Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sliding Into Third

Don't worry.

I'm not about to slide into third base ... or even run the bases, for that matter. Not even slowly.

Still, there's the imagination which is stirred by warm breezes, the proximity of a playing field, the sun on my back.

The possibilities ... and even that is a stretch, too ... are interesting.

If I were really to try it, I can imagine that I might have to call time out ... if and when I reached first base. From there it would be rapidly (or slowly, perhaps) downhill.

I can just see myself going into that slide ... sliding ... and sliding short of the bag ... just lying there like a bag of potatoes.

No thank you. I'll stick to the poetic possibilities ... thank you very much ... as opposed to the reality of these tired old legs.

But, for now, the poem has legs:


when I’m walking past
the empty field,
I’m tempted
to go legging it
around the base paths,
sliding into third,
maybe stealing home,
but then I think
about getting caught
in a run-down
between second
and third, cut down
trying to extend
a beseeching leg
to hook the refuge
of that dusty bag,
and the vision
of that humiliation,
the disgrace of being
the winning run
tagged out, finished,
game over, is more
than I can chance.
Still, on one of my
better days,
I just might try it.
 © 2000
(originally published in Potpourri)
Today's word: beseeching

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Plague of Squirrels


I'm kidding, of course, about the "plague" of squirrels.

The squirrels and I actually get along pretty well. Oh, I see them occasionally, pausing to stare at me and one of my funny looking hats.

But they never laugh and poke fun at me ... and I try to treat them with equal respect.

I do recall, though, that there was one encounter the day after we moved into Brimm Manor ... I thought I heard someone ... or something ... at the back door.

It was a squirrel.

From all indications, he was there for a handout. He'd been accustomed to being offered goodies.

Then there was the one which came down our chimney. Did we ever have fun that day!

Mostly, though, we just go our separate ways ... I'm afraid of heights ... and they seem to have a thing about mowing the lawn and watering the flowers.

The poem:


What vile crimes have I committed
that I must be punished by you,
you frenzied plague of squirrels?

You dig up the tulips, tear out
the gutter guards, leave pizza slices
dangling from the evergreens,

litter the driveway with twigs
and leaves while you perfect the art
of nesting, pile our picnic table

with walnut chewings, spread hysteria
by screeching from the highest limbs,
patter across our silent green roof

at daybreak, hide juicy, squishy things
under the swing's yellow cushions,
come down our chimney bearing gifts

of frantic sooty footprints over all
the basement, spending a whole afternoon
eluding me, until finally hiding

in a box so I might carry you outside
to set you free, a twitch of the tail
your cursory thanks for the ride,

and I see you later scampering down that
superhighway of cable, as though nothing
had happened today, absolutely nothing. 
© 2001

(won a third place award in Ohio Poetry Day competition)

Today's word: scampering

Monday, August 29, 2016

Outside Ann's Cafe

Sadly, Ann's Cafe is just a memory now.

While it was there on Watervliet Avenue, though, it was an oasis, a welcoming refuge along the route of our morning walks.

During the cold months we sat inside, in the embrace of all those delicious cooking aromas.

On milder days we enjoyed the freedom of the tables on the sidewalk, the sounds of passing traffic, the wafting blandishments of wonderful baked goods coming from inside.

Oh, the memories, the sweet memories we have of that place.

The poem:


The cars
go purring past
while we enjoy
the morning cool
on the sidewalk
at Ann's Cafe.
It's too pretty
to stay inside,
we say, settling
into our chairs
like two tired
teddy bears.

The sweet smell
of baked goods
comes stealing out
to where we sit,
tempting us, but
we are steadfast,
unmoved by this.

The steady click
of our spoons,
the clunk of cups
against the glass
tabletop give
more than adequate
to our resolve.

But then . . .

© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: steadfast

Sunday, August 28, 2016

My Three Loves

I think a love poem might be in order today ... this one  mainly about my eighth-grade teacher, who stirred an abiding interest in reading in me.

But it's also about the librarian I met at another time, in another town, as a result of my interest in reading.

That librarian and I are still sharing a mutual interest in reading, and she is the one who listens patiently to the things I've written.

But, getting back to the main thread of the poem: I was so glad when I was able to visit my former teacher, Miss Pearl, a few years ago, to thank her for imparting her love for reading ... and to introduce her to that librarian, my wife, Phyllis.

The poem:


Could Miss Pearl have known
that her own love of reading
would so transform the life

of a hungering eighth grader
whom her gentle, healing voice
touched with daily readings?

Fragile fingers softly turning
the pages of her beloved books,
she made visions of mere words,

openings to worlds where people
could dream, hope, and achieve.
These, she told us, were worlds

where we, too, might go, in fact,
belonged. Did she know, or did she
merely dream the teacher's dream

that the tiny seeds might endure,
take root, flower? Did she know
that her devoted love of reading

would become my own, eventually
leading me to that certain library
where I would find you? How else

could she have sustained herself
through those despairing years?
Questions still seek answers,

but of this I'm sure: Her gift,
so freely given, became more dear
than I, or even she, ever dreamed.
© 2001

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: sustained

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Forecast: Rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here I go again:


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

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

© 2006

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

Friday, August 26, 2016

Defying Gravity

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

I thought about that.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cup of Memories

We didn't have a "drinking gourd" when I was growing up, and I always felt deprived ... in the early years, at least.

Instead, we had a common aluminum dipper (we all drank from the same dipper) beside the water bucket in the kitchen.

Germs aside, it offered a cool, refreshing drink, when the weather was cool, refreshing. During the summer, as I recall, we went directly to the source, the cistern just a few steps from the back porch, to fill the dipper.

The "drinking gourd," on the other hand, resided at a neighbor's house on a nearby hill. Judging from the frequency of our visits, they were probably distant relatives.

They had a well which, I thought, contained the coldest water around.

And that gourd, that marvelous old weather-beaten gourd. I just had to have a drink from it, even when I wasn't thirsty.

Oh, how I remember sipping slowly, dawdling, while enjoying both the cold water and the great shade of the tree near the well.

The poem:


The well water
was never colder
nor more sweet tasting
than when it was sipped
from an ordinary,
but memorably special
gray gourd dipper. 
© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: dawdling

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Before I Gallop

No, I don't have any immediate plans for another big move. The most recent one was big enough, thank you very much.

When I wrote today's poem, I was just beginning to think about the time when downsizing would be the practical thing to do. I looked around at all the things I had accumulated over the years, and it seemed an impossible task.

It still does.

It's really hard to turn loose of things ... I have trouble seeing them as being only "things" ... because they stir so many memories.

I'm actually making the effort now to turn loose of some items ... to use up others ... to give some away. It's still not easy, but I'm trying.

When I wrote the poem, I tried to take a light-hearted look at this dilemma which faces so many people.

Still, after one reading before a small group, one listener told me that she liked the poem, but found the ending a real downer. She thought I was referring to someting very dark there ... death.

That hadn't occurred to me ... in fact, was furthest from my thoughts. I was actually thinking of Hawaii, a place I've never been, but wouldn't mind seeing someday.

Meanwhile, back to the shredder ... but first, the poem:


The time has come,
in this hunkered down,
bunkered up life
of mine, to start
turning loose of all
those precious papers,
stacks of things
left unread,
undone, untouched
these many years,
to end each day
with less than I had
at the beginning,
to divest, to shed,
to shred, to trash
all those dear things
that I can't take
with me, whether
I simply move
to more fitting
local quarters, or go
the whole route,
whisking away
my tell-tale tracks,
then galloping off
toward some
distant paradise.
© 1999

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: furthest

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

All Those Trees

Memory ... how important it is ... not just so we can find things we seem to have hidden from ourselves only minutes before ... but for preserving events along the way ... to be savored later.

They may not be vitally important ... or important at all, in their own right ... but I'm convinced that they do have a role to play.

I enjoy recalling pleasant events ... or even just enjoyable moments ... especially when all the world seems to be working against me.

I guard against "living in the past," of course ... an impossible task, but also an activity that can have disappointing, if not disastrous, results.

I am pleased, however, when I see someone I haven't seen for a while ... and I remember their name. 

I am doubly pleased when I can remember where I put something. Memory ... memories ... so important to all of us, I think.

Today's poem owes much to the memories associated with a day trip taken with a group of "senior citizens."

Phyllis and I had sort of wandered off from the group ... intentionally, mind you ... I like to do that sometimes ... simply to enjoy a bit of quiet, to stretch my legs, to view the scene from a different angle.

But let's let the poem tell the story:


We'd grown tired of winding
along with the other tourists
through the aromatic rows

upon rows of captive plants,
felt our own tendrils tugging
gently toward a nearby hill.

We had paused half-way up
when there was a sudden
flutter of excited footsteps,

the clatter of young laughter,
and we were swiftly engulfed
by a surging flood of children

racing tree-to-tree, so intent
on their game they didn't see
us standing there, recalling

a game we had played so like
theirs, savoring the memories,
and now, loving all those trees.
© 2001

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)

Today's word: aromatic

Monday, August 22, 2016

After the Muffin

"After the Muffin" is a love poem ... that's right,  love poem ... which was included in O Taste and See: Food Poems, an anthology co-edited by David Lee Garrison and Terry Hermsen and published by Bottom Dog Press ... and the book was a sellout ... all 5,000 copies! 

"After the Muffin" then was discovered by Paul Carey, composer, who is also music director for Vox Caelestis Women's Chorus, a 16-voice professional women's chorus based in Chicago's western suburbs. 

He liked "After the Muffin" and set it to music, along with several other food-related poems.

For a sampling of their work:

"After the Muffin" made an appearance in three performances of "The Musical Food Groups" by Chicago a cappella, a vocal ensemble of nine voices, "dedicated to performing innovative concert programs at the highest possible musical standards."

I've heard a recording of their presentation of "After the Muffin," thanks to Matt Greenberg, executive director, who also sings bass with the group ... and it is a superb piece of work ... their rendition of my poem, that is. 

For a sample of Chicago a cappella:

Meanwhile, the poem:


You've something on
your lip, you say,
your finger, gentle
as a kiss, floating
to show me where.

Blueberry! For
we have just shared
a warm muffin
by candlelight.

And now, all these
hours later, I still
feel that touch
like a kiss, still
hear you saying:
You've something
on your lip.
© 2003

(Published in O Taste and See: Food Poems, Bottom Dog Press, 2003)

Today's word: blueberry

Sunday, August 21, 2016

They're Watching

I used to see them all the time.

I could hardly set foot out the door without encountering one ... dressed as Santa Claus ... as a witch ... a clown ... a cowboy ... as almost anything ... or anybody ... except what they really were: concrete geese.

And now I can't even find one of the photos I took of them.

I can't imagine where they've all gone ... flown south for the winter? Oh, I hope not. The very thought of them aloft scares me a bit.

Perhaps the fad is ebbing. But while it was here, almost everybody ... at least in my neighborhood ... had at least one ... sometimes more.

Understandable then, that I eventually gave in and wrote something about them ... and here it is:


Concrete geese!
Heads held high,
dots for eyes,
they guard
the porches, line
the lawns, ever alert
for the gawkers
wandering by.

They never move,
nor honk, nor
even threaten
hostile action,
but in their cold,
concrete hearts
seem to know
the intentions
of those
who dare even
steal a glance.
© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: gawkers

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Seventy-Year Locust

Yes, today's poem is yet another one about writing ... at least writing was what I had in mind when this poem came together.

It was written by a young whippersnapper, contemplating the approach of his seventieth birthday.

Since then he has matured a bit. He's a little more sedate, a little more laid-back, and certainly not the ruler of any tree, although he has received a bit of recognition for his poetry.

He has a first collection of poetry ... Chance of Rain ... on a few book store shelves, and even in some homes ... a second collection ... Hollyhocks ... and a third ... Wood Smoke ...  issued by Finishing Line Press. (Stay tuned; I'm always working on another one)

His song is a little more subdued than it was when today's poem was first written. But if you listen closely you might hear it, not so much a rasping, buzzing sound now ... something more like a soft humming, as though to oneself, or to those nearby.

And I thank you for stopping by for today's poem, originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal:


I have lain dormant,
quietly mutating
into my present form,
and now I am
ready to cast off
that ancient husk
of my past,
emerge to my own song,
rasping, buzzing,
insinuating myself
into your consciousness.

I give you fair warning:
I am no June bug
on a string.
I am the real thing,
a rip-snorter
on the wing,
ruler of my tree.

Listen to me.
You can't help
but hear my song.

© 1996 
Today's word: sedate

Friday, August 19, 2016


Today's poem is about going back home, the place where so many memories were stored up, where I lived with my grandparents from pre-school days until I left to go into military service.

Those memories had sustained me all these years.

They had been renewed with my visits back to the area, each one including a slow drive past that special place, now inhabited by others.

Then one year I returned, found the place in ruins. There had been a fire. A few years later, even those traces were gone.

This is a poem about the last time I was there, about standing there as a stranger, recalling all those early years. What wonderful innocent years they were.

The poem:


The house, with its two bedrooms, its swing on the porch, is gone. The tar-papered garage, coal shed, the chicken house, the outhouse, all gone. I climb out of my car to have a look around. I discover, to my surprise, squared-off pieces of sandstone still there where the front walk was, but smothered now in matted dead grass.

               I turn toward where the garden was, where I spent childhood summers chopping weeds in the long, suffocating rows, picking shiny beetles and yellow-orange eggs from potato plants. It has a building on it now, property of the village, a hand-lettered sign says, a further shrinking of the site that seemed to have such endless rows then.

                                          A single cedar tree stands beside where a cindered driveway once struggled up a slight slope. Three other cedars, the lilac, two box elders, a maple, all gone.

                                                   The cemetery sexton approaches, extends a callused hand, says he saw me standing at the graves on the hill, and now here, thought I might be hunting persimmons, tells me to help myself from a tree growing back from the road, where I remember a plum tree standing.

                         We stand and talk, bridging the years between us, and he thinks he remembers when the house was still standing, but he has trouble remembering who lived there, and really can't place me.

Then, as we part, he offers persimmons again. "They’re terrible sweet this year," he says. "Not a-tall puckery."

                                     I thank him for offering, but have one final look, turn and leave without taking any.
© 2001

(received an honorable mention in a ByLine contest)

Today's word: sweet

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Only Tree

(A "family" of cedar trees which caught my eye on one of my daily walks ... and stirred some memories)

We are rooted in the places of our beginning.

Oh, we may develop tendrils as we reach for new ideas, seek new adventures, pursue careers. 

We may even become "tumbleweeds," traveling the countryside ... perhaps visiting ... and even settling ... abroad.

But our roots remain in those places where we began, and this is apparent to us when we sit quietly, thinking ... really just thinking.

One example, in my case, involves Christmas trees. Ours was always a cedar tree, because they grew so abundantly on the hills overlooking our home. It was a special treat to go trudging out with Grandpa ... a few days before Christmas ... to pick just the right tree ... not too tall ... not too skinny ... for our living room.

There was just something about the smell of cedar filling the whole house.

When I saw another kind of Christmas tree ... on my first visit to Chicago, which seemed so distant, like another planet ... I couldn't believe THAT was their Christmas tree.

It didn't look like OUR tree at all. Its branches seemed almost bare, compared to what I had been accustomed to. It didn't have that cedar smell. And it certainly didn't have the bird's nest which I had come to expect to find somewhere in our tree.

Oh, I've finally come around to accepting other kinds of Christmas trees ... even the artificial models ... but I still find myself thinking about those other trees from my early years.

The poem:


I grew up believing
that a cedar was
the only true tree
for Christmas,
plain, struggling
on hillside clay,
having so much
in common
with folks like us.
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: cedar