Monday, May 29, 2017

Sunflowers








(No, they aren't sunflowers, but I liked the color, the patterns, when I took the photo ... and just now when I was searching for something to go with today's posting)

I remember tooling along the highway somewhere in the Midwest.

The sun was shining, the landscape a quilt of varying shades of green, a sprinkling of houses and farm buildings.

Then suddenly ... it seemed sudden at the time ... I became aware of those acres of sunflowers "staring" at me. 

I was reminded of a classroom, not as a teacher, for I was never privileged to have that role, but as a visitor entering quietly, yet becoming, for the moment, the center of attention ... all those young heads turning, those eyes all focused on me, evaluating, questioning.

Oh, how that field of sunflowers reminded me of that moment. And now, this morning ... I'm enjoying the memory of that sun-drenched scene ... and how it set the wheels turning toward another poem.

It goes something like this:



SUNFLOWERS

Great gray ribbon
of road unspooling
steadily beneath me,
then, to my left,
acres of big brown eyes
all intently focused;
first day of school,
teacher's talking.
© 1995
(originally published in Capper's)
                            
Today's word: focused

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Running the Hurdles





This photo was taken some time ago. I had a new camera ... a new "toy," if you will ... and I understood, from a quick reading of the instructions, that it had a built-in timer which allowed the photographer to be in the picture. 

Aha! A self-portrait! 

I thought I'd try a profile shot ... and I did. Trouble was, I became concerned that nothing seemed to be happening. 

Then, just as I turned to see what the problem was, something did happen ... and you see the result. 

It wasn't what I expected, but I never ... almost never ... throw anything away without finding a use for it ... so here it is. 


Today's poem, I think, cries out for more poetic detail ... and more detail would call for more than its eight short lines could deliver.


The poem may, in fact, have been considerably longer when it was first written ... but I was under the mistaken impression that Capper's only published eight-line poems.


See? I can be brief.


The poem:


RUNNING THE HURDLES

Have you
ever noticed
how many more
things go wrong
when you're trying
to get away
 early, 
or make up
for lost time?
© 1997

Today's word: hurdles

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Persimmons






Today's poem is about going back home, the place where so many memories were stored up, where I lived with my grandparents from pre-school days until I left to go into military service.

Those memories had sustained me all these years.


They had been renewed with my visits back to the area, each one including a slow drive past that special place, now inhabited by others.

Then one year I returned, found the place in ruins. There had been a fire. A few years later, even those traces were gone.

This is a poem about the last time I was there, about standing there as a stranger, recalling all those early years. What wonderful innocent years they were.


The poem:

PERSIMMONS



The house, with its two bedrooms, its swing on the porch, is gone. The tar-papered garage, coal shed, the chicken house, the outhouse, all gone. I climb out of my car to have a look around. I discover, to my surprise, squared-off pieces of sandstone still there where the front walk was, but smothered now in matted dead grass.



               I turn toward where the garden was, where I spent childhood summers chopping weeds in the long, suffocating rows, picking shiny beetles and yellow-orange eggs from potato plants. It has a building on it now, property of the village, a hand-lettered sign says, a further shrinking of the site that seemed to have such endless rows then.

                                          A single cedar tree stands beside where a cindered driveway once struggled up a slight slope. Three other cedars, the lilac, two box elders, a maple, all gone.

                                                   The cemetery sexton approaches, extends a callused hand, says he saw me standing at the graves on the hill, and now here, thought I might be hunting persimmons, tells me to help myself from a tree growing back from the road, where I remember a plum tree standing.

                         We stand and talk, bridging the years between us, and he thinks he remembers when the house was still standing, but he has trouble remembering who lived there, and really can't place me.

Then, as we part, he offers persimmons again. "They’re terrible sweet this year," he says. "Not a-tall puckery."


                                     I thank him for offering, but have one final look, turn and leave without taking any.
© 2001


(received an honorable mention in a ByLine contest)

Today's word: sweet

Friday, May 26, 2017

Old Dog Asleep







It was our neighbor's canine, "Houdini," who inspired today's poem. 

"Houdini" enjoyed lying in the back yard, belly to the sun, dreaming, no doubt, of some great escapades ... or of being suddenly nose-to-nose with a wandering raccoon ... or of catching the squirrels stealing food.

Or perhaps only soaking up the sun.

But it was "Houdini" who set in motion a series of memories of my own canine pals from my growing-up years. They enjoyed the sun, too. They also enjoyed exploring the hills around my boyhood home, and they were always ready to head out on some new adventure with me.

Sometimes, though, they were tired. At my approaching footsteps, the head would be lifted slightly, I would receive a look of recognition, the tail would thump-thump-thump a few times on the ground, and the head would be lowered again to sleeping position, presumably to pick up the loose threads of some interrupted dream.

I still miss those early companions. 


I miss "Houdini," too. Always the good neighbor, "Houdini" only barked at me once ... when he and his family were moving in next door.

A quiet word from the owner, and that was that. I couldn't help admiring that kind of restraint. I'm sure there were times ... in all those years that we co-existed ... when I must have deserved a good barking at.

And the picture? Sorry, I don't have a photo of "Houdini." Instead, today we share a photo of shadows ... a subject that I find intriguing ... restful ... soothing. 

Thank you for stopping by ... and, "Houdini," this one is for you: 

OLD DOG ASLEEP

Sprawled like a tired
old tree toppled against
the slope of the hill,
your belly soaking up
afternoon sun, tail wilted
to earth, ear twitching,
plucking at the sound
of my footsteps; what
memories we share,
old pal, how alike, now,
our dreams must be.
© 1998
(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review)

Today's word: toppled

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Nightsongs






As some of you know, I write a lot about rain. 

It was such a central part of growing up in rural Southern Illinois. There were many summers when our garden wilted ... never mind the grass that seemed to turn to confetti in our yard ... the cistern ran low ...

Ah, but there were summers, too, when there was an abundance of rain ... and all was well with the world.

We city dwellers tend to forget the importance of rain. We lose touch.

This poem is an effort to restore that touch ... to explore some of the possibilities in the music ... the magic, if you will ... of rain. In the end, I guess it all boils down to "this rain tonight, tremblng leaf to leaf ... to earth."

The poem:

NIGHTSONGS

I lie listening
to the summer night,
wondering what
it might have been like
before roofs came
to glorify the rain,
to magnify the sound.

Was there gentle
crackle and murmur
of a small fire,
a faltering lullaby?

A song kept going,
stick by stick,
until the words
finally surrendered
to deep silence?

The silence of
ashes giving up
their warmth?

Perhaps there was
only the faintest
of songs, like
this rain tonight,
trembling leaf
to leaf ... to earth.
© 2003

("Nightsongs" first appeared online on Poetry Tonight. It also became a part of my first collection of poems, Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press in 2003)

Today's word: murmur

Wednesday, May 24, 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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Late Night Serenade





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

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

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

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

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

We got along famously.

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

The poem:

LATE-NIGHT SERENADE

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

(originally published in Kaleidoscope)

Today's word: yowling

Monday, May 22, 2017

How the Cinders Danced






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

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


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


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


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


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


HOW THE CINDERS DANCED

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Gently Falling



It was a quiet, rainy evening, and I had been working at the computer in the attic (a place not as primitive as it may sound ... a finished attic space, carpeted, well-lighted ... I called it "my studio").


I leaned back in my chair ... trying to decide whether to tackle just one more task ... or call it a day.


It was then I noticed that a gentle rain had begun. I could see the tiny droplets speckling the skylight, gathering, beginning to trickle down the slope.


Something about that scene brought the word "weeping" to mind. I just had to write that phrase down. There followed others ... the thought that rain is sometimes soothing, but that it can also elicit feelings of loneliness.


The poem started out in the direction of loneliness, sadness, but took a rather abrupt turn at the end with the question: "Or is it joy?" ... and my implied answer then was definitely in the direction of joy. 

It still is. Most definitely. Joy.


Now, the poem:


GENTLY FALLING

The rain
comes weeping
to the pane,
early few drops
catching late light,
pearly beads
trickling
down the glass
in remembrance
of some loss
long forgotten.
Or is it joy?
© 2003

(originally published in The Christian Science Monitor; subsequently included in my first collection, Chance of Rain, Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: joy

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Fickle Petunias




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



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

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

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

This poem is an outgrowth of some of those flowers.

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

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

FICKLE PETUNIAS

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

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: excitedly

Friday, May 19, 2017

Evening Train






Today's poem is heavy with memories ... from  a summer evening many, many years ago.


While the evening described was certainly a low point of my young life, it was not to be the end of the line, as I indicate in the poem ... and as events have since confirmed.


I'll never forget that feeling of emptiness, abandonment, of having certainly hit bottom ... all because I had won a college scholarship, with its promise of good things ahead, but I didn't even have bus fare to get to the campus.


There seemed no way to turn, no way to escape, as I sat there alone on that darkened front porch ...


But then I enlisted in the Air Force, saved some money, and eventually began college - not, incidentally, the one where I'd had a scholarship and the offer of help with finding part-time work, "once you arrive on campus."


The rest, as they say, is history ... thanks to some hard work ... and a lot of help along the way.


I also remember the feeling of relief, of a load finally having been lifted from me, all these years later, after I had written this poem.


So, you see, poetry - the writing of it, or the effort put into trying to write it - can be good therapy.


The poem:

EVENING TRAIN

The swing’s creaking
heartbeat held me
captive in the dark

as I sat watching
those lighted cars
swaying up the grade,

green trackside eye
blinking to red,
a clear sign to me,

believer in signs
and good fortune,
that my young dreams

had finally melted
into that S-curve,
vanished in darkness,

and there would be
no college, not even
bus fare to get there.

It seems so long ago,
such a vague memory
now, scar fading like

a distant whistle,
that evening train
somewhere, echoing,

reminding me that
I finally escaped,
became who I am,

but never escaped
who I was then.

© 2000

(originally published in Waterways)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Day for Flying





But isn't that always the way it is when you're in a hurry?

So, for a few minutes at least, I'm putting hurry aside now. I'm sitting here calmly at the keyboard, serenely typing a few words which I hope will make their way into "Chosen Words." 

Not a worry in the world.

Like, yeah, sure.

Meanwhile, here's the poem (I hope):


A DAY FOR FLYING

Crisp autumn breeze sliding off
some unseen glacier, sun busy
burnishing the copper leaves,

as though trees were incapable
of doing it themselves, and not
a cloud in sight. A day made

for flying. Indeed, overhead
dozens of silent chalk marks
of planes drag themselves along,

blade marks slowly multiplying
on a blue rink, crisscrossing,
widening, turning into fluffy

cotton batting stretched along
the cold, these diaphanous
contrails abandoned in a flight

to somewhere, as though planes
of the world were gathering
on this day to make clouds,

being impatient for the regular
kind and for the needed rain,
the prodigal, dallying rain.
© 1997
(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: diaphanous

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Clutter




(No, I don't think the photo represents "clutter." Just the opposite, a slice of orderly progression ... from rough-edged to well-rounded.) 


Regarding today's poem, I encountered a fellow writer/artist whom I hadn't seen for some time ... and he mentioned "Clutter" ... as one piece of my writing that he remembered. So here it is, again. 
 
Mind you, I'm not advocating clutter, even though ... looking around as I write this ... I can see that a stranger might think I'm clutter's chief spokesperson.


I try. Oh, how I try not to clutter up the planet, at least in my immediate vicinity.


In my own defense, I must say that I don't toss litter out the car window ... I don't drop candy wrappers on the sidewalk ... in fact, sometimes, when I'm out walking, I pick up the occasional strayed aluminum can and deposit it in the nearest trash container.


But in my immediate vicinity ... here in the study ... there's just some invisible force which seems to be at work ... and I am powerless in its grasp.


Things just seem to pile up ... mostly poems in progress ... little notes I've scribbled along the way ... magazines that I really must read (someday) ... little watercolor sketches ... big watercolor sketches ... drawings ... notes to myself. Things like that.


Some days I seem to make progress ... but other days? Well, then it's like trying to sweep the ocean back with a broom ... most recently computer problems reminded me of that.


But I promise you this (and it's not a political promise) ... I'll keep trying. Meanwhile, the poem:


CLUTTER, GLORIOUS CLUTTER

Someday I shall have room
for everything I possess,
all the room I ever dreamed
of having, room to lean back
casually and survey the vast
reaches of things collected
in years of serious pursuit
and delayed disentanglement.


But the jam-packed reality
of today is that I shift
cautiously among the poems
poised for avalanche, books
teetering on the brink
of revenge for being left
stacked like cold flapjacks
all these busy-busy years,
treasured items gathering
dust, clipped so long ago
from forgotten magazines.

So much of my past, perhaps
my future, too, nudging me
when I turn, bumping me when
I bend, skittering when
we touch, hugging me like
a lover just before the train
pulls out. And I stand here,
loving it all right back.
© 2000

(originally published in Nanny Fanny Poetry Magazine)

Today's word: avalanche

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Beauty of It



Today's photo shows The Little Red Car (of "Squiggles" fame) taking a look back while sitting in a parking lot.



Today's poem, if not on the first reading, then certainly on the second, reveals itself. My poems, after all, display their meaning fairly near the surface.

But the poem, which you may have seen before, came to me again as I was thinking about something which had been on my mind for several months ... 

It came to me during a long, long day which began amid the trimmings of medical science ... the lights, instruments, glowing screens, careful, attentive, caring medical practitioners.

I was a cancer patient, had been undergoing treatment for several months, and there were other treatments remaining. But the prognosis was good.

I didn't spread the word initially because I found it difficult to talk about ... I knew people would have questions ... and I wasn't prepared for that.

Finally, my intuition told me that I needn't keep guarding this as a "secret." 

There was no need to keep the facts any longer from friends, from visitors to this page ... particularly since my oncologist had finally released me from treatment. 

With many thanks for readers' comments ... which helped to keep me going all those busy months ... sustained me ... and with special thanks to Phyllis, who was with me every step of the way, here's the poem:

THE BEAUTY OF IT

The beauty of intuition
is that you don’t have to analyze,
hypothesize, or otherwise

do anything about it:
You may just sit quietly
and let it come to you,

unfolding like a tightly-wound
rosebud transforming itself,
wafting about while you

breathe in an understanding,
an answer to the question
you hadn't even asked.
© 2003
(originally published in Poem)

Today's word: intuition

Monday, May 15, 2017

An Iowa Night



 






















Time flies.


It seems such a short time ago that I was there in Iowa, participating in that study ... but it was actually many years ago ...


We had come from all parts of the country that summer, people from various professions, gathering at the University of Iowa for an intensive study of biography.


I was one of the participants in that National Endowment for the Humanities seminar. I had looked forward to it as a means of escaping, if only briefly, a work situation with constantly demanding deadlines.


What could be better than to get far, far away from that, to focus on something entirely different?


Deadlines? Oh, we had those in the seminar ... every day. We had a mountain of reading material to cover, to digest, to discuss. It was definitely not playtime.


But it was valuable ... when I returned to work, and all these years later. It helped to steer me in the direction of more writing and, eventually, into what I'm still doing today, exploring the avenues of poetry and a bit of art.


Today's poem recalls one particular evening when we were invited out to the rural home of our seminar moderator.


I recall our standing on the porch ... but let's let the poem tell it:


AN IOWA NIGHT


Day's work done, we
gathered on a farm porch,
watching the lush, dark
corn trembling toward us
as rain slid
through the dusk.


No towering buildings
muffled the crumpling
thunder, no traffic
softened the sound
of plump drops spattering
thirsting shingles.


It was the velvet edge
of an Iowa night.


I have bridged back
to it many times, seeking
those faces, wondering
what happened next,
what the others became,
where they are now.
© 1997


(originally published in Midwest Poetry Review; also included in my first collection of poems, Chance of Rain, published by Finishing Line Press in 2003)

Today's word: wondering