Sunday, December 31, 2017

Handle With Care





Quite often, a poem, or the beginnings of a poem, will come to me suddenly, and in such a way that I will always remember that moment when the spark started the flame.


Not so in this case.


I'm not sure what the trigger was. 

Perhaps it was as simple as seeing a "Handle With Care" label on a package. 

Perhaps it was a quiet evening and I was thinking back to a time when I was quite young, swimming in dreams of what I was to become someday.


I don't know.


But I do know that I was struck by how fragile those dreams can be ... like a bubble glistening in its freshness ... a bubble so delicate that even a most careful touch can burst it.


I hope I stopped short of becoming preachy in this little poem ... and I hope to stop short of that in these comments.


I generally hope, when I'm writing, that I will end up with something that is thoughtfully assembled ... that it will be thoughtfully received by the reader ... and that it may have some residual, lasting value for that reader.


The poem:


HANDLE WITH CARE

There are few things
as beautifully crafted,
gilded or etched,
as magically alluring,
and yet so vulnerable
to the careless touch,
as the dreams
of a young child.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: vulnerable

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Giving Advice






(This is an early work by my grandson, Thomas, who has moved on to more serious artistic endeavors ... but I still treasure this piece)

I had a boss, many, many years ago, who repeatedly expressed his concern about "putting out the fire" ... that is, discouraging creative thinking and constructive effort.


He avoided that perceived hazard by not riding herd too closely on his employees. He didn't afford them free rein, of course, but he did want them to think for themselves, to offer suggestions and constructive criticism.


His admonition, "Don't put out the fire," stuck with me long after. It finally begged me to put it to paper. In doing so, I visualized an old man, quite unlike my boss, teaching a rank beginner how to build a fire and to keep it going.


The old man is the narrator, and there is no two-way conversation: We don't hear anything from his young pupil, obviously a good listener. 


There aren't even any quotation marks in this piece. But, despite that violation, I think it works.


I think the poem works on two levels, and I like that.


The poem:

GIVING ADVICE

Now be careful, he said,
or you’ll put out the fire,
the spark, the flame,
the desire that sprang up
and wavered, waiting.

Fan it too much, or pile on
more than it can handle
in its early, struggling,
starved-for-oxygen stage,
and it’s a sure goner.

Neglect it and it’s doomed,
too. Oh, it may flash up
and dance in the darkness,
but it’ll soon burn out,
without some new fuel.

It takes a gentle touch,
the hat back and forth
just so, a sure eye watching
for signs that it can
stand alone, in its own heat.

Remember, he said, plopping
his battered hat back on,
how it was when you started,
how you needed that touch,
that sweet warmth of success.
© 2001
(originally published in Kaleidoscope)

Today's word: success

Friday, December 29, 2017

Fickle Petunias




(I know, these definitely aren't petunias ... but that's another story ... so let's just consider them stunt doubles ... and I hope you won't mind)



There's something about walking ... that steady rhythm ... the relative quiet ... the way thoughts float in and out ... nothing in particular ... just random thoughts ...

One of my favorite walking routes ... even in dry years ... is blessed with flowers.

It's obvious that the owners ... give a lot of thought to the flowers' gift of color ... that they tend them carefully ... and they enjoy sharing the beauty of flowers with others.

This poem is an outgrowth of some of those flowers.

Actually, I only became casually aware of this particular clump of blossoms ... my thoughts were wandering ... and then it seemed that the blossoms were actually nodding at me ... as if in greeting.

I thought about that ... thought about it some more ... and when I got back home, I sat at the kitchen table and wrote this little whimsical piece:

FICKLE PETUNIAS

I have a nodding
acquaintance
with some petunias
who bob excitedly
when I walk by,
but then they
do the same when
a stranger passes.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: excitedly

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Emergency Kit






I beg particular patience from those who may have seen today's poem before. It seems to have worked its way to the top again.


It's still a good little poem, I think ... a bit whimsical ... and I think we can use a sprinkling of whimsy with the world in which we live today.


Bear with me now, while I dust off a bit of history:

I started carrying a printout of one of my poems in response to the recurring question from acquaintances: "What are you writing these days?"

Carrying a single printout, I thought, was a simpler, a more efficient approach than going into detail about all of the things I was working on at the time (I seem to go riding off in all directions, but I do bring some of my projects to completion ... honest).

From there it was a short leap to the image of some poor motorist sitting somewhere on a dark, poemless road, hoping someone would come to the rescue ... and, ta-DA! ... there I would be, poem at the ready ...

I have one regret - I neglected to offer an alternative, like regular fill-ups of poetry before heading out on those lonely roads ... or, I suppose, simply keeping an eye on the poetry gauge ... or pulling into the nearest library - where the price is always right - to top off the poetry tank.

But if you do run out of poetry, just hang in there. I should be along soon.

Meanwhile:

EMERGENCY KIT

I always carry
a spare poem or two.
Who knows? I may
find a motorist
stranded, run out
of poetry somewhere
on a poemless road,
looking for rhyme,
if not reason,
in the scheme
of things, someone
in need of metaphor,
simile, structure,
a triolet, perhaps,
but mostly free verse,
free for the taking,
and this one's for you.
Enjoy. Pass it on.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: emergency

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Deadly Sin






Let's see, now. I was riding along on a city bus. My stop was coming up, so I had put my magazine inside my briefcase ... snug there beside my lunch ... and I was sleepily watching the street signs.

Actually, I guess I was watching buildings and store signs, more than anything. I had ridden this route so many times, I hardly had to watch for street signs.

Then I heard it.

The click of a ballpoint pen was unmistakable. The sound came from the seat immediately behind mine. Obviously, somebody was preparing to write something.

Was it a thought which had just jumped out at them? A line for a poem? Maybe just a reminder. Maybe another item on the grocery list. But writing.

Someone writing! Another writer? Someone who, like I had done so many times on the bus, was jotting something down that would later become a real poem?

Oh, how tempting it was to turn to see this person ... to ask, "Are you a writer?" To ... well, the poem says it all:

DEADLY SIN

I heard the click of a pen
in the seat behind me,
imagined the scratch of words
across paper, the beginnings
of something so compelling
I was tempted to turn, to peer,
suggest, but resisted as though
in the presence of deadly sin,
and at the next stop got off
the bus, feeling I had been cast
out of The Garden as the doors
folded firmly shut behind me.
© 1998

(originally published in ByLine)

Today's word: tempted

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Ceiling Monster









(Another of my little watercolors, an early attempt to capture a sunset)



A summer poem? Could be ... but it could be an anytime poem, because the "monster" is always there ... has been, ever since I installed it.


But simmer - er, summer, it is. At least in today's poem.


Oh, how many times this has happened to me ... I settle into my favorite chair, pick up a book ... or a magazine ... and lean back.


Next thing I know, I'm waking up again.


But this time, at least, I got a poem out of it:


CEILING MONSTER


Five blades embrace
heavy summer air
while four globes stare
at a pair of strings,
slender, descending
like spiders seeking
new worlds to claim,
and my eyelids flutter,
fighting against sleep,
for I have sat down
intending only to read
a few paragraphs,
but find I'm slipping
now, glasses off, my book
slowly rising, falling
as it rests on my chest,
both of us helpless
against that monster
cooling, whirring, 
soothing, hypnotizing
us in the afternoon.
© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)
 
Today's word: hypnotizing

Monday, December 25, 2017

Autumn Night


 





Perhaps these images, written about so wistfully, have little meaning to others, but to me they are the essence of things I miss about that place where I grew up.

I think it is quite natural that we have this connection with our beginnings, and quite natural that we should think of them again ... and again ... as we look back and see just how far we've traveled in all these years.

Thank goodness for that "bridge of memories." I often go strolling across it.

The poem:

AUTUMN NIGHT

Stars spilled
across dark velvet,
thin ribbon of smoke
climbing the air,
lettuce-crisp, clear,
toward a lemon moon,
square of window
whispering its light
through the trees,
beckoning to me,
wanderer still,
with only a bridge
of memories
to carry me back.
 © 1996
(originally published in Explorer)

Today's word: wanderer

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Winter Rain







We had two towering maples in our back yard, one of them just outside our bedroom window.

I woke up one winter morning to the gentle sound of rain, looked out the window and was greeted by a view of those glistening tree trunks. It was a scene that sent my imagination into overdrive.

I probably put some of my thoughts to paper that morning in the midst of shaving. They often plague me so that I have to pause and write, pause and write.

The end result in this case, a poem. Other times these scribblings end up in an envelope labeled "Bits and Pieces," possible fodder for future works.

But for now, this:

WINTER RAIN

All night it comes,
falling as quietly
as snow, trickling
down our green roof,

a soft song drifting
among the branches
of our dark maples,
trunks glistening

like the taut bodies
of stevedores under
the summer sun,
like sailing ships

tossing and leaning,
rigging creaking,
brass bells ringing,
greeting a new day.
© 2003

(From Chance of Rain, my first collection of poems - Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: trickling

Saturday, December 23, 2017

That New Diet



















I can't really remember how long it has been since that four-letter word, C-A-K-E ... not to mention all forms of my favorite food ... dessert ... was put on my forbidden list.


Oh, how I remember the good old days when cake was my favorite food. Oh, how sweet it was! But no more. Not even a nibble.


But go ahead. Enjoy. I won't knock your serving off your plate. I promise. Nor will I sit up and beg, like I used to. And if I whimper a little, just ignore me. I'll get over it ... someday.



The poem:

THAT NEW DIET

On the pastry shelf
of my mind, cake
doesn't exist now,
but my poor stomach
keeps insisting that
it does. How much
longer can I take this
constant bickering?
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: cake 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Sea of Beauty



















Confession: Today's poem speaks of wheat ... the photo doesn't ... at least not directly.

The illustration is one of mine, of course ... a photo of some decorative grass. I don't know exactly what kind, but it did remind me of the wheat I had seen making waves in a field ... now all part of distant memories.

And the sky?

That's sky as reflected in the windows of the tall building near which I found the decorative grass growing. I was taken by the color and the shapes ... so I snapped it ... kept it ... and here it is, today ... famous. Well, a little more "famous" than it otherwise might have been.

I really hope I haven't spoiled the mood for today's poem, but I thought the photo and the poem made something of a match.

The poem: 

SEA OF BEAUTY 


The wheat leans

and straightens
in the summer breeze,
a sea of beauty
set in motion
toward the horizon
by plain hard labor
and the hand of God.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: wheat

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Mulch Ado






(Just another of my little watercolor sketches, done during a pause on one of my daily walks with Phyllis ... thought it might go with today's entry, or might ... someday ... grow up to be something bigger, maybe better)




If I didn't do so much looking back, maybe I wouldn't bump into so many things along the way. Right.

But I've reached the age ... never mind the exact figure(s) ... where I feel that I might be permitted a glance or two back down that road which brought me here.

Maybe, just maybe, those glances back put me in a position to help someone else avoid the sharp turns or deep ruts that I encountered  at times along the way. 

If so, I'm glad to be of help.

And what brought all this up? I glanced at today's bit ... which may not be poetry ... or even close to being ... but I noticed it was published ... way back in '96 ... 1996, that is.

But I thought I'd share it, because it gives me an excuse for imposing another of my little watercolor sketches on you.

The poem ... or whatever:


Mulch Ado


What with all
the sowing, mowing,
watering, weeding,
feeding, spraying
and trimming,
it's been a challenge
that's a yard wide
and a summer long.
© 1996

(originally published in Mature Years)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Late Night Serenade





I don't like giving away the poem in my opening remarks ... because then there's no incentive to explore the poem, right?

So, okay, this one is about a dog. He wasn't just a dog, but a special personality. Maybe I should just stop there.

We had a lot of canine neighbors in the years that we lived at Brimm Manor. There was one small one a couple of doors up ... whose favorite activity seemed to be running in circles and barking at the sun.

Then there was the one who delighted in galloping into the alley, hackles up, barking, barking, barking ... like he really meant business ... when I tried to move our trash container back onto our property.

My favorite, though, was Houdini, who lived right next door. I remember how, soon after they moved in, Houdini barked at me. His owner spoke quietly to him ... I couldn't tell what he said ... and that was the last time Houdini ever barked at me.

We got along famously.

Then there was this other dog ... a situation which could easily become a problem ... but I detect a bit of sympathy in what I wrote about him.

The poem:

LATE-NIGHT SERENADE

Sometimes at midnight, sometimes
three o'clock in the morning,
I hear him pouring out his soul,
and I know he's lonely, or lovesick,
or both, poor fellow, even though
I can't make out the words, just
the emotion of his mournful song
that goes on and on, rising in pitch,
subsiding, resuming, reminding me
of a gray wolf sending a message
somewhere in the wilds. He persists,
night after night, sitting beside
his doghouse, two doors down, nose
pointing heavenward, ears laid back,
howling, yowling, pitifully crying
his poor heart out over a lost bone,
a failed romance, the solitude
of the bachelor's way of life --
something that's obviously bothering
him. And it bothers me that he
doesn't start thinking about it
until I'm trying to get some sleep,
then howls the rest of the night.
© 2002

(originally published in Kaleidoscope)

Today's word: yowling

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

How the Cinders Danced






This is a homecoming poem only in the sense that I had returned to the place where I grew up.

There were no welcoming crowds, no band ... and I hadn't expected any. I had walked around town, looking for a familiar face, but found none. I ended up at the site of the bridge where a frightening experience had etched itself on my memory.


And how frightening a steam locomotive could be to a youngster, especially up close, as my grandmother and I were caught walking across that bridge ... with a freight train passing underneath.


Standing there, alone, brought that memory rushing back to me.


How quiet now! How calm. How vivid the memory of those cinders "dancing" on the deck of that bridge! I just had to write about it.


It later received recognition as a Plainsongs Award Poem, published in their October, 2005, issue.


HOW THE CINDERS DANCED

Cold, I stand recalling
how the cinders danced
on the highway bridge


while I watched a slowly
swaying freight train
creaking beneath us,


its dark, hulking engine
chuffing like a dragon,
hot cinders swirling


up, dark clouds seeking
the walkway, our lungs;
how my hand lingered


in Grandma's after that
frightening train had
gone clacking off, and I


stand here now, alone,
a stranger come home,
breathing clear air,


no cinders dancing, no
engine chuffing, but
my gloved hand rising

to a sudden welling up
that causes a blurring
of childhood images.
© 2005
Today's word: chuffing


(OK, so I made up the word, but that's how I remember the sound that the steam engine made as it struggled underneath the bridge. Oh, and the art? One of my photographs ... and, no, that's not the bridge mentioned in the poem; it's a Nature-provided "bridge" along the trail at one of my favorite walking places.)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Green Glass Bottles






As I've said before, I write quite a bit about writing, not because I've become expert on the subject, but because certain aspects of it remain a mystery to me and are, therefore, so intriguing.


Some of that mystery, an uncertainty, surrounds the process of submitting poetry to others, not just to seek their opinion of it, though that can be valuable, but on the outside chance of its being accepted for publication.


The result of that game, of course, is mostly rejection ... at least in my case. Sheer numbers argue against the chances of any particular poem's seeing its way into print.


Still, we continue the game.

I sit on my island ... writers do so much of their work in that kind of isolation ... carefully selecting the poems which will go out to seek their fortunes among strangers.

I compare the process to putting tiny, scribbled notes in green glass bottles, in hope that some of them will be discovered, accepted, published.

Then there's the waiting game, the suspense of wondering how the submissions are being received, and, when the green glass bottles return, the excitement, the anticipation ... still ... about what, precisely, has been their fate with that particular editor.

Meanwhile, there are more poems ... more green glass bottles ... that surging sea upon which so many of our hopes will ride. Oh, what a wonderful game it is!

This one was originally published in Midwest Poetry Review:

GREEN GLASS BOTTLES


If the wind is right
and the sea is surging,

I shall place another poem
in a green glass bottle
and send it bobbing off.
But mainly I shall sit

on the windward side
awaiting those bottles
sent off months ago,
scattered distant dots

nodding now and glinting
in the froth of return,
finally clinking ashore
to my trembling, bony

fingers, fingers fearing
the messages inside.
© 1997

Today's word: mystery

Sunday, December 17, 2017

End of the Day






Today's poem is about a bit of "ancient history." 

Written well after the fact, it's a recounting of a time when I traveled much more than I do now, a time before interstate highways began crisscrossing our country, when passenger trains were still in abundance.

It was sometimes faster, or "more convenient," to travel by car. Oh, how I recall trying to think of that convenience as I fell into bed somewhere along the way and tried to get a few hours' sleep before pressing on. 

Ah, those were the days.

But for now, the poem: 



END OF THE DAY

The ceiling grows vague
and cold, its tiles swirling
like snowflakes toward me,

and I taste them, melting,
the bed sways under me
as though bearing me away

to some strange place, my eyes
close, and I see highway,
an undulating ribbon whirring

toward me, narrow out there,
broadening here where it gains
speed, goes threading beneath

my car, as it has all day,
dull pewter funnel pulling
me in, pouring me out here

where I lie on a strange bed
in a cheap motel, thinking
of the events bringing me

here, thoughts drifting
like the slow, curling smoke
in a room suddenly empty,

being pulled toward the ache
and soreness of tomorrow,
not caring, not caring at all.
© 2000

(originally published in Waterways; now part of Wood Smoke, my third collection, published  by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: fatigue

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Delia's Morning Quiet



Delia was my grandmother. I went to live with her when I was two years old ... and she reared me until I grew up and went into military service.


Little wonder that I've written about her ... even when cautioned by one instructor that he didn't want to see any "grandmother poems."


This particular poem is a combination of memories of her, of things she said, or might have said. I may have taken some liberties, but, knowing her the way I did, I don't think she would mind.


I don't think she would mind at all.


DELIA'S MORNING QUIET

Morning quiet was
always best, Delia said.


Not the soft silting
of minutes after a day
in the fields, not those
first precious seconds
after childbirth,
nor the calm after
summer storms, tearing
of an envelope, labored
reading of its words,
evening fire, supper done,
dishes stored, children
in bed.


But the kind
of quiet that came
stealing up with the sun,
sharing rooster crow
and the crackling murmur
of fire, a skillet sliding
across the kitchen stove,
sound of an eggshell
breaking with importance.

© 1999

(originally published in Poem)

Today's word: crackling