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“Beware, O wanderer, the road is walking too.”

On Acatenango


Eruption and snowfall, April, 2017. Acatenango, Guatemala.

Note: republishing one from a couple of years ago. My friend Pete sent a new picture of the mountain where my favorite coffee comes from, the slopes of Acatenango in Guatemala. The volcano is active, and there has been an unusual snow in the tropics.

I awoke early.  Too early.
Before the light came, before the day.
This is happening often these days.
I set the water to bubble, the grinder releases aroma.
My eyes barely see.
Continue reading “On Acatenango”

Making A Bed


 

Unmade-Bed

I know how to make a bed
While still lying in it, and
Slip out of an imaginary hole
As if I were squeezed out of a tube:
Tug, smooth—the bed is made.
And if resurrections are this easy,
Why then I believe in all of them:
Lazarus rising from his tomb,
Elijah at the vertical—
Though death, I think, has more than clever
Household hints in mind and wants
The bed made, once, and for good.

“Making a Bed” by Howard Moss from New Selected Poems. © Athenaeum, 1985.

One or Two


This isn’t an original thought. And I hope it’s a long way off.

But at the end of everything, I would be satisfied if it could be carved into my tombstone that “He wrote one or two good sentences.”

Traveling Alone


by Billy Collins
in “The Trouble With Poetry” 2005

At the hotel coffee shop that morning,
the waitress was wearing a pink uniform
with “Florence” written in script over her heart.

And the man who checked my bag
had a badge that said “Ben.”
Behind him was a long row of royal palms.

On the plane, two women poured drinks
from a cart they rolled down the narrow aisle –
“Debbie” and “Lynn” according to their winged tags.

And such was my company
as I arced from coast to coast,
and so I seldom spoke, and then only
of the coffee, the bag, the tiny bottles of vodka.
I said little more than “Thank you”
and “Can you take this from me, please?”

Yet I began to sense that all of them
were ready to open up,
to get to know me better, perhaps begin a friendship.

Florence looked irritated
as she shuffled from table to table,
but was she just hiding her need
to know about my early years –
the ball I would toss and catch in my hands
the times I hid behind my mother’s dress?

And was I so wrong in catching in Ben’s eyes
a glimmer of interest in my theories
and habits – my view of the Enlightenment,
my love of cards, the hours I tended to keep?

And what about Debbie and Lynn?
Did they not look eager to ask about my writing process,
my way of composing in the morning
by a window, which I would have admitted
if they had just had the courage to ask.

And strangely enough – I would have continued,
as they stopped pouring drinks
and the other passengers turned to listen –
the only emotion I ever feel, Debbie and Lynn,
is what the beaver must feel,
as he bears each stick to his hidden construction,

which creates the tranquil pond
and gives the mallards somewhere to paddle,
the pair of swans a place to conceal their young.

Ride the Wild Wind – Depends Optional


Hysterical. Good one, Iowa. 🙂

Lies Jack Kerouac told Me

gs1100While the rest of the blogging world tackles the A to Z challenge, Almost Iowa has thrown down one of his own. Here, then, is my entry in his My Stuff Challenge… 

Spring has arrived on the Front Range, and with temps in the 70s it’s time to pull the cover off the motorcycle and see if I can still shift gears and chew gum at the same time.

Yeah, that’s right, I’m another old guy with a crotch-rocket. Don’t look now, but it appears the Hell’s Angels were the victims of a hostile takeover by the AARP. These days Bike Week in Sturgis more closely resembles an episode of the Golden Girls than it does Sons of Anarchy. You know it’s bad when the biggest drug problem at the event is trafficking in unprescribed Flomax.

Chalk it up to brilliant marketing. They tell us the cure for a spreading…

View original post 576 more words

Well, Not Exactly


Henry James,
(1843 – 1916)

“My idea of paradise is a perfect automobile going 30 miles per hour on a smooth road to a twelfth century cathedral.”

—Henry James

Well, that’s fine, I suppose. But …. Mine would have to add a pretty girl, some wine, and talk in that twelfth century cathedral of long-held secrets, both ours and its. Nothing like a pretty girl to make me want to tell my secrets. I doubt the cathedral would be so easily overcome.

But I would talk. And be terrified after. The danger. The cathedral would probably be more stoic.

The Days Are Bees


by Pablo Neruda from Still Another Day

The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting: the struggle continues,
Continue reading “The Days Are Bees”

The Buffaloes Are Gone


Carl Sandburg


by Carl Sandburg

The buffaloes are gone.
And those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
Those who saw the buffaloes by thousands
and how they pawed the prairie sod into dust with their hoofs,
their great heads down pawing on in a great pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
And the buffaloes are gone.

How To (And How Not To) Write Poetry


wisaawa-szymborskaAdvice for blocked writers and aspiring poets from a Nobel Prize winner’s newspaper column. (I’m still making more than a few of these mistakes.)
In the Polish newspaper Literary Life, Nobel Prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska answered letters from ordinary people who wanted to write poetry. Clare Cavanagh, translates these selections.


The following are selections from columns originally published in the Polish newspaper
Literary Life. In these columns, famed poet Wislawa Szymborska answered letters from ordinary people who wanted to write poetry. Translated by Clare Cavanagh, they appeared in slightly different form in our Journals section earlier this year.

To Heliodor from Przemysl: “You write, ‘I know my poems have many faults, but so what, I’m not going to stop and fix them.’ And why is that, oh Heliodor? Perhaps because you hold poetry so sacred? Or maybe you consider it insignificant? Both ways of treating poetry are mistaken, and what’s worse, they free the novice poet from the necessity of working on his verses. It’s pleasant and rewarding to tell our acquaintances that the bardic spirit seized us on Friday at 2:45 p.m. and began whispering mysterious secrets in our ear with such ardor that we scarcely had time to take them down. But at home, behind closed doors, they assiduously corrected, crossed out, and revised those otherworldly utterances. Spirits are fine and dandy, but even poetry has its prosaic side.”

To H.O. from Poznan, a would-be translator: “The translator is obliged to be faithful not only to the text. He must also reveal the full beauty of the poetry while retaining its form and preserving as completely as possible the epoch’s spirit and style.”

To Grazyna from Starachowice: “Let’s take the wings off and try writing on foot, shall we?”

To Mr. G. Kr. of Warsaw: “You need a new pen. The one you’re using makes a lot of mistakes. It must be foreign.”

To Pegasus [sic] from Niepolomice: “You ask in rhyme if life makes cents [sic]. My dictionary answers in the negative.”

To Mr. K.K. from Bytom: “You treat free verse as a free-for-all. But poetry (whatever we may say) is, was, and will always be a game. And as every child knows, all games have rules. So why do the grown-ups forget?”

To Puszka from Radom: “Even boredom should be described with gusto. How many things are happening on a day when nothing happens?”

To Boleslaw L-k. of Warsaw: “Your existential pains come a trifle too easily. We’ve had enough despair and gloomy depths. ‘Deep thoughts,’ dear Thomas says (Mann, of course, who else), ‘should make us smile.’ Reading your own poem ‘Ocean,’ we found ourselves floundering in a shallow pond. You should think of your life as a remarkable adventure that’s happened to you. That is our only advice at present.”

To Marek, also of Warsaw: “We have a principle that all poems about spring are automatically disqualified. This topic no longer exists in poetry. It continues to thrive in life itself, of course. But these are two separate matters.”

To B.L. from the vicinity of Wroclaw: “The fear of straight speaking, the constant, painstaking efforts to metaphorize everything, the ceaseless need to prove you’re a poet in every line: these are the anxieties that beset every budding bard. But they are curable, if caught in time.”

To Zb. K. of Poznan: “You’ve managed to squeeze more lofty words into three short poems than most poets manage in a lifetime: ‘Fatherland,’ ‘truth,’ ‘freedom,’ ‘justice’: such words don’t come cheap. Real blood flows in them, which can’t be counterfeited with ink.”

To Michal in Nowy Targ: “Rilke warned young poets against large sweeping topics, since those are the most difficult and demand great artistic maturity. He counseled them to write about what they see around them, how they live each day, what’s been lost, what’s been found. He encouraged them to bring the things that surround us into their art, images from dreams, remembered objects. ‘If daily life seems impoverished to you,’ he wrote, ‘don’t blame life. You yourself are to blame. You’re just not enough of a poet to perceive its wealth.’ This advice may seem mundane and dim-witted to you. This is why we called to our defense one of the most esoteric poets in world literature—and just see how he praised so-called ordinary things!”

To Ula from Sopot: “A definition of poetry in one sentence—well. We know at least five hundred definitions, but none of them strikes us as both precise and capacious enough. Each expresses the taste of its own age. Inborn skepticism keeps us from trying our hand at our own. But we remember Carl Sandburg’s lovely aphorism: ‘Poetry is a diary kept by a sea creature who lives on land and wishes he could fly.’ Maybe he’ll actually make it one of these days?”

To L-k B-k of Slupsk: “We require more from a poet who compares himself to Icarus than the lengthy poem enclosed reveals. Mr. B-k, you fail to reckon with the fact that today’s Icarus rises above a different landscape than that of ancient times. He sees highways covered in cars and trucks, airports, runways, large cities, expansive modern ports, and other such realia. Might not a jet rush past his ear at times?”

To T.W., Krakow: “In school no time is spent, alas, on the aesthetic analysis of literary works. Central themes are stressed along with their historical context. Such knowledge is of course crucial, but it will not suffice for anyone wishing to become a good, independent reader, let alone for someone with creative ambitions. Our young correspondents are often shocked that their poem about rebuilding postwar Warsaw or the tragedy of Vietnam might not be good. They’re convinced that honorable intentions preempt form. But if you want to become a decent cobbler, it’s not enough to enthuse over human feet. You have to know your leather, your tools, pick the right pattern, and so forth. . . . It holds true for artistic creation too.”

To Mr. Br. K. of Laski: “Your poems in prose are permeated by the figure of the Great Poet who creates his remarkable works in a state of alcoholic euphoria. We might take a wild guess at whom you have in mind, but it’s not last names that concern us in the final analysis. Rather, it’s the misguided conviction that alcohol facilitates the act of writing, emboldens the imagination, sharpens wits, and performs many other useful functions in abetting the bardic spirit. My dear Mr. K., neither this poet, nor any of the others personally known to us, nor indeed any other poet has ever written anything great under the unadulterated influence of hard liquor. All good work arose in painstaking, painful sobriety, without any pleasant buzzing in the head. ‘I’ve always got ideas, but after vodka my head aches,’ Wyspianski said. If a poet drinks, it’s between one poem and the next. This is the stark reality. If alcohol promoted great poetry, then every third citizen of our nation would be a Horace at least. Thus we are forced to explode yet another legend. We hope that you will emerge unscathed from beneath the ruins.”

To E.L. in Warsaw: “Perhaps you could learn to love in prose.”

To Esko from Sieradz: “Youth really is an intriguing period in one’s life. If one adds writerly ambitions to the difficulties of youth, one must possess an exceptionally strong constitution in order to cope. Its components should include: persistence, diligence, wide reading, curiosity, observation, distance toward oneself, sensitivity to others, a critical mind, a sense of humor, and an abiding conviction that the world deserves a) to keep existing, and b) better luck than it’s had thus far. The efforts you’ve sent signal only the desire to write and none of the other virtues described above. You have your work cut out for you.”

To Kali of Lodz: “‘Why’ is the most important word in this planet’s language, and probably in that of other galaxies as well.”

To Mr. Pal-Zet of Skarysko-Kam: “The poems you’ve sent suggest that you’ve failed to perceive a key difference between poetry and prose. For example, the poem entitled ‘Here’ is merely a modest prose description of a room and the furniture it holds. In prose such descriptions perform a specific function: they set the stage for the action to come. In a moment the doors will open, someone will enter, and something will take place. In poetry the description itself must ‘take place.’ Everything becomes significant, meaningful: the choice of images, their placement, the shape they take in words. The description of an ordinary room must become before our eyes the discovery of that room, and the emotion contained by that description must be shared by the readers. Otherwise, prose will stay prose, no matter how hard you work to break your sentences into lines of verse. And what’s worse, nothing happens afterwards.”

  • Originally Published: August 29th, 2006

Writing Advice


More at: http://www.advicetowriters.com

You Can’t Learn To Write in College

You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always
think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught.

RAY BRADBURY

Self-doubt Can Be An Ally

Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

STEVEN PRESSFIELD

 

 

You Must Read Everything

Illustration by Tina Berning
for the New York Times

You must read everything, and you must let it all the way into your life, all the way into the part of you that makes writing, and you must let every good thing in — none of this reading a few lines of so-and-so with the hope that you might write something that sounds like it.

SARAH MANGUSO

Jam


by Charles Bukowski
1920-94

That Harbor Freeway south
through the downtown
area –

I mean it can simply become
unbelievable.

last Friday evening
I was sitting there motionless
behind a wall of red tail lights
there wasn’t even first gear
movement
as masses of exhaust fumes greyed the
evening air
engines overheated
and there was the smell of a clutch
burning out
somewhere
– it seemed to come from ahead of
me –
from that long
slow rise of
freeway

where the cars were working
from first gear
to neutral
again and again
and from neutral back to first
gear.

on the radio
I heard the news of that day
at least 6
times

I was well versed
in world
affairs.

the remainder of the stations
played a thin sick
music

the classical stations
refused to come in
clearly
and when they did
it was a stale
repetition of
standard and tiresome
works.

I turned the radio
off.
a strange whirling began in my head
– it circled behind the forehead
clock-wise
went past the ears and around to the
back of the head then back
to the forehead
and around
again.

I began to wonder
is this what happens when one goes
mad?
I considered getting out of my car.
I was in the so-called fast lane.
I could see myself out there
out of my car leaning against
the freeway divider
arms folded.
then I would slide down to a sitting
position
putting my head between my
legs.
I stayed in the car
bit my tongue
turned the radio back on
willed the whirling to
stop
as I wondered
if any of the others
had to battle
against their
compulsions as I
did?

then the car ahead of
me
MOVED
a foot
2 feet 3 feet!
I shifted to first gear . . .
there was MOVEMENT!
then I was back in neutral
BUT
we had moved from 7 to ten
feet.

hearing the world news
for the 7th time
it was still all bad
but all of us listening
we could handle that too
because we knew
that there was nothing
worse
than looking at
that same license plate
that same dumb head
sticking up from behind
the headrest
in the car
ahead of you
as time dissolved
as the temperature gauge
leaned more to the right
as the gas gauge
leaned more to the left
as we wondered
whose clutch
was burning out?
we were like some
last
vast
final
dinosaur
crawling feebly home
somewhere
somehow
maybe
to
die.

The Work


© 2014
Pause
©Hemmingplay 2014

The old one-eyed poet said it is harder to
dismantle your life than to build it, but
I think it is just as difficult both ways.

I’m putting the finishing touches on the house of me.
Bolting the copper trout wind vane on the chimney,
mounting the mailbox by the road,
putting in the shrubbery and sod, laying out the welcome mat.

And doing it all never knowing if today
might be the last, or whether I have
6,200 more sunrises to enjoy, as I saw once in a dream.

It’s all just vanity, after all. I’ll pile my collection of rocks
beside the trail and someone will come along and
knock them over, not realizing what they are,
then steal a few to build their own pile.

These are not unusual worries and really
only concern me and a distressingly small circle of people.
The Nile River doesn’t care either way, Miami and
San Francisco and Shanghai are still going to flood,
people will always believe flim-flam artists,
the dinosaurs are still dead—
On the bright side, someday I’ll get to see
what they’ve been doing the last 65 million years.

This sorting and patching and filtering
feels like when you fall asleep on a hot, muggy
afternoon in a bad mood and wake up sweaty,
disoriented, not sure where – or who—you are.

The Work, though, goes on like a lazy creek.
It means to remember things, to patch torn screens,
To oil squeaky hinges of faintly remembered doors,
To somehow put a name to things and to see
What actually matters and which bits were bullshit.
(There has been a lot of the latter.)

The woman behind me on the train is coughing, reminding me
I read once that most of us die of suffocation,
Choking on our own accumulated miseries.
I can think of better ways to go.
This makes me start coughing, too.

So I’m putting the finishing touches on my life,
Essentially sewing my shroud. I’m not unhappy about this,
Mind you. I’m luckier than most, and get to do the
Necessary sifting and sorting. I have time for the Great Work.
Then it will be time to dismantle it all, brick by brick,
Board by board, while I have the strength.
I’m not panicking or being morbid, either. Just realistic.
I have the luxury to know what it is I need to do.
I’ll pack it in neatly labeled boxes and files. I’m lucky. I know that.
I get to tell my story, leave these words behind as an affidavit
And testimony in my own very ordinary voice—which will last
About as long as a certain pile of stones, I suppose. But
It’s the effort that counts. The making use of a life
To learn what one can. To leave a small mark behind.
And then to let go, and see where the current goes from here.

When Frank Died: God


Frank died. God whistled a tune. Frank looked around at the room. Nothing special, walls, mostly. Frank looked back at God. “Who the hell are you?” God stopped whistling. “God, I think, right? You guys are stilling calling me God?” Frank stared, placid. “Uh-huh.” “Any-who,” God muttered, feeling awkward. “Right,” Frank stood. “I’m going to […]

via What Happened When Frank Died: God — Flash 365

Implacable Indifference


I love this one-eyed poet who talks about the
“Implacable indifference of time.” He was
old when he wrote that, and facing a decaying
body and painful surgery.
It made me think.

I was raised to believe in hope,
in the redeeming graces that would make
all suffering worthwhile in the sweet bye and bye;
to seek a moral purpose even in darkness and pain,
to value the hard-won badges and scars of a
life lived with eternity in mind.

Late in my sixth decade now, the path ahead
more and more clear,  I think it’s time I
did myself a favor and distinguished between
wishful thinking and hard truths.
It’s a choice; I still have
the power to choose.
I have my health, for the most part,
but my wife has had cancer 5 times and still
keeps her face to the sun. It won’t get easier for either of us,
and I have promises to keep, somehow.

I’ve learned this much; your mileage may vary:

No matter how bad the news is, someone has it worse.
It’s easy to be discouraged, hard to be hopeful.
Be hopeful, anyway. It’s a way of not giving in.
There’s nothing better than the feeling of a cold beer
hitting the back of your throat on a hot day.

Realize that behind anything you want,
there are multiple reasons.
The majority are selfish, or weird or downright bad.
Wait. Bullshit always has a big mouth.
Wait. Your hair’s not really on fire.
It’s just the hormones whipping you, mostly.
Most desires turn out to be hollow things with time.

Wait and look for whether
there’s something in there that helps someone,
does not hurt someone and
would make your children proud.
Do that one. Out of all the rest.
And do it with everything you’ve got.

Then give someone else the credit for it.

This is especially true of love. We are all capable of
much more of that, but get selfish and fearful of pain.
We must be careful and keep the above rules in mind.
Does it help someone ? Everyone needs it.
Does it hurt anyone? Can you stretch yourself to include more?
Can you give 110% to more than one?
Would it make your children proud?
(When/if you have them, if you don’t now.)
Do that. And another just like it, but with care.
Grow into it.
Tell yourself that, in the end,
You told yourself the truth, most of the time;
You did not harm anyone on purpose;
and that you tasted as much sweetness
along the way
as you could.

Unending Love



by Rabindranath Tagore

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, it’s age old pain,
It’s ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star, piercing the darkness of time.
You become an image of what is remembered forever.

You and I have floated here on the stream that springs from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another,
We have played along side millions of lovers,
Shared in the same shy sweetness of meeting,
the distressful tears of farewell,
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours—
And the songs of every poet past and forever.

Bits ‘n Pieces: The Comb


 

 

 

A girl combs her grandmother’s hair, while the old woman
tries, suddenly, desperately, to remember her first kiss. The her mind slips a couple more decades back in time.

“It will be wonderful,” she sighs, in anticipation.

Her spirit surges into the past, pausing just an eye blink with the young girl.

Her granddaughter closes her eyes and shudders. She is headed into her future, but there’s something new in her now. The hand with the comb pauses, confused; continues.

Something is different. She sighs.

#nationalpoetrymonth

#amwriting

 

When Frank Died: Counting Ducks


Another delightful piece from the mysterious flash-365.com. We ought to start a petition to get him/her to reveal himself/herself. 🙂

Frank died. A man with a naked mole rat of a head was shaking Frank’s hand. “Welcome,” he said. He had a clipboard tucked under one arm. Frank looked around. A great expanse of nothing looked back from all directions. Frank pulled his hand away. He frowned. “Welcome to what?” The hairless man looked at […]

via What Happened When Frank Died: Ducks — Flash 365

Ashes and Snowflakes


The challenge, it seems,
is to somehow arrange,
to slow-dance with Familiar,
but awaken with Strange.

To be like a welder
shooting showers of sparks,
birthing hot, fluid joinings,
behind a mask full of stars. Continue reading “Ashes and Snowflakes”

I Am the Wind.


wildflower_sunset

I Am The Wind. I Bring News
The sun rises in the sky, the days lengthen,
Energy stirs the world.
I am born of heat and light and urgency.
And once born, I move.
I must move. I must. Always.  

My siblings and I, spawned from sun-boiled
salty waters, stubbled fields and bare slopes,
Sweep through budding branches,
Laughing, whispering high and low through village
And city and farm and thicket.
We stroke power lines ’til they purr,
Like an impatient lover, eager for more attention.  
Continue reading “I Am the Wind.”

Karma


Head left after you enter the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in New Orleans’ City Park, and you’ll eventually encounter “Karma” an amazing 23-ft. stainless steel sculpture by Korean artist Do Ho Suh. The sculpture, which was installed on Monday (Feb. 27) features a male figure surmounted by a seemingly endless chain of alter egos, rising into the sky like a silver spinal column. The string of figures is faceted like a gem stone, lending a glittering digital effect to the strange tower. Each iteration of the man is holding his hands over the eyes of the man who precedes him.

The Stolen Child


W. B. Yeats1865 – 1939

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

Bits ‘n Pieces: 6 Dogs


He often thinks about the
six dogs who ran alongside
for a time, and then were gone.
All those afternoons of
poking noses together into
interesting places, and
not having to explain why.
These honored companions
deserve to be cast in bronze and
mounted facing the wind on
granite pedestals, on a river bank
beneath old trees,
Nodding, ‘ah, yes, these were noble friends.’
Let’s honor them like Civil War heroes
on the field at Gettysburg.
Each cemented tight to the heart of things that were important,
Things that only dogs and children understand.

Bits ‘n Pieces: Birds


A cold March breeze made something tinkle
as it came around the side of the house,
reminding me how things could be again
if I didn’t feed the birds.

Bits ‘n Pieces: Finding Bottom


Old pilots say:
“There are more airplanes in the ocean
than submarines in the sky.”
The sea hides everything forever,
The wind strokes her face.

Everything finds the bottom in time.

Every other expectation is

Self deception, no matter how pleasant.

Bits ‘n Pieces: Bringing In The Tide


Peaceful inside this tube, quiet, rolling gently side to side, as smooth as the hips of a woman strolling to dinner on the boardwalk on a hot July evening,

Thin fabric stretched just right over just-so curves.

Making him wait,

Liking the feeling she gets from the way she walks, knowing she just made a guy crash into a rack of postcards.

Her rhythms are as old as the ocean, in time with the waves out in the musky duskiness of another hot day, Both bringing more good things to shore.

The seagulls cry overhead and the crowds of tourists part as she passes.

Bits ‘n Pieces: Waiting In The Dark


Just after sundown,
past the North Carolina border,
our passenger train stops to let
a freight whiz by in the dark.
We’re not as profitable per pound,
and complain when the ride’s too rough.
And, really, just look at us; so flabby and soft.
So we must wait.
It’s good to know your value in
Man’s world.

But the delay has already been factored in, and
for the first time in my life I’m
comfortable waiting, in the dark.

#1 Reason Readers Hate Indie Books: Poor Editing


Passing this along from BookDaily.com. A good editor is critical for a writer who wants to improve, and to give readers their best effort.

by Tracy Lawson

Poor Editing 

We all need an editor from time to time. It’s not something we outgrow. One very intelligent and literate adult I know had to be convinced that it was “together” not “togather.” I married him anyway.

  Continue reading “#1 Reason Readers Hate Indie Books: Poor Editing”


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Innocence


Everyone but God, if you believe, is
Innocent of tomorrow.
Caesar, full of swagger, innocent of the daggers of friends,
Mary innocent she’d see a son murdered, slowly, while she watched.
Me, innocent about everything, including
whether a satellite will fall on me, or
I’ll get a certified letter that
immortality, six virgins and a chocolate cake
will be delivered on Saturday by 10 a.m..
I struggle to reconcile ignorance and innocence.
Do I care about what I can’t, don’t know?
Do I need more than this one, infinite moment?
Meanwhile, they say the snow will stop soon.
In a world of white, quiet and cold,
finches empty the bird feeder
and wait for more.
I am still innocent of Spring.

Wet Drive


There are some remarkable talents out there… Such as Cabinetwriter.

cabinetwriter


The valleys stretch
and bow away
and I
unzip the land
in swaths
and glean the backdrop.
A blind-stitched
highway sewn
beneath
the sky with I-15’s
cats-eye and miles of blacktop.

Cartooned
through cobalt clouds,
the bands of light
are breaking prisms
caught reposed in angles.
The hoodoo
hanging vertically,
ignite
a multicolored
slab of rainbow
dangle.

No arc or ends,
the swatch above
a wide
parabola of sage
is flanked by storm,
dissolves and passes
on the driver’s side;
my weather
dropped from lashes,
rolls down
warm.

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Hadrian’s Deathbed Poem


Something new every day. Check this site out…

Brief Poems

Hadrian (76-138) was the fourteenth Emperor of Rome (10 August 117 to 10 July 138). Born Publius Aelius Hadrianus, probably in Hispania, Hadrian is best known for his substantial building projects throughout the Roman Empire. He established cities throughout the Balkan Peninsula, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece. Among his most celebrated legacies was Hadrian’s Wall. Construction of the wall, known in antiquity as Vallum Hadriani, was begun around 122 and corresponded to Hadrian’s visit to the province. It marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire in Britain but the length and breadth of the project (stretching, as it did, from coast to coast) suggests that the more important purpose of the wall was a show of Rome’s power.

Professor D. Brendan Nagle writes that Hadrian spent most of his reign (twelve out of twenty-one years) traveling all over the Empire visiting the provinces, overseeing the administration, and checking the…

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Fireflies on Spillwords


 

Spillwords republished “Fireflies…” to tip their hat to the publication of the book by the same name, and added the little experimental audio reading I’d done. The new piece went up this morning.

“I Came From a Place of Fireflies”

 

That Time of Year


The weather kicks sideways this time of year. It’s not always as bad as the year we got 39 inches of snow in one night in March and were snowed in for three days, but there’s always something.

It was warm as a sweet late May in the mountains three days ago, the time the redbuds and mountain laurel are in bloom, and sometimes dogwoods. But now we’re just grumping about it, siting under four inches of fluffy snow. It looks pretty resting soft on trees turning the world a shining, heavenly white in the morning sun, but it isn’t really welcome. Continue reading “That Time of Year”

Newborn Coffee


wolf

I want to describe my life in hushed tones

like a TV nature program. Dawn in the north. 

His nose stalks the air for newborn coffee.

–In “Braided Creek: A conversation in poetry”, Ted Kooser and Jim Harrison. Copper Canyon Press. 2003

Time


Shameless plug: 

This is a hoot. I just got an email from the Austin International Poetry Foundation that another poem (the one below from last year) was accepted for the “Di-vêrsé-city Anthology” and they invited me to go to the festival in April to read it. (I probably won’t be able to go, unfortunately. Maybe someday.)

But you can still register and make it. Austin in April is nice.
More info: https://www.aipf.org/aipf/default.asp

 

steampunk-hourglass-passing-time-sand-hourglass-d8de33e363e9f38a

I tried skipping in and out of a
stream once
And learned I could not
Touch the same water twice.
Asleep for 50 years,
More or less, and, now awake,
I fear there is not enough time for the work.

We don’t have time to be clever,
Show me what I have missed.
We use the idea of time
To pretend everything
Doesn’t happen at once,
And judge it by our own puny lifespans.
Barely able to cry “I am here”
And we are gone,
Like fireworks shot to the stars
On a cloudy night.

The Best of Us


water drop in water

 

Sometimes you just don’t know what’s going to come out of that old man’s mouth…In a hospital room he probably wasn’t walking out of…late on a February Sunday afternoon. We waited, though. And then he just started, with no preamble.

“I just like them. I just like women. Well, some. I have preferences. Who doesn’t?

“And I just let them see the admiration and respect. And some, a few of them, like me back, like they’re surprised, you know. Grateful in a way… for the honesty, I guess, although that’s not in my mind, like a tactic. It wouldn’t be honest that way, would it? So, no games. They’re tired of the games and bullshit, too. I had to practice that, though.

But, if there’s not that mutual ‘liking’, no spontaneous shudder, you just back up a step, be polite and move on. Have a little dignity.

“And sometimes they show me some appreciation in tangible ways, too. They look after me for a while, making sure I’m appreciated, and that doesn’t mean sex at all. Just liking and wanting to do for. Boys, there’s no one who can take care of you like a grateful, honest woman. And it’s nice to be treated well.

“There’s some of the other kind of appreciation, of course, and if it happens it happens.

“It’s my favorite thing, but you have to let nature take its course or it’s not as good. That’s what you young guys don’t understand. Too big a hurry so that you miss the main show.

“The best thing is when you have the sudden shudders but also respect. And that means nobody’s a superior person, like a boss to the other. When you are equal in some ways and content to let the other’s talents shine when they need to. No false pride.

“That doesn’t mean everything’s smooth, either. You can be terribly lonely or angry sometimes, when things aren’t working and you know it. That’s when someone else can look good. But with luck, you don’t break the bond between you two who click.It’s so easy to.

“But two people like that? That’s sweet.”

He laughed and coughed a little.

“And however you express that between you–and even if it doesn’t go on forever–nobody gets hurt. Not at all. Just the opposite. It’s a permanent special thing. And some people only have the memory of it to live on, but at least they have that.”

Our father had a coughing fit and lay back in the hospital bed exhausted, but with a slight smile and a distant look at the hazy hill a couple of miles away. We looked at each other.

An electronic chime sounded in the hall. A recorded voice announced the end of visiting hours. We hated to leave, as tomorrow wasn’t a guarantee.

“You know what, though?” he said, turning back to us. “I just realized something. About that second kind of appreciation…

Here it came. We caught each other’s eyes. Raised an eyebrow like Spock.

“It just dawned on me that despite a number of opportunities, I only really found that exact thing with one person. I’m pretty sure I could have found more, but I didn’t see the point. I’m a lazy man, and that sounded like too much work. But in any case… I stopped at the first one. The one that clicked like that…

He suddenly realized the night was closing in. He wanted to see one more dawn with Mom. It showed.

“She’ll be back in a minute. No need to tell your mother what I said about her. OK? She’s stressed enough. And if I say something too nice now, the shock might kill her.

“We like to watch sunrises together.”

There was that thin smile again. A little sad around the corners. Tired from the chemo and the pain. He looked at us, waiting.

We nodded our old conspirator smiles.

We’d heard this routine before, making us promise not to tell mom something.

We would ignore this one, too.

He knows we will.

He’s counting on it.

 

 

#internationalwomensday

As Sun Sets


sitar

(Posting again. I think this is the third time….)

“Fair goes the dancing when the Sitar is tuned.
Tune us the Sitar neither high nor low,
And we will dance away the hearts of men.
But the string too tight breaks, and the music dies.
The string too slack has no sound, and the music dies.

There is a middle way.
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high.
And we will dance away the hearts of men.”

—Sir Edwin Arnold, “The Light of Asia” (often misattributed to a saying of Buddha)

Flower, 2001


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by Jim Harrison

Near a flower shop off boulevard Raspail

a woman in a sundress bending over

I’d guess about 49 years of age

in a particular bloom, just entering

the early Autumn of her life

a thousand-year-old smile on her face

so wide open that I actually shuddered

the same shudder I did in 1989

coming over the lip of a sandbar

and seeing a big bear below me.

About Jim Harrison

Feeling Lucky?


It’s a little game of chance with no risk and no obligation. And you might win a Kindle copy of “I Came From A Place of Fireflies”. Really, isn’t that enough?

https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/7338a1b6f437b0d7#ln-en

Sympathy For Butch and Larry


Flash 365

bens-babyI’m tied down, again.

Why do I keep doing this to myself, I can’t help thinking. The two men standing over me don’t look pleased. I decide to name them Butch and Larry. They are frowning down at my bare gut, muttering in Russian.

“Can you please tell me what is going on?” I ask Butch.

The men don’t even pause. Larry takes out an I-Phone-looking-thing and presses it to my stomach. He sighs and nods at the other Butch. They both look me in the face, disappointed, yet, resigned. They untie me and hoist me up between them. I’m not a big man, but, neither are they.

As they drag me towards the entry way, the apartment door opens. My roommates walk in. They are talking about Radiohead. They stop and stare. I’m stark naked, crucified between two strangers.

“Hi guys. This is Butch and Larry. Mind giving me…

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At the Dig


kmctdsd

Some poems make me an archaeologist.
I roll back the stone from the tomb of some
long-buried memory and analyze artifacts.
It seems more and more important to
look for what I can, to catalogue
it and make sure contexts are in order.

I can clearly see a soft brush
moving in my hand, delicately
clearing the dust from that time I was six or seven,
and we were at recess, in the monkey bars at
an old, old school building now
torn down 20 years ago.

The day was warm and bright,
glowing in that special benign October sun,
the girls squealing and running
just fast enough to get
caught before everyone got tired—
as the boys chased them around and around.
Learning the rules of the mating game.

The bright yellow maple and bright-red oak
leaves in the sloping park just off the playground
were down in wind-shaped drifts. Farm kids all,
we simply asked a teacher for the rake
which she got for us, and we
made piles, big crunchy soft piles,
and jumped in them while Mrs. Fish looked on,
her arms crossed, sharing the moment,
stretching recess a few minutes because she knew
moments like this would end soon enough
and we would grow up and be gone…
and of course she was right.

Packing For The Trip


dc855071-4f05-4358-b9ce-f09f08c73baa_04_5_caters_invisible_bodies_artwork_08

When the sun comes up tomorrow,
it still won’t care about our little passions,
but we’ll look up, hopeful as a puppy, and think it does.

Whatever the size of our apartment or tent or mansion,
we fill the available closets like we’re packing
for a long trip and will need that life debris.

I’m just a big ol’ hypocrite, knowing I’ll exit as
naked as the day I arrived, but cling to
my comforts and sense of ownership anyway.

My boys will someday go through what’s left,
hold up broken reading glasses or
socks with no mates, raise an eyebrow:
“Why did that crazy old man keep this?”

“I don’t know,” I’ll say from the ceiling,
already starting to dissolve from the solid world,
“But I thought I might need them someday.
I just never understood what it meant
To have a sun that doesn’t care–and no pockets.”

Oysters Raw


Some days it’s nice to be reminded that we’re made of sea water… and star dust. Because it gets hard to remember where our sources are. Thanks for this reminder.

Still Light

But getting back to how
people swallow oysters raw.
I have not had the pleasure
in partaking when they tell me
how they taste like sea water.
“You mean the ocean?”
But I have tasted the ocean.
How it holds up in my eyes
and most days calm, like
the waters off of St. Martin,
until a strong wind comes in
and blows the coconut trees over
so that they drown themselves in
wave after wave. Sea water?
It tastes like emotion, until
it stops, and in the eye of the storm
the clouds clear to brilliant sunlight,
and the coconut trees,
now momentarily free from
the weight that once bound them,
once again, pull themselves upright.

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Ghazal*: The Water


In Mystery

I was a relentless swimmer as a child, more at home
under water, popping up only for air, wishing for gills.

In the pond’s murky realm a few feet down, the big bass, motionless,
eyes swiveling, waited for someone’s last mistake.

In the muddy shallows, the sun warmed the water most,
small things hatched, safe from mouths in the deep water.

Forests of fronds and grasses stretched toward the light,
and died, becoming the black ooze where biting things lived.

I lost it along the way, that simple way a child observes in wonder,
accepting in wisdom, the heavenly song of the world everywhere.

My job these days is to be the archeologist of my life, diving
over and over and staying down, wishing for gills and more time.

On soft summers’ nights, lovesick bullfrogs boomed at the edges.
A muskrat swam in the moonlight, wake effortlessly symmetrical.

_____________
*An attempt…. About the Ghazal form:

The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning.

Traditionally invoking melancholy, love, longing, and metaphysical questions, ghazals are often sung by Iranian, Indian, and Pakistani musicians. The form has roots in seventh-century Arabia, and gained prominence in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century thanks to such Persian poets as Rumi and Hafiz. In the eighteenth-century, the ghazal was used by poets writing in Urdu, a mix of the medieval languages of Northern India, including Persian. Among these poets, Ghalib is the recognized master.

My Bad Day | Almost Iowa


Here come our machine masters.

https://almostiowa.com/2017/03/02/my-bad-mechanical-day/#like-3114

Hometown Heroes


572d0d634ccdf-image

All around town, on lampposts, hang
banners memorializing
hometown heroes.

Boys in uniforms who went to war
in 1941, or ’42 or ’43 or later,
who never came back from that
sunken transport ship, or that
awful night on Iwo,
or who stepped in front of a truck
outside a bar at 1 a.m. in liberated
France, having dodged all the bullets
but not a truck full of supplies.

Maybe it’s that people who live in
mountain towns like this
Just have longer memories than most,
surrounded by the rounded remnants
of a once-great mountain range.
Rocks have long memories.
Or maybe we have a need to hang
onto the deep grief longer than is fashionable
in these throwaway times.

Burke on Writing


James Lee Burke
James Lee Burke

“Writing is like being in love. You never get better at it or learn more about it. The day you think you do is the day you lose it. Robert Frost called his work a lover’s quarrel with the world. It’s ongoing. It has neither a beginning nor an end. You don’t have to worry about learning things. The fire of one’s art burns all the impurities from the vessel that contains it.”
― James Lee Burke

Reading Habits


Hi.

Could you spare 20 seconds to take a brief survey? Results will be shown after you vote, so can benefit, too. I’m taking a crash course on book publishing. 🙂

 

So What Comes Next?


Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

“For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity. For years it had obseessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was strange how easy being tired enough made it.

Now he would never write the things he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them, either.”  

– Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

I self-published a book of poetry recently.

(Technically, it’s the second book I have published, but the first was a children’s picture book designed for the iPad. I’m old-fashioned and have this prejudice that it isn’t really a book unless it is printed in ink on a page made of paper.)

Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, I published my first book.

It’s not important to anyone else, but it marks a milestone for me. There can never again be a first one, and I’m letting the feeling settle in slowly and warmly. You never forget your first one, they say.

An itch that I haven’t been able to scratch for more than 60 years has to leave me alone, now. I still feel I can get better, and there is still beauty and meaning to be explored. That is what keeps us young, after all. Always feeling there is more to learn, to do, to feel. Truly young, until we die of old age.

It has only been a couple of days, and a few copies have sold. I don’t have any expectations– oh, maybe to break even on the costs of marketing and buying author copies, perhaps. But that’s about it.

Practice. That was one reason. But for what?

Confidence. That was another. I needed to build my confidence. But again: for what?

I saw the Hemingway quote above, and all of a sudden realized what this book, and all the work over the last two and one-half years was about.

I hope I have not left it for too long. I could have another stroke and be unable to move or write, of course. That’s a thought I carry with me each day. It worries me, but I have had to learn how to move on, and into deeper places in me, in spite of that fear. I found out how to use it for motivation.

I don’t want to be caught short like Harry in “The Snows of Kilamanjaro.” But I also know that anything might happen. And I have to be ready for whatever comes. We all do, whether we like it or not.

(The story: Harry, a writer, and his wife, Helen, are stranded while on safari in Africa. A bearing burned out on their truck, and Harry is talking about the gangrene that has infected his leg when he did not apply iodine after he scratched it. As they wait for a rescue plane from Nairobi that he knows won’t arrive on time, Harry spends his time drinking and insulting Helen. Harry reviews his life, realizing that he wasted his talent through procrastination and luxury from a marriage to a wealthy woman that he doesn’t love.)

So I will press on, take care of myself as best I can. I want to sit under an apple tree in late summer for as many years as I can, and listen to them fall, wasting their sweetness. But I want to make sure I taste as many as I can.

I will keep writing, and write the things I’ve been putting off. “You pays your money and you takes your chances,” as some old friends used to say. There’s no point in waiting any longer. None of it is 2far–until it is.

Besides, I published a book! A little, self-published book of poetry. Just look at me.

Please call if the Nobel Committee tries to reach me. 🙂

Book “I Came From A Place…” available on Kindle


For sale now on Amazon http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL
For sale now on Amazon
http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL

I Came From a Place of Fireflies is available for your Kindle reader.

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