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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Purple






(Today's photo is a worm's eye view of some hyacinths which caught my attention while I was walking in Lincoln Park ...)


Memory is such a part of poetry - whether of something seen or envisioned, whether long ago or just moments earlier. Memory plays its role. 

In this instance, the memory was implanted so long ago I don't know exactly where or when I saw the sofa sitting on that front porch. It had to have been in my childhood, which would have placed it somewhere in a small town in Southern Illinois.

I remember how the light played across it, how I wondered what its story was, why it was sitting on that porch, neglected, but not really abandoned.

That image stayed with me, followed me, all these years until, finally, I put it to paper and, in doing that, gave it a life of its own. Perhaps it will now stir some memories for someone else, this tattered old sofa "where so many secrets still lie ... "


The poem:


PURPLE

Deep-purple couch sitting alone
in the darkness of the front porch,

lamplight threading a cracked
windowpane, settling like dust

across your back, cushions askew,
butt-sprung, cold, where suitors sat

enduring eternity, waiting, waiting
for that moment that never came,

where others, home from the wars,
found prickly refuge in your embrace,

slept nights away, bone-weary, safe,
where the sick found solace,

baby first slept, generations of cats
yawned, stretched, sank regal claws,

where so many secrets still lie
like lost coins, just beyond reach.
© 1998

(originally published in Potpourri)

Today's word: lamplight

Friday, July 14, 2017

A New Leaf





Whoa! Can it be? Almost time to turn over a new leaf, right?

There was a time, children, when ... each month ... we did turn over a new leaf (page) of the calendar ... which was a printed collection of the days, weeks, months of the year ... usually hanging on the wall in the kitchen.


"Turning over a new leaf" also meant that we had resolved to do better at our assigned tasks, to try to become a better person ... and that generally coincided with the end of the year ... out with the old, in with the new.

In my early years, when I was still being shaped by the caring, loving, sacrificing grandmother who reared me, I generally sat down with pencil and paper at the end of the year to pledge my efforts at improvement in the coming year.

I felt I owed her that. I felt I owed it to myself.

I don't do New Year's resolutions now ... haven't written them out for a number of years.

But I think each day ... whether I crawl slowly out of bed, hoping the floor will rise up gently to touch my feet ... or leap out ready to face whatever the day may hold for me ... each day offers this opportunity for that "new leaf" ... a new beginning of sorts.

I've encountered some detours along the way. But here I am, still plodding along, still being drawn along by what may lie ahead, around the next bend in the road.

So I guess I do think sometimes about that "new leaf," too.

Meanwhile, the poem:


A NEW LEAF

How soothing the sound
of it, like the feel
of clean sheets, crisp
and cool to the touch,
hinting airy freshness
as we snuggle in.
How comforting it is
to lie here thinking
of this whole new year
fresh and inviting,
opening the prospect
that things might be
better, perhaps could
be, if we could just
approach each new day
with the same sense
of purpose we feel
at this moment.
© 1999

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: freshness

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Mouse




(Just another of my randomly-shot photos ... I think I was impressed by the play of light against the clouds, the contrast with the landscape below)

What I started out to talk about was today's poem, based, as are most of mine, on the material at hand ... you know, tangible stuff ... things I understand ... at least sorta ...

Now that I think about it, though, it seems that this particular poem kind of tells its own story, so here goes: 


THE MOUSE

I slept serenely one blustery night
while a timorous sweet-toothed mouse
stole into my house, chewed a jagged
hole in the right-hand pocket of my
old blue robe and took a foil-wrapped
chocolate by surprise.

Discovering the theft, I, Superior
Creature I, smiled at such waste
when my poor pocket was open
all the time.

But who has dined on prized chocolate?
And who stands here holding crumpled
foil while a finger waggles foolishly
from a hole?
© 1998

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: timorous

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Let Them Rollick






Still another poem about writing, another piece of evidence attesting to my quest ... not to present myself as an expert on the subject ... I'm not ... but to come nearer to an understanding of the mystery of writing.

And it is a mystery.

I often sit down to write a random thought or two, but I seldom know where this is going to lead. I almost never know the ending when I begin. That reveals itself as I permit myself to be led by the words ... "these hungry words," if you will.

Indeed, I like to let them sit at the table of my understanding, and I listen carefully to what they have to say.

Speaking of listening, try reading this one aloud ... no audience required ... simply read it to yourself again. I think it's a poem that begs to be read aloud ... or at least given another silent reading, but with an ear to the repeated sounds. 

I liked the sound of it when it first offered itself to me. I liked it through several revisions. I hope you'll find something in it to like now: 

LET THEM ROLLICK


Please don't let these
words just lie there,
losing their body warmth
to an indifference
that deepens like dust.

Let them roam the range
of your experience,
wander the gentle slopes
of meaning, become
attuned to music that

echoes from your past,
let them have rein
to gallop toward sense.
Please let these hungry
words sit at the table
of your understanding,

let them traverse
your tongue, gather
speed and light, and
rollick, really rollick.
 © 2002
(originally published in Capper's)
Today's word: rollick

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hot Pursuit






OK, so I couldn't stand the suspense. 

I wanted to take a picture of my funny hat. I didn't want a straight-on shot, but a profile, which would really show off the hat, since it was the primary subject. 

So I set the timer, put the camera on a shelf, posed and waited ... and waited ... and waited. 

I was so sure the camera had snapped the picture without my hearing anything, so I stole a look -- at just the wrong moment! 


The result: a blurred photo of myself with two noses. Serves me right. 

Bottom line: I hate to throw anything away, so I kept the photo, eventually put it together with this little poem which seems the perfect match for it:

HOT PURSUIT

I go tramping
the echoing stairs
of this old house,
pursuing things
forgotten here,
remembered there,
getting exercise
enough for two.
© 1996

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: tramping

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Moon Tonight






I grew up in the country ... not on a farm, but in the country ... away from city lights.

As a result of that ... and hearing my gandfather talk so many times about the phases of the moon ... its importance in the planting of crops ... knowing about its pull on those distant oceans ... its effect on young lovers ... I was always intrigued by the moon.

The front porch swing provided a great vantage point for watching the giant harvest moon rising slowly over the hills.

I remember being so intrigued by the quarter moon ... the new moon ... the moon showing in the late daytime sky.

When one lives in the city, though, the moon can become a forgotten item ... unless it really asserts itself as we're coming up the driveway on a late-winter evening.

Then there's no denying it. I still remember that evening ... can almost hear a choir, singing a cappella, celebrating the rising of that moon.

The poem:

THE MOON TONIGHT

What a gorgeous sight,
lodged in the darkness
of the walnut tree,
the nearer maples joining
to hold it, glowing
in the late-winter sky,
broken, and yet whole,
like a stained-glass
window catching evening
light, holding it high
under the ceiling while
voices rise in song.
© 2004

(originally published in Capper's)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Good Deed




My reaction at the time the event occurred went from puzzlement ... to surprise ... to that pleasant feeling you get when somebody does a good turn for you ... and doesn't want, in fact, would refuse, anything in return.


The poem tells that story.


Oh, I suppose my neighbor was grateful for the small favors we did him and his family when they had a house fire shortly after moving in. But he didn't owe us anything for our help, either.


That's what neighbors do for each other.


He was grateful then ... and I was certainly grateful for all that shoveling he was doing for me. I had been waiting out the storm, dreading the task that confronted me.


Then, suddenly, there he was, the good neighbor.


If I were to go ahead with this, I'd probably become preachy ... so, I'll just say that this one was originally published in The Christian Science Monitor:


THE GOOD DEED


All day the snow
has come sifting down,
obscuring objects
in our shaken globe,
and I'm standing
staring out the window
when I see the shape
of a person who's
obviously been driven
wild by the storm,
who pauses and turns
into someone I know
... my neighbor,
shoveling my
 walk.
© 2003

Today's word: shoveling

Friday, July 7, 2017

Giving Advice






(This is an early work by my grandson, Thomas, who has moved on to more serious artistic endeavors ... but I still treasure this piece)

I had a boss, many, many years ago, who repeatedly expressed his concern about "putting out the fire" ... that is, discouraging creative thinking and constructive effort.


He avoided that perceived hazard by not riding herd too closely on his employees. He didn't afford them free rein, of course, but he did want them to think for themselves, to offer suggestions and constructive criticism.


His admonition, "Don't put out the fire," stuck with me long after. It finally begged me to put it to paper. In doing so, I visualized an old man, quite unlike my boss, teaching a rank beginner how to build a fire and to keep it going.


The old man is the narrator, and there is no two-way conversation: We don't hear anything from his young pupil, obviously a good listener. 


There aren't even any quotation marks in this piece. But, despite that violation, I think it works.


I think the poem works on two levels, and I like that.


The poem:

GIVING ADVICE

Now be careful, he said,
or you’ll put out the fire,
the spark, the flame,
the desire that sprang up
and wavered, waiting.

Fan it too much, or pile on
more than it can handle
in its early, struggling,
starved-for-oxygen stage,
and it’s a sure goner.

Neglect it and it’s doomed,
too. Oh, it may flash up
and dance in the darkness,
but it’ll soon burn out,
without some new fuel.

It takes a gentle touch,
the hat back and forth
just so, a sure eye watching
for signs that it can
stand alone, in its own heat.

Remember, he said, plopping
his battered hat back on,
how it was when you started,
how you needed that touch,
that sweet warmth of success.
© 2001
(originally published in Kaleidoscope)

Today's word: success

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Folding the Laundry





Memories! Where would we be without them?

Oh, how they help us to keep our bearings ... pointing out where we've been ... and sometimes helping us to remain pointed in the direction we should go.

They don't have to be of the greatest moments of our lives. They may even be of moments that could have been easily forgotten.

What, after all, is memorable about folding the laundry? Something obviously was ... and still is ... for me.

I still remember how the sun played across the items hanging from that sagging line ... how the movements of those items reminded me of dancing ... line dancing, I suppose ... long before I knew what line dancing was.

And now, before I wander off in some other direction, the poem:

FOLDING THE LAUNDRY

Still warm as though
just sloughed off
the bodies of wearers,
it yields softly
to my hands tonight,
recalling those times
Grandma and I pulled
sweet-smelling armloads
of hand-washed laundry
from a sagging line
in the back yard.

I feel the fatigue
again, bare feet
picking their way
among the honeybees,
finding little comfort
as she directed me
to look up, see
the clouds, which,
she insisted,
were somebody else's
laundry left out,
still flapping,
and now, an easing
of my tired back
as that memory
gently enfolds me.
© 1998
(originally published in Riverrun)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Early Writer

























I write any time I can, but I've found mornings best, before other details of the day ... yesterday's unfinished chores, today's agenda ... begin pressing in.

Still, I'm not naturally a morning person.

I don't spring out of bed singing and laughing and dancing.

I'm not a total grump either. It's just that I'm not fully wound at that time of the day, as evidenced by this little poem ... which is, itself, further evidence of why I don't write much rhyme, and perhaps shouldn't.

But here's the poem:

EARLY WRITER

Up at the crack of dawn
After a restless night,
Sleeves rolled up, thinking cap on.
The time has come to write.
Outline great, title gold,
The rest should be a snap,
But I feel vaguely old,
Like I should take a nap.
Still, I grope for the keys,
Get set to take the leap.
One moment, if you please:
My brain is still asleep.

© 1999
(originally published in PKA's Advocate)


Today's word: asleep

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Don't Dance on My Toes






Phyllis and I were on a day-trip, visiting Chillicothe, Ohio, and the magnificent, neighboring Adena.

Among those at our table during lunch were some couples who enjoy line dancing ... oh, do they ever. Their enthusiasm was catching ... almost.

I say almost, because my early experience with dancing was ... well, catastrophic.

I must have been in fifth or sixth grade ... we were giving a demonstration of some kind of historic dance for a school assembly.

Afterward, I was thinking that it had gone fairly well. But then my partner complained that I had stepped on her toes ... several times, I believe she said.


I still blame that early, scarring experience for keeping me off the dance floor to this day. I can only hope that my partner in that early dance wasn't similarly scarred for life. 

I suppose that first ... and last ... dance led me, eventually, to the writing of today's poem.

As those who know me will agree, I don't go toe-to-toe or nose-to-nose with anybody on any issue. It's not that I couldn't, or wouldn't ... nor that I haven't.


It's just that I've learned that it doesn't solve anything. Rather, it does create a new set of problems ... often far more serious than the original offense did. 

I prefer, instead, to take my frustration, disappointment, and, yes, sometimes anger, to the keyboard, where I can work myself through to a better frame of mind.

Sometimes this results in something like:

DON'T DANCE ON MY TOES

I don't care
if you’ve got rhythm
and grace galore,
please
don't dance on my toes.

I don't care
if you're wild as a daisy,
sweet as a rose,
just, please,
don't dance on my toes. 


I don't care
if you're rich, smart,
sophisticated,
and stuff like that -
don't dance on my toes.


'Cause, brother,
I've got troubles
and pain galore,
and I just
don't need any more.
 © 2000
(originally published in Art Times)

And today's art? Oh, it was done by an artist friend of mine, Thomas, who also happens to be my - our - young grandson. He was visiting us, probably waiting patiently for the meal to begin, when inspiration struck. In addition to pieces like this, he also does great drawings ... and paintings ... he is, after all, my - our - grandson.

Today's word: scarred