Monday, October 31, 2016

The Mouse




(Just another of my randomly-shot photos ... I think I was impressed by the play of light against the clouds, the contrast with the landscape below)

What I started out to talk about was today's poem, based, as are most of mine, on the material at hand ... you know, tangible stuff ... things I understand ... at least sorta ...

Now that I think about it, though, it seems that this particular poem kind of tells its own story, so here goes: 


THE MOUSE

I slept serenely one blustery night
while a timorous sweet-toothed mouse
stole into my house, chewed a jagged
hole in the right-hand pocket of my
old blue robe and took a foil-wrapped
chocolate by surprise.

Discovering the theft, I, Superior
Creature I, smiled at such waste
when my poor pocket was open
all the time.

But who has dined on prized chocolate?
And who stands here holding crumpled
foil while a finger waggles foolishly
from a hole?
© 1998

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: timorous

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Line Dancing







Sometimes what appears to be one thing is actually another.

It's not really a secret ... a little surprise, maybe ... but not really a secret. There's a reason that I'm treading carefully with this introduction. I don't want to give away the surprise.

Perhaps I've already said too much.

Some of you will have figured out what the surprise is. I hope that doesn't spoil your reading of the poem.

And now, before I give it all away, here's the poem:

LINE DANCING

Movement trickles
along the line,
rising, billowing,

falling, undulating.
Dancers pause,
regroup, aligned.

Tentatively they
resume swaying,
echoing the moves.

Legs flick, snap,
arms reach, fall,
then reach again.

The line quivers,
flutters and flaps.
Sagging, it rests;

itinerant breezes
have glided away
to other laundry.
© 1998

(originally published in Moose Bound Press)

Today's word: swaying

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Hungry Eyes Feasting





















This is one of my dream poems. No, I'm not saying it approaches perfection ... not in any respect. It's a poem about one of my dreams.

It seemed so real to me because it took place in familiar surroundings, much of it in my home neighborhood. The familiar went streaming through my sleep, in one of those dreams which seem to go forever.

I thought it would never end ... especially when it took the mysterious, sinister overtones of my feeling that, although I was on a deserted street, I was being watched.

Usually I wake up, the dream bubble bursts, and that's that.

Not this time.

I reached immediately for that pad and pen which are always nearby, just in case. I'm glad I captured some of those images before they got away from me.

This poem went on to be published in Waterways:

HUNGRY EYES FEASTING

Awash in the buzz and crackle wafting from
The Hillside Tavern’s enchanted neon signs,
I wake to the sound of nothing in my room,
Find the aching cold of yesterday's shoes,
Then, exploring the hall's echoing darkness,
Hear the ticking clock, the click of the lock
Before I go strolling past houses haunted
By the absence of dreams, empty windows
Staring back, thousands of broken promises
That will not be mended - not this night;
Slowly I march to the song of something
I can almost hear, feel its hungry eyes
Feasting on me, sense its crouching, tensing,
Preparing to pounce, and I dare not scream.
© 2005

Today's word: feasting

Friday, October 28, 2016

Grandpa Will Getcha






Okay, maybe I'm rushing the season a bit ... or maybe I'm late ... or maybe I'm a bit confused (so what else is new?) ... I seem to be bumping into a lot of pumpkins these days ... but I'm also seeing a lot of Christmas items on display in the stores.

We are approaching Halloween, aren't we?

One of these years, I suppose, all of the designated commercial holidays will be combined into one giant celebration ... taking up a whole week ... or maybe a whole month ... or how about the entire year?


Be that as it may ... this poem, based on an early frightening experience, is further evidence of why I write very few rhyming poems – and perhaps shouldn't attempt any.

I keep telling friends and fellow writers that I find it very difficult to advance the story line while maintaining even a semblance of meter and rhyme. It's true. So true.

To borrow a phrase, it's hard work. Really hard work.

But, with much labor in this instance, the dirty deed was done. The poem was sent out to mingle with strangers, found a friend at one magazine, and was published.

The poem:

GRANDPA WILL GETCHA


It was a dark Halloween night
With nary a goblin in sight,
No place to go, nothin' to do.
Where to turn, I hadn't a clue.

But wait! My brain just clicked on:
SOAP A FEW WINDOWS flicked on,
And quickly it was bar to pane,
Making abstract strokes, in the main.

Then, looking in, what did I see?
My Grandpa, looking out at me.
No little smile did he bestow
As he swiftly took me in tow.

So with a pail and a wet sponge
My fine art I had to expunge
Till the windows were far cleaner
Than they had been. My demeanor?

Subdued now. A tad smarter, too:
Soaping our own was dumb, it's true,
And getting caught was SO SCARY
The next time I was more wary.
© 1997 

(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)


Today's word: scary

Thursday, October 27, 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, October 26, 2016

Encounter







(The illustration has nothing to do with today's poem ... I just felt like sharing my little watercolor with you)

It was such a strange encounter. I was startled, but not frightened. After all, it just took me a second or two to realize that what I was seeing was my own reflection.

But I'll never forget that feeling, as I turned slowly, not thinking about anything in particular ... perhaps about where my bus was, when it would pull up at that corner ... and there was this reflection in the store window, a reflection so much like the image of my grandfather, one I had carried in memory for so many years ...

I had never thought that I looked very much like him. Still, that first glance at the reflection was like seeing him again ... my reaction, as I saw it in that window, was like seeing him reach out for me ... again ... as he did when I was just two years old, and needed a home.

It didn't occur to me to rush home and write about the encounter. I wasn't writing poetry then. But, much later, when I began learning the practice of sitting in a quiet place, waiting for the words to come to me, these are the ones that made their presence known to me:

ENCOUNTER

There was no mistaking the slope

of his shoulders, the shape
of his head; it was my grandfather
staring from the store window
while I stood in sprinkling rain
waiting for an afternoon bus.


I recalled how it was raining
when I had stood in uniform
at his deathbed in that darkened
room, how I had wanted to say
things he could not hear, how I
had finally broken and wept.


And now, all these years later,
I watched as he reached his hand
toward me, the unwanted child,
then, as I stood watching his image
blur in the rain against the window,

we knew I had finally become him.
© 2003

(part of my first collection of poetry, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003)


Today's word: image

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dare I Ask?







My usual approach is to select a poem, write something about it, then try to find a suitable illustration, photo or otherwise.

However, while skimming through my backlog of pictures, I ran across my own photo of a wheelbarrow ... an old, old wheelbarrow loaded with wood, sitting beside a reconstructed log cabin ... so I began with it instead.

I took the photo because the composition appealed to me ... the horizontals of the cabin, the sweep of the wheelbarrow bed, the slightly skewed circle of the wheel, the curving ends of the sticks of wood.

I snapped it as a possibility for a future painting. I'm intrigued by old things, the challenge of preserving that look, but with a touch of freshness in the painting itself.

In this case, I also gave the photo a sepia tone, thus enhancing the feeling of oldness. I may or may not try to carry that over into an eventual painting.

The photo selection made, the choice of a poem remained.

Aha! I remembered this one, "Dare I Ask?" True enough, it's about a wheelbarrow, but a much younger one than that in the photo.

It's mainly that hand-lettered sign that lingers in my memory, those moments of standing there, looking at that sign, imagining the red wheelbarrow and all its possibilities.

It's a poem about human frailty. We're stopped in our tracks by the prospect of owning something we need not, must not, have. And yet we're tempted, at least, to take a look.

The poem:

DARE I ASK?

"Red Wheelbarrow for Sale," says

the small hand-lettered sign that
flutters like a special invitation to me
as I slow my pace, pause to look.
I'm intrigued. Not green, nor gray,
nor just a plain old wheelbarrow,
but red. I can see myself strolling
home pushing that beautiful red ...
What am I doing? I don't really
need one, haven't a place to put it,
my wife would probably kill me.
Still, maybe just a quick peek?
© 2002

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: peek

Monday, October 24, 2016

Conversations




Today's poem is about those spring-time "conversations" which seem to go on so furiously around ponds. Frogs! There seem to be hundreds ... maybe thousands ... of them, all adding their voices to the din.


I remember them well from the place where I grew up ... they seemed to be in especially good voice at night ... somehow conveying a certain kind of "all's well" to the listener.


But, feeling my way back through the fog of memory, I don't think I heard them last year. Maybe I just wasn't in the right place at the right time.


Could it be that I haven't been listening? Or that I've simply ... well, forgotten?


Meanwhile, today's poem:


CONVERSATIONS

How vexing to hear
the voices of those
I could not see
abruptly going silent,
like the gabble of pupils
halting in the presence
of a new teacher.


Then, after I'd passed,
renewed murmur of gossip
growing rumor-upon-rumor,
going mouth-to-ear, flying
too swiftly to follow,
too dense to filter
into any semblance
of real meaning.


If I dared step too near,
I heard sounds like stones
plopping into water,
new silence ascending,
a sense of being watched
by large, careful eyes
judging me from the depths
of a green-coated pond.
© 1997

(originally published in M.O.O.N. Magazine)

Today's word: gabble

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Brittle Poems





Still another poem about writing, but without any technical advice.


No how to- piece. Instead, some sounds, some images painted with words.


Add a bit of a twist with "fireflies ... looking for someone with a jar," and there you have it.


Many of my poems are "little thoughts" ... whether they blink on and off is another matter ... but they are ordinary little topics, depending a great deal on what the reader brings to them for completion.


Also, I keep saying that poems are meant to be shared ... so much depends on "someone who/ will catch them, enjoy/ them, let them fly again."


And there are so many out there worthy of being caught ... enjoyed ... shared.


The poem:

BRITTLE POEMS

My poems are written
on brittle paper, little
thoughts that blink
on and off like fireflies
scouring summer nights
looking for someone
with a jar, a quick
hand, someone who
will catch them, enjoy
them, let them fly again.
 © 2001
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: brittle

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Autumn Trees





(One of the photos I took during a visit to Pondview)



Yes, my children, there was a time ... no, not back in the days of the dinosaurs ... a little more recent than that ... when there were candy stores, and others, I suppose, which sold their sweet wares for a penny apiece (I hear that the price has gone up a bit since then).

The poem is not about the penny candy store, exactly, but it helps if you can bear that image in mind as you work your way through. 

Imagine, if you will, a place where there are so many choices all around you, each one seemingly more appealing than the one you just hovered over, and that one over there ... so mouth-watering alluring that you simply must have it.


No, wait ... there's another one.


Transfer that to a tree-lined highway at its autumn peak, you're driving along enjoying ... well, you've got the picture. This one was originally published in Capper's:


AUTUMN TREES 


Lining the highway
like penny candies,
they invite us
to pick this one,
no, maybe that one
there, each seeming
a little prettier,
more alluring,
all bidding wildly
for those precious
pennies clutched
in our sweaty hand.

© 1998 

Today's word: alluring 

Friday, October 21, 2016

At Sunset





I can usually recall the starting point ... the impetus ... of something I've written. Not so in this case.

It might be because I've written so many. It becomes a bit difficult to recall precisely what triggered each one.

I have a feeling, though, that this one promised to be a longer piece ... perhaps a short story. I was letting my imagination run free on this scene from the close of the day. I'm not sure where it was headed ... its ultimate destination.

Writing is like that sometimes. I always like to get the words on paper ... those bits and pieces of thought which come to me of their own accord ... for, on later reflection ... and a bit of tweaking ... they may turn into something worth keeping and sharing.

This one didn't go on to bigger things. But I liked the descriptive phrases, and it appears that the editor liked them, too.

With that, here's the poem:


AT SUNSET


Dying embers of day
arc slowly on drapes
drawn tightly
like an old man's mouth
sealed against saying
that which must
not be said. His room,
steeped in darkness,
recalls a steely pool
of tension, burdened
dome of sky,
dark leaves stirring
now, a gathering
of thoughts seeking
shelter for the night.
© 1999

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: steeped

Thursday, October 20, 2016

An Iowa Night


 




















Time flies.


It seems such a short time ago that I was there in Iowa, participating in that study ... but it was actually many years ago ...


We had come from all parts of the country that summer, people from various professions, gathering at the University of Iowa for an intensive study of biography.


I was one of the participants in that National Endowment for the Humanities seminar. I had looked forward to it as a means of escaping, if only briefly, a work situation with constantly demanding deadlines.


What could be better than to get far, far away from that, to focus on something entirely different?


Deadlines? Oh, we had those in the seminar ... every day. We had a mountain of reading material to cover, to digest, to discuss. It was definitely not playtime.


But it was valuable ... when I returned to work, and all these years later. It helped to steer me in the direction of more writing and, eventually, into what I'm still doing today, exploring the avenues of poetry and a bit of art.


Today's poem recalls one particular evening when we were invited out to the rural home of our seminar moderator.


I recall our standing on the porch ... but let's let the poem tell it:


AN IOWA NIGHT


Day's work done, we
gathered on a farm porch,
watching the lush, dark
corn trembling toward us
as rain slid
through the dusk.


No towering buildings
muffled the crumpling
thunder, no traffic
softened the sound
of plump drops spattering
thirsting shingles.


It was the velvet edge
of an Iowa night.


I have bridged back
to it many times, seeking
those faces, wondering
what happened next,
what the others became,
where they are now.
© 1997


(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review; also included in my first collection of poems, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press in 2003)

Today's word: wondering

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Under the Oaks





The oaks may have been "massive" only as their size was relative to my own, but they did seem to be towering, dominating, clustered there at the foot of the bluffs.

But the shade was mossy. I am positive of that.


Where the memory may be playing tricks ... it was a long time ago, you know ... is that the young trees I remember may not have been oaks at all. They could well have been hickory, or even maple.


Still, I like to think of them as "understudies," waiting for their turn in the spotlight ... in the sun.


I suppose there is some deeper lesson to be taken from this. Perhaps I had some application to humans in mind when I wrote the poem ... or it might just have been a little piece about trees. 


Oh, and the illustration? It's a digital photograph I snapped because the leaves reminded me of a painting by Georgia O'Keeffe.


The poem:


UNDER THE OAKS


I really admire
the persistence
of those small
trees struggling
in the mossy shade
of massive oaks,
understudies
learning their
lines, patiently
waiting their
turn to take
the stage, too.

© 2001

(originally published in Capper's)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Snowy Kingdom







(Another of my little watercolor sketches, here for an encore appearance)




It began with something somebody said a few days ago, I think. As I recall, they mentioned snow ... the prospect of snow ... some distance away now (I hope), but still an eventual prospect.


That was enough to bring to mind memories of times when ... well, when there was more than the prospect of snow. It was falling steadily, piling up, drifting ... looking like it was going to hang around forever.


The mere mention of snow was enough to set my mental wheels into motion ... spinning, that is. That brought to mind today's poem ... one that you may have seen before.


I hope you don't mind this "encore" appearance ... and I really hope my mentioning snow doesn't bring about an actual visit by it ... not yet, at least.



The poem:

SNOWY KINGDOM

Swirling flakes
made soft landings
in the night,
leaving the mailbox
newly-crowned
and a row of cedars
bowing obediently
in its direction.

© 1994

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: swirling

Monday, October 17, 2016

Morning Stroll





It could have been Anyplace, USA, and perhaps it was.

I don't think I had a specific site in mind when I wrote it. I lived and worked a lot of places in the Midwest where there were bridges, steeples, rooftops to receive those early morning rays.

During a couple of military stints, I saw places outside the Midwest, of course, but the Midwest is where I'm rooted, where these morning impressions, I'm sure, were received and stored away.

Even as a child, once I got my eyes open and my tennis shoes on my feet, I found something peaceful about those precious minutes when the sun was just climbing over the hill, preparing to fill the valley with warmth and light.

Much of my adult work life required that I be up before the sun.

Again, despite my groggy condition at that hour, I would sometimes glimpse something in first light that would stay with me much of that day ... the fiery glow of light against a window ... light and shadow on a steeple ... or even distant cars "fluttering into movement."

Strange, but I did sometimes feel that I should move softly about, in order to avoid disturbing those who were a part of this tranquil scene ... or for fear of somehow disturbing the scene itself.

And this from one who has never really been a morning person.

The poem:

MORNING STROLL

The town seems
so deep in sleep
as early light
goes streaming
across rooftops,
touching steeples,
moving on
to where cars
are fluttering
into movement
near the bridge,
that I stroll
ever so softly,
taking care
not to disturb.
© 2000

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

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Loss of a Tree





















Today's photo is one I took during an autumn stroll at Cox Arboretum. The poem is part of my third small collection, 
Wood Smoke, published by Finishing Line Press:


LOSS OF A TREE

Streets, the inexorable ooze of cities,
were already there when you arrived
to be ritually planted as recompense

for what had been stolen from the land.
Thus began life among strangers, thirst
of confinement, trimmings when you

reached for wires, the salt-laden spray
of passing cars, signs tacked to your
trunk, bark-scarring injury from a van

run amok. Despite abuse, neglect, you grew
through recession, depression, ebb and flow
of fashion, through those times called

war, interludes known as peace. You grew
over the curb, began upending sidewalk,
but provided shade for strollers, let fall

showers of crinkled leaves for children
to go kicking through. Finally, when winds
tried to break you, but, failing that,

uprooted you with a horrible groan, you
took with you an anachronistic jumble
of flashing trolley wires and lay, silent

and dying in the street, waiting for crews
 

to gather you up, truck you away, leaving
only your winged seed, scattered and golden.
© 2010


Today's word: inexorable

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Inside Job







Regular visitors to "Chosen Words" are aware that I don't often engage in structured verse.


I enjoy reading well-crafted rhyme, but I find the process of making it difficult and frustrating.

This poem is an effort to reconstruct a minor crime that I became witness to as a child. You may notice that some of the details of the poem vary from the official version of what really happened:

We had a screened-in back porch, and a lot of cats. The porch was sometimes, but not always, off-limits to the cats.

Naturally, when my grandparents discovered the cats sitting on the inside looking out, I ... the most innocent of young children ... was the prime suspect.

I had not let the cats in, really. While there was no apparent punishment for my "crime," I was determined to clear my name, and clear it I did.

With careful watching and waiting, I caught the real culprit in the act.

One of our cats ... not "Fuzzy," I hasten to add ... had learned that if he sank his claws into the opening edge of the screen door, he could pull it open just enough for his buddies ... and him ... to slip inside.

I showed my grandparents this feline felon in action ... and we lived happily ever after.

Today's art? 

I know, it doesn't really serve to illustrate today's poem, but I don't seem to have any pictures of six cats peering out the window.

The art is a creation by Grandson Thomas. It  just sort of popped out at me again today, so there it is.

The poem:

INSIDE JOB

When we got home the cats were all
At the front window, looking out;
Six, counting Fuzzy, standing tall,
And purring to themselves, no doubt.
Picture perfect, but then chagrin.
"They were supposed to be waiting
Outside," I heard myself grating.
"That rat, Fuzzy, has let them in."
© 2005

(originally published in Grit magazine)

Today's word: chagrin