Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reunion




(I know, I'm repeating myself with this, but thoughts of summer always bring certain memories to mind ... again ... and again.)

What a great surprise it was when our tired old mailbox offered up a DVD, titled "Homecoming 1988." We relished the memories it stirred ... and we're eternally grateful to our niece, Julie, for having rescued it from old, old movie footage of a  family gathering, then  providing us with this copy ... calling today's poem to mind.

My earliest memories include family reunions ... noisy gatherings, it seemed to me, as people hugged, slapped each other on the back, stood around trading stories ... then there was the food, acres of it, it seemed ... and the bees or yellow jackets who always seemed to know where to find us.

I was puzzled in those early years. I couldn't understand how all these people ... most of them absolute strangers to me ... could possibly know each other ... how they could all be part of the same family.

With time, an understanding of that came. I also came to know ... and need ... that annual gathering of family ... that renewal of links to others ... the mending of neglected fences ... the promises of "same time next year."

Unfortunately, some were destined not to make it to the next reunion ... but they would be remembered as remaining members of the family gathered once more.


I don't know if families still maintain the "reunion" practice. I hope they do.

In my case, though, I've become a dropout, of necessity, since my driving ... all kind of travel, in fact ... is almost entirely local.


But I have my memories of those gatherings ... kept like pressed flowers in the pages of a favorite book. I look at them, one by one, on occasion, and remember ... oh, how I remember ...

The poem:


REUNION
 

Like worn pieces of a jigsaw puzzle,
we came back together, sliding
into place at that agreed-upon time
in the room provided for us, drawn 


by the prospect of a field-hands meal,
the sound of children pattering
and laughing, the clatter and fury
of games, hum of quiet conversations,

memories burnished by renewed handling,
but mostly drawn back to this place
by that strongest pull, family.
It was not as easy as it once was,

this coming back together, but we did
come back from our scattered places
to be near that place where we began
our journeys along a single path,

then diverged as circumstances and
choices led us away, coming back now
to cross paths for this day, at least.
It was a day for remembering those

pieces missing from the puzzle, a day
for savoring the picture we still make
by our presence, a day for a few tears
as we touched scars of old wounds,


a day given over to hugs and handshakes,
welcomings and lingering farewells,
a bittersweet, pressed-flower day,
this coming home, this healing.

© 2008


(from Wood Smoke, my third collection of poems, published by Finishing Line Press in 2008)

Today's word: remembering

Friday, December 30, 2016

Paths That Crossed








After I retired from my "regular" job, I began looking for something else to do, something structured, something which would take me outside these walls on a regular basis, something to ease this void in which I found myself.


I found all of that in becoming a "temp," a temporary worker who had a variety of assignments, doing inventory, sorting, filing, things I could do without stress or strain.


Then I found myself assigned to a project which was expected to last a couple of years, maybe more. What a great assignment that was, working with people of a wide range of ages, from a variety of backgrounds, all of us learning the routines, growing, settling in, enjoying this adventure.


Then another door opened, an offer of "early retirement," which I took. But I didn't just walk away. You don't do that with a family of friends. I maintained contact (and it wasn't just for the monthly carry-ins for sharing tons of cake in celebration of birthdays), watched the others continuing their growth, celebrated their successes, shared in their setbacks.

After our latest gathering once again for lunch  I was reminded of the poem I had written ... a rather long time ago, now.


It's an effort to capture some of those feelings,  to preserve some of it for myself, perhaps some for them, too.


PATHS THAT CROSSED

First the warehouse site,
then Newmark and Woodman.
How the paths of lives
came crisscrossing there
with the burgeoning work!


My own path veered away
at the end of '90, but
came back several times
as ever-widening circles
tested the boundaries
of my untethered life.


Now the grass reclaims
my old path, footprints
erased, nothing to mark
my having ever been there.


But I possess evidence.


The landscape of my mind
is alive with these paths,
tracks of those crossing
the path of my own life,
seemingly without design
or plan, yet unerringly.

These stored memories
endure on a gentle slope
teeming with paths strong
where crossings link them,
and likely to cross again.
© 1995
Today's word: paths

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Night Echoes




How vivid the memory is of those trucks "grumping and rumbling" in the night.

I don't recall exactly when it was, but I remember being bedded down for the night in a motel at Terre Haute. Then I heard them. It sounded like a parade of trucks, although there weren't nearly that many ... and there wasn't exactly a steady stream of them.

I recall getting up to take a look. There was a single, huge dump truck grinding past on the highway. I don't recall which highway, but It seems to me that it was a north-south route.

I went back to bed.

The trucks kept rolling. It wasn't a loud noise, but it seemed persistent ... and it seemed that there was just enough of a grade in the road, right beside the motel, that their grumbling ... all of them ... increased right there as they shifted to a lower gear and went on climbing the hill.

I got back up ... jotted down my impressions ... and went back to bed. And really slept then. Oh, did I ever!

The poem, which later became part of my first published collection:

NIGHT ECHOES

Mud-laden trucks
grump and rumble
outside my room,
hauling mounded
loads of quiet
down the highway,
letting it spill
in the darkness,
come rolling back,
thunder’s echo
muffled, distant,
washing across
this emptiness
like surf crashing
on my pillow.
© 2003


(originally published in Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: crashing

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Heart Listens






This poem was written during a few quiet moments on Christmas Eve, 1997. You will note that it was published approximately eight years later. Patience, my writing friends. Patience.

During those eight years it received many tweakings (that happens almost every time I look at something I've written) ... and, because I keep track of such things, I note that I did seven major revisions.

It was sent out about twenty times, and came back to me, for various reasons. Patience, remember? Ah, but then it arrived in the right place at the right time, pleased an editor, and was published.

I glory in that, not because it will make me rich or famous, but because I believe poetry is meant to be shared. I am delighted that this piece was shared with Brave Hearts readers, and now with you.

I don't remember the weather on the evening it was written. Wintry, no doubt, with cold winds and falling snow.

It reminded me of so many winter evenings when I was growing up. What beauty the snow brought to the countryside.


What magic there seemed to be in that transformation. What music seemed to enter my being. How my heart danced at the thought of tomorrow.

And now, all these years later, my heart still "listens" ... and dances when it snows.

The poem:

MY HEART LISTENS


This winter night
like no other I have
known, trees glisten
with newborn snow,
shining armor that
seizes the moonlight,
sends it dancing
down the corridors
of my mind. Oh, this
quiet night, my heart
listens to the song
and dances, too.
 © 2005

(published in Winter, 2005 issue of Brave Hearts)

Today's word: newborn

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lost in Thought







I sometimes like to take a figurative statement and pursue it as though it were literally true ...


I remember a teacher who pointed out the mental images brought up by "catching a bus," for example, if taken as literally true ... likewise with "taking the plunge," "beating the bushes," etc.


In this case, I considered "lost in thought."


Literal pursuit of that concept takes us rushing down the winding path toward several improbable possibilities, all the way to the somewhat illogical conclusion. Or is it?


The poem:



LOST IN THOUGHT


If I were to become
lost in thought,
would I wander forever?
Would anybody notice
that I hadn't come
home for supper?
Would search parties
form sagging lines, go out
into the darkness,
beating the bushes
and calling my name?
Would I be
on the six o'clock news?
Would I ever
be myself again,
or would I return
as someone completely
different, a person
I have never met?
© 1999
(originally published in ByLine)
Today's word: literal

Monday, December 26, 2016

In Praise of the Mundane




(Today's art is a cooperative effort ... my grandson, Thomas, did the construction ... I took the photo ... quite a long time ago


It seems like only yesterday ... but obviously was a little longer ago than that ... when I shared my poem, "Ordinary Things," with you ... and mentioned that it was an outgrowth of a rejection.

In response to my request for his comments on some poems I had submitted, the editor had scrawled something about "mundane treatment of ordinary subjects" on the rejection slip. 


My initial reaction? I had hoped for something a little more constructive. 


But I managed. As a matter of fact, I managed to get two more poems out of that comment.


Oh, and both were subsequently published ... elsewhere. I think there's an obvious lesson in that ... so obvious that even Professor Squigglee (anybody remember him?) would be unlikely to fly into a detailed explanation.


Today's poem:

IN PRAISE OF THE MUNDANE


I don't howl at the moon,
read the entrails of chickens,
plumb the mysteries that reside
in the implacable eyes of cats,
nor take up strange, aromatic
cigarettes, sip unaccumstomed
teas, nor leave my body
to roam the universe.

I do write across the chalkboard
of my mind, or on a torn paper,
an envelope, about simple things
that come to me of their own accord,
quiet, mundane things that I welcome
and treasure as old friends.
© 1996

(originally published in ByLine Magazine)
Today's word: mundane

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Hope Renewed




Today's poem reminds me of the good old days, way back when I was putting together a free, weekly e-mailed newsletter (anybody remember that version of "Squiggles"?).

One of our annual rituals was a countdown toward spring.

It was not unusual for it to begin with the first frost in the autumn, struggle through the gray days of winter, then go marching toward brighter, sunnier, warmer ... growing ... days of spring.

This poem also reminds me of a time when Phyllis and I shared a sleeping room high under the roof of the house, where the sound ... the music ... of rain was so soothing, so reassuring.

Though I can't hear the rain thumping on the roof where we are now, the sound of it slanting against the bedroom window is still a pleasant interlude, a reminder ...


The poem:


HOPE RENEWED

Spring rain
thumps on my roof
as though testing it
for ripeness,
and in the sunny
back yard of my mind
I see red roses
blossoming again.
 © 1994

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

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Finally, Sleep




Sleep, that blessed escape from the cares of the day, is not always easy to come by ... but I recently slept well for two nights in a row ... and woke up thinking about a certain poem ...  about those mortal enemies - writing and sleep.


At least I've found them often directly opposed to each other. 

When I'm in the throes of writing, sleep is the last thing I want ... and then, sometimes, when I sleep before I've finished a project, I wake up feeling writing-deprived.

"This attic room" used to be the place where all of my serious writing took place. Excluding, of course, those frantically written notes while waiting at the bus stop, or in the doctor's office ... any place I had a few free moments and an idea that just wouldn't wait.

You know the story about that.

That place just beneath the roof was peaceful and quiet ... and when it rained, I enjoyed rain's gentle cadence that accompanied the tick-tick-tap-tick of the keyboard, the rustling of papers, the stifled yawns, and ... finally, a bit of sleep.


But we've moved ... and, though I don't miss that extra set of stairs ... I do miss those evenings up there.

Especially on rainy nights ... I find myself pausing to think about those crinkling ribbons of light, the words which came streaming across the screen as I continued my quest for a poem, in this case:


FINALLY, SLEEP

Ribbons of light
crinkle across
the glass atop
this attic room,
moving slowly
to the cadence
of gentle rain,
then vanish
in the quiet
of these small
hours that call
me to sleep.
© 2001

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)

Today's word: ribbons

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Embrace of Sound






(One of my photographs, symbolizing nothing in particular - "mere interlude")

Another bit of ancient history.

The scene: Phyllis was called out of town because of an illness in her family. I was alone in "Brimm Manor" ... totally in charge, preparing the meals, doing the dishes ... all alone.

This may help in understanding the origin of the poem ... what started the wheels to turning, to bring the poem into being ... but really isn't essential to the poem itself. 

I'm speaking in a general way about the absence of familiar sounds, and what effect that absence can have on the individual.

The poem is also witness to the fact that poetry needn't always be a light, "happy song" rendition. Poetry can, and does, roam the range of human emotions.

I like the way this one came together, the way the silence symbolizes the loneliness which is at the core of it.

But I also like the happy ending, or at least the prospect of a happy ending in "embrace of our voices" ... and that last line: "preparation for a next great leap."

The poem:


THE EMBRACE OF SOUND


I endure the silence, knowing
it will end with a teakettle's
shrilling, the dog's ticking
toward water waiting to be lapped,
the phone's late-night ringing,
embrace of our voices, for this
is mere interlude, this intaking
of breath, this hunkering down,
preparation for a next great leap.
 
© 2001
 
(originally published in Potpourri)
Today's word: ticking

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Detour - Expect Delays





Today's offering is obviously a summer poem, but it represents a "philosophy" ... an outlook ... which can be adopted almost any day of the year.

I think it was written on just one of those lazy, hazy, steamy days when I felt the backlog was secure ... no danger of avalanche, at least for the moment ... more important things, those pressing chores from day before yesterday ... and beyond ... could just wait their turn.

I think it's OK to do that sometimes ... to take time to look up from our everyday chores to see what's happening all around us ... the hollyhocks ... the cardinal ... the sunflowers.

Of course, the backlog will still be waiting ... but we can then approach it with the feeling that we're a little more evenly matched now. Try it. It works.

The poem:


DETOUR - EXPECT DELAYS


I have chores
to do, but it's such
a distracting day,
hollyhocks cupping
morning sunlight,
a cardinal swaying
in the evergreen,
a jury of sunflowers
eyeing me suspiciously,
as well they might,
for I, too, may just
follow the sun
the rest of the day.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: backlog

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Call of the Mousse























It was one of those day trips that you take with a group of strangers.

You do some walking, some talking and gawking ... then comes the highlight, lunch ... if you're lucky it will be in some fancy place with big windows and a view of the city.

And so it was.

I don't remember many of the details, but I do remember the view of the city ... and the excitement when the dessert arrived. Of course, my doctor had recently put desserts (my favorite food group) on a forbidden list.

I could watch. Period. Oh, but I made some mental notes, jotted a few words on a scrap of paper later, when the bus was rolling toward home. That night it all came together in this little poem.

Then, after the usual polishing and tweaking ... patiently sending it out ... and waiting ... and waiting ... it was published.

Time has passed ... quite a bit of time ... but my mouth still waters a little as the memory is renewed.

And now ... on this morning after I've slept like a log ... awakened as hungry as a bear ... can't wait to get to the breakfast table ... the poem:

CALL OF THE MOUSSE

Fearing that my doctor
might instinctively know,
might be informed
by some skulking spy
in our midst, or that I might
blurt out a full confession
while sitting on his table,
I declined chocolate mousse
when it came crashing
through the underbrush
of after-lunch conversation,
and I sat silently, hungrily
watching while the other five
at my table devoured theirs,
particularly the lady
who, moments before,
had surrendered her fork
with the sad announcement
that she simply couldn't
eat another bite.
© 2001

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: chocolate

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Beginning




When I was in high school, I was a runner, a sprinter, mostly, because I found I could more readily tolerate brief bursts of all-out effort, followed by moments in which my heartbeat returned to normal and my breathing became easy. I found the distance competition simply too punishing.

Oh, I ran distances. That was part of the training. I competed some in the distance events, too, but I relished the explosion out of the starting blocks and the swift crunch-crunch-crunch of spikes digging into the cindered track, the lean into the tape at the end of the sprint, the sudden halt, the quick recovery.

I lived to run - to sprint.

Little wonder that I dreamed about running. I still do, sometimes, but the result of that, now, is that I often wake up with leg cramps.

This poem is the result of one of my dreams of running a lonely, nighttime race, then finding my track coach there at the finish line, as he so often had been.

"Beginning" was honored with the First Place award in a Sports Poem contest sponsored by The Listening Eye, literary magazine on the Geauga Campus of Kent State University.

The poem:

BEGINNING

No crowd had leaned
forward and no shouts
had floated to my ears
except the faint few
from a group of friends
in the highest seats,
but on I ran through
a starlit, ominous
night, my crunching
footsteps echoing,
not knowing whether
the race was entering
the gun lap, barely
beginning; suddenly
ahead there loomed
the finish-line tape,
beyond which I aimed,
thrusting through
the way I was taught,
staggering to a halt,
blue stars bursting
in my oxygen-starved
brain, long-dead Coach
beside me, saying,
"I knew you could."

© 2000

Today's word: staggering

Monday, December 19, 2016

Alone































I don't recall the date, exactly, but I do recall that winter evening, sitting, trying to read, pausing as I felt the house "filling with quiet," then reaching for a pen, a scrap of paper, so I could record my feelings.

My thoughts did seem to be "shy and skittery," like field mice, it occurred to me. I imagined the sound of their tiny feet, running in a quiet place, like the house where I was alone that winter evening, or perhaps a country church ... during prayer.

Fortunately, my being alone was a condition of short duration ... only a few evenings, as I recall ... but it helped me to identify with those for whom sitting alone in the quiet of a house, apartment, or room, is a continuing thing.

I hope I managed to capture a degree of that, too. The poem:

ALONE

The house fills
with quiet tonight,
only my thoughts
moving about,
shy and skittery
like field mice
in a country church
during prayer.
 © 1999
(originally published in Riverrun)
Today's word: skittery

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Walnut Wisdom









Walnut trees ... the black-walnut variety, in particular ... have long been a part of my life.

There were two which grew near the bluffs, a short hike from the house in which I was growing up. 

The walnuts were mine for the gathering. I would wait for some windy autumn weather, then I would venture up there with a burlap bag in which I would stow the found treasures carpeting the ground underneath the trees.

Of course, that was just the beginning. The next step was to lug them home. Then the fun really began. 

I used a hammer to remove the juicy hulls which covered the shells. The result: A hefty pile of walnuts ready to begin drying out ... a process of "curing," becoming ready for cracking open to expose the delicious meats inside. 

Another result was a pair of thoroughly stained hands. I recall my hands being so stained that they looked like they were wearing gloves.

Ah, the memories.

Every autumn I find myself thinking of those trees again ... wondering if they're still there ... if some youngster is enjoying their output as much as I did. 

Meanwhile, the poem:


WALNUT WISDOM

The black walnut's
seething green leaves,
steeping all summer
in the raging sun,
are turning yellow,
randomly twirling
to earth, the leaden
thumps of fallen
fruit providing
an uneven cadence
on the long bridge
of sunny afternoons.


Bruised and smashed,
their juicy hulls
draw back from those
dark interiors where
their secrets lie,
awaiting squirrels,
whack of a hammer,
the outside chance
of becoming a tree.


This, the walnut
knows, is autumn’s
beginning, a time
of payoffs, endings,
another slow turn
of the wheel.
© 2002

(originally published in Potomac Review)

Today's word: twirling

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Supplication






























(You may have seen this illustration before ... and, no, it isn't the O'Keeffe painting mentioned in today's poem; that has far more going for it than my little photograph does)

It was like a haiku moment.

I was walking along, just letting my mind wander, when I noticed the young oak which had been planted near the sidewalk.


A winter breeze waggled the leaves, and it was almost like they were beckoning me. I paused to watch them, then realized that they reminded me of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting I had seen at the Dayton Art Institute.


As soon as I got home, I sat at the kitchen table, as I often did then, and started writing ... so I could preserve my impressions ... and share them with Phyllis.

Somewhat later, thanks to the folks at The Christian Science Monitor, those impressions found a larger audience.

And here they are again:


SUPPLICATION

The oak
retains its leaves,
purple-palmed mittens
hanging out to dry,
waving in supplication,
inviting a closer look
that shuts out all
except those few
as painted
by Georgia O'Keeffe,
and then not purple,
exactly, but that
kind of purple
that was
her gift to us.
 ©1996

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: waggled

Friday, December 16, 2016

Passing in Review
























Today's poem is another example of material ... fodder, if you will ... lurking almost anywhere.

Naturally, I keep an eye out for subject matter, possibilities for a small painting, perhaps, or even a poem, when I'm out walking ... when I'm sitting, waiting for a bus ... whatever.

In this instance, I had passed the flowers many times, casually observing their color, their sprightliness, but not feeling any particular connection with them ... until one day when there was a slight breeze. 

Their movement, "nodding their heads," caught my eye well before I was in front of them.

It was then, I think, that it seemed they were the "reviewing stand" and it was I, the lonely marcher, who was being inspected as I strode past.

Hardly more than a haiku moment, but that impression, that image, stuck with me all the way home, where I sat at the kitchen table and started writing.

The poem, originally published in Capper's:

PASSING IN REVIEW

Flowers arrayed
like a reviewing stand
in my neighbor's yard
seem to be nodding
recognition of me,
and perhaps they are,
for I march by twice
on my daily walk.

© 1995

Today's word: nodding