Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Now They Offer






Story of my life. 

I never thought I would end up walking as much as I do. At first it was a little difficult. Actually, quite difficult. When I first started trying, my goal was to walk to the corner ... and back. 

Then, over time, I was able to make it all the way around the block and back home.

That was years ago, at the suggestion of my doctor, and with the encouragement of Phyllis, who became my daily walking companion.

And now I just walk, walk, walk.

The poem was written in those early years. I must admit that I was sometimes tempted to accept the offer of a ride from a neighbor or a friend. But I always managed to tell them, "Thanks ... I'm taking a walk." And kept on walking.

And now? Well, I can't remember the last time one of them actually offered me a ride, although they do sometimes slow, wave, and go on their way.

The poem:


NOW THEY OFFER

Skinny years,
when I could've
used a ride,
nobody stopped.
Now that I'm
walking it off,
 
everybody slows
to offer a lift.
© 1996

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My Song



























In case you noticed my recent absent from this site, I have an excuse: Part of that time I was receiving hospital care. Now I'm recovering a bit at home, in preparation for the next step. There may be some lapses in the future, but I'll keep trying. 

***

When I wrote today's poem, I had no idea I would still be writing in 2016 ... or even that there might still be "wisps of thought gathering softly in the valleys of my mind."

But I am, and there still are.

Writing, of course, is a gift. I view it not as a talent which few others have, but as a gift. The words simply come, freely, to the patient writer ... all writers know this. 

When they are ready, the words will come ... showing themselves softly, perhaps, like a thistle drifting past ... or like a blast entering through a door suddenly opened to it. But they will come.

Writing derives from other gifts, as well. The gift of time, for example. I have been given time to write, thanks to Phyllis, who allows me the quiet moments I need, who gives me the encouragement I crave, who is so patient and caring, so vital to me ... like the air I breathe.

Then there are the gifts of support, encouragement, advice, concern, from other family members, from friends and fellow writers, from editors who've liked my work, from those who listen attentively at readings.

These things make writing the greatest gift I can imagine receiving ... they keep making me feel "like a teakettle on the verge of song." And I thank you, one and all.

The poem:

MY SONG

Like a teakettle
on the verge of song,
I have endured
the silent years
and now give vent
to the poems welling,
willing themselves
into being.

My joy-filled song
is the scratch
of pencil on paper,
racing to catch
the wisps of thought
gathering softly
in the valleys
of my mind.
© 1997
(originally published in ByLine)

Today's word: verge

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Memories







There's no mistaking the signature on the art.

Tom, it appears, was the moving force behind this work, a collaboration with Alan, who is one of his uncles, and with Grandma Brimm, who was being honored on this particular Mother's Day weekend.

When the poem, "Memories," presented itself to me, this photograph of their Saturday afternoon efforts seemed the obvious choice to accompany it.

Here are memories in the making ... the vulture, the butterfly, the crouching creature (a lizard) ... and, of course, the signature.

We have stored up so many similar memories.

We look forward to slipping them out to savor them later, at a time when they will taste the sweetest to us.

And we hope that when TOM is ten times seven he will savor them, too ... that he will discover the sweetness of memories from that weekend when he honored his mother, Kathy, and one of his grandmothers, too ... and delighted them both with his art.

(Tom, by the way, is still pursuing his interest in art)

And now the poem:

MEMORIES


Resting, I search
the honeycomb
of my mind
for warm memories,
and those I find
have grown sweeter
than I ever
dreamed they could.
© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: honeycomb

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lattes for Two





(Just a photo of an old fence, you say? Oh, but I think fences ... old ones in particular ... have things to say to us, if we will just listen)
                                   
Meanwhile:

Each of my poems has a past life.

Sometimes that background is quite complicated ... though the poems are usually pretty straightforward ... ordinary subjects presented with few adornments.

This one, I suppose, might be considered as having a "complicated" earlier life. I'll try to present the short version.

When I started painting, I simply started painting. It was later that I decided it wouldn't hurt to have a few lessons ... maybe a lot of lessons ... but that's another story.

When I started writing poetry, it was much the same. Eventually, I signed up for a class.

Needless to say, I was an older student ... THE oldest in the group, even counting the instructor. The class was very accepting of me, though, and I really enjoyed it.

Among those with whom I became acquainted was a young student who worked part-time in a coffee shop.

Possibly because I reminded her of her grandfather, she one day gave me a couple of coupons for free coffees.

Phyllis and I couldn't resist. We were soon sitting under the umbrellas, sipping our coffees ... er, lattes. It was the first latte I had ever had. I found it rather nice ... inspiring, in fact.

The rest is history, as they say.

The poem:

LATTES FOR TWO

We're sipping vanilla lattes while sitting
beneath the umbrellas outside the coffee shop,


enjoying the soothing warmth of the cups
against our hands, the coffee sweet and gentle,


not aggressive, as it can sometimes be.
In my coffee and cigarette days, I slugged down


many a cup, always automatically topping off
after absently stubbing out another butt


and lighting up again, phones ringing, nerves
jangling, my paradigm of perpetual dependence.


But I've grown independent of such things,
an enforced laying to rest of my worst habits


in these years of summing up, a slow falling away
from a tendency to overindulge in so many


things that cheered me up or calmed me down.
Until today. Lured inside by the tempting offer


of a sample, I've wavered, weakened, lifted the cup
again, and after a few tentative sips to make sure

my taste buds weren't playing tricks on me, I think
I might be hooked, feel myself being reeled in.


Oh, if Eve had only suggested a hot, sweet latte
back then, what a different world this might be.
© 2005


(Part of a my third collection, Wood Smoke, issued by Finishing Line Press. To visit the Finishing Line Press site, please click here:


Thank you for taking a look.)

Today's word: hooked

Friday, March 17, 2017

Interlude






















Today's poem likely began life somewhat larger than the version I'm sharing with you.


That's not unusual. When a poem ... or what may become a poem ... begins to present itself to me, I often just let the words go trickling across the page.


Sometimes that works. Sometimes not.


In between that kind of beginning, and publication, there is a lot of revision. That usually means tightening.

Fewer words. More left to the imagination of the reader.


Does this one work? Well, the editor thought it did ... but I tend to think the reader has the final say on that.


If you've ever watched the sunshine come crawling (swarming?) through a window, the poem may work for you as it did for me. If not, well, ... it may still be food for thought:


INTERLUDE

See how the sun
comes crawling
through the window,
like hungry bees
on a single sprig
of goldenrod.
© 1997

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: crawling

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hollyhocks






I hope you'll forgive my repeating a bit of ancient history with this posting ... the memories of those excursions to the bluffs to gather that rich soil ... those furry-jacketed seed, saved year-to-year by Grandma ... the resulting flowers.


They are such sweet memories. I still find great comfort in them ... and in the poem itself. No surprise that I share it at almost all of my poetry readings ... 


Yes, I do readings. You may have gathered that I really believe it when I say: Poetry is meant to be shared.


But relax. I haven't quite resorted to going door-to-door to inflict my poetry on the unsuspecting ... yet.


I do appreciate those, though, who stop by here to take a look ... to pause to listen ... to let the words wash over them ... to let me share ... and I hope they ... and you ... leave with a feeling of having dined on poetry ... or at least have an appetite newly whetted for more ... here, there ... everywhere.


Thanks so much for stopping by.


Oh, and the illustration today is a small watercolor I did some time ago. It also went on to bigger things ... becoming the cover art for my second collection of poems.


Now, the poem:



HOLLYHOCKS


We went to the bluffs,
up the narrow path
along the spine of the ridge,
up where the tall oaks
clustered among the rocks,
where the soil was dark
and crumbly, cool to our
digging fingers, and piled
that loose, rich soil
into a coal bucket,

lugged it back in many
trips to a dedicated circle
of depleted yellow clay
behind the house,
heaping this found food
there for furry-jacketed
seed from a deep pocket
of Grandma's apron,

and they became the most
sun-catching, bee-luring,
beautiful flowers
I had ever seen, almost
as though God had just
said: Let there be
hollyhocks.

And there were.
© 1999

("Hollyhocks" received an honorable mention in the Dayton, Ohio, Metro Library Contest in 1999, and went on to become the title poem of my second collection of poetry, published by Finishing Line Press in 2007)
***
Today's word: bee-luring

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Grilled Cheese and Shake



































(As is often the case, the art/photo has nothing to do with today's posting, really, but I like the mood it conveys, and thought I'd share it)

It took me a long time to get through college, and it wasn't because I was a slow learner.

I didn't have any money. That, of course, delayed the start.

Even after a bit of military service, I still didn't have any money to speak of. But that's another story.

Let's just say I was finally in college ... and on a budget.

Oh, I had a place to sleep, a rented room, and I had a couple of places where I could grab a bite to eat at a reasonable price. The fact that I was a breakfast skipper helped the bottom line, too.

I fell into the habit of eating at those few chosen places regularly, and the people on the other side of the counter soon knew what I'd have, even before I announced it.

Ah, those were the days.

In the poem, of course, I've changed the names ... to protect the innocent, as they say ... even the name of this one particular place bears no resemblance to its actual name.

The rest of it is true ... quite true, as a matter of fact. The name of the bread? That was its real name. Honest!

The poem:

GRILLED CHEESE AND SHAKE

Betty knew her customers
down at the Lunch Box
Cafe, where conversations
slid to the back burner
when hulking trains
came lurching past.

I'd walk in, starved,
as skinny as a snake,
and she’d toss two slices
of buttered Bunny Bread
and a thin slice of cheese
into the smoke rising
from the grill, power up
a blender, add a squirt
of strawberry flavoring
to a prospective shake.
I'd straddle my favorite
wobbly stool, sit savoring
the smoke, anticipating
that last surreptitious slurp,
its sweet, sticky essence,
sit watching Betty at work,
marveling at her memory,
how cool she was when
the orders piled up,
how she knew when to turn
the sandwiches, snatching
them back from disaster,
wondering if she knew how
those skinny sandwiches
and thick, frothy shakes
were snatching me back, too.
© 2001

(originally published in A New Song)

Today's word: frothy

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Forecast: Rain































Those who've paid many visits to "Chosen Words" know that I write about rain ... a lot ... maybe too much.


I suppose that can be traced to my roots, which reach all the way back to a rural beginning ... not on a farm, really, but in a country home ... just outside a small town ... a very small town.


It was there that I first learned the importance of rain. Too much, and our garden would suffer disastrous results ... too little, and our garden would suffer. So would we ... since we depended on a cistern for our drinking, bathing, cooking water ... and our chickens and Grandma's flowers depended on water from the well.


Rain was important ... but it had other roles, too.


I still remember the songs it played on our roof ... how soothing the sound of it could be on a spring night ... how it washed away the dust which drifted in from the gravel road ... the cinders from passing freight trains ... how it made puddles for a little boy to go splashing through ...


Little wonder that I've written so much about it.


I thank you for your patience as I've explored the mysteries and wonders of rain.


And here I go again:

FORECAST: RAIN

They said it would
come tumbling off
the slanting roofs,
go dancing down
the street, glancing
off the bare-limbed
trees, peppering
fields with kisses,
would greet us
in the morning and
be with us all day,
like a promise meant
to be kept, would
dampen our spirits,
but would sweep away
the lingering crusts
of winter, would sing
of the coming spring.

But it didn't do any
of that. It just
rained, and rained,
and rained and rained.

© 2006

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

Monday, March 13, 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

Sunday, March 12, 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

Saturday, March 11, 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

Friday, March 10, 2017

Bubble






(No, those obviously aren't bubbles, but a cluster of lights which caught my eye at one of my favorite walking places, Lincoln Park)


This little poem is laced with memories.

It began, as many of my poems have, when I was observing people.

This time I was riding the bus. Sitting near the front, on one of those aisle-facing bench seats, was a young mother who was chewing gum and entertaining her infant daughter by blowing bubbles.

Watching them, I was reminded of an incident long ago ... I may have been three, or younger, certainly in my pre-school years ... of being seated outdoors in a tub of warm water ... summertime ... bright sunshine.

I still have a distinct memory of a bubble my mother made from that sudsy water, how the bubble glistened in the sunlight. How fragile it was. How magical.

The poem was written, eventually published, and put away. But the memory lingered.

Then, I was out walking with Phyllis, looked up at the fluffy clouds lazing in the sunshine, and noticed the lights near the pavilion ... how like bubbles they seemed to me, as they glistened in the sunlight.

How like that bubble of so many years ago.

The poem:

BUBBLE

My mother's
hand descended
into sudsy water,
a delicate circle
of forefinger, thumb
slowly emerging,
soft lips breathing
life into a bubble
I still see, quivering,
shimmering, a miracle
unmatched in all
of my three years,
and all of these
searching years
since then.
© 1998

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)


Today's word: shimmering

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ahead and Behind







(Yes, that's me ... caught in the daily whirl of activity)












I suppose it was there all the time ... an ability, on occasion, to say something that sort of had the sound of poetry ... something that, while alien, perhaps, to the formal, prescribed structure and style of real poetry, had an element that conjured up poetic images for the reader ... or listener.

I began writing these things for myself. 


They usually came to me during my daily walks. When I got back home, I would sit for a few minutes at the kitchen table, scribbling away.

Then I began sharing these scribblings with Phyllis. She liked them ... at least said she did ... and encouraged me to keep writing.

I did keep writing, and writing, and writing ... and, though today's poem is a bit of an exaggeration ... poetic license, you know ... it does sometimes seem that I've gotten ahead on my writing ... behind on everything else.

Meanwhile, the poem:

AHEAD AND BEHIND

For many years
I wouldnt venture
into this strange
realm of poetry,
but then, like
a water-loving dog
finding a pond,
I plunged in, 

cant be coaxed
back out, and Im
paddling around,
getting slowly
ahead on poetry,
way behind on
everything else.

© 2001 

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: paddling