddenly he's in my face,

dirty, wind-blown, muttering, 

Spare a quarter? Refusing to let

his question assault me,

I turn away. Then back. My own
No, can you? comes spilling out

like a shot, freezing us there
in the snow-blasted morning

until finally his uncertain
chuckle descends into breath-

stealing, chest-stabbing coughs
and I fish deep in the warmth

of a pocket for a quarter,
hand it over, stand watching

as he moves away, this poor,

tattered sparrow with his crumb.
© 2006

Today's word: tattered

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Good Dreams






I'm always searching for poems ... my own published poems ... that I can share with you.


My search this time led me to my little poem which celebrated a beginning, the arrival of a new member of the family.


I also see the arrival of new life in our midst ... this symbol of the continuation of life, this vision beyond the present day, beyond us ... as a symbol of hope.


The pairing with today's art naturally followed: the sunlit path that leads on, inviting us to see what lies beyond the next turn, and beyond that.


The poem:

THE GOOD DREAMS

Your grandparents treasure the joy
of having been there within hours
of your arrival, taking their turns
cradling your downy head in their
arms, marveling at perfect tiny
fingers and toes, your eyes fluttering
open and shut, brief lusty crying,
eager, hungry feeding, your
drifting off into well-earned sleep.


Some distant day you, too, may hold
your own grandchild and know such joy,
may sit wondering, arm growing numb,
what adventures lie still years ahead.


But for now it is sufficient
for you to sleep. So sleep, sleep,
sleep, Thomas, and in time
the good dreams will come to you.
© 1999


(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: sleep

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Favored Paths




My grandparents didn't have a car (as some of you may know, I grew up in their care) ... but that was no problem ... everything we could have wanted was within walking distance ... and trips, real trips? Well, there were passenger trains running then.


Under those circumstances, it's little wonder, I suppose, that I learned the benefits of walking.


For one thing, there was so much to see while walking ... it was a pleasure to focus on a particular view, then watch it slowly changing as the walking changed the angle at which it was seen.


The slower pace made it so easy to absorb what was seen ... to savor the flavor, so to speak.


So, when my doctor suggested ... OK, he may have been verging on insisting ... that I take up walking again ... it was no big deal, even when I first started and found it difficult to go all the way around the block.


I remembered ... I knew the benefits of walking. It was just a matter of time until I could get my body back into shape. 

Well, it took a little more time than I expected ... but I listened to my body along the way ... and moderated my pace, or increased it, accordingly.


And now a daily walk is automatically a part of my routine. I still enjoy the view(s), the pace ... and particularly the poems that sometimes come to me during my walks.


Today's poem, for example:

FAVORED PATHS

I like to walk
where the trees
drink the sunlight
and let only
stray droplets
speckle the earth,

where the squirrel
scampers unseen
to a cradling limb
and screeches
at the stranger
who dares intrude,

where lichens clutch
the brows of bluffs
sitting as in judgment
while merely waiting,
as they have been
through the ages,

where the tiny bird
flits and sings
its song of hope,
and my steps
are less labored
as I am renewed.

© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: lichens

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Early Morning





I'm not a power walker ... I don't pump my arms like a windmill ... my legs aren't a blur ... and the only time I pass anyone is when they're going in the opposite direction.

But I do walk.

Mornings are best, I've found. If I walk in the afternoon ... especially if that means missing my nap ... I'm a grumpy walker ... and I have more than the usual difficulty in maintaining a forward motion. I just don't seem to have as much energy.

So the morning it is.

Well, there I was ... walking ... actually, struggling a bit on the uphill climb during a morning walk out in Illinois. 

Although we were on vacation ... particularly because we were on vacation ... I was out early for my daily walk.

Summertime. Southern Illinois can be pretty steamy then. The air gets heavy, the legs are laboring, the lungs struggling ... and there I am (puff-puff), trying to make it up the hill. And then ...

But let's go to the poem:


Early Morning

I'm walking along, enjoying the prospect
of maybe making it all the way to the top
of a stubborn hill, when three young ladies

in very short shorts go legging it past me
and out of sight, as though I were standing
stump-still, but I really can't help admiring

the way they've crested the hill, left me
there, still laboring up the slope, recalling
a time when I might have overtaken them,

instead, and gone breezing past, but now
I feel my legs flagging, beginning to burn,
and I'm wondering if I can reach the top

(please be still, my thudding heart), and if
I do, whether I'll catch a glimpse of them
while I'm struggling to catch my breath.
© 2007

(received a third place award in a Dayton Metro Library poetry contest)

Today's word: thudding