Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Lost Line






There's something about the rhythm of walking ... especially alone, nobody to talk to ... which can set a phrase to coursing repeatedly through your brain.


Perhaps it's something you recall from a conversation, or it may simply pop out of the blue.


The more you think about it, the more entrenched it becomes. Then you start hoping it will stay in place until you get back home, or until you find a curbside bench where you can sit 
and commit that persistent phrase to paper.


Sometimes it's a series of phrases, thoughts that are beginning to shape themselves into a poem.


It was at this point in one of my walks, when I found myself in mid-street ... but let's let the poem tell the story. "The Lost Line" was originally published in ByLine magazine.


THE LOST LINE


Walking, engrossed
in the troubling
task of untangling
a difficult line,
I looked up
at mid-street
into the whites
of the eyes of a car.


The startled driver
swerved and went on,
as did I, trembling
at the thought
of being cut down,
end-stopped,
in such a way.


I left the line
lying there where
I had dropped it,
a broken lanyard,
the possibility
of starting
something big
scared out of it.

I doubt that I
can ever reclaim it,
poor frayed thing,
abandoned, lost,
turned to a frazzle
by tires that sing
without ceasing
on Wayne Avenue.
© 1996

Today's word: lanyard

Monday, May 30, 2016

It's So Simple







"Writing a poem is as simple as pouring a cup of coffee ... "

Oh, do read on. 

Before we're finished, I will have led you down the winding garden path with still another poem about writing. As always, my usual disclaimer: I write about writing, not because I'm expert, but because the process intrigues me so.

As you will see, as you work your way through the poem, I don't think writing a poem ... or writing anything for public consumption, for that matter ... is a simple matter. Nor need it be so very complicated that only a select few may do it.

But the end product, I think, should give the appearance of having been done with ease ... not flippantly or shallow, but done with a certain polish about it which may intrigue the reader, without getting in the way of the poem itself. 

It should appear to have been easily, naturally written, and none of the hard labor of producing it need show through.

What I'm saying in the poem, I guess, is that a poem should come to the reader with the ease one experiences in simply pouring a cup of coffee.

I hope you'll have a sip ... hope you enjoy it.


IT'S SO SIMPLE


Writing a poem is as simple as pouring
a cup of coffee. First, though, you plant

a seed, wait for the sprout, nurture it,
then transplant the seedling, let it mature,

hope that frost doesn't kill the buds,
let the bees pollinate blossoms, wait

for the beans to mature, pick the beans,
dry them, haul them, roast them, transport

them again, package them, grind them,
add water, let them leap as they

percolate and you keep an eye on the clock.
Then you simply pour, sit back and enjoy.
© 2006

(originally published in ByLine magazine)

Today's word: percolate

Sunday, May 29, 2016

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

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Green Glass Bottles






As I've said before, I write quite a bit about writing, not because I've become expert on the subject, but because certain aspects of it remain a mystery to me and are, therefore, so intriguing.


Some of that mystery, an uncertainty, surrounds the process of submitting poetry to others, not just to seek their opinion of it, though that can be valuable, but on the outside chance of its being accepted for publication.


The result of that game, of course, is mostly rejection ... at least in my case. Sheer numbers argue against the chances of any particular poem's seeing its way into print.


Still, we continue the game.

I sit on my island ... writers do so much of their work in that kind of isolation ... carefully selecting the poems which will go out to seek their fortunes among strangers.

I compare the process to putting tiny, scribbled notes in green glass bottles, in hope that some of them will be discovered, accepted, published.

Then there's the waiting game, the suspense of wondering how the submissions are being received, and, when the green glass bottles return, the excitement, the anticipation ... still ... about what, precisely, has been their fate with that particular editor.

Meanwhile, there are more poems ... more green glass bottles ... that surging sea upon which so many of our hopes will ride. Oh, what a wonderful game it is!

This one was originally published in Midwest Poetry Review:

GREEN GLASS BOTTLES


If the wind is right
and the sea is surging,

I shall place another poem
in a green glass bottle
and send it bobbing off.
But mainly I shall sit

on the windward side
awaiting those bottles
sent off months ago,
scattered distant dots

nodding now and glinting
in the froth of return,
finally clinking ashore
to my trembling, bony

fingers, fingers fearing
the messages inside.
© 1997

Today's word: mystery

Friday, May 27, 2016

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ever a Circle




Today's poem is written, seemingly, about autumn ... and it is ... but it deals with other seasons, too.

So I guess I'm not too far off base in using one of my photos that speaks ... from a worm's eye view ... of spring.

The seasons, as I say in the poem, form a recurring circle. 

From that standpoint, I think it doesn't matter at which point we mount the whirling merry-go-round of seasons.

They keep coming around ... going around ... and we sometimes find ourselves complaining about this one ... too hot or too cold ... too dry or too wet ... find some fault in the present season, while looking forward to the next one ... or maybe even its opposite number.

Meanwhile, the poem:


EVER A CIRCLE

The pursuits of summer
have finally relented,
releasing children
to the autumn slide
of gathered books,
the shuffling of feet,
pencils crawling
on paper; the glimpsed
dogwood, glorious
with snowy blossoms
last spring, shows
first crimson now
on a clump of leaves.
How the months have
fallen away, piling
like shattered petals
across our memory,
in a depth sufficient
to sustain us over
another crossing
of bare-limbed winter
to spring, where
warm light is waiting
to help us celebrate
another completion
of this circle.
 © 1999

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Delia's Morning Quiet



Delia was my grandmother. I went to live with her when I was two years old ... and she reared me until I grew up and went into military service.


Little wonder that I've written about her ... even when cautioned by one instructor that he didn't want to see any "grandmother poems."


This particular poem is a combination of memories of her, of things she said, or might have said. I may have taken some liberties, but, knowing her the way I did, I don't think she would mind.


I don't think she would mind at all.


DELIA'S MORNING QUIET

Morning quiet was
always best, Delia said.


Not the soft silting
of minutes after a day
in the fields, not those
first precious seconds
after childbirth,
nor the calm after
summer storms, tearing
of an envelope, labored
reading of its words,
evening fire, supper done,
dishes stored, children
in bed.


But the kind
of quiet that came
stealing up with the sun,
sharing rooster crow
and the crackling murmur
of fire, a skillet sliding
across the kitchen stove,
sound of an eggshell
breaking with importance.

© 1999

(originally published in Poem)

Today's word: crackling

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Catching a Wave





(No waves evident here; I just thought it might be good to share one of my peaceful photos ... this one taken at Cox Arboretum ... with this particular poem)

I don't think I was intended to be a morning person. Mornings have always been a struggle for me.


I know, I know. Morning is the best part of the day for the writer. Other concerns have not begun to intrude. 
The house is quiet. The brain is rested, ready to rev. Here's a whole new day beckoning.


But for me it's ... well, it's just morning. It takes me a little while to build some momentum.


I roll over, get one foot on the floor, then the other. I stand. I go teetering off in the general direction of the keyboard. I find the switch, flick it on.


By this time I have both eyes open. Things are starting to come into focus. And then, look out. Oh, look out! I'm starting to roll. I may even be writing soon.


This one was first published in Capper's:


CATCHING A WAVE

Down the avenues of my early-morning
mind zooms a flood of crowded, honking
thoughts that seek a place to park.

I’m too tired to direct traffic, too stressed
to sort them out. That must wait till later,
tongue losing its taste of suede, on the

verge of talk. But then they’re gone, not
a thought in sight, not a word of that
early-morning roar. Perhaps tomorrow.
© 1999

Today's word: momentum

Monday, May 23, 2016

Birds Still Sing







This is a poem about the aging process, of course.

I'm not quite dependent on a hearing aid ... yet. Still, there are times when I might find one helpful ... to fine tune what I'm trying to hear ... or to tune out something I'd rather not hear.

But it's also a poem about memory ... and imagination, the ability to recall things, sometimes with a new attention to detail. I like it when a poem works at two levels ... or sometimes in two directions.

Originally published in Capper's, it's a little poem, saying much, I hope, with few words (the photograph, as usual, is one of my own):

BIRDS STILL SING

I don't always
hear the doorbell,
thunder's mostly
just a rumble now,
but in the foliage
of my mind
birds still sing
loud and clear.
© 1996

Today's word: recall

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ahead and Behind






(Yes, that's me ... caught in the daily whirl of activity)












I suppose it was there all the time ... an ability, on occasion, to say something that sort of had the sound of poetry ... something that, while alien, perhaps, to the formal, prescribed structure and style of real poetry, had an element that conjured up poetic images for the reader ... or listener.

I began writing these things for myself. 


They usually came to me during my daily walks. When I got back home, I would sit for a few minutes at the kitchen table, scribbling away.

Then I began sharing these scribblings with Phyllis. She liked them ... at least said she did ... and encouraged me to keep writing.

I did keep writing, and writing, and writing ... and, though today's poem is a bit of an exaggeration ... poetic license, you know ... it does sometimes seem that I've gotten ahead on my writing ... behind on everything else.

Meanwhile, the poem:

AHEAD AND BEHIND

For many years
I wouldnt venture
into this strange
realm of poetry,
but then, like
a water-loving dog
finding a pond,
I plunged in, 

cant be coaxed
back out, and Im
paddling around,
getting slowly
ahead on poetry,
way behind on
everything else.

© 2001 

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: paddling

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Who Lives There?







(One of my quick little watercolor sketches, done during a pause in my daily walk)

Today's poem came to me on the bus, was largely written on the bus, because it took hold of me ... and wouldn't let go.

Over time, I became aware of that particular window, that struggling plant. It got so I was watching for that cracked window each day when my bus went climbing back up the hill on the way home.

I kept expecting to see someone at the window, watering the plant, turning it in the sunlight, or simply looking out at the passing traffic. But I never did.

Still, the plant hung on, seemed to be growing, leafing out slightly, and I kept wondering who lived there with it ... "what small measures of encouragement" they shared.

Originally published in the literary journal, Poem, now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:

WHO LIVES THERE?

In an upstairs window,

below a sagging
gutter, beside siding
wind-peeled and flapping,
beneath a window shade
water-stained and torn,
behind a pane cracked
diagonally like a fragile
promise, sits a spindly
plant taking what sun
it can on a winter day,
while my bus struggles
in its uphill climb
toward a daily nagging
question: Who lives
there with this plant,
and what small measures
of encouragement do they
have to bridge the days?
© 2006

Today's word: encouragement

Friday, May 20, 2016

Voice and Song






Today's photo ... one I snapped at Cox Arboretum  


The less said about my singing (dancing, too, for that matter), the better.

There was a time when I could sing. I don't know how good it was, but I could carry a simple tune, and my grandparents ... my long-suffering grandparents ... never complained.


Then my voice changed.


I changed, too ... from a budding soloist, into one who would reluctantly join the singing when in a large group. I knew then that my off-key missteps would, perhaps, go unnoticed.


Even now, I hardly ever sing in the shower, as a matter of fact.


I have consoled myself ... as I say, in so many words in this poem ... with the thought that my real song "lives in my heart."

And here's the poem:



VOICE AND SONG

Mine is an untrained
voice, lacking polish,
but I believe my real
song lives in my heart,
and from there it must,
it will, take wing,
rising like that silent,
dark hawk tirelessly
riding the lifting
blue air, until it
finds a kindred heart
where it may dwell.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: kindred

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Tomato Patch





















How long ago ... and yet how vivid the memories of those childhood summers helping in the garden that my grandparents had each year.

I'm sure I wasn't much help in those early years. That came later, when I had the stature and muscles to be an effective weed chopper.

Oh, but I still recall how hot and steamy it was there ... how a bit of shade and a drink of water did seem to be so far, far away. But, as the poem indicates, those memories are still valuable to me ... I still treasure them.

Of course, memories tend to lose their rough edges over time. They become smooth and shiny ... much like the blade I remember, chopping those weeds, loosening the soil to help retain the moisture  the plants so sorely needed.

The poem:

TOMATO PATCH

I found no poetry
in the tomato patch,
drone of a horsefly
drilling the silence,
drops of my sweat 
salting the soil,
my hoe dispatching 
smartweed, with shade,
a drink of water
so far away. Why,
then, do I miss
that seasoned handle,
so glassy-smooth,
sliding in my hands,
that dark blade
worn thin and shiny,
glinting like
treasure in the sun?
 © 1998
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: glinting

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sleepless Night




























Today's poem addresses something I've experienced at various times ... and is for all those nights before air-conditioning ... or without it ... when I was growing up, when I was in military service, later, in a rented room here and there ... and even later.


There were a lot of those.


It's for those lonely nights when a siren would signal the approach of flashing lights which would go dancing across the ceiling and splashing on down the street.


Once or twice that siren and those lights were for me. But "not this time ... old pals."


It's for the times I listened to the crickets picking up the threads of conversation in the darkness ... and I lay listening to the night ebbing away.

I don't dwell too much on the past, but it does provide the foundation for today ... and tomorrow. It does bear some thought. I try to give it that, and I'm glad when a poem is the end result, especially when that poem eventually finds a good home. This one was originally published in Riverrun.


SLEEPLESS NIGHT


A sharp-edged siren
comes careening through
my open window, scant
warning of lights
that will go slashing
across my ceiling,
tumbling pell-mell
in the littered street,
spattering buildings
with fiery colors
that ooze and fade.


Not this time
for me, old pals.
Not this time.


Slowly, like strangers
waiting for a bus,
crickets pick up loose
threads of conversation,
and I lie listening
to another night
burning itself out,
the welter of chirrups
reeling in another
 
sweltering day.
© 2000

Today's word: threads

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Renewable Glue





Someone, a person I'd never seen before ... likely would never see again ... had paused, held the door, and motioned for me to enter the store ahead of them.

I thanked them and walked on in.


Big deal. A few minutes later, when I was leaving the store, I had already forgotten about this small act of thoughtfulness, but I paused, held the door for the person behind me, then strode off to my car.


That's when I started thinking about these small acts of kindness that we bestow -- or withhold -- as we go about our daily routines.


How easily they become a part of our lives. Or how easily they are forgotten, neglected in our rush to get to the next red light ahead of everybody else.


They are such simple things, so easily given. They cost us nothing, yet have the potential of great dividends. 


What fragile threads they are, holding together the fabric of this thing we call civilization.

They are the "renewable glue" that holds us together, these little gifts we bestow on others, whether at the door, in the checkout line, or out there in the jungle that we call traffic.


What does it cost us to let someone else go ahead? 


As in the simplest childhood game, we'll "get our turn." 


Meanwhile, we've done a good turn, no matter that it's almost unnoticeable, for someone else. They may then do a good turn for someone else.

It has the potential for going on and on, this "renewable glue." It might even work on a larger scale than just person-to-person.


End of sermon ... now the poem:


RENEWABLE GLUE


An act of kindness,
a nod, a smile,
the door held open --
gifts easily bestowed,
yet vital as droplets
of renewable glue
keeping civilization
from falling apart.
 © 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: renewable

Monday, May 16, 2016

Play BALL!






Today's poem comes to mind each year as  ice-encrusted winter months start retreating and I resume walking past those ball diamonds waiting for crowds of kids ... or would-be kids ... to return.

It also comes to mind with the onset of nippy nights and chilly mornings ... a reminder that the things of summer will soon be put aside while we search for the leaf rake... and the dreaded snow shovel.

I like to store away sunnier memories ... something to tide me over in less inviting times, weather-wise. 

What better memory than a sun-drenched ball park?

There's one ball park in particular that holds a certain fascination. I guess it's because there's seldom anybody else around as we go strolling by.

I do pause there ... sometimes approach the backstop, and my fingers do grip the wire mesh like "some abandoned vine" ... while I think of days long, long ago, when I actually ran the bases a few times.

There's still that momentary urge to try it again. But I'm a little smarter now ... and a lot slower ... and I never do.

The poem:

Play BALL!

Standing behind
the sagging backstop
at the deserted field,
my fingers gripping
the wire mesh like
some abandoned vine,
I'm tempted to go
tearing around second,
sliding into third
in a cloud of dust;
instead, I linger
a few moments more,
enjoying the quiet,
 
just imagining that
roar of the crowd.
© 1998

(originally published in Capper's)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ordinary Things



(Another of those "ordinary things" which catch my attention when I'm out walking -- the shadows of bare limbs falling across a walkway, trees catching the sun in the background -- a tranquil scene which may lead to a poem ... or just a feeling of quiet contentment)


Rejection ... in the form of those little impersonal notes which accompany your poems when they come back from some distant editor ... is so frequent that it's almost expected.

Oh, I send out the best work I can do ... at the time ... and I always think I've matched it with the perfect place for it to be published ... but there are so many factors at work: The sheer numbers of people who write poetry, the limited number of pages in each publication, the timing, the subject matter.

Then there's the subjective way in which the flood of incoming work is measured ... as, I suppose, it should be. The editor, after all, is likely struggling for survival, too.

I've come to expect that most of my submissions will be rejected. 

Of course, this makes the acceptances that much more sweet ... more worthy of celebration, though I don't dance on the table as much as I once did.

In this pursuit of acceptance here and there, I accept the odds, I keep trying to improve my writing ... and the odds ... and life goes on.

Once in a while, in all of this turmoil, there comes a little surprise.

I recall how one editor had scrawled something about "mundane treatment of ordinary subjects" on the rejection slip which accompanied my returned poems. 

I recall that note ... and I wish I could recall the name of that editor.

I would like to thank him for giving me ideas for two more poems, today's "Ordinary Things" ... and another, "In Praise of the Mundane" ... both of which were published ...elsewhere.

Today's offering:


ORDINARY THINGS

If my daily walk could take me
far enough from where I live,
I might discover something worthy
of collecting and preserving.

Instead, I find a squirrel's
nest, abandoned, being parceled
by the wind, a remnant of string
lying in hopeless tangle,
fragments of eggshell left like
bits of sky on gritty gray
sidewalk, a cat sunning, 
scattered 
  toys, telling me that 
children 
  
 
are perhaps watching
as I pick my way through.

Such ordinary things, trickling
through the fingers of my memory
even before I get home, but while
I have them they are treasure.
More than that, food for my soul.
© 1998

(Originally published in A New Song, the poem is now part of my third collection,Wood Smoke, published by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: ordinary