Friday, June 23, 2017

Homage






(One of my colored pencil drawings)

I grew up within sight of that cemetery which held the grave of a great-grandmother I never knew ... a sister ... a brother ... and so many others who had peopled the small community in which I was growing up.

I remember the curving road which carried the funeral processions up and around ... the parked cars ... the tent covering the grave site ... the mourners gathering ... heads bowed ...

I remember the flowers ... the small flags moving gently in the breeze ... the sound of the rifles being fired in salute ... a silence as the echoes of that gunfire ebbed and flowed away ... the faltering, mournful sound of a bugle ... somewhere distant ... up there among the bluffs ...

I remember it all ... especially now that I am unable to travel back that great distance ... but I think they would understand my absence ... as they understood my presence among them then ... they would understand ...

The poem:

HOMAGE

I stand in the silence
beside the graves
on the slope of that hill
where the acorns fall
like spent minutes.

I stand, thinking
of those who helped me,
gave me that gentle push
in the small of my back,
sent me off toward places
they had never been,
would never be, sent me
off toward becoming
what I am, what I may
yet become.

I stand there thanking
them for their love.
© 2007

(Received First Place award, ByLine Contest; published in Brave Hearts, Fall, 2007)

Today's word: becoming

Thursday, June 22, 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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Frozen Flight






I'll never understand computers.

One morning I woke up to what appeared to be just a normal day. I bounded out of bed when the alarm finally went off ... dashed to the computer to see how many visitors had stopped by to take a look at "Chosen Words" ... and maybe had left a comment.

I stretched and yawned and sat in my squeaky chair in front of the screen. I checked "Chosen Words." Mmmm ... not bad. The numbers are still clicking right along.

Time for another entry.

I said ... Time for another entry. The computer wasn't listening. I tried to log on. I could look, but couldn't touch. I tried again ... and again ... and again.

As usual, I wondered what I had done wrong.

I closed the door softly as I left and went about the business of running some errands ... getting out for my morning walk, etc.

Much later I returned ... tried again ... and things were working.

Mystery solved? Nope.

But things ... in this location ... seem to be working this morning ... and I have a summer poem.

No, sorry, I don't have a picture of a sweat bee to go along with the poem. Those rascals are too tiny, too unpredictable, too fast for me and my camera.

I do have a reminder of summer, however, with today's photo, one of many I've snapped during my daily wanderings ... -er, walks.

The poem itself is almost a haiku moment, a tiny flicker of activity broken off before I became fully focused on what was happening.

But it became a little more than that ... and it carries so many memories of all those places this kind of "stare down" has happened to me over the years.

Originally published in Capper's:

FROZEN FLIGHT

A sweat bee
hovers in my face,
wings invisible
in the heavy air,
then, satisfied
at having won
this stare down,
darts away.
© 1996


Today's word: invisible

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Empty Boxes




This is an inventory poem, a listing of items. But it's far more than that. It's a poem about departure, loss, a certain amount of pain.

"Healing," perhaps, is too strong a word for the ending, although I felt a need for something ... for comforting, I guess, as I looked over some of the items left behind by one of our sons.

He had discarded them as being of no use to him in his new location, his situation of being out there in the world on his own. I was double-checking, I suppose, to make sure he wasn't throwing away anything of value.

The basement was very quiet that evening. The memories came flooding back. It was the same ... all those memories ... with the departure of each of our four sons.

There was always that twinge of sadness at the ending of another chapter in our lives. Even with the good memories to bolster me, there was this sense of loss at their leaving to live on their own.

In that awful quiet that settled in then, I had to remind myself that they would do well, they would stay in touch, they would be back. We would still be a family, as we had always been.

Then I could throw away the empty boxes. But I kept the memories.

This poem received a First Place award in the Ohio Poetry Day Competition of 2000, and is now part of a manuscript in search of a publisher:

EMPTY BOXES


I touch worn corners,
torn, misshapen lids,
as though mere touching
might ease the pain,

and in the scattered
emptiness I find
a battered brown bag
with a piece of paper

crumpled in a corner
like a dried leaf,
folders for your
drawings, writings


sprawling across pages,
a fragment of pastel,
pencils, a flattened
glove, engulfing me

with memories as I
sort through, hoping
to find somewhere
a measure of healing.
© 2006

Today's word: crumpled

Monday, June 19, 2017

Dare I Ask?








My usual approach is to select a poem, write something about it, then try to find a suitable illustration, photo or otherwise.

However, while skimming through my backlog of pictures, I ran across my own photo of a wheelbarrow ... an old, old wheelbarrow loaded with wood, sitting beside a reconstructed log cabin ... so I began with it instead.

I took the photo because the composition appealed to me ... the horizontals of the cabin, the sweep of the wheelbarrow bed, the slightly skewed circle of the wheel, the curving ends of the sticks of wood.

I snapped it as a possibility for a future painting. I'm intrigued by old things, the challenge of preserving that look, but with a touch of freshness in the painting itself.

In this case, I also gave the photo a sepia tone, thus enhancing the feeling of oldness. I may or may not try to carry that over into an eventual painting.

The photo selection made, the choice of a poem remained.

Aha! I remembered this one, "Dare I Ask?" True enough, it's about a wheelbarrow, but a much younger one than that in the photo.

It's mainly that hand-lettered sign that lingers in my memory, those moments of standing there, looking at that sign, imagining the red wheelbarrow and all its possibilities.

It's a poem about human frailty. We're stopped in our tracks by the prospect of owning something we need not, must not, have. And yet we're tempted, at least, to take a look.

The poem:

DARE I ASK?

"Red Wheelbarrow for Sale," says

the small hand-lettered sign that
flutters like a special invitation to me
as I slow my pace, pause to look.
I'm intrigued. Not green, nor gray,
nor just a plain old wheelbarrow,
but red. I can see myself strolling
home pushing that beautiful red ...
What am I doing? I don't really
need one, haven't a place to put it,
my wife would probably kill me.
Still, maybe just a quick peek?
© 2002

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: peek

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Caught on the Brink






Have you ever found yourself in "the twilight zone," that location which lies vaguely somewhere between sleeping like a baby ... and being fully awake?

Well, I have. Many times.

Thank goodness, it has only happened to me a couple of times when I was behind the wheel ... and without serious outcomes in either instance.

Oh, on one of those occasions ... one very dark night ... I was pulled over by a highway patrolman somewhere in Indiana ... but that's another story.

But let me settle into my favorite chair ... with a favorite book ... and it's like I've been given a knockout potion. Soon the words become blurry ... the room seems to melt away ... the book grows heavy ... my eyelids grow heavier ...

Whoa! I'm getting ahead of myself here. I'll just step aside and let you glide right into the poem:


CAUGHT ON THE BRINK

Something I had just read
struck a chord with me,
sent sympathetic vibrations
dancing down the corridors
of my mind. I could feel
something stirring deep
within me, a new knowledge
coming like a rescuer's lamp
shooting fingers of light
this way and that,
drawing nearer in the murky
darkness, promising a sip
from the cup of understanding,
a way to come clawing out
of this abyss, into fresh air
and natural light. "Bob!" I
heard the distant voice calling.
"Bob! Put down your book,
take off your glasses, recline
your chair!" It was as though
the Thought Police had me
surrounded. What could I do?
What else? I surrendered.
© 2000

(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: murky

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Air Like Fog







I'll always remember those bluffs, those canyons they embraced, the cool air on the trails, the kind of quiet that is only found in the woods.


Giant City State Park, located in the hills of Southern Illinois, seemed an almost magical place to go when I was a child. 

Alas, I understand that time has taken its toll on the bluffs, and the trails simply are no more. 

But what a treat it was then to trudge those trails, imagining all the others who had walked there before, when it was all wilderness.


As a child I relished family outings there, especially those which extended into the evening, when we'd sit around, watching the crackling flames dancing in a fireplace in one of the shelters, listening to the adults trading stories, hoping to catch some of the night sounds of the woods, too.


Later, I took my own young family there to camp, to go tramping down the same trails I had explored, to let them feast on the same sights and sounds I had enjoyed.


In more recent years, when there were just the two of us on trips back to the place where I grew up, we always managed at least a drive through the park. 

Those drives rekindled so many memories ... so many ...


This poem, which embodies some of those memories, is part of my first collection, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press:


AIR LIKE FOG


Morning air clings to me like fog
as I enter the deep, cool canyons
that thread the water-rounded bluffs,


where I pause for a moment to look
about, to drink an ancient silence
that flows and deepens while lichens


struggle up the pocked, towering walls,
up, up toward a swallow's nest, high
where clinging ferns await the random


blessings of summer shade and transient
yellow light; then I notice soft-edged
flecks of light dancing on the trail

where others must have stood watching,
where they may have heard, as I do now,
a crow, distant, calling them by name.
© 2005

Today's word: crackling

Friday, June 16, 2017

Waiting to Play





This is another "walking" poem.

I had no idea, when I took up walking as a regular, daily pursuit, that it would also lead to poetry ... or at least fragments of thought that might become something akin to poetry.

But there's something about the rhythm, the cadence of walking, that seems to stimulate words and phrases.

When this happens, I try to keep them in mind until I get home ... where I used to sit at the kitchen table while I jotted them down to share with Phyllis later.

Now I usually head to the computer.

In this case a scattering of leaves on the sidewalk caught my attention.

It struck me that they looked like colorful, broken pieces ... how the sunlight danced across them ... and some of them seemed to come to life when a breeze came gliding through.

From there it was just a short leap to imagining that the leaves were really waiting for children to come out to play with them.

Those images turned into this little poem:

WAITING TO PLAY

The leaves lie
like broken pieces
of fine porcelain,
catching sunlight
in the autumn quiet,
stirring slightly
as a breeze comes
gliding through,
but mostly they’re
waiting for children
to come romping out
to play with them.
© 1999
(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: romping

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Take a Peek






(No ... that's not a self-portrait ... just another of my randomly-shot photographs)

This is one of my "dream" poems. I remember the sensation of waking up in a strange place (I'm dreaming this, remember), being asked by some remote, impersonal voice to produce something that would identify me.

I knew there was this slip of paper in my billfold, but I couldn't find it, couldn't, in fact, find my billfold. I kept searching and searching.

Then I woke up. The dream would have been lost, had I not scribbled something on a scrap of paper as a reminder.

I don't usually dwell on the meanings of dreams.

Sometimes they mean nothing more than the excesses of a late-night snack.

Or they may reveal deep-rooted frustrations, unattainable goals, hunger, thirsts, fears ... all the makings of a poem.

Still, I try to save them all. I don't always manage, but I try.

And here's today's:


TAKE A PEEK

My billfold
contains a slip
of yellow paper
with the name
of the President
written on it.

I feel secure
having it with me,
like a number,
next of kin,
to be called
in an emergency.

Perhaps someday
after surgery,
responding to
trick questions:

What's your name?
Who's President?

I can say,"Take a peek
at my billfold. There's
a slip inside. It's all
I've got left."
© 1995

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: identify

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Stolen Minutes







I write a lot about writing. It's not that I'm ... by any stretch of the imagination ... an expert on the subject. On the contrary, the process often baffles me.

Do we know all there is to know about love? Or Nature? Or God?


No! But we pursue these, and other subjects, with a passion, because we want to understand.


So it is with the subject of writing.


I write wherever and whenever I can. Afterward, I don't always understand what I've written, or why I wrote it. But I write.


I keep a scratch pad beside the bed, a pen ... actually, it once was a pen with a light in it ... just in case I wake up with some thought bugging me, something that will be lost if I don't write it down right away.


Sometimes, even that isn't enough to preserve it. My scrawl, coupled with the morning mental fog that follows a restless night, can be a tough code to crack.


Oh, well, there will be another time, another place, and maybe that same thought will pop up like a rabbit, go running across the clover field of my mind ... and maybe, just maybe, I'll grab it this time, tame it, make it mine, all mine.


But don't worry. I've learned to share. Oh, have I ever.


For example:


STOLEN MINUTES

I steal minutes when I can,
take them for my own use,
sometimes to sit thinking
my own odd-angled thoughts,
sometimes watching as a pencil
searches its way across
the untracked page, sometimes
listening to that voice,
imperceptible except to that
part of the ear that feels,
more than it hears, what is said.
© 1996

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: imperceptible

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Promises







I've often said that I can't rhyme worth a dime ... but here I go again.


I keep trying. For me it's something like trying to leap over a high picket fence ... uphill ... and on a slippery slope, at that. I have trouble maintaining any kind of a rhyme scheme while trying to tell a story ... if, indeed, I have a story to tell.


I keep promising that I won't, but I do ... keep trying, that is. It's simply the challenge, I guess.


The result? Today's poem ... a double-edged blunt blade, if you will ... a poem about the difficulty ... at least the difficulty I have ... with keeping promises, especially to myself ... a poem in rhyme.


And I can't promise you that it won't happen again.


I keep being drawn back to this difficult task. I keep thinking that this time it will go well and I'll end up with something I can share with others. But it seldom does.


Today's illustration, I suppose, speaks to promises unkept ... I prefer to think of them as promises I will keep ... just as soon as I can get around to them.


Actually, it represents things I should've done yesterday ... must do today ... but probably will still be working on tomorrow.


Ah, tomorrow ...


Meanwhile, today ... and the poem:


PROMISES


I begin my year
With high resolve,
But my plans, I fear,
Start to dissolve
As the new wears off
The leaf I've turned
And the flames flare off
Bridges I've burned.
© 1996
(originally published in Mature Living)

Today's word: rhyme

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Only the Best








I can't imagine being restricted to writing only one word on a given day. There are so many of them clamoring to get out of my head and go skittering across the page ... or to be posted on the screen.

On the day that I wrote this little poem, though, I must have been trying to imagine what it might be like to have to settle on just one word ... and I picked "friend," with its dictionary meaning of a person one knows well and is fond of ... plus all its other shades of meaning, depending on the reader's experience.

It has so many meanings. It conjures up images of a handshake, a hug, of sharing a conversation with someone, or just sitting quietly with them ... helping someone, being helped by someone, of someone you can trust, someone with whom you can share your thoughts ... secrets, even ... 

It seems to be an all-purpose word, but it's a very precise word, too ... not a musical word, but one that can bring "music" to us, put a spring in our step, a glow that counters even the cloudiest of days.

The poem:


ONLY THE BEST

If I could write
just one word today,
what care I'd take
to pick the best
from the great array
of "previously-owned,
runs great" words,
for example: Friend.
© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: friend

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Naming the Fish










Today's poem is based on a phone call from my son, describing how he had taken his son fishing for the first time.

I could say that I made up some of the details, but that wouldn't be true, exactly ... the feel of the rod, the quivering fish, the sights and sounds that go along with fishing ... are based on memories of outings I had with my own sons.

The poem, incidentally, is part of a manuscript in search of a publisher.

NAMING THE FISH

First, there was the long
practice, getting the feel of the rod,
the flick that would send the lure
spinning out across the expanse
of driveway toward the evening sun,
the steady clicking of retrieval,
another flick, and another.

And now the blue water dazzles,
an early sun glinting, wind-stirred
ripples moving in such a way that you
feel you are moving, instead, drifting
toward some vague destination.

The sheath is removed from the barbs
of the lure now, a soft hum of line
extending, the plop, the long wait.

Then the line goes suddenly taut,
tingling, the feeling of life
racing its length, bending the rod
until, finally, the water parts
and you’re holding a slippery,
wiggling, gasping fish, looking
into its large, imploring eyes,
giving it a name, a person’s name,
then letting it slip gently back
into the water and swim away.

© 2006

Today's word: spinning

Friday, June 9, 2017

Making It Count
















This is one of my "walking poems," written in my early retirement years, when I was in the habit of sitting down at the kitchen table after my daily walk and writing bits and pieces that I could share with Phyllis when she got home from work.

There's nothing profound about it. Still, I think it says a lot.

I like it for the economy of words, for the walking cadence which brought it to me, but also for the outlook: Not that there should be wild partying, as though each day were the last, but that the certainty of today should be seized, taken advantage of, used to do something really worthwhile, against the uncertainty of tomorrow.

I don't recall precisely where I was when it came to me, but I do recall how I felt the rhythm of the words beginning to arrange themselves as I strode along: "I try to do my best today ... "

I still do.

MAKING IT COUNT

I try to do
my best today,
for I may not
have tomorrow.
© 1997
(originally published in Parnassus Literary Journal)

Today's word: cadence

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Linoleum Days







According to my handy-dandy dictionary, "linoleum" comes from the Latin linum (flax) plus oleum (oil), and describes "a smooth, washable floor covering, formerly much used, esp. in kitchens."

That established, class, let us proceed.

In the home in which I grew up, linoleum reigned, not only in the kitchen, but the dining room ... and the living room. Maybe in the bedroom, too.

It was a regal floor covering. Or so I thought then. Actually, I still do. 

But let's get right to the poem:

LINOLEUM DAYS


Linoleum was forever,
or so it seemed,
lying regally there
with its smell of new
filling the room,
cupped at the ends
from having lain
in a tight coil,
waiting patiently
at the general store
until someone
purchased its freedom,
took it home
and unscrolled it,
where it still lies
in the living room
of my mind,
so fresh, aromatic,
I hardly dare think
of walking on it.
© 1997
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: aromatic

Wednesday, June 7, 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