Thursday, August 31, 2017

Early Morning






I'm not a power walker ... I don't pump my arms like a windmill ... my legs aren't a blur ... and the only time I pass anyone is when they're going in the opposite direction.

But I do walk.

Mornings are best, I've found. If I walk in the afternoon ... especially if that means missing my nap ... I'm a grumpy walker ... and I have more than the usual difficulty in maintaining a forward motion. I just don't seem to have as much energy.

So the morning it is.

Well, there I was ... walking ... actually, struggling a bit on the uphill climb during a morning walk out in Illinois. 

Although we were on vacation ... particularly because we were on vacation ... I was out early for my daily walk.

Summertime. Southern Illinois can be pretty steamy then. The air gets heavy, the legs are laboring, the lungs struggling ... and there I am (puff-puff), trying to make it up the hill. And then ...

But let's go to the poem:


Early Morning

I'm walking along, enjoying the prospect
of maybe making it all the way to the top
of a stubborn hill, when three young ladies

in very short shorts go legging it past me
and out of sight, as though I were standing
stump-still, but I really can't help admiring

the way they've crested the hill, left me
there, still laboring up the slope, recalling
a time when I might have overtaken them,

instead, and gone breezing past, but now
I feel my legs flagging, beginning to burn,
and I'm wondering if I can reach the top

(please be still, my thudding heart), and if
I do, whether I'll catch a glimpse of them
while I'm struggling to catch my breath.
© 2007

(received a third place award in a Dayton Metro Library poetry contest)

Today's word: thudding

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Do They Sleep?





































Sometimes, especially with a whimsical piece, any explanation is too much ... so I'll spare you the details of my ordeal by squirrels ... the pain and humiliation I've suffered at their hands (er, paws) ... the ongoing battle of wills ... my refusal to concede that their ancestors were here in this country before mine ... all those things which went into the making of this poem.


If they were to write poetry ... perhaps it would keep them out of mischief for brief interludes, at least ... I suppose it would be as accusatory of me as this is of them.


I'm willing to settle for an uneasy truce. But are they? This one was originally published in Capper's:


DO THEY SLEEP?

I've seen 'em
nodding off
on a quiet limb
during the day,
but when do
pesky squirrels
really sleep?


And where?


Maybe they go
to little motels,
or perhaps they
go zipping off
to the suburbs,
where they plot
new mischiefs
on tiny laptops.


Some nights,
when the wind
sits and traffic
thins, I think
I see the glow
from their tiny
flickering
screens, hear
them chuckling
to themselves,
and I lie there ...
awake, wondering.

© 1998

Today's word: chuckling

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Chance of Rain



























"Chance of Rain" is my lucky poem. It began life as a much longer poem, written at the kitchen table after one of my summer walks.


It was so hot that I had paused in the shade to consider whether I really thought I could make it up the next hill and then home. Just then I felt a slight breeze. Thus encouraged, I set off again toward home.


But I had started thinking of how the oppressive heat and humidity were so like the area of Southern Illinois where I grew up. I kept thinking about that, recalling what it had been like, that terrible heat.


When I got home, I started writing. I imagined an older person, about my age, sitting on a porch, scanning the skies for signs of rain. I imagined the rain's coming, sweeping across the fields. I described the old man's reaction to the rain ... all of this in considerable detail.


This narrative became a long poem which I submitted to Capper's.


It was there that an alert editor, Ann Crahan, spotted eight lines that appealed to her in the middle of my poem. How lucky for me!


She suggested that we keep those eight lines and my title. I agreed, and it became my first poem accepted for publication.


Over the years, I wrote many more pieces about rain ... or its absence ... and when those poems suggested themselves to me as a possible collection, it seemed fitting that "Chance of Rain," my first-born, my lucky poem, should be the title piece of that collection, published by Finishing Line Press in 2003.


The poem:


CHANCE OF RAIN

The rain comes
in great galloping
gulps, faster than
the soil can sop it up.
It drums on the roof,
dances in the yard,
celebrates all the way
down the hill.
© 2003

Today's word: lucky

Monday, August 28, 2017

Another Autumn






Autumn brings some slight moderation of temperatures, at least ... but it also brings on some of my favorite colors as the trees begin their autumn parade ... displaying their changing leaves up and down the streets ... and across the countryside.


Autumn brings back memories of those hills where I grew up ... hills laden with hickory trees ... oaks ... walnut trees ... sassafras ... sumac ... oh, what a parade that was, too!


Another thought which came to me again quite recently ... how great it would be if these postings came together seamlessly, instead of the way they sometimes do, particularly when time is short.


Ah, but what would I do then, just sit and twiddle my thumbs?


The poem:


ANOTHER AUTUMN

Change has boomed
along quiet avenues
where great, green
hulking symbols
of summer loitered,
visages burnished now
into fiery displays
that climb and swoop,
zoom and explode.

And who could go
kicking through
the crinkling swirl
on the sidewalks
underneath them
without being just
a little pumped up
about it all?

© 1998
(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: visages

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Wintertime Waltz








Stop me if you've ... actually, don't stop me if you've heard this before.

It's an old story that went something like this:

I may have commented in a December a couple of years ago that, after having unseasonably warm weather in our neck of the woods, winter arrived. Oh, did it ever!

It snowed, and snowed, and snowed. And then we had freezing rain and sleet on top of that.

It reminded me of the time we had similar weather conditions ... I stepped out the back door ... checked on the steps before starting down ... they seemed fine ... one step ... and DOWN I went. Ka-BOOM!

I went crawling back into the house with a lump on my head.

The next time I was carrying salt ... to put on the driveway.

Out the back door ... a careful look ... one cautious step ... and down I went ... Those icy steps had outsmarted me AGAIN!

Nothing broken, thank goodness, except the container of salt I was carrying.

But that reminded me of this particular poem, "Wintertime Waltz." After all, where would we be, if we couldn't have a little laugh at our own mishaps and minor misfortunes?

The poem:

WINTERTIME WALTZ

I have no
sense of rhythm,
no grace, no pace,
no with-it moves
from some great
dancing school.
But on ice? Hey,
I'm a dancing fool.
© 1995

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: dancing

Saturday, August 26, 2017

That New Day































I've thought of country mornings a lot of times when I was struggling into another day, far removed from those early beginnings.

I've missed the "leisure" of "working by the sun," rather than under the stern eye of the ever-glaring clock. I've missed those mornings when I could lie in bed a few extra minutes, savoring the return to wakefulness.

I've missed the sounds that filled the spaces between the trees back then. Now it's the sounds of the cars and trucks and buses that echo off the buildings and clog our senses.

What I've missed most, I think, is the sound of a cow bell coming to me from a meadow just beginning to fill with light.


Now that was music to a young boy's ears.

And now, the poem:

THAT NEW DAY

Sounds came crawling across the coolness
of the damp night air, climbed into the cot


where I lay stretching to touch the sides
of that new day. A screen door squeaked


open, then shut again. A tractor groaned,
fired up, deep, throaty song floating to me


like a breeze. Struggling early light visited
a hint of warmth high on the hilltop trees,


an image of candy-apple red slowly rising
in my mind's eye over the wooded brow


of the opposite ridge. A cow bell clanked
into the silence the tractor left as it went


rolling off toward a waiting field; so long
ago, but like yesterday. And I hear it now.
© 2005

(published in Brave Hearts, summer 2005)

Today's word: meadow

Friday, August 25, 2017

Line Dancing








Sometimes what appears to be one thing is actually another.

It's not really a secret ... a little surprise, maybe ... but not really a secret. There's a reason that I'm treading carefully with this introduction. I don't want to give away the surprise.

Perhaps I've already said too much.

Some of you will have figured out what the surprise is. I hope that doesn't spoil your reading of the poem.

And now, before I give it all away, here's the poem:

LINE DANCING

Movement trickles
along the line,
rising, billowing,

falling, undulating.
Dancers pause,
regroup, aligned.

Tentatively they
resume swaying,
echoing the moves.

Legs flick, snap,
arms reach, fall,
then reach again.

The line quivers,
flutters and flaps.
Sagging, it rests;

itinerant breezes
have glided away
to other laundry.
© 1998

(originally published in Moose Bound Press)

Today's word: swaying

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Mere Words






Like I've said many times, I'm not a morning person.

But what is a non-morning person to do when he wakes up around five o'clock ... wide awake ... with a thought buzzing through his mind?

Well ... I lie there for a while ... watch the clock unscrolling the crawling minutes ... then reach for the small light I keep on the table beside the bed ... find a pencil ... and my multi-colored notepad in the shape of the letter B (thank you, Michelle) ... and start writing.

What I wrote is barely decipherable ... now that I'm fully awake ... and it's far from becoming a poem, but someday it might. I'll keep it, try to break the code, try to decide what it's trying to say to me.

And if it does turn into a poem, I'll feel compelled to share it with somebody ... I always have that "look what I found" feeling when something I've written does seem to make sense ... not "look at what I did" ... never that ... and when I share it with somebody, that somebody is likely to be a poetry editor.

I always treasure that second opinion ... especially on those rare occasions when the decision goes in my favor.

But if it doesn't ... well, I speak of that circumstance in today's poem:


MERE WORDS

You, my children,

offspring of my mind,

are going forth

into an imperfect world,

where you will be judged

by strangers. I hope

they will listen

and treat you kindly,

perhaps accept you

as their own.

If not, please return

and we shall comfort

each other.

© 1997

(originally published in Writer's Journal)

Today's word: comfort

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hungry Eyes Feasting
























This is one of my dream poems. No, I'm not saying it approaches perfection ... not in any respect. It's a poem about one of my dreams.

It seemed so real to me because it took place in familiar surroundings, much of it in my home neighborhood. The familiar went streaming through my sleep, in one of those dreams which seem to go forever.

I thought it would never end ... especially when it took the mysterious, sinister overtones of my feeling that, although I was on a deserted street, I was being watched.

Usually I wake up, the dream bubble bursts, and that's that.

Not this time.

I reached immediately for that pad and pen which are always nearby, just in case. I'm glad I captured some of those images before they got away from me.

This poem went on to be published in Waterways:

HUNGRY EYES FEASTING

Awash in the buzz and crackle wafting from
The Hillside Tavern’s enchanted neon signs,
I wake to the sound of nothing in my room,
Find the aching cold of yesterday's shoes,
Then, exploring the hall's echoing darkness,
Hear the ticking clock, the click of the lock
Before I go strolling past houses haunted
By the absence of dreams, empty windows
Staring back, thousands of broken promises
That will not be mended - not this night;
Slowly I march to the song of something
I can almost hear, feel its hungry eyes
Feasting on me, sense its crouching, tensing,
Preparing to pounce, and I dare not scream.
© 2005

Today's word: feasting

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Gossamer







I don't know where I was, exactly, when this poem presented itself to me ... but I was likely out for my morning walk ... just strolling along (I'm not a power walker, folks) ... my mind wandering ... when I passed this particular hedge with its abundance of spider webs.

I was struck by that abundance, first ... and then, with a closer look ... the delicate handiwork. From there it was a short leap to "fine silk scarves" ... when I got home I sat at the kitchen table and started scribbling on a scrap of paper.

The poem:


GOSSAMER

I see, glistening
in the hedge,
yawning mouths
of spun funnels,
delicate handiwork
of skilled spiders
arrayed, luring
the browser
like fine silk
scarves spread out,
catching the sun,
begging to be bought.
© 1996

(originally published in Capper's)

Today's word: glistening

Monday, August 21, 2017

First Snow









(One of my little watercolors ... I know, it doesn't show a lot of snow, but I thought I'd share it anyway)







"First Snow" happens to be one of my favorite poems ... along with "Hollyhocks," "Chance of Rain" ... and a few others.

But I digress.

I don't know exactly which hillside Grandma and I were on. I don't know where we were going. Memories become blurred as to certain details.

I do remember the moment, though, when a sudden swirl of huge, fluffy snowflakes descended on us. They were, indeed, like flying feathers.

I hadn't seen anything like them in my whole young life.

The poem:


FIRST SNOW

I watch them
sliding slowly
on my windowpane,
harbingers
come to warn me
of impending winter,
stirring again
that memory
of plucked feathers,
as she called them,
swiftly enveloping
Grandma and me
on a hillside path.


I can still taste
that delicious
melting cold,
still hear her
laughing with me,
that great
explosion of joy.
© 2005


("First Snow" received a first-place award in a Poets' Study Club contest, was later published in The Christian Science Monitor, and became part of Wood Smoke, my third collection, issued by Finishing Line Press)

Today's word: harbingers

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Evensong





"Evensong" is a word picture painted from memory ... the memory of those times when the storms had passed and we emerged to assess the damage to the garden, our trees ... the neighbors' trees ... our house, their houses.


That was always the aftermath, that slow evaluation of what had happened to our world, what steps needed to be taken next.


It was almost as though the birds were doing the same thing, echoing our concerns, beginning to express their feelings after having survived another onslaught.


"Evensong" was not the result of a single experience, but a distilling of several, a boiling down to the essence of that feeling of kinship with the natural world, the world around us, a world, thank goodness, that had birdsong ... and still does, if we but listen.


The poem:


EVENSONG

Dark clouds scud off
toward the east, while
twilight descends
onto hail-torn foliage,
then from somewhere
overhead, tentative notes
slowly gain strength,
blossoming finally
into full-throated
birdsong near a lone
figure who pauses
on the slope of the hill,
eyes searching vainly
for just a glimpse
of this small creature,
then turns toward home,
less burdened now
for having been given
this healing moment.
 © 1999
(originally published in PKA's Advocate)
Today's word: healing

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Daybreak, Autumn




(Oh, how I wish I'd had my camera with me that morning; instead, I again offer my little watercolor study, done in a different time, different place)



It may have been a bit later than daybreak, but not much. The feeling of newness was still in the air as I walked the paths of one of my favorite places.


The play of light across the clouds was beautiful.


Improbable as it seems, they did look like paving stones to me.

They had that worn, traveled look about them, and the early sunlight did make them look like they were cupping the coals of an overnight fire which had just been given a breath of morning air.


The ducks were on the pond, of course, keeping an eye on me for any move suggesting a handout for them.


And the crows, the raucous crows, who always seem to be arguing about something, were there in the trees.


It was a sort of shopping list of images, but I tried to make a little more of it than just that. I think ending with the hint of coming snow added to the mood.


The poem:


DAYBREAK, AUTUMN

Clouds hang
like paving stones
in the eastern
sky, hammered silver
cupping the coals
of early light,
while ducks glide
like fallen leaves
on the shadowed pond
and crows crowd
the feathery trees,
swaying and talking
raucously about
the chances of snow.
 
© 1999

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

Carrying the Water





(Just a photograph, no relation to the poem, really, taken on one of my daily walks)

This is another poem based on childhood memories of that place where I grew up in the care of my grandparents.

We had no running water, no indoor plumbing ... not unusual for that time and place.

Our water source for the house was a cistern, with a crank and chain which brought the stored rain water up. It was situated just outside the back porch.

Water for other purposes, watering the flowers, providing drinking water for the chickens, the cats, the dog, was carried from the well, some distance from the house.

This was not easy work. Like most young children, however, I wanted to try it.

Grandpa was willing. In fact, he probably took a certain pleasure in my struggles with that heavy bucket ... the water was so heavy, too, and it really wouldn't sit still ... I can imagine he also relished the memories that my struggles stirred, of his own young efforts at the same thing.

I simply couldn't fathom how he could carry water without spilling some ... while I always spilled a lot.

Eventually I learned the value of experience.

And now, the poem:

CARRYING THE WATER

My grandfather could take
the swaying bucket
all the way,

uncertain as he was, from
well to house, and not
spill a drop.

The water sat, contented,
even though his hands
were trembling,

his step less steady than
mine, his eyes unsure
of the path.

But, hard as I might try,
I couldn't carry it
without loss.

Rising up against me, it
bounded over the top
of the pail,

splashing against my calf,
making dark splotches
on red soil

when I dared set it down,
like sins denied
but still mine.

© 2007

(This poem received an honorable mention in a Sinclair Community College contest; it was subsequently published in Capper's, and is part of my second collection of poems, Hollyhocks, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, KY)

Today's word: contented