Friday, September 30, 2016

I Could Not Pass It By




While strolling through a well-known store, just minding my own business, pretending to be a serious shopper intent on throwing a lot of money around ... I encountered Gloria, a friend I hadn't seen in ages.

We were delighted to see each other again. 

We used to be in a writing group together. I always enjoyed her writings ... mostly snippets of autobiography ... and she had kind things to say about my poetry.

We had barely exchanged greetings ... including a warm hug ... when she asked: "Are you still collecting pencils?"

She remembered! Mainly she remembered how, at one of our meetings, I brought in a handful of pencil stubs ... little discarded things that I had found on the sidewalk, in the gutter, etc., during my daily walks.

My idea was to pass them around to members of the writing group, with the suggestion that they write something with them. I thought it would be interesting to see what the pencils would "tell us."

I offered them first to Gloria ... who recoiled as though I had just tried to hand her a snake.

"Why, we don't know where those have been!" she exclaimed.

Yes, I admitted, I'm still collecting pencils ... though there seemed to be fewer of them lying about at the beginning of this school year ... symbolizing another shift in technology, I suppose.

Well, that exchange brought to mind the poem I'm offering today, a poem from my collection entitled Wood Smoke, published by Finishing Line Press.

 think "I Could Not Pass It By" pretty well tells its own story, but, as is the case with all poems, the reader brings a certain experience, a certain viewpoint to the reading of it. That always gives it a special flavor, often beyond what I had expected it to impart.

The poem:

I COULD NOT PASS IT BY


I found it lying there
in the snows of Watervliet Avenue,
as cold and senseless as my own
toes pointing the way for me
up the sidewalk curving toward
the Belmont Business District.I found it freshly pointed,
eraser in nearly-new condition,
reclining so yellow beside
the curb that I could not
pass it by. With a practiced swoop
I possessed it and walked on,swiping it across a gloved hand,
then offering it body warmth
in a pocket snug within the down
of my dark brown corduroy-collared
jacket. I felt it shedding
its coldness against my chestas I wondered where it had been,
what magic it had revealed
to some young pupil watching
as it sent caravans of letters
tracking across the desert page
in some remote, arid classroom.But now I watch while it marshals
the words that go streaming across
a page I’ve offered to it, and we
pause, listening for late-night
stirrings near the top step of my
mind, a young poem, awake, thirsting.
© 2005
(part of my third collection, 
Wood Smoke, published by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: thirsting

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to Reach 80







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

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

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

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

The poem:

HOW TO REACH 80

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Good Deed




My reaction at the time the event occurred went from puzzlement ... to surprise ... to that pleasant feeling you get when somebody does a good turn for you ... and doesn't want, in fact, would refuse, anything in return.


The poem tells that story.


Oh, I suppose my neighbor was grateful for the small favors we did him and his family when they had a house fire shortly after moving in. But he didn't owe us anything for our help, either.


That's what neighbors do for each other.


He was grateful then ... and I was certainly grateful for all that shoveling he was doing for me. I had been waiting out the storm, dreading the task that confronted me.


Then, suddenly, there he was, the good neighbor.


If I were to go ahead with this, I'd probably become preachy ... so, I'll just say that this one was originally published in The Christian Science Monitor:


THE GOOD DEED


All day the snow
has come sifting down,
obscuring objects
in our shaken globe,
and I'm standing
staring out the window
when I see the shape
of a person who's
obviously been driven
wild by the storm,
who pauses and turns
into someone I know
... my neighbor,
shoveling my
 walk.
© 2003

Today's word: shoveling

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fireflies






















Fireflies seemed such magic creatures in the place where I spent my early years.

They still do.

Especially in that period of transition from day to night, when darkness is beginning to settle in, they do seem to be wavering up some kind of invisible ladder.

They do seem to be signalling to us "that dreams still take wing."

Today's poem:

FIREFLIES

Slowly, randomly they rise
from daytime resting places
into the cool, embracing night.

Tiny wings whirring against
the sodden, clinging atmosphere,
they labor to lug their lights


blinking up wavering ladders,
beacons signaling that dreams
still take wing on such a night.
© 1997

(originally published in Sisters Today)


Today's word: randomly

Monday, September 26, 2016

Early Writer

























I write any time I can, but I've found mornings best, before other details of the day ... yesterday's unfinished chores, today's agenda ... begin pressing in.

Still, I'm not naturally a morning person.

I don't spring out of bed singing and laughing and dancing.

I'm not a total grump either. It's just that I'm not fully wound at that time of the day, as evidenced by this little poem ... which is, itself, further evidence of why I don't write much rhyme, and perhaps shouldn't.

But here's the poem:

EARLY WRITER

Up at the crack of dawn
After a restless night,
Sleeves rolled up, thinking cap on.
The time has come to write.
Outline great, title gold,
The rest should be a snap,
But I feel vaguely old,
Like I should take a nap.
Still, I grope for the keys,
Get set to take the leap.
One moment, if you please:
My brain is still asleep.

© 1999
(originally published in PKA's Advocate)


Today's word: asleep

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Chance of Rain

























"Chance of Rain" is my lucky poem. It began life as a much longer poem, written at the kitchen table after one of my summer walks.


It was so hot that I had paused in the shade to consider whether I really thought I could make it up the next hill and then home. Just then I felt a slight breeze. Thus encouraged, I set off again toward home.


But I had started thinking of how the oppressive heat and humidity were so like the area of Southern Illinois where I grew up. I kept thinking about that, recalling what it had been like, that terrible heat.


When I got home, I started writing. I imagined an older person, about my age, sitting on a porch, scanning the skies for signs of rain. I imagined the rain's coming, sweeping across the fields. I described the old man's reaction to the rain ... all of this in considerable detail.


This narrative became a long poem which I submitted to Capper's.


It was there that an alert editor, Ann Crahan, spotted eight lines that appealed to her in the middle of my poem. How lucky for me!


She suggested that we keep those eight lines and my title. I agreed, and it became my first poem accepted for publication.


Over the years, I wrote many more pieces about rain ... or its absence ... and when those poems suggested themselves to me as a possible collection, it seemed fitting that "Chance of Rain," my first-born, my lucky poem, should be the title piece of that collection, published by Finishing Line Press in 2003.


The poem:


CHANCE OF RAIN

The rain comes
in great galloping
gulps, faster than
the soil can sop it up.
It drums on the roof,
dances in the yard,
celebrates all the way
down the hill.
© 2003

Today's word: lucky

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Biking by Degrees






In discussing a poem, particularly one of my own, there's the temptation to say so much about it that there's no need to read the poem itself.

I hate it when I do that.

I'm trying not to with today's offering, but I'm afraid even the title may tend to give it away.

Let me just say that while I have an aversion to making New Year's resolutions, I have occasionally conceded there were some activities I needed to take up ...

"Biking" was one of them. And I did, over the years, pursue it, quite seriously, at times. Then, as we made plans to move, that all changed. We had no place in the apartment to put it, so it found a new home. 


But that kind of biking appealed to me because I liked it when I could engage in "multi-tasking" ... at least to the extent of doing two things at once ... not that I'm such an efficient person. Quite the contrary.

Here, now that I've verged on giving the whole thing away, is the poem, originally published in Capper's:

BIKING BY DEGREES

I’ve put tons
of happy miles
on this bike,
clinging to its
slender seat,
pedaling steadily
while I catch up
on my reading,
its single wheel
whirring, pages
blurring, while
I exercise here
in my basement. 
© 1996
Today's word: multi-tasking

Friday, September 23, 2016

Autumn Dreams






It wasn't raining as I stirred, turned my pillow cool side up, and went drifting off again, but I thought about the coolness of that pillow, later, while I was shaving, thought about the sound of rain ... and about this poem.


So here it is again:


AUTUMN DREAMS

Softly, the rain
descends, puddling
in the darkly
glistening street,
pausing to quench
the thirsting roof
before dripping,
a muffled sighing,
to the ground.

Wind chimes stir,
and the cows
are suddenly home,
winding along
that narrow path
where the sun
lately streamed.

I stir, savoring
quilted warmth,
softness of pillow,
go drifting off
again like a puff
of milkweed.
© 2000

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)

Today's word: puddling

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Waiting to Play





This is another "walking" poem.

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

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

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

Now I usually head to the computer.

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

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

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

Those images turned into this little poem:

WAITING TO PLAY

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


Today's word: romping

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Tall











































I don't often do dream poems ... that is, poems about dreams ... simply because I have trouble recalling the dreams when I wake up.


This one was different, though.


I had this sense, as I say in the poem, of actually being taller than John Wayne on his horse. What a feeling that was. I wrote down what I recalled of that feeling.


Then, later ... that's right, pardner ... this one turned into a poem about writing, a subject that I find mysterious and perplexing. Even when the words come together neatly to form a poem, I'm sometimes puzzled as to how that really happened.


Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm not completely baffled by the writing process, but it sometimes seems that poems, in particular, "write themselves," and I can't help expressing some amazement at that.


And now, the poem:



TALL

I dreamed that I
was tall, taller than
John Wayne, taller than
John Wayne on his horse,
and I just stood there
looking tall

and silent,


looking at all those
people looking up
at me, at last,
looking down at them,
but treating them
quietly as equals,


because that's the way
it is with me,
pilgrim,
no matter how tall
I get, nor how many
poems I’ve roped
and led home.
© 2000

(originally published in ByLine)

Today's word: equals

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Solitude






Today's poem was written at a time when I was setting a particular kind of challenge for myself with my writing: Take a randomly-selected word and define it, not in dictionary terms, but in personal, human terms ... terms that readers would understand for having lived or witnessed some of them.

It helped that I had some experiences to call on ... the relative isolation of a rural upbringing ... military service ... being "alone" on a crowded subway in New York City.

It helps, too, to be able to block out present surroundings, for at least those few minutes of the writing exercise ... all of those things of the moment which are the opposite, in this instance, of the word you're trying to define: friends, family, companions, even the voices coming from the TV in the other room ...

The poem, originally published in Shawnee Silhouette:

SOLITUDE

It's not just
the hollow, echoing
sound of nights;
days can be
lonely, too,
with a consuming
emptiness spreading,
crinkling as it burns
the thin paper of time
on which we scratch
the names of our thoughts.
With no one to touch,
no one to hear,
no one to care
that we exist,
there is no breaching
the walls of that cell
in which we are locked,
listening as the minutes
slide into hours,
pyramiding themselves
into coldness,
the absolute zero
of solitude.

© 1996

Today's word: emptiness

Monday, September 19, 2016

Now They Offer






Story of my life. 

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

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

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

And now I just walk, walk, walk.

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

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

The poem:


NOW THEY OFFER

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

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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Morning Songs





Back in the days when I was known as "The Cake Man" among my co-workers, it was, as you might guess, my favorite food. Any kind of cake could get my attention ... and have me reaching for a fork at the same time.


Even the smell of a freshly-baked cake would catch my attention as little else could.


I still relish the smell of that now-forbidden food.


Where am I going with this? I'm wandering just a bit down memory lane. Just as I still relish the smell of a freshly-baked cake, I relish old memories.


They don't feed me like present events do, but they bring me comfort ... and I like that.


I certainly don't live in the past ... any more than I can experience a future which hasn't arrived yet. I do like to pay visits to some events of the past, though ... just like I enjoy "visits" to the possibilities of a future which lies vaguely ahead somewhere out there.


That said, the poem:


MORNING SONGS


Cold mornings,
when I fold
my towel, drape it
again on the rack,
I sometimes hear
the music of eggs
sizzling, gravy
burbling softly
in the frying pan,
coffee perking,
leaping against
its knobbed glass
ceiling, muttering
in darkening tones,
and sometimes
I catch the scent
of that kitchen,
that magic time
 
so distant, but
still wafting.
© 1998
(originally published in Moose Bound Press)


Today's word: sizzling

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Let Them Rollick






Still another poem about writing, another piece of evidence attesting to my quest ... not to present myself as an expert on the subject ... I'm not ... but to come nearer to an understanding of the mystery of writing.

And it is a mystery.

I often sit down to write a random thought or two, but I seldom know where this is going to lead. I almost never know the ending when I begin. That reveals itself as I permit myself to be led by the words ... "these hungry words," if you will.

Indeed, I like to let them sit at the table of my understanding, and I listen carefully to what they have to say.

Speaking of listening, try reading this one aloud ... no audience required ... simply read it to yourself again. I think it's a poem that begs to be read aloud ... or at least given another silent reading, but with an ear to the repeated sounds. 

I liked the sound of it when it first offered itself to me. I liked it through several revisions. I hope you'll find something in it to like now: 

LET THEM ROLLICK


Please don't let these
words just lie there,
losing their body warmth
to an indifference
that deepens like dust.

Let them roam the range
of your experience,
wander the gentle slopes
of meaning, become
attuned to music that

echoes from your past,
let them have rein
to gallop toward sense.
Please let these hungry
words sit at the table
of your understanding,

let them traverse
your tongue, gather
speed and light, and
rollick, really rollick.
 © 2002
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: rollick

Friday, September 16, 2016

It's Not Easy




Well, yes, one of my favorite bridges, at Cox Arboretum (again), but at a slightly different season ... and with people on it this time.


OK, so I was having a little fun with an idea when I wrote today's poem.

Still, it seems to speak to me, at least, of the impatience that seems to crowd into everyday life.

I hop into Little Frisky (successor to our aging Little Red Car) and head to the grocery ... I get honked at when I don't start up quickly enough as a traffic light turns from red to green ... I don't select a cart as quickly as others ... I don't yield enough times to other shoppers at the ends of the aisles ... I seem to be holding up the checkout line as I fumble for the exact change ... and on the way home ... well, I get honked at again ...

Oh, I get impatient, too.

We don't have time for all that today, though. I can see that some of you are starting to fidget. Let's just say that I have my share of impatience, mainly with myself ... and the time it seems to take me to complete simple tasks these days.

I was thinking about that when I wrote today's poem, I guess.

I really would like to be a more patient person. 

I really would, except ... well, you'll soon enough see what the "except" is about, when you read today's short piece (meanwhile, thanks for your patience):


IT'S NOT EASY

I admire people
who have patience.
I wish I had
more myself,
and I'm working
on it, but it just
seems to take
so long to learn. 
 © 1996

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