Friday, June 30, 2017

That I May Know





In selecting the art for these postings, I try to be as careful as I am with the chosen words which make up the poem, as careful as I am in selecting the poem itself.

I don't want the art to overpower or distract, but to illustrate the point I'm trying to make with the poem.

In this instance I believe I have a match with my photo of a stump. 

I like the stump simply because of the way the sun plays across its features. 

It also speaks of all those years spent growing in the woods ... and now this final stage of giving way, of returning to the soil from which it came, devolving into nutrients for new plants.

The presence of green in the photo represents the onset of this new growth. It is spring, a time of renewal. 

The stump remains, that symbol of the past, but it will eventually be overrun by new growth, new flowers, new dreams ... the renewal of life.

In the poem I am attempting to address this ongoing cycle of life, attempting to bridge the gap between the old and the new ... the present and the past ... a bit wistfully, perhaps ... while also trying to touch on the future. 

The poem:

THAT I MAY KNOW

When I am old
and wizened,
feeble and forgetful,
then I hope
you will read to me
a poem I wrote
in younger days,
so that I may know
once again
what it was like
to dream.
 
© 1996 
(originally published in Poetic Eloquence)

Today's word: wizened

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Quick, the Towel!






Some of you ... Chosen Words Regulars ... may have seen this one before ... and even my introduction ...


Because it happened again. What happened? 

Listen ...

It's almost automatic ... as I step into the shower ... the sudden intrusion of a most urgent thought ... that must be written down ... right now.

There's just something about the place, the setting.

It may be just an item for the grocery list ... or just a random thought ... an idea ... but that is a part of writing, I tell myself ...

I don't often interrupt the shower to commit these most urgent words to paper ... but I do try to retain them ... and that's sometimes akin to maintaining a grip on a slippery bar of soap.

If I'm lucky, I relish the shampoo ... complete the shower ... towel off, taking extra care with the toes ... and still have that special thought ... that idea ... as I reach for that little stack of scratch paper which is always nearby, ready, waiting.

Sometimes, if I'm really lucky, what I commit to paper is the beginning of a poem ... a thought that contains the promise of blossoming into something worth keeping ... and then I know this is going to be a beautiful day.

The poem:

QUICK, THE TOWEL

There's something
about a shower,
the steamy,
needling water,
the quiet warmth,
something, that
brings to mind
an urgent thought
of some errand,
some left-over
chore, some most
urgent task, that
must be written
on paper now,
right now, before
it goes trickling
down the drain
of forgetfulness.

© 2000
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: needling

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Passing in Review



























Today's poem is another example of material ... fodder, if you will ... lurking almost anywhere.

Naturally, I keep an eye out for subject matter, possibilities for a small painting, perhaps, or even a poem, when I'm out walking ... when I'm sitting, waiting for a bus ... whatever.

In this instance, I had passed the flowers many times, casually observing their color, their sprightliness, but not feeling any particular connection with them ... until one day when there was a slight breeze. 

Their movement, "nodding their heads," caught my eye well before I was in front of them.

It was then, I think, that it seemed they were the "reviewing stand" and it was I, the lonely marcher, who was being inspected as I strode past.

Hardly more than a haiku moment, but that impression, that image, stuck with me all the way home, where I sat at the kitchen table and started writing.

The poem, originally published in Capper's:

PASSING IN REVIEW

Flowers arrayed
like a reviewing stand
in my neighbor's yard
seem to be nodding
recognition of me,
and perhaps they are,
for I march by twice
on my daily walk.

© 1995

Today's word: nodding

Tuesday, June 27, 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

Monday, June 26, 2017

Moment




Only once in this lifetime have I experienced the sensation of a butterfly settling onto my hand.


I'm sure, as a child, I must have dreamed of such a thing, without ever really expecting it to happen. It was like lying on a hillside, looking up at the clouds, and imagining what it might be like to fly, literally fly, above them ... something to speculate on, but not to be attained.


Then there I was, an adult ... a very tired adult ... sitting on a hillside far from those amid which I did so much of my early dreaming ... and there was a butterfly ... sitting on my hand.


Had I known then what a haiku moment was, I would have declared that to be one. Instead, I simply sat, transfixed, watching, waiting ... and finally squinting to follow its path as it departed.


I suppose some will read into the poem a feeling, not just of the butterfly's departure, but of loss, too. I prefer to think of what I had gained.


And so it has been with the visits of those who stop by to take a look at "Chosen Words."


Then the crowd moves on. There are other journals to visit, to explore, to evaluate and comment on.


It grows quiet here.


If I were to read "Moment" aloud now, I might be the only one listening. But I would savor the words ... I would read them carefully ... and I would recall the heat of that day ... the sun ... that butterfly ... just as I am now looking back on the past several months, savoring the words you have left with me.


As I continue reading your words in the days to come, I will remember ... your thoughtful comments ... the kind things you've said ... and I will think of all I have gained from your visits.


And I thank you for all of that.


Meanwhile, the poem:


MOMENT


The butterfly sits so lightly
on the back of my sunburned
hand that I barely feel
its tiny feet clinging, tongue
tasting the essence of me.


I sit stone-still, watching
as it clings, seeing its tongue
uncurling to taste, feeling
my breathing subsiding
into the rhythm of its wings,
folding, unfolding,


sit savoring the reverie
attending the encounter with this
being that has flown to me
like a tiny fleck of fly ash,
but has chosen me, the most
unlikely of choices, and keeps
sitting here while I consider
whether I might seize it.

Then, as though sensing
my intentions, it lifts lightly
off, flying raggedly, majestically
across the sun-swept field,
perhaps pursuing a search
for someone more worthy,
leaving the weight of absence
pressing my hand.
© 1999

(originally published in Vincent Brothers Review)

Today's word: majestically

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Like That






I try to look at simple things and extract their essence. In this instance it's the last drop of liquid in the cup.

How many times, occupied with ringing phones, converging projects all demanding to be done ... NOW ... how many times I absently lifted the cup and received two surprises: the unexpected emptiness of the cup, and then the suddenness of that last, single drop plopping onto my tongue.


I think this poem works on two levels.

On the surface, it's a descriptive passage of an event so minor that it's almost beneath writing about, yet will stir a bit of recognition from some readers, an acknowledgment that, yes, I've experienced that.

It also works as a metaphor for endings. How we cling to the memory of that which has just ended, how we hold on to the memories of those things which brought us to this ending.

"Like That" was originally published in Palo Alto Review, an honor in itself. Then the editors nominated it for Pushcart Prize honors.

Eventually, it became part of Hollyhocks, a second collection of my poems, published in 2007 by Finishing Line Press.

The poem:

LIKE THAT

It's like
when you think
the cup is empty
but you lift it
anyway,
tilting it toward
your mouth,
and a solitary drop
comes rolling
off the bottom,
goes bounding
onto your tongue
so now you really taste
the flavor of it,
far greater
than the rest
of what you've drunk,
and it quenches
the thirst of memory,
lying there
long afterward,
most valued
because there is
no more.
© 1999

(originally published in Palo Alto Review)

Today's word: bounding

Saturday, June 24, 2017

It's Not Easy





Well, yes, one of my favorite bridges, at Cox Arboretum (again), but at a slightly different season ... and with people on it this time.


OK, so I was having a little fun with an idea when I wrote today's poem.

Still, it seems to speak to me, at least, of the impatience that seems to crowd into everyday life.

I hop into Little Frisky (successor to our aging Little Red Car) and head to the grocery ... I get honked at when I don't start up quickly enough as a traffic light turns from red to green ... I don't select a cart as quickly as others ... I don't yield enough times to other shoppers at the ends of the aisles ... I seem to be holding up the checkout line as I fumble for the exact change ... and on the way home ... well, I get honked at again ...

Oh, I get impatient, too.

We don't have time for all that today, though. I can see that some of you are starting to fidget. Let's just say that I have my share of impatience, mainly with myself ... and the time it seems to take me to complete simple tasks these days.

I was thinking about that when I wrote today's poem, I guess.

I really would like to be a more patient person. 

I really would, except ... well, you'll soon enough see what the "except" is about, when you read today's short piece (meanwhile, thanks for your patience):


IT'S NOT EASY

I admire people
who have patience.
I wish I had
more myself,
and I'm working
on it, but it just
seems to take
so long to learn. 
 © 1996

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

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