Saturday, August 19, 2017

Daybreak, Autumn




(Oh, how I wish I'd had my camera with me that morning; instead, I again offer my little watercolor study, done in a different time, different place)



It may have been a bit later than daybreak, but not much. The feeling of newness was still in the air as I walked the paths of one of my favorite places.


The play of light across the clouds was beautiful.


Improbable as it seems, they did look like paving stones to me.

They had that worn, traveled look about them, and the early sunlight did make them look like they were cupping the coals of an overnight fire which had just been given a breath of morning air.


The ducks were on the pond, of course, keeping an eye on me for any move suggesting a handout for them.


And the crows, the raucous crows, who always seem to be arguing about something, were there in the trees.


It was a sort of shopping list of images, but I tried to make a little more of it than just that. I think ending with the hint of coming snow added to the mood.


The poem:


DAYBREAK, AUTUMN

Clouds hang
like paving stones
in the eastern
sky, hammered silver
cupping the coals
of early light,
while ducks glide
like fallen leaves
on the shadowed pond
and crows crowd
the feathery trees,
swaying and talking
raucously about
the chances of snow.
 
© 1999

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

Carrying the Water





(Just a photograph, no relation to the poem, really, taken on one of my daily walks)

This is another poem based on childhood memories of that place where I grew up in the care of my grandparents.

We had no running water, no indoor plumbing ... not unusual for that time and place.

Our water source for the house was a cistern, with a crank and chain which brought the stored rain water up. It was situated just outside the back porch.

Water for other purposes, watering the flowers, providing drinking water for the chickens, the cats, the dog, was carried from the well, some distance from the house.

This was not easy work. Like most young children, however, I wanted to try it.

Grandpa was willing. In fact, he probably took a certain pleasure in my struggles with that heavy bucket ... the water was so heavy, too, and it really wouldn't sit still ... I can imagine he also relished the memories that my struggles stirred, of his own young efforts at the same thing.

I simply couldn't fathom how he could carry water without spilling some ... while I always spilled a lot.

Eventually I learned the value of experience.

And now, the poem:

CARRYING THE WATER

My grandfather could take
the swaying bucket
all the way,

uncertain as he was, from
well to house, and not
spill a drop.

The water sat, contented,
even though his hands
were trembling,

his step less steady than
mine, his eyes unsure
of the path.

But, hard as I might try,
I couldn't carry it
without loss.

Rising up against me, it
bounded over the top
of the pail,

splashing against my calf,
making dark splotches
on red soil

when I dared set it down,
like sins denied
but still mine.

© 2007

(This poem received an honorable mention in a Sinclair Community College contest; it was subsequently published in Capper's, and is part of my second collection of poems, Hollyhocks, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, KY)

Today's word: contented

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Autumn Dreams






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


So here it is again:


AUTUMN DREAMS

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

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

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

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)

Today's word: puddling

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Winter Glow





Today's poem is another example of the kind of subject I write about most frequently ... an ordinary, everyday event or topic ... but perhaps seen in a slightly different way ... as though with "new eyes."


I try to impart that difference ... and I'm greatly rewarded when a reader sees that difference ... or perhaps points out something about the topic that I hadn't quite seen myself.


It's all about the learning process ... and I love it!


The photo? That's me ... somewhere in my teen years ... standing between the grandparents who reared me.


The original was rescued by one of my relatives ... passed along to me ... and is now one of my most prized possessions.


The poem:


WINTER GLOW


Cracked, yellowed snapshots
surrender from inside
a musty box


circled with twine, speaking
of times gone, like thin
ribbons of vapor


slowly curling and uncurling
from a neighbor's
chimney


while I sit in this cold
attic space looking
at relatives


and places I never knew,
their images saved,
but stories lost,


beginning to sense a feeling
of warmth, a winter
glow, spreading


over me as I touch the faces
of these strangers again
and close the box.
 © 2006
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: warmth

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

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)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Touch of Spring




(One of the paintings I've done ... of a favorite place, Charleston Falls) 

We were out and about ... had a few errands to run ... had to get out for our daily walk ... a bit abbreviated, but still a walk.


It was a little too crowded indoors ... and a little too nippy outdoors, so we compromised, cut the walk a tad short, stopped in at a favorite place for a cup of soup, a bit of conversation, and came on home.


The weather had me thinking about spring.


No harm in looking ahead, I always say ... or, in this case, back to a particular day well before this poem was originally published.


I still recall that moment ... a brisk day, the exact bus stop where I felt the sun bouncing off the brick building ... like it was putting an arm around me ... offering reassurance.


And so it is with that season of renewal, of hope, that warm promise of things to come.


The poem:



TOUCH OF SPRING

I feel a touch
like a friendly hand
on my back, an arm
across my shoulders,
for the sun has
broken free of clouds
and is projecting
a warmth I had
almost forgotten.
I smile at strangers
and they smile back,
for they're feeling
that touch, too,
that warm embrace.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Ordinary Moments





(Just an ordinary gathering of leaves at curbside ... but they caught my eye with their colors, shapes, texture ... and I captured the moment with my camera)

Sometimes it seems that all my poems are rooted in memory.


This one is no exception.


From those distant beginnings ... the foundation stones of all those "ordinary moments" in a young boy's life ... to today ... there's a long bridge of discovered excitement, adventure.


I often go trudging back across that bridge, in search of those beginnings, because I see them now as more than just ordinary events.


Isn't that always the case?


The poem:


ORDINARY MOMENTS


... in which I discover
travel-rounded stones
on the meandering
creek bed of my mind,
each a found treasure
whirring me back
to rainy days spent
with musty books, nights
floating in wood smoke,
mornings with eggs
frying in a dark skillet,
moments when the world
seemed to be
just waiting for me
to kick off the covers,
resume my pursuit
of this great adventure.

© 2001

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: travel-rounded

Saturday, August 12, 2017

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Memory



















Sometimes, you may have noticed, I try to use an illustration that goes along with the poem. 

I was stumped at first, when I tried to think of something to match today's little offering.

Then it occurred to me ... there it was, under my nose, practically ... the side view mirror on the Little Red Car, famous among readers of my former weekly newsletter, "Squiggles & Giggles," for its many escapades.


And what is memory? Why, it's a looking back at things which are sometimes indistinct, blurred, reversed, or "closer than you think."

And now the poem:


MEMORY

I know I've stashed
scads of things
in the dusty attic
of my mind . . .
but in which boxes
are they hiding,
when I really,
really need them?
 © 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: hiding

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How to Reach 80







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

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

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

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

The poem:

HOW TO REACH 80

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Heading South
































I was out for my daily walk when I saw those geese rising ... stood watching them ... don't remember if I sat at the next bus stop to put my reactions on paper, or waited till I got home ... but I had a poem in the making, right there on that street.

The poem:

HEADING SOUTH

Just beyond the trees
giving up their gaudy
leaves of autumn, five geese
rise slowly, dark against
a mottled sky, heading
generally southward,
seeking those highways
that the wild geese take,
while I stand rooted
where chance has put me.
I shall think of them,
wishing vaguely that I had
their gift of flight
as I ride out the storms
of winter, waiting to hear
their honking again,
telling me the season
is breaking, melting into
spring, skein of renewal
linking those who can fly,
those who can only wish. 
 © 1997
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: renewal

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Glass, Drinking




(Just another photo I've snapped along the way ... this one at Cox Arboretum, one of my favorite walking places)

Today's poem is on such an ordinary subject ... and I'm sure the editor who once scrawled something to that effect on one of my poems would agree ... but I find many of my subjects in "ordinary things."

So much depends, I think, on how one looks at them.

I'm not exactly sure where ... or when ... the particular glass of this poem caught my attention.

It was a cheap green drinking glass ... I'm sure of that ... but it wasn't a recent observation, because the trains don't run past where I live now. So it had to have been in the past ... perhaps the distant past.

But I do remember how that glass caught the light, and I can still see those few remaining droplets dancing.

The moment could have passed unnoticed. I'm sure there were other things ... far more important things ... going on. But I did notice, though I had no idea I would ever write a poem about it ... or write any poems, for that matter. 

I'm glad the memory was stored somewhere in the recesses of my mind, just waiting there for the right moment to show itself to me again.

It's just a small descriptive passage ... a single sentence, if it were presented as a bit of prose ... but I treasure the memory it represents ... and the other memories which keep it company.

Oh, how I wish I had a picture of it to share with you. Instead, there's a photo I snapped during one of my walks at Cox Arboretum. 


GLASS, DRINKING

It gathers the light to it, sparkling
with morning warmth, wraps itself
in rings so bright they might be taken
for some kind of pretense, but it’s
only a cheap green drinking glass,
empty except for a few remaining
droplets that tremble and dance
to the passing song of a rickety train
and then subside like an echo yielding
itself to the cold of late autumn fog.
© 2006

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)
Today's word: rickety

Monday, August 7, 2017

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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

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

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Defying Gravity



















Oh, wouldn't it be great to be able to rise above the everyday problems that continue to plague us?


I thought about that.


I thought about literally rising above them, sailing off as carefree as a bird ... or more like a big red balloon which had just gained its freedom.


Of course, I came back to earth, to the reality that things would still bug me, but I felt better able to cope.


How's that for a bit of therapy ... at least in the realm of things which, in the long view of things, aren't all that important?


Maybe if I practice on the little things I will be better able to rise above the larger, more serious hurdles which lie ahead.


It's a thought, anyway. Now the poem:

DEFYING GRAVITY

With practice, I fully expect
someday to defy the gravity
of situations that bug me now.

A promise broken beyond repair,
an umbrella gone inside-out,
the spilled beans of some urgent
secret, the hole in my sock,
a lost mitten, broken shoelace,
a bookmark gone astray,
my coffee cup gone stone cold,
things I’ve forgotten,
crawling out, feeling old.

I see myself like a giant
red balloon, rising easily
 
above them all. And don’t you
dare grab the string.
 © 2002
(originally published in Potpourri)
Today's word: balloon

Friday, August 4, 2017

Cup of Memories




We didn't have a "drinking gourd" when I was growing up, and I always felt deprived ... in the early years, at least.


Instead, we had a common aluminum dipper (we all drank from the same dipper) beside the water bucket in the kitchen.


Germs aside, it offered a cool, refreshing drink, when the weather was cool, refreshing. During the summer, as I recall, we went directly to the source, the cistern just a few steps from the back porch, to fill the dipper.


The "drinking gourd," on the other hand, resided at a neighbor's house on a nearby hill. Judging from the frequency of our visits, they were probably distant relatives.


They had a well which, I thought, contained the coldest water around.


And that gourd, that marvelous old weather-beaten gourd. I just had to have a drink from it, even when I wasn't thirsty.


Oh, how I remember sipping slowly, dawdling, while enjoying both the cold water and the great shade of the tree near the well.


The poem:


CUP OF MEMORIES

The well water
was never colder
nor more sweet tasting
than when it was sipped
from an ordinary,
but memorably special
gray gourd dipper. 
© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: dawdling

Thursday, August 3, 2017

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