Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Morning Song






As some of you may know by now ... I grew up in a rural area ... in the hill country of Southern Illinois, as a matter of fact.

No surprise, then, that today's poem ... an attempt to paint some images with as few words as possible ... has roots that go all the way back there.

No, I didn't live on a farm. 

By the time I came along, my grandparents had opted for a smaller place ... just big enough to have a few cats, a few chickens, a dog, rows of berries, corn, potatoes, a couple of fruit-bearing trees, and ... my favorite place ... a grape arbor.

But we were well within earshot of several farms ... and their sounds  ... their music, if you will.

One of my favorite numbers involved a barn door sliding open ... and a tractor rolling out with its throaty song all about work.

So there you are ... and here's the poem:

MORNING SONG

First light comes
stealing across
slumbering fields,
a door slides open
like muffled thunder
rolling, distant,
then, on the breeze,
a tractor's song.
 © 1995
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: slumbering

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Let Them Try






Another poem about writing, the concentration it demands ... and the distractions which intrude, especially if the writing is being done in an attic room -- er, studio -- and the squirrels are playing games overhead.


Before we had our maple trimmed, our roof seemed to be a favorite gathering spot for those rascals.


It sounded like they were having squirrel conventions up there, or the Squirrel Olympics, maybe even doing some line dancing, although I couldn't hear the music, just those little feet, back and forth, back and forth ... back and forth ...


Oh, there were moments of quiet ... I suppose while they were choosing up sides again ... plotting their next moves. During these suspenseful moments I could get a few words written. Then the commotion resumed.


As I recall, my first draft, instead of talking about "teeny-tiny feet," said something about "obnoxious little feet," but I mellowed a bit after that.


In the quiet that followed the trimming of those overhanging limbs, I guess mellowing was to be expected.


Oh, and I purposely kept the lines short ... in order to underscore the tension of writing under such pressure.

The poem:


LET THEM TRY

Squirrels go
trickling across
my green roof
while I write,
trying to break
my concentration.

Hah! Let them
try. I am so
focused not even
booming thunder
could faze me;
certainly not
this constant
pitter-patter,
pitter-patter,
pitter-patter,
pit of their
teeny-tiny feet.
© 2001
(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)
Today's word: pitter-patter

Monday, November 28, 2016

Hard Times






Not all of my poems are about sunsets, the beauty of cobblestone clouds, the wafting scent of roses. Life has a gritty side, too, and some of my poems reflect that.

This encounter came a long time ago at a bus stop, a favorite trolling spot for panhandlers. 


There was a time when I would almost automatically hand over a bit of change. I could remember tough times, too.


But I had grown tired of being hit up day after day. My initial response was not very charitable, I know, but I relented. I imagine there's a lesson in there someplace, perhaps having something to do with the poor sparrows of this world.


The poem appeared in Pebble Lake Review's Fall/Winter issue of 2005, and now is part of a manuscript (Strawberry Wine) in search of a publisher.

And here it is:

HARD TIMES

Suddenly he's in my face,

dirty, wind-blown, muttering, 

Spare a quarter? Refusing to let

his question assault me,

I turn away. Then back. My own
No, can you? comes spilling out

like a shot, freezing us there
in the snow-blasted morning

until finally his uncertain
chuckle descends into breath-

stealing, chest-stabbing coughs
and I fish deep in the warmth

of a pocket for a quarter,
hand it over, stand watching

as he moves away, this poor,

tattered sparrow with his crumb.
© 2006

Today's word: tattered

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Frozen Pond





There were a lot of ponds in the area where I grew up, but this poem is about one particular pond ... on the property where my brothers and sisters lived at that time.


When I got to visit them (but that's another story), it was our favorite gathering place. I did my first fishing there. I went sledding down the hill and out onto the ice of that pond.


It was one of the first places I wanted to see when I came home on furlough after completing basic training.


Years later, during a visit back to Illinois, I drove out in that area to show my wife that pond. But the house was gone, the land was overgrown, and we didn't even get a glimpse of the pond.


For all I know, the pond may not even exist now, but it's very much alive in my memory. The poem was originally published in Capper's ... and I know, I know ... some of you have heard it before ... but it talks to me about a special place ... and I hope you won't mind.


The poem:


THE FROZEN POND


The pond was always home
for wayward leaves,
adding, in late summer,
the yellowed offerings
of the black walnut tree,
then the reds and golds
of maple and tulip trees,
like tiny boats lazing
among the ducks, twirling
at the tiniest stirrings
of air or water, remaining
trapped below the surface
when winter came, as though
waiting for us to come
thundering down the hill
on our sleds, out onto
the ice, that marvelous,
jeweled surface spinning
us around and around,
our laughter spilling out,
still echoing back.
© 1998

Today's word: echoing

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Early Morning






I'm not a power walker ... I don't pump my arms like a windmill ... my legs aren't a blur ... and the only time I pass anyone is when they're going in the opposite direction.

But I do walk.

Mornings are best, I've found. If I walk in the afternoon ... especially if that means missing my nap ... I'm a grumpy walker ... and I have more than the usual difficulty in maintaining a forward motion. I just don't seem to have as much energy.

So the morning it is.

Well, there I was ... walking ... actually, struggling a bit on the uphill climb during a morning walk out in Illinois. 

Although we were on vacation ... particularly because we were on vacation ... I was out early for my daily walk.

Summertime. Southern Illinois can be pretty steamy then. The air gets heavy, the legs are laboring, the lungs struggling ... and there I am (puff-puff), trying to make it up the hill. And then ...

But let's go to the poem:


Early Morning

I'm walking along, enjoying the prospect
of maybe making it all the way to the top
of a stubborn hill, when three young ladies

in very short shorts go legging it past me
and out of sight, as though I were standing
stump-still, but I really can't help admiring

the way they've crested the hill, left me
there, still laboring up the slope, recalling
a time when I might have overtaken them,

instead, and gone breezing past, but now
I feel my legs flagging, beginning to burn,
and I'm wondering if I can reach the top

(please be still, my thudding heart), and if
I do, whether I'll catch a glimpse of them
while I'm struggling to catch my breath.
© 2007

(received a third place award in a Dayton Metro Library poetry contest)

Today's word: thudding

Friday, November 25, 2016

Departure































Today's poem is not literally true. If it were, it would be about the heat of summer ... like Southern Illinois was when I left home to go into military service.


I've looked back many times on that departure.


I had won a scholarship to study at a Big Ten university. Trouble was, it didn't include bus fare ... and I didn't have any way to get there.


Oh, I had been assured, in a form letter, that there would be part-time employment opportunities ... when I got to campus ... but I never got there ... not to that particular campus, at least.


Instead, I let the scholarship go to someone else ... and entered the only door open to me at the time ... military service.


It was certainly a turning point in my life, a new beginning. It was the biggest move I'd made in my young life. There were to be others. Many others. But none quite as wrenching as this decision ... which had been forced on me.


What I've tried to capture in this metaphor for growing up ... for that entry into what passes for independence ... is the feeling of loneliness that creeps in, the sudden sensation of isolation, the cold, of looking back, being torn between what was ... what is going to be.


The poem:


DEPARTURE

I looked back once,
seeing lights
grown small now,
and dim, silently
giving up their warmth
to the bare-limbed trees.


I kept walking
through the weeping snow,
my collar upturned
against any call
that might somehow
overtake me.
© 1995
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)
Today's word: loneliness

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Buddy






This one was written a long time ago, but the memories remain strong.


I might as well tell you now, Buddy was a Beagle, much in evidence in the neighborhood ... his neighborhood ... his yard ... and sometimes in his vehicle, as his people took him along for the ride.


But, as the poem relates, he was often indoors, too ... at the window, looking out on the world. Often, when I'd look out to see if it was raining, or snowing, or a sunny day suitable for a stroll in the neighborhood, there would be Buddy looking out his window, too.


Buddy moved away a long time ago, but the memories remain, and I still sometimes expect to see him looking back at me from across the street.


The poem:



BUDDY

Sometimes,
when I'm alone,
I look out
my front window,
and there's Buddy,
staring back at me
from across the way.


Resting his chin
on the back
of his gray sofa,
he trains a sharp eye
on the street,
watching for dogs,
or squirrels,
or maybe even cats.


He watches, puzzled
that I have no leash
as I trot off
on my daily rounds,
for I'm sure
Buddy must think
I'm a Beagle, too,
as house-bound
and lonely as he.
©1996


(originally published in Anterior Poetry Monthly)

Today's word: house-bound

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

After Shopping





Chances are, if you've done any shopping at all, you've seen someone searching for a car. This poem is about that. It came to me on one of those hot summer days ... not a good time to do that kind of searching.

It seemed to me that the couple I had observed was confronted with a lot of choices, a lot of directions to go, among a whole sea of vehicles ... "oceans" occurred to me. I kept going with that, explained their predicament, then concluded by detailing my own problems.

"Losing" your car like that isn't really funny ... until later. I know. Been there, done that.

I shared this poem one evening with an audience at an "open mike" program. The person who followed me to the microphone explained that cars are so hard to find after shopping, "because they all trade places while we're inside."

You know, I can almost believe that.

The poem, originally published in Capper's, now part of a collection entitled Strawberry Wine, in search of a publisher:

AFTER SHOPPING

Oceans of vehicles
heave and settle
in the parking lot,
and a sea of traffic
goes shimmering
toward the horizon.

While she sails
steadily on,
gripping the tiller
of a wobbly cart,
he remains awash
in her wake, keys
dangling forlornly
from a finger.

They're looking,
looking, lost.

I'd like to tell
them not to despair,
but I have other
fish to fry: Celery
wilting, a cabbage
shaking its head,
potatoes rolling
their eyes over my
chances of ever
finding my own car,
the poor ice cream
beginning to beg me
for mouth-to-mouth
resuscitation.
© 2006

Today's word: resuscitation

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What'll You Have?









(Yes, I took the photograph ... I don't remember where or when, exactly ... but it's mine, all mine)





One of the early things I learned about sending my poems off into the company of strangers ... on the chance that some very busy person might pause to read, to savor, to accept something I'd written ... is that there's an awful lot of rejection involved.

In fact, unless you have editors writing to you, begging you to submit something, it's mostly rejection.

Not long after my first acceptance, I thought I was having a particularly good run of luck, so I did the math and found I had an acceptance rate of 12 per cent.

Of course, while achieving that "hot streak," I was also having an 88 per cent rate of rejection.

"What'll You Have?" was probably written during one of those intervals when no math was necessary to tell me my rejection rate was high, high, high.

How nice it would be, I thought, if, instead of sending my poems all over creation, I could just have a little shop on a quiet little street ... a place where editors could drop in when they felt the need for a poem.

I would have poems on the wall, on the shelves, in racks ... all over the place ... even "teetering in the back room of my mind." I would, of course, hope that visitors would find something they simply couldn't live without.

I have yet to realize my dream of becoming the proprietor of a poetry boutique, catering primarily to editors, but at least this one little poem apparently did make a favorable impression on the poetry editor at 
ByLine, and there I was, way back in '96, dancing on the table again. How sweet it was!

The poem:


WHAT'LL YOU HAVE?


Poems, lady?
What would you like?
I have these
written in the nights
of my despair,
a few over there
when I felt better.


A love poem?
Not much in demand
these days, but I may
be able to find one
somewhere on the shelf.


No picks among these?
I have more written,
on the back racks,
aging a bit
before they travel,
and, of course,
stacks and stacks
teetering recklessly
in the back room
of my mind.

© 1996

Today's word: teetering

Monday, November 21, 2016

Unsinkable Tulips






My photo may not show a profusion of tulips, as alluded to in the poem, but I think it does sort of go with today's offering.


I like the way this small group cups the sunlight, how the vibrant color seems to speak of spring.  


I like to keep that in mind ... as I often do ... and you may hear me repeating myself on this ... when we're struggling through another Ohio winter: Remember, this brings us another day closer to ...


That's right ... SPRING ... real spring!

I know, I know ... winter has some visual assets, too ... some snows can be beautiful ... but at the price of bitter cold ... and the cold seems to become more bitter as I age.


But then I keep reminding myself (and any who will listen) that we're another day closer to ... ah, yes, spring ... and I survive the winter.


Meanwhile, the poem:


UNSINKABLE TULIPS

We fretted over
spring's unseasonable
warmth, then frost, snow,
bitter, freezing nights,
and our hopes withered,
but here you are
again, reds and yellows
defiantly brilliant,
leaving us wondering
why we ever doubted.
© 2002

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: profusion

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Treacherous Dust




























Do things still get dusty? 


You bet. At least things in the vicinity of my usual haunts, the corner where my computer sits, waiting for the familiar touch of my flying fingers ... the file cabinet where treasured bits of writing are stored ... even one of my favorite reading chairs in another corner.


My earliest exposure to the never-ending battle against dust came as I watched my grandmother fighting it. 


I remember how those motes rose in the sunbeams invading the house, then settled back. I'm sure she managed to capture many of them with her dusting cloth, but it was those which escaped that I found most intriguing.


I imagine they're still up to their old tricks, because I can dust the screen of my computer in the evening, and the next day they're back, lurking, smirking, daring me to try again.


This poem, originally published in Capper's, is my tribute to those dust particles:


TREACHEROUS DUST


Resting at will,
but never sleeping,
it rises lazily
ahead of the cloth,
starts settling
back on everything
the very minute
your back's turned.
© 1996

Today's word: motes

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Someday, Yes!


















(Another of my little watercolor sketches, possibly taken from real life ... or maybe just from memory)

I think I grow by pushing, reaching, imagining, achieving ... pushing myself into areas where I may have been reluctant to go ... reaching for new challenges ... imagining what it is like to "clear the crossbar" at a height I have never before reached ... achieving small increments of progress on which I can build.

I use the metaphor of the high-jump in this poem, because it encompasses the approach I used in training. 

It turned out that I was a better sprinter than jumper, but I still think there is something to be learned from the metaphor, of setting the crossbar higher, challenging myself.


As for dancing up out of the pit, I see that coming someday, not because I have become better than someone else ... that's not my aim ... but because I have simply become a better person as a result of setting my own goals and working toward them.

I'll keep trying ... and trying ... and trying. And someday ... YES!


The poem, originally published in Capper's:


SOMEDAY, YES!

I keep setting
the crossbar higher
on personal goals,
practicing harder
on my approach,
take-off, landing,
working toward
that height
my mind's eye
sees as my limit,
that level I will
someday clear,
adrenalin pumping,
glitter of sawdust
showering off me
as I come dancing
up out of the pit
into the circle
of winners. Yes!
© 1998

Today's word: increments

Friday, November 18, 2016

Reaching Out







I'm not sure where or when this poem actually began. 

Poems sometimes have a way of hanging around ... lurking ... waiting for the right moment ... and then presenting themselves to me.

I think this one had its roots in the time and place where I grew up. We lived on a small piece of land just outside a small farming community, so it was not truly a lonely existence, in the sense of being a stranger among strangers.

We knew everybody ... and I presume everybody knew us. We were among friends.

Still, there were times of loneliness, times when there were no playmates, times when there was nobody to talk to, except my grandparents ... who were rearing me ... and they were sometimes occupied with their own concerns.

So I think this poem may have been speaking to that time and place, particularly with its reference to the hills ... "my voice flying" ... "someone hearing, answering" ... but I really think it speaks of a hopeful outcome.

We could all use a bit of that.

And now the poem:

REACHING OUT 


Let me stand
in the clear blue
of morning,
sun rising, warming
the waiting hills,
and my voice flying
through the silence,
someone hearing,
answering, more
than an echo,
a kindred spirit.
© 1998

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: kindred

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A New Leaf





Whoa! Can it be? Almost time to turn over a new leaf, right?

There was a time, children, when ... each month ... we did turn over a new leaf (page) of the calendar ... which was a printed collection of the days, weeks, months of the year ... usually hanging on the wall in the kitchen.


"Turning over a new leaf" also meant that we had resolved to do better at our assigned tasks, to try to become a better person ... and that generally coincided with the end of the year ... out with the old, in with the new.

In my early years, when I was still being shaped by the caring, loving, sacrificing grandmother who reared me, I generally sat down with pencil and paper at the end of the year to pledge my efforts at improvement in the coming year.

I felt I owed her that. I felt I owed it to myself.

I don't do New Year's resolutions now ... haven't written them out for a number of years.

But I think each day ... whether I crawl slowly out of bed, hoping the floor will rise up gently to touch my feet ... or leap out ready to face whatever the day may hold for me ... each day offers this opportunity for that "new leaf" ... a new beginning of sorts.

I've encountered some detours along the way. But here I am, still plodding along, still being drawn along by what may lie ahead, around the next bend in the road.

So I guess I do think sometimes about that "new leaf," too.

Meanwhile, the poem:


A NEW LEAF

How soothing the sound
of it, like the feel
of clean sheets, crisp
and cool to the touch,
hinting airy freshness
as we snuggle in.
How comforting it is
to lie here thinking
of this whole new year
fresh and inviting,
opening the prospect
that things might be
better, perhaps could
be, if we could just
approach each new day
with the same sense
of purpose we feel
at this moment.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: freshness

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Mother's Song






Today's photo is just a sample ... a sip, if you will ... of the blossoms on the dogwood tree which graces the front lawn of the place I called Brimm Manor.


It seemed to outdo itself each year ... and I took great comfort in its abundance ... its splendor ... the quiet beauty that it brought to those who paused to consider it. I also did some paintings with it as the subject, and they grace our apartment now. 


But the poem ... I think I sometimes get in the way of the poem by talking too much about it, instead of letting it speak for itself.


It's a bad habit, I know, and I'm trying to break it.


Still, there are times when I feel that just a few more words are needed ... to set the stage for the poem ... to give it a bit more depth.


Let me just say that I was thinking about this poem when I woke up.


As some of you know, I was reared by my grandparents. I learned early, I think, the meaning within the saying, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."


There was a certain longing, a searching for explanations where there were none. I never knew, precisely, why I grew up with neither of my parents.


I did have my grandparents at my side, though, guiding me, nudging me on, hoping I would turn out OK.


Through it all I tried to search out and cling to earliest memories ... of both my parents ... and I have some which have helped to sustain me through the years.


Today's poem deals with one of those early memories.


The poem:


MOTHER'S SONG


It was so long ago,
perhaps in a dream,
or certainly before I knew
the meanings of words,
but I felt the music
of her fine soprano voice
caressing, soothing me,
and how I wish I could
sing that same gentle
song back to her now,
saying softly, sweetly,
simply, I love you.
© 2000

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)

Today's word: soothing