Sunday, July 31, 2016

Beach Music






























I grew up far from the ocean ... any ocean ... so the one time that I got to walk on a real ocean beach was ... to put it mildly ... a most memorable occasion.


Oh, I had glimpsed the ocean at the movies ... in books or magazines ... but never the real thing.


I think I was most impressed, when a face-to-face meeting finally came, with the immensity of it ... its power ... its beauty ... its music.


I tried to get some of that music in this little poem:



BEACH MUSIC

Waves come tumbling
onto the docile shore,
flinging foamy fingers
across the ochre plane.

Teeming with bubbles,
they search and settle,
soothingly diminuendo,
on a healing chord.

Eliciting a sigh
from pliant, sandy keys,
the fingers slide off
into the lap of the sea,


where joyous whitecaps
merrily urge them,
jostle and encourage them
to play it all again.
© 1998

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: joyous

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Accepting Change






I don't know where I'd be, if I hadn't accepted change ... a lot of change ... make that changes ... along the way.

I can remember when television was just an idea ... something far, far down the road. 

Likewise the idea of sitting at a keyboard (I'd done that, thank you very much) ... but with the typed words appearing on a screen, much like a TV screen, in front of the writer.

Yeah, sure. I could accept the concept, but had serious doubts about ever witnessing such a thing in my lifetime.

And here I am, sitting at a keyboard, watching as the letters turn into words and the cursor keeps crawling across the screen.

Oh, and the idea of someone ... a human being ... actually ever setting foot on the moon. 

I came to accept that as reality, too.


I've even learned to accept some of the fashions I've seen over the years ... not for me, though ... but for others. 

But I think it's the smaller things ... smaller,  personal things ... and I won't go into detail here ... except to say that they involve habits, like hanging onto old magazines long after I've finished reading them ... or picking up a pencil or a crayon someone has lost near a school ... things like that ... habits that I simply find hard to give up.

Oh, and yes, the other day, as I finally discarded a watercolor brush which had worn out eons ago, it occurred to me that perhaps I should get some sworn statements from witnesses. 

How else was I to convince Phyllis that I had thrown something ... anything ... away?

And I guess we might as well include my inclination to say I won't go into detail ... and then unleash an avalanche of detail. I find it hard to break that habit, too.

I guess you get the idea. I find it hard to accept change ... in certain areas.

Meanwhile, the poem:

ACCEPTING CHANGE

I'm not always
a willing partner,
but I must go
with the times,
leaving a trail
of scuff marks
where I've been
dragged along.
 © 1998
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: change

Friday, July 29, 2016

Transformation










I think today's poem requires little in the way of explanation.

When the idea came to me and I tried to capture it on paper, I struggled to squeeze as much into eight short lines as I possibly could.

I was operating then under the mistaken impression that Capper's ... where I was thinking I might submit it ... only published eight-line poems.

I believe, however, that I may have succeeded in conveying my central message: The world does take on a new aspect when we view it with "new eyes."

Oh, if we could just manage to maintain that perspective.

The poem:

TRANSFORMATION

The landscape
seems different
from yesterday,
brighter, softer,
and yet the same
in all details.
Could it be that
have changed?
 © 1996
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: transformation

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sun Catcher







Delia was my grandmother. I can still see her in that cold kitchen, the old wood-burning stove starting to throw out some heat, the skillet in place, waiting for warmth, a dab of oleo, an egg.


The kitchen faced west, but there was a side window that caught a bit of the morning sun. That's where the "film of frost gathered the gold ... poured it softly, like warm milk ... "


Of course, our memories become polished with much handling ... they take on a sheen far beyond that of the original event, and that has happened with this mental picture I still carry with me.


Oh, how I treasure it. The poem was originally published in A New Song:


SUN CATCHER


A film of frost
gathered the gold
of morning sun
on the window,
poured it softly,
like warm milk,
into the kitchen
where Delia
stood working,
embracing her
with a radiance
like the words
of her prayer
being whispered
to the music
of preparations
for another day.
 © 1998
Today's word: sheen

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Morning Talk




(Not the kind of tree I'm talking about in today's poem ... but I thought I'd share my little watercolor sketch with you)

I like to think that poems come to me ... and they will, I've discovered, if I can just sit still in one place long enough.

This one may not have come to me, exactly, but I found the material for it in the tree just outside my window.

I sat listening to a certain sound, then located its source ... and watched.

From there it was simply a matter of putting my impressions on paper before they ... the impressions, that is ... flew away.

I admit that I found more than just the sights and sounds of a mother-and-daughter exchange between two cardinals to write about.

Before I'd finished, I couldn't resist drawing the parallel between these two beautiful little creatures and the rest of us ... 

we superior beings who "own" so much of this material world ... and are, perhaps, so bent on possessing more of it ... that we neglect to build little bridges between us ... particularly between the generations.

End of sermon. 

And now, on to the poem:

MORNING TALK

Amid a rising tide of summer sounds,
I slowly become aware of one pair 
catching my ear more than the others.

Then there they are, a mother cardinal
and her offspring, flitting and talking
to each other in the blue spruce.

Talking of food, perhaps, or safety
in these thick boughs, weighty subjects,
or maybe just chit-chat between
 
this mother and her young daughter.
I have no way of knowing, but they
seem to have found an understanding,

a quiet accord, like a gently swaying 
footbridge between the generations,
that we humans keep hoping to find.

© 2003

(originally published in Capper's) 

Today's word: chit-chat

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Lattes for Two




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

Each of my poems has a past life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest is history, as they say.

The poem:

LATTES FOR TWO

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


Thank you for taking a look.)

Today's word: hooked

Monday, July 25, 2016

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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

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

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Don't Dance on My Toes





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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Sometimes this results in something like:

DON'T DANCE ON MY TOES

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

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


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


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

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

Today's word: scarred

Friday, July 22, 2016

Cold Winter Nights




Align CenterAlign CenterAha! Another poem about writing ... touching on a process that remains something of a mystery to me ... but also reaching the heart of the matter, I think, the satisfaction that comes from putting thoughts on paper.


The poem:


COLD WINTER NIGHTS


I have dreamed
that my poetry
might go like
wildfire lighting
the emptiness
of night, dancing
ahead of the wind,
smoke of creation,
furious burning,
rising to join
the lingering clouds,
drifting, drifting.

Ah, but a smaller
fire it is, burning 
within, chasing nothing
before it, raising
no alarms, warming
only me on these
cold winter nights
with a lamp to keep
me company, and these 
scratchings on a tiny
scrap of paper.
© 1996

(originally published in ByLine)


Today's word: wildfire

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bridge Builder







Sometimes, I think, it's best just to let the poem tell its own story. My comments about a poem's beginning ... the inspiration for it ... my purpose in writing it ... in transforming scribbled notes into the finished product ... all of these, sometimes, are helpful.


Today, though, I think I'll just step back and let the poem do the telling ... all of it:

BRIDGE BUILDER

My grandfather built bridges, 
not the bright, towering
monuments to engineering like
those spanning the Mississippi.

His bridges were squat, dark,
wooden things, put up by gangs
of common laborers who spent days,
weeks, sometimes, away from their
families, so trains could go
rolling smoothly across the creeks
and small streams that wrinkled
the face of the earth.

One evening I watched as his
rough, scarred hand gripped a stub
of pencil, and the pilings,
cross-members, all the timbers,
ties and rails took shape across
a ruled page of my writing pad.

His eyes glistened when my small
voice asked how far he had traveled
in this work, eating alien food
that strangers plopped on his plate,
trying to sleep in crowded, hot
bunk cars alongside the mainline.

"Too far, and too long," he said,
and I knew the story was over.

That paper is gone, his bridges
replaced by steel structures,
or abandoned as railroads began
surrendering to the superhighways
and airplanes, but how I wish
I had that little drawing, so I
could slide it out, look at it
again, something of him to hold,
now that I’ve come to appreciate
his most important bridge, those
huge hands reaching out to me,
the child nobody wanted, saying,
"Come ... live with me."

© 2006

(Second place winner, Dayton Metro Library 2006 Poetry Contest)
Today's word: reaching 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

At the Flower Show



Because of the grandmother who always raised flowers ... and reared me ... I have always had a certain connection with blossoms.


There is just something about being in the company of flowers ... the memories they stir with their scents, their color.


"At the Flower Show" is about one of those special occasions, a gathering of flowers ... and people ... a flower show.


But it's not so much about the flowers. I felt that my collection of words, picked up here and there along the way, would be inadequate to describe the flowers.


Ah, but the people. I was one of them. I could jot down something about the experience of being at a flower show. It would be something to remind me of that sunny day, that beautiful setting ... the realities of being there.


Of course, I couldn't resist the temptation to compare the visitors to flowers themselves.


The poem:


AT THE FLOWER SHOW

Visitors blossom in bright lines
when day begins, but start wilting
under the sun, and throngs
slowly surrender, settling
like long rows of potted plants
along the wooden benches.

© 1999
(originally published in Sisters Today)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What Was That?







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


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

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

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

The poem:

WHAT WAS THAT?

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

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: ripple

Monday, July 18, 2016

Take a Peek






(No ... that's not a self-portrait ... just another of my randomly-shot photographs)

This is one of my "dream" poems. I remember the sensation of waking up in a strange place (I'm dreaming this, remember), being asked by some remote, impersonal voice to produce something that would identify me.

I knew there was this slip of paper in my billfold, but I couldn't find it, couldn't, in fact, find my billfold. I kept searching and searching.

Then I woke up. The dream would have been lost, had I not scribbled something on a scrap of paper as a reminder.

I don't usually dwell on the meanings of dreams.

Sometimes they mean nothing more than the excesses of a late-night snack.

Or they may reveal deep-rooted frustrations, unattainable goals, hunger, thirsts, fears ... all the makings of a poem.

Still, I try to save them all. I don't always manage, but I try.

And here's today's:


TAKE A PEEK

My billfold
contains a slip
of yellow paper
with the name
of the President
written on it.

I feel secure
having it with me,
like a number,
next of kin,
to be called
in an emergency.

Perhaps someday
after surgery,
responding to
trick questions:

What's your name?
Who's President?

I can say,"Take a peek
at my billfold. There's
a slip inside. It's all
I've got left."
© 1995

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: identify

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Summer Showdown









I've recently been lulled into a sense of invincibility (OK, so I'm exaggerating just a bit) ... actually, I have been thoroughly enjoying the somewhat cool weather we've been having ... 



I've tried to contain myself, though, and speak cautiously about it, because I know it's going to come to a sudden halt. This is Ohio, after all.


Story of my life.

The coolness ends suddenly, and the heat is back. Then as I sit at the sizzling keyboard at mid-morning, the temperature still rising, I can almost hear eggs frying on the sidewalks around town.

Anyway, what I'd really like is a little more of that steady, cool ... not COLD, mind you ... but cool, pleasantly cool weather ... ple-e-e-e-ase.

Meanwhile, today's poem:

SUMMER SHOWDOWN

Summer sun’s so boiling hot
I can almost hear the soft
clinking of spurs, stealthy
creaking of the boardwalk,
a sudden, smothering silence
in which the buzz of a fly
sounds sinister, foretelling
a showdown on the sun-baked,
hoof-pocked, clatter-plaited
street, where a tumbleweed
pauses in the sanctum of shade
cast by a tumble-down saloon,
where I stand, suddenly struck
by a lightning flash of thirst.
© 2003

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger; now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher)

Today's word: tumble-down