Monday, July 31, 2017

Paths That Crossed








After I retired from my "regular" job, I began looking for something else to do, something structured, something which would take me outside these walls on a regular basis, something to ease this void in which I found myself.


I found all of that in becoming a "temp," a temporary worker who had a variety of assignments, doing inventory, sorting, filing, things I could do without stress or strain.


Then I found myself assigned to a project which was expected to last a couple of years, maybe more. What a great assignment that was, working with people of a wide range of ages, from a variety of backgrounds, all of us learning the routines, growing, settling in, enjoying this adventure.


Then another door opened, an offer of "early retirement," which I took. But I didn't just walk away. You don't do that with a family of friends. I maintained contact (and it wasn't just for the monthly carry-ins for sharing tons of cake in celebration of birthdays), watched the others continuing their growth, celebrated their successes, shared in their setbacks.

After our latest gathering once again for lunch  I was reminded of the poem I had written ... a rather long time ago, now.


It's an effort to capture some of those feelings,  to preserve some of it for myself, perhaps some for them, too.


PATHS THAT CROSSED

First the warehouse site,
then Newmark and Woodman.
How the paths of lives
came crisscrossing there
with the burgeoning work!


My own path veered away
at the end of '90, but
came back several times
as ever-widening circles
tested the boundaries
of my untethered life.


Now the grass reclaims
my old path, footprints
erased, nothing to mark
my having ever been there.


But I possess evidence.


The landscape of my mind
is alive with these paths,
tracks of those crossing
the path of my own life,
seemingly without design
or plan, yet unerringly.

These stored memories
endure on a gentle slope
teeming with paths strong
where crossings link them,
and likely to cross again.
© 1995
Today's word: paths

Sunday, July 30, 2017

One to Grow On



















Winter rain, under the right conditions, can be like a lullaby as it dances softly on the roof and goes running off down the street.


But if conditions are right for freezing, as they are here sometimes, it's an entirely different story. We venture out gingerly and pick away at the layer that's still gripping our driveway.


One consolation, we tell ourselves, is that we're a little nearer to the beginning of spring, and we're warmed by the potential that implies.


Meanwhile, back to the subject of a kinder, gentler rain ... the kind which inspired today's little poem:


ONE TO GROW ON

Winter rain
comes sliding down
the glistening trunk
of a sleeping tree,
delivering a sip
to be savored
when it awakens
early next spring.
 © 1995

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

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Night Echoes




How vivid the memory is of those trucks "grumping and rumbling" in the night.

I don't recall exactly when it was, but I remember being bedded down for the night in a motel at Terre Haute. Then I heard them. It sounded like a parade of trucks, although there weren't nearly that many ... and there wasn't exactly a steady stream of them.

I recall getting up to take a look. There was a single, huge dump truck grinding past on the highway. I don't recall which highway, but It seems to me that it was a north-south route.

I went back to bed.

The trucks kept rolling. It wasn't a loud noise, but it seemed persistent ... and it seemed that there was just enough of a grade in the road, right beside the motel, that their grumbling ... all of them ... increased right there as they shifted to a lower gear and went on climbing the hill.

I got back up ... jotted down my impressions ... and went back to bed. And really slept then. Oh, did I ever!

The poem, which later became part of my first published collection:

NIGHT ECHOES

Mud-laden trucks
grump and rumble
outside my room,
hauling mounded
loads of quiet
down the highway,
letting it spill
in the darkness,
come rolling back,
thunder’s echo
muffled, distant,
washing across
this emptiness
like surf crashing
on my pillow.
© 2003


(originally published in Chance of Rain, issued by Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: crashing

Friday, July 28, 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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Leaky Roof





The morning seemed to start off with a bit of fog ... most of my mornings seem to start that way, even when the sun is shining brightly ... so it was no surprise when ... I woke up ... late, thirsty ... thinking foggily of clouds, rain, roofs, leaky roofs ... and this poem came to mind:


THE LEAKY ROOF

We knew just where
to put pots and pans
when the rain came
suddenly weeping
through our roof,
its pit, pat, pit-pat
lullaby lingering
long after the storm
had droned off into
distant, grumbling
thunder, leaving
a morning residue
of splatters
and puddles,
blankets on a line,
featherbed sprawled
like a newborn calf
broadside of the sun.
© 2001

(received an honorable mention award in Ohio Poetry Day competition; subsequently published in my first collection, Chance of Rain ... Finishing Line Press, 2003)

Today's word: grumbling

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Homecoming

























I think I tend to be too wordy. Not only in my poems, sometimes, but in my commentary, too.


Sorry about that.


Still, I do try to boil things down ... to reduce them to their essence. Readers are busy, in a hurry, have other things to do, so many other things calling for their attention.


I owe them some brevity ... and the more I talk about that, the less I'm giving them. Right?


What I started out to say was that the poem simply attempts to express the feeling that, while it's good to get away ... on a vacation, or even for a few days ... it's good to get back, too ... to be home again.


I could have said much more than that in the poem, but I was under the mistaken impression that Capper's only published eight-line poems ... short lines, at that.


For example, I could have talked about the curving gravel road leading to the barn on the place where I lived at one time ... about the lilacs and maples along that road ... about the big gray house ... the light in the window ...


More about that later, perhaps. For now, the poem:


HOMECOMING

No matter how great
the vacation, there's
no sweeter song
than a quartet
of travel-weary tires
harmonizing
 on the gravel
of your own driveway.
 © 1994
(originally published in Capper's)


Today's word: harmonizing

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Glimpse





Just as distance changes the perspective of things in the physical world, so does it change the perspective we have on events of long ago.

It's been a long time since I "lived in the country." By today's standards, it was a rather restricted life. We had no running water, no indoor plumbing, no central heat, no telephone, no car.

Ah, but there are other things I remember about life back then, and I still savor them. Actually, their flavor seems to improve ... like warmed over soup ... each time I bring up those memories.

Perhaps I've overdone it a bit with my talk about "that bit of heaven so far beyond the grasp of cities, and all their suburbs ... " but perhaps not.

The poem:

GLIMPSE

Those who have never been
lulled by a country breeze,
savored the scent of hay
lying in the sun, caught
the sweet, wafting hint
of honeysuckle, who have
never heard the raucous call
of a crow gentled, distanced
by the summer air, well,
they've never glimpsed that
bit of heaven so far beyond
the grasp of cities, and all
their suburbs still to come.
© 2000

(originally published in PKA's Advocate)
Today's word: grasp

Monday, July 24, 2017

Favored Paths






My grandparents didn't have a car (as some of you may know, I grew up in their care) ... but that was no problem ... everything we could have wanted was within walking distance ... and trips, real trips? Well, there were passenger trains running then.


Under those circumstances, it's little wonder, I suppose, that I learned the benefits of walking.


For one thing, there was so much to see while walking ... it was a pleasure to focus on a particular view, then watch it slowly changing as the walking changed the angle at which it was seen.


The slower pace made it so easy to absorb what was seen ... to savor the flavor, so to speak.


So, when my doctor suggested ... OK, he may have been verging on insisting ... that I take up walking again ... it was no big deal, even when I first started and found it difficult to go all the way around the block.


I remembered ... I knew the benefits of walking. It was just a matter of time until I could get my body back into shape. 

Well, it took a little more time than I expected ... but I listened to my body along the way ... and moderated my pace, or increased it, accordingly.


And now a daily walk is automatically a part of my routine. I still enjoy the view(s), the pace ... and particularly the poems that sometimes come to me during my walks.


Today's poem, for example:

FAVORED PATHS

I like to walk
where the trees
drink the sunlight
and let only
stray droplets
speckle the earth,

where the squirrel
scampers unseen
to a cradling limb
and screeches
at the stranger
who dares intrude,

where lichens clutch
the brows of bluffs
sitting as in judgment
while merely waiting,
as they have been
through the ages,

where the tiny bird
flits and sings
its song of hope,
and my steps
are less labored
as I am renewed.

© 1996
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: lichens

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Enjoy That Silence






Today's poem was written at a time when I was thinking about my writing ... how I might improve it ... what subject to tackle next ... how to tweak some of the tons of things I've written ... and about how ... someday ... for me ... all this will come to a halt ... 

That can be a gloomy thought, I know ... but I prefer to look at the bright side of the coin, even while knowing, all along, that the coin has another, darker side, too.

Today's poem deals with that other side, but in a way, I hope, that simply looks at reality ... with a dash of hope for the reader ... the knowledge that things will go on, as always.

Meanwhile, I have been blessed to be able to write, and to be permitted to share what I have written (and that includes this "blog"; I noticed this morning that, to date, there have been about 65,800 visits paid to "Chosen Words." Thank you, one and all!).

As much as the writing itself ... which sometimes comes in pauses and starts, and sometimes with difficulty, but always brings a certain satisfaction when it's finished, awaiting a polishing or two ... I have enjoyed the reactions of readers.

To say that I have basked in their comments is a vast understatement.

Still, I know it will all end someday. It must. It will.

This poem is about that. I think it pretty well tells its own story ... and I don't think it's a sad story, really, just an acknowledgment of the inevitable ... but also a celebration of the present. Thank you for being a part of that celebration.

The poem:

ENJOY THAT SILENCE


When all the leafy
branches have closed

behind me and my
footsteps have drifted

into nothing, I hope
there will be no

searching parties sent
to seek new meaning

in what I was trying
to say. I had no hidden

agenda, no secrets
in my surface-dwelling

statements. So when
the silence descends,

as it surely must, please
accept it. And enjoy.
© 2006

(Published in the Spring 2006 - 40th Anniversary Edition - of ICON)

Today's word: inevitable

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Driving to Marengo




This is one of my favorites, largely because of the memories it has preserved of a young family taking affordable outings.


We were living in Northern Illinois at the time, and Marengo was one of our favorite destinations.


Memories of those outings were still "rotating on the carousel of my mind" as Phyllis and I returned from a now-rare outing, a trip out of town.


Traffic had thinned a bit (all the trucks, buses and cars of the world had gone zip-zip-zipping past us ... because I always poke along at the posted speed limit).


During those few moments when we had only the humming of our own car's tires to keep us company, my thoughts drifted toward those summertime outings.


What delicious memories! I had no choice. I had to dig out "Driving to Marengo" and share it with you again:


DRIVING TO MARENGO

We urged the old station wagon
along curving country roads
toward that place just across
from the school, to consume
those remarkable foot-long
hotdogs with chili peppers
and onions, dripping mustard
and juices, filling the air
with an aroma that lingered
all the slow, dark drive home,
and for days afterward,
like a spirit moving softly
among us, implanting memories
still turning, slowly rotating
on the carousel of my mind.
© 1998

(originally published in Raintown Review)
Today's word: delicious

Friday, July 21, 2017

Cold Winter Nights


Align CenterAlign CenterAha! Another poem about writing ... touching on a process that remains something of a mystery to me ... but also reaching the heart of the matter, I think, the satisfaction that comes from putting thoughts on paper.


The poem:


COLD WINTER NIGHTS


I have dreamed
that my poetry
might go like
wildfire lighting
the emptiness
of night, dancing
ahead of the wind,
smoke of creation,
furious burning,
rising to join
the lingering clouds,
drifting, drifting.

Ah, but a smaller
fire it is, burning 
within, chasing nothing
before it, raising
no alarms, warming
only me on these
cold winter nights
with a lamp to keep
me company, and these 
scratchings on a tiny
scrap of paper.
© 1996

(originally published in ByLine)


Today's word: wildfire

Thursday, July 20, 2017

All Those Trees





Memory ... how important it is ... not just so we can find things we seem to have hidden from ourselves only minutes before ... but for preserving events along the way ... to be savored later.

They may not be vitally important ... or important at all, in their own right ... but I'm convinced that they do have a role to play.

I enjoy recalling pleasant events ... or even just enjoyable moments ... especially when all the world seems to be working against me.

I guard against "living in the past," of course ... an impossible task, but also an activity that can have disappointing, if not disastrous, results.

I am pleased, however, when I see someone I haven't seen for a while ... and I remember their name. 

I am doubly pleased when I can remember where I put something. Memory ... memories ... so important to all of us, I think.

Today's poem owes much to the memories associated with a day trip taken with a group of "senior citizens."

Phyllis and I had sort of wandered off from the group ... intentionally, mind you ... I like to do that sometimes ... simply to enjoy a bit of quiet, to stretch my legs, to view the scene from a different angle.

But let's let the poem tell the story:


ALL THOSE TREES


We'd grown tired of winding
along with the other tourists
through the aromatic rows

upon rows of captive plants,
felt our own tendrils tugging
gently toward a nearby hill.

We had paused half-way up
when there was a sudden
flutter of excited footsteps,

the clatter of young laughter,
and we were swiftly engulfed
by a surging flood of children

racing tree-to-tree, so intent
on their game they didn't see
us standing there, recalling

a game we had played so like
theirs, savoring the memories,
and now, loving all those trees.
© 2001

(originally published in St. Anthony Messenger)


Today's word: aromatic

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

At Daybreak





Okay, so I'm a little preachy in this one. So be it.


That's probably sufficient commentary on this particular poem. After all, I'm not really a morning person ... never was, probably never will be ... but I have to admit that morning is ... can be ... a beautiful time of day.


There is just something about the kind of quiet which accompanies a sunrise, especially if you've pitched your tent in a good spot ... or if you're just rolling out of bed at home, feeling rested, ready to face another day.


There's something about seeing each day as an opportunity ... a new beginning ... no great need for fanfare or ceremony ... just a new beginning.


And I don't think it's too much to ask of ourselves ... myself ... (I'm not big on forcing others to see things as I do) ... to do our part to avoid ruining our environment ... after all, this is our home, this is where we live ... 

That said, here's the poem:


AT DAYBREAK

The day glistens
with natal dew,
freshness riding
still-cool air,
booming red sun
nudging thin clouds
aside, a perfect
setting for pursuit
of the serious
business of saving
this while we can.
© 1998

(originally published in Candlelight Poetry Journal)

Today's word: environment

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What'll You Have?









(Yes, I took the photograph ... I don't remember where or when, exactly ... but it's mine, all mine)





One of the early things I learned about sending my poems off into the company of strangers ... on the chance that some very busy person might pause to read, to savor, to accept something I'd written ... is that there's an awful lot of rejection involved.

In fact, unless you have editors writing to you, begging you to submit something, it's mostly rejection.

Not long after my first acceptance, I thought I was having a particularly good run of luck, so I did the math and found I had an acceptance rate of 12 per cent.

Of course, while achieving that "hot streak," I was also having an 88 per cent rate of rejection.

"What'll You Have?" was probably written during one of those intervals when no math was necessary to tell me my rejection rate was high, high, high.

How nice it would be, I thought, if, instead of sending my poems all over creation, I could just have a little shop on a quiet little street ... a place where editors could drop in when they felt the need for a poem.

I would have poems on the wall, on the shelves, in racks ... all over the place ... even "teetering in the back room of my mind." I would, of course, hope that visitors would find something they simply couldn't live without.

I have yet to realize my dream of becoming the proprietor of a poetry boutique, catering primarily to editors, but at least this one little poem apparently did make a favorable impression on the poetry editor at 
ByLine, and there I was, way back in '96, dancing on the table again. How sweet it was!

The poem:


WHAT'LL YOU HAVE?


Poems, lady?
What would you like?
I have these
written in the nights
of my despair,
a few over there
when I felt better.


A love poem?
Not much in demand
these days, but I may
be able to find one
somewhere on the shelf.


No picks among these?
I have more written,
on the back racks,
aging a bit
before they travel,
and, of course,
stacks and stacks
teetering recklessly
in the back room
of my mind.

© 1996

Today's word: teetering

Monday, July 17, 2017

Transformation










I think today's poem requires little in the way of explanation.

When the idea came to me and I tried to capture it on paper, I struggled to squeeze as much into eight short lines as I possibly could.

I was operating then under the mistaken impression that Capper's ... where I was thinking I might submit it ... only published eight-line poems.

I believe, however, that I may have succeeded in conveying my central message: The world does take on a new aspect when we view it with "new eyes."

Oh, if we could just manage to maintain that perspective.

The poem:

TRANSFORMATION

The landscape
seems different
from yesterday,
brighter, softer,
and yet the same
in all details.
Could it be that
have changed?
 © 1996
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: transformation

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Reunion




(I know, I'm repeating myself with this, but thoughts of summer always bring certain memories to mind ... again ... and again.)

What a great surprise it was when our tired old mailbox offered up a DVD, titled "Homecoming 1988." We relished the memories it stirred ... and we're eternally grateful to our niece, Julie, for having rescued it from old, old movie footage of a  family gathering, then  providing us with this copy ... calling today's poem to mind.

My earliest memories include family reunions ... noisy gatherings, it seemed to me, as people hugged, slapped each other on the back, stood around trading stories ... then there was the food, acres of it, it seemed ... and the bees or yellow jackets who always seemed to know where to find us.

I was puzzled in those early years. I couldn't understand how all these people ... most of them absolute strangers to me ... could possibly know each other ... how they could all be part of the same family.

With time, an understanding of that came. I also came to know ... and need ... that annual gathering of family ... that renewal of links to others ... the mending of neglected fences ... the promises of "same time next year."

Unfortunately, some were destined not to make it to the next reunion ... but they would be remembered as remaining members of the family gathered once more.


I don't know if families still maintain the "reunion" practice. I hope they do.

In my case, though, I've become a dropout, of necessity, since my driving ... all kind of travel, in fact ... is almost entirely local.


But I have my memories of those gatherings ... kept like pressed flowers in the pages of a favorite book. I look at them, one by one, on occasion, and remember ... oh, how I remember ...

The poem:


REUNION
 

Like worn pieces of a jigsaw puzzle,
we came back together, sliding
into place at that agreed-upon time
in the room provided for us, drawn 


by the prospect of a field-hands meal,
the sound of children pattering
and laughing, the clatter and fury
of games, hum of quiet conversations,

memories burnished by renewed handling,
but mostly drawn back to this place
by that strongest pull, family.
It was not as easy as it once was,

this coming back together, but we did
come back from our scattered places
to be near that place where we began
our journeys along a single path,

then diverged as circumstances and
choices led us away, coming back now
to cross paths for this day, at least.
It was a day for remembering those

pieces missing from the puzzle, a day
for savoring the picture we still make
by our presence, a day for a few tears
as we touched scars of old wounds,


a day given over to hugs and handshakes,
welcomings and lingering farewells,
a bittersweet, pressed-flower day,
this coming home, this healing.

© 2008


(from Wood Smoke, my third collection of poems, published by Finishing Line Press in 2008)

Today's word: remembering