Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Help Wanted




Ah, I remember it well. We had stopped in Terre Haute to stretch our legs a bit. 

We'd been walking the corridors of a shopping mall, turned the corner into the food court, and there he was.

The elderly gentleman was sitting alone, one elbow resting on the edge of the table while he squinted at the newspaper he had tilted toward the light ... and his coffee sat, growing cold. 

We took a turn through the food court and walked on.

When we came by again, he was still there, sitting the same way, still poring over the paper.

I have no idea what he was actually reading, nor what his particular interest might have been, but something told me to find a place to sit and scribble a few words on a scrap of paper that I carry, just in case: 

"HELP WANTED - Conversationalist ... "

In due course, a poem was born of that experience, that chance observation, those three words I had scribbled.

The poem:


HELP WANTED

Having grown old,
I haunt the ads,
hoping to find one
that might say:
Help Wanted -
Conversationalist.
Witty, yet reserved.
Willing to listen.
Flexible hours.
No travel required.
Age no barrier.
© 1997

(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: conversationalist

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Glorious Day







It was a glorious day.


It didn't start out that way. I'll spare you the details, but regular readers already know that most of my days don't start out ... let's just say that I'm not a morning person.


I attribute that to a symphony of aches and pains, certain stresses that never seem to go away - sorry about that ... I did promise to spare you the details, didn't I?


Let's just say that the day, as my days often do, thank goodness, got better as it wore on.


And I was reminded of an afternoon of poetry readings, some time ago.


As always, I had enjoyed the portion of the program in which I shared something I'd written, but I also relished sitting back and taking in the music of words written ... and now being read ... by others.

My poem was written some time ago, but I liked it when it came to me one quiet evening, and I never lost faith in it. 


Once again, I'm dealing with the subject of writing in the poem - and ... I always hasten to add ... I'm no expert on that.


But let's let the poem tell the story:


A GLORIOUS DAY


Someday I shall lie abed
in the innocent hours
of the afternoon, too weak
to walk, too tired to talk,
but writing, because it
pleases me so, gives me 
great comfort, a purpose,
a sense of worth that makes
the hours pass like sugar
coating on a bitter pill,
and I shall curl my toes,
flex my tired fingers,
while remarking, to no one
in particular, that this
has been a most remarkable
day, a time of butterflies
fluttering across my mind,
a glorious day of drowsy 
scratchings on the page, 
a time to go drifting
softly into sleep.


(2nd Place winner in 2009 Dayton Metro Library Poetry Contest, Senior Division)


Today's word: fluttering

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fishes and Loaves





Some mornings, when I'm just getting my eyes open, beginning to bring objects into focus, the computer decides to cooperate, and things go ... well ... reasonably well. I get something posted, and I'm off the hook for the rest of the day.


But there was one morning recently that signaled it just was not going to be one of those good days.


I'll spare you the details. Bottom line: There was no way the computer was going to let me get online. Why? That's probably destined to remain a mystery.


Just one of those things, I guess.


So what did I do? Well, this time ... I skipped the hand-to-hand combat with the desktop despot. I just didn't feel like doing all-out battle with it.


Instead, I decided just to go with the flow. I still had a guilty conscience about giving in so easily, but I spared myself tons of frustration.


So there it was, mid-afternoon. I'd had my walk. I had a nice, quiet lunch with a lady I've known since the previous century, and I'd had a nap ... -- er, an interlude of concentrated meditation in one of my favorite chairs ... and the computer seemed to have come around, reluctantly, to my way of thinking.


And there we were, finally, with a poem.


As I explained then, the "fishes and loaves" bit in the poem may be something of a stretch, but it got somebody's attention, right? They read it, liked it, published it.


Take away that part, though, and you still have the heart of what I'm trying to say: If what I have said, or what I may yet say, touches someone, helps them in some way, simply gives them a better outlook, improves their understanding of some issue, helps them to make it through the day ... then that's "miracle" enough for me.


And when a poem I've written resonates with someone in a particular way ... especially if they are moved to tell me about it ... then that's "miracle" enough for me, too.


This one was originally published in Explorer:


FISHES AND LOAVES

The fishes
of what I have said
and the loaves
of what I may yet
have to say
would never feed
the multitudes,
but, if one crust
of my writing
has benefitted
just one person,
that's miracle
enough for me.
© 1996

Today's word: miracle

Saturday, February 25, 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

Friday, February 24, 2017

Delia's Dream








Today's little poem is about my grandmother, who took me into her care when I was two years old and guided me until I was 18 ... when I went into military service ... and even beyond. 

I still feel that gentle hand in the small of my back.

Times were not just hard, but really tough, requiring frugality with those few material things which came her way. Still, those circumstances seemed to inspire in her an exceeding generosity.

She knew that others had needs greater than hers. She accepted the fact that her good works might be received without thanks.

And she didn't talk much about "those distant places," but I know she dreamed about them sometimes, especially those where her children were.

She did get to visit them, but she never got to be there, as she would say, never got to "pull up and settle down" there.

It was simply not to be. And she accepted that, too. 

How I love her, for all the things she taught me ... for all the butterflies she pointed out to me ... and paused to watch with me.


And now, the poem:


DELIA'S DREAM

How she'd say
nothing is ever lost,
meaning wasted,
pieces of string,
each carefully coiled,
or a rubber band
snapped around her wrist,
her good works received
without thanks,
and thoughts,
especially thoughts
of those distant places
where she dreamed things
were better, where she
hoped to be someday,
but never was.
© 1997
(originally published in Riverrun)

Today's word: guided

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Catching a Wave





(No waves evident here; I just thought it might be good to share one of my peaceful photos ... this one taken at Cox Arboretum ... with this particular poem)

I don't think I was intended to be a morning person. Mornings have always been a struggle for me.


I know, I know. Morning is the best part of the day for the writer. Other concerns have not begun to intrude. 
The house is quiet. The brain is rested, ready to rev. Here's a whole new day beckoning.


But for me it's ... well, it's just morning. It takes me a little while to build some momentum.


I roll over, get one foot on the floor, then the other. I stand. I go teetering off in the general direction of the keyboard. I find the switch, flick it on.


By this time I have both eyes open. Things are starting to come into focus. And then, look out. Oh, look out! I'm starting to roll. I may even be writing soon.


This one was first published in Capper's:


CATCHING A WAVE

Down the avenues of my early-morning
mind zooms a flood of crowded, honking
thoughts that seek a place to park.

I’m too tired to direct traffic, too stressed
to sort them out. That must wait till later,
tongue losing its taste of suede, on the

verge of talk. But then they’re gone, not
a thought in sight, not a word of that
early-morning roar. Perhaps tomorrow.
© 1999

Today's word: momentum

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

At the Flower Show




Because of the grandmother who always raised flowers ... and reared me ... I have always had a certain connection with blossoms.


There is just something about being in the company of flowers ... the memories they stir with their scents, their color.


"At the Flower Show" is about one of those special occasions, a gathering of flowers ... and people ... a flower show.


But it's not so much about the flowers. I felt that my collection of words, picked up here and there along the way, would be inadequate to describe the flowers.


Ah, but the people. I was one of them. I could jot down something about the experience of being at a flower show. It would be something to remind me of that sunny day, that beautiful setting ... the realities of being there.


Of course, I couldn't resist the temptation to compare the visitors to flowers themselves.


The poem:


AT THE FLOWER SHOW

Visitors blossom in bright lines
when day begins, but start wilting
under the sun, and throngs
slowly surrender, settling
like long rows of potted plants
along the wooden benches.

© 1999
(originally published in Sisters Today)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What Was That?








(One of my colored pencil drawings. It has nothing to do with today's poem, really, but it worked its way to the top of a stack again, and I thought I'd share it again.)


I write a lot about ordinary things ... those things all around me ... things which are seen ... or heard ... almost every day ... things which might go unnoticed, had I not started trying to "see things with new eyes."

Or, I suppose, in this instance, to hear things with new ears.

The poem deals with a bit of ancient history ... so much time has passed since the incident about which I've written ... but it's good to be able to look back, sometimes, to remember ... to chuckle again over something that happened ... something, in the broad sweep of things, quite ordinary ... but still valued.

The poem:

WHAT WAS THAT?

When I heard
a chorus of crickets
in my son's room,
I wasn't surprised.
When I heard bird calls,
that didn't faze me
in the least.
But when I heard
the songs of whales,
I sat upright
and took notice.
Just a CD, Dad,
he reassured me,
and I drifted off
with hardly a ripple.
© 1995

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor)

Today's word: ripple

Monday, February 20, 2017

Teeming Waters





Today's illustration is another of my photos ... a fuzzy little snapshot taken to preserve the moment ... I don't recall exactly where or when I snapped it ... but the tranquility of the scene appealed to me.

Teeming waters? Hardly. 

The juxtaposition of the pair of ducks ... and the reflection of the large tree caught my eye.

I'm always intrigued by the ducks we encounter on our walks ... the ways they interact with each other ... and with us ... and the way the young tag along behind Mother, as though being tugged by an invisible string.

And trees? I'm not really a tree hugger, but I do like trees. They were so much a part of where I grew up ... so much of my early life ... and now, in my current stage, I am drawn more and more to their shade during my summer walks.

So it seemed a very natural combination for a photo ... and now, maybe a match with today's poem.

In it, I guess I'm saying that while I consider myself a painter of pictures with words ... the words I find here and there ... I don't really paint the BIG PICTURE. 

Where word-pictures are concerned, I'm not a muralist. I stick to the small subjects I know ... and mostly just as an observer, at that, things I take note of as I stroll by.

I'm not a philosopher, sometimes not even a thoughtful observer. 

But I do relish the little word-pictures that come to me in quiet moments. This one contains some of those.


The poem:


TEEMING WATERS

No ocean liners ply the waters
of my mind, no freighters,
and no reefers sitting low
with their burden of hefty ideas,
but smaller craft keep them
teeming, shadows following
in the shallows, crawling
the paths where pebbles lie
travel-rounded and waiting,
always waiting, for that poem.
© 1996

(originally published in ByLine)



Today's word: teeming

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sudden Thunder






The skies were a bit threatening, but nothing serious, as I set out on my morning walk. Still, I had chosen one of my intermediate routes, which would add two miles to my good-behavior record, rather than the usual one mile ... or, in warm, sunny weather, three miles.

I'm sure there had been some rumblings, but nothing to worry about, just a bit of background music as I went strolling along, my thoughts a million miles away.

I was somewhere along Watervliet Avenue, heading generally east, when a sudden explosion of thunder got my attention.

Did it ever. It was so loud that "nearby" seems an understatement.

I remember turning - I have no idea what I expected to see - but I turned, found myself looking down this driveway, and there, in the wind and rain, was this beautiful rose, bending and straightening, almost as though beckoning to me.

I've tried to fix that exact location in memory, but I have yet to locate that precise driveway, that fence, that rose again.

I must have been soaked by the time I got home, but I don't remember changing into dry clothing. I don't think I was chased all the way home by lightning. I would certainly remember that. But I do remember that moment when I turned and discovered that rose.

I'll always remember that.

The poem:


SUDDEN THUNDER

I was walking,
cradled in thought,
when a nearby
crash of thunder
wheeled me
and I stood looking
down a long driveway
at a deep red rose
that was leaning
and straightening
beside a dark
gray fence.

For the longest
moment I remained
rooted there, letting
the rain trickle
down my neck,
drip from my
fingers, admiring
this beautiful flower
that had drawn me
to it with
a clash of cymbals,
brittle song
of thunder.
© 2003

(from my first collection, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: thunder

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Renewal







Symbolism isn't always apparent when I take a photo. 

In this instance, I was simply prompted by the colors, the reflections, the quiet of this spot in Charleston Falls Park. 

But now I see the greening of renewal, the fallen tree both as a symbol of decay which will lead to renewal and as a footbridge, offering a choice at that juncture, of wading through the stream of events, or of taking a dry, if somewhat acrobatic, crossing ... all symbols of passages.

Appropriate, I was thinking last night ... looking at the calendar, marveling at how fast this year seems to be going.

I know ... it's still a bit early, maybe, to be thinking about year's end ... parties, resolutions, turning over a new leaf ... all that stuff.

But renewal, I think, can really come at any time of year ... any day ... any moment. 

End of sermon.

And now the poem:


RENEWAL

How sad sounding
the rains of spring
were, thudding
on the empty drum
of my young life.

Renewal lacked
meaning for me,
but the years
have washed away
that emptiness.

Now the song
of those gentle
drops on my roof
nurtures dreams
of beginnings
and new growth.
© 2002

(originally published in Brave Hearts)

Today's word: beginnings

Oh, by the way ... I've learned that Chosen Words recently welcomed its 100,000th visitor ... and, of course, I have no idea who it was (the counter just clicks when somebody takes a look -- and I don't know who has visited, unless they leave a note) ... but I thank you, one and all, for stopping by.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Play BALL!






Today's poem comes to mind each year as  ice-encrusted winter months start retreating and I resume walking past those ball diamonds waiting for crowds of kids ... or would-be kids ... to return.

It also comes to mind with the onset of nippy nights and chilly mornings ... a reminder that the things of summer will soon be put aside while we search for the leaf rake... and the dreaded snow shovel.

I like to store away sunnier memories ... something to tide me over in less inviting times, weather-wise. 

What better memory than a sun-drenched ball park?

There's one ball park in particular that holds a certain fascination. I guess it's because there's seldom anybody else around as we go strolling by.

I do pause there ... sometimes approach the backstop, and my fingers do grip the wire mesh like "some abandoned vine" ... while I think of days long, long ago, when I actually ran the bases a few times.

There's still that momentary urge to try it again. But I'm a little smarter now ... and a lot slower ... and I never do.

The poem:

Play BALL!

Standing behind
the sagging backstop
at the deserted field,
my fingers gripping
the wire mesh like
some abandoned vine,
I'm tempted to go
tearing around second,
sliding into third
in a cloud of dust;
instead, I linger
a few moments more,
enjoying the quiet,
 
just imagining that
roar of the crowd.
© 1998

(originally published in Capper's)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

On Waking






I grew up in hill country, where fog was rather common. I still identify waking up, the beginning of the day, with fog that lingers in the valleys.

It's something like the fog that lingers in my own head ... beading on the cobwebs there ... but that's another story.

Meanwhile, today's poem:


ON WAKING


The dense gray fog, that
silent stalker of valleys,
crept in like a dream
while we slept, lingered,
defying the sun's efforts
to take back this place
where the sassafras shares
a hillock with honeysuckle,
outdoing the dew itself,
globules riding a coolness
that speaks of changes
coming, a shift of seasons,
a briskness that will make
the covers more precious
in the morning, gentle fire
like a warm embrace when
evening brings us home.
© 2001

(originally published in Waterways)

Today's word: embrace

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Next Shade

























(It's not one of my summer photos ... and that's shadow, rather than shade, but I find shadows interesting, too)

Phyllis and I, circumstances permitting, go for a walk every day.

We prefer walking outdoors, but if the weather is particularly disagreeable, as it can sometimes be in this part of the world, we duck into a shopping mall, or its equivalent, and do our walking there. 

We've even done the building-connecting tunnels at Wright State University ... all a part of survival.

In the hottest part of summer, we adopt another strategy, which allows us to walk outdoors ... and survive.

We call this our "shade hike." We find some place with lots of trees ... and we're blessed with a lot of parks like that in this area ... then we go strolling from shade to shade.

These brief interludes of relative coolness make it possible for us to walk outdoors in the hot, sultry months ... and survive.

If we hear rumbles of thunder, it's back to the mall.

While we are darting ... relatively speaking ... from shade to shade, I often think about this poem, based on childhood memories ... as many of my poems are ... but also a metaphor for dealing with problems:


NEXT SHADE

Once, walking to town,
I complained that it was
too hot, too dusty, far
too far, but Grandma,

who had walked it many
times before, simply
said, "We can make it
to next shade, then

we'll rest. Next shade,
rest," and it became
a game, the next shade
our refuge, drawing

us along like a magnet,
the trip getting easier.
I've thought of that
a lot of times when it

seemed the going had
become too demanding,
and I always found
next shade, some rest,

before pressing on,
her words still making
it easier for me.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

And so it is. We find that "next shade" ... in words of comfort ... a pause ... a summoning of inner strength ... a moment in our own quiet cove ... respite ... before pressing on ... and on.


Today's word: survive

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Moment
























Memories. We can't live in the past, of course, but memories can help to make the going easier in the present.


Today's poem is based on earliest memory.


I find it hard to believe that I'm going all the way back to the cradle in recalling my mother's words ... not the specific words, but the memory of the sounds, enhanced, perhaps, by the distance, the years since I heard them.


Or I may just be imagining it all, the product of my wanting to "hear" them.


When I was about two years old, I went to live with my grandparents, who reared me to adulthood. My contact with my mother, over those years, was, by various circumstances, limited to a certain degree.


It would be natural for me to have more memories of my grandparents than my mother. Still, there is that connection, that need to go back as far as I can to those earliest days.


It's a wistful poem, a semi-dream poem. And I found a certain healing in the writing of it, a certain comfort in reading it again. It was originally published in Capper's:


THE MOMENT

In the moment
between sleeping
and waking,
when morning light
drifts strangely
through the trees
and sounds seem
borne aloft
by distant voices,
my mother’s words
come curling back
like wood smoke
on a rainy night,
and I am comforted
by that memory.
© 2001

Today's word: wistful

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Lost Line







There's something about the rhythm of walking ... especially alone, nobody to talk to ... which can set a phrase to coursing repeatedly through your brain.


Perhaps it's something you recall from a conversation, or it may simply pop out of the blue.


The more you think about it, the more entrenched it becomes. Then you start hoping it will stay in place until you get back home, or until you find a curbside bench where you can sit 
and commit that persistent phrase to paper.


Sometimes it's a series of phrases, thoughts that are beginning to shape themselves into a poem.


It was at this point in one of my walks, when I found myself in mid-street ... but let's let the poem tell the story. "The Lost Line" was originally published in ByLine magazine.


THE LOST LINE


Walking, engrossed
in the troubling
task of untangling
a difficult line,
I looked up
at mid-street
into the whites
of the eyes of a car.


The startled driver
swerved and went on,
as did I, trembling
at the thought
of being cut down,
end-stopped,
in such a way.


I left the line
lying there where
I had dropped it,
a broken lanyard,
the possibility
of starting
something big
scared out of it.

I doubt that I
can ever reclaim it,
poor frayed thing,
abandoned, lost,
turned to a frazzle
by tires that sing
without ceasing
on Wayne Avenue.
© 1996

Today's word: lanyard