Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Malaya


  We knew the name within an hour of finding out she was pregnant. We batted around a couple of ideas, and when "Malaya" jumped out we both knew this would be the name. It took neither one of us to convince the other. We just knew. "Malaya" is Tagalog for "Free".

  Some have asked me what it felt like to discover that I would be a father. It's not an easy thing to put into words. In fact, it's beyond complex. Poetry may be the only verbal or written medium where it could even be attempted. So, here it is—to the best of my ability. Here is what it felt like.

Malaya


Everywhere they sense it

To the west in the mountains
     the junco hops to the cedar's highest twig
          and warbles out to the east
     the marmot comes out from beneath his rock
          and twitches his whiskers east
     the big ram balances on a granite crag
          and nods his great curled horns to the east

To the south in the sun-stroked deserts
     the scorpion stops in the underbrush
          and scrabbles to face the north
     the wary diamondback quiets his rattle
          and flickers his tongue to the north
     the gray fox peers from her rocky den
          and turns her head to the north

To the east where grasses sing to passing clouds
     the large elk cranes his rack from the stream
          and fills his eyes with the west
     the black-tailed prairie dogs climb from the earth
          and gaze as one to the west
     the bald eagle breaks from her circled flight
          and rises on winds from the west

To the north on the ageless tundra
     the stern-faced grizzly stops to check the breeze
          and points his nose to the south
     the caribou pause on long expanses of green
          and lift their heads to the south
     the ptarmigan hops to a boulder-top
          and studies the view to the south

Even on the far side of the world
     the lion shakes his mane and sniffs
          quietly at the air
     the elephant matriarch raises her trunk
          fans her ears and scans the horizon
     the old crocodile holds his lunge and allows
          the watering wildebeest to bound away

And for a moment
     for the briefest inkling of time
          the sun the distant stars
               the planets and their moons
                    the far-flung comets and meteors
                         and even the most faded galaxies
     pause completely still

For a new star has flared life in the darkness
     borne on ancient cosmic winds
          from the dust of all that has ever been

                              And his name is Free
                         as white billowed clouds
                    as thistledown on the breeze
               as cottonwood seeds blown through the void
          as starlight flashed through geometries of night

Our son is due to arrive around June 21st.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Three Thumps


  This is in some ways inspired by my reading the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. Not the content aspect of it so much as the storytelling aspect. During the few months it took me to work my way through the tales—yes, I'm a very slow reader—I gained several valuable insights into the overall nature of storytelling and how it can be approached in poetic form.

  This is the longest highly structured poem I've written. I hope you'll enjoy.

Three Thumps


Each day she walks through old white oaks and laurel trees
where often on a park bench just beneath their leaves
she sees an older fellow sitting casually,
a book held in his hands not far above his knees.

She finds him always lost amid another world
that turns from page to page as slowly it unfurls
against the backdrop of his mind, the letters curled
in hands as weathered as a pair of walnut burls.

Just recently she chanced to see him as he closed
the covers of a tome to which he held is nose
for several weeks there on that bench within the grove
where leafy shadows played across his rustic clothes.

This caught her eye because just then he lifted up
the words within those pages like a sacred cup
before his deep gray eyes, as reverent as a monk,
then tapped it thrice above his brows with ringing thumps.

At this, she couldn’t help her curiosity
and found herself approaching him to ask why he
would thump the words he pondered on through recent weeks
against the seat of all he shuns, accepts and seeks.

She asked, and he was more than just a touch surprised,
for in his reverie he had not realized
that anyone observed with penetrating eyes
his tendencies and speculated strange surmise.

But, still, he thought, she is a young and vibrant thing
to be so free and open with her questioning;
there is no harm in what she asks or answering,
so I will tell her what this little custom means.

“It came about,” he started, “very long ago,
before I climbed through youth onto this high plateau
that rises steadily above the years below
to stop at cliffs that overlook a great unknown.

“I found myself absorbed into a text then, moved
by all I read, my youthful understanding soothed
as seeds of insight sprouted, grew and came to bloom
within the subtext of my soul and all I knew.

"When every word had danced its way throughout my thoughts—
their twirling motions still reechoed in the halls
of mind—I wondered how much knowledge would be lost
to time and slip beyond the powers of recall.

"Then all at once I thumped the book against my head
and asked the ones who govern life that I forget
not one small passage, phrase or word from what I read
so wisdom may inform the days that lie ahead.

“At this new thought I thumped the book a second time;
for wisdom shapes the waterways through which a life
will flow, and more than ever now I wanted mine
to move through channels carved by what I found inside.

“Then one last hope occurred while still I held the tome,
that any insight gained this way would on its own
bestow good fortune on all days to yet unfold;
and so I thumped it one last time to drive this home.

“Since then, whatever I might read, when all is read,
I pause to three times thump the text against my head,
the first for memory, so though I’ve reached the end,
I’ll always bear in mind the best of what was said;

“The next for wisdom, peerless pearl of peace of mind,
that when affixed within the crown bestows a sight
that guides the wearer of the jewel, however blind,
to paths and possibilities of greater kind.

"The last for fortune, that the understanding gained
from studying the thoughts therein would somehow change
the course of life ahead, the days that still remain,
in ways that mitigate calamity and pain."

He stopped, his salt and pepper beard now motionless,
and saw her dark brown eyes were lost in all he said;
at least a minute passed in silence; sunlight etched
mosaic patterns through the leaves all round the bench.

A ruby dragonfly came drifting near, then soared
abruptly off to fade above a nearby sward;
at last he added, "Now you know the reason for
this little custom you observed and how it formed."

While he was talking, she had dusted off a place
to sit beside him on the bench and contemplate
the words he used in answering and to explain
why he would shock the front edge of his thinning pate.

She listened to his every word and did not stop
his monolog to interject a single thought;
but now that he had finished with his long response,
a silence thickened like a slowly rising fog.

At length the silence overcame her taciturn
consideration of his luminescent words;
and so she crossed a knee beneath her business skirt
to turn and thank him for the story he unearthed.

She told him that she doesn't normally approach
and question individuals whom she doesn't know,
but that his habit was so foreign to behold,
she couldn't help but stop and ask him to disclose.

She stood and thanked him once again and wished him well,
then carried on across the park to where a swell
of skyscrapers emerged above the green—a realm
where dreams are sectioned off to rot in flat gray cells.

He watched her walk away and vanish like a mist
that dissipates when rising sunbeams shine amid
the vapors, causing them to glow and fade in wisps,
then rose himself, returning to his daily niche.

Throughout the day she answered phones, composed reports,
attended meetings, cultivated strong rapport
with all who shared her daily hamster wheel perforce,
and navigated storms of deadlines port to port.

Throughout the day the old man’s words reechoed back
to her attention, while she worked, and overlapped
with mental focus leveled at the daunting task
of satisfying expectations and demands.

Until at last the day was over, and she found
her feet retracing steps through verdant, well-kept grounds
toward where she lives across the other side of town,
the bench now still beneath midsummer evening boughs.

She pulled a book from out her shoulder bag to read
as she commuted through the darkness on a stream
of light that arced and paused below unresting streets
until she heard her station’s name and left her seat.

As she ascended concrete stairs back to the light,
the sun began to set and cast its colors high
on wavy cirrus clouds that fanned across the sky;
again the old man and his words returned to mind.

She reached the steps that rose to meet her townhouse door
and climbed them to the comfort of her covered porch;
she fumbled for her keys, and then her spirit soared
to be at last surrounded by her own décor.

She kicked her heels off in the entry way and left
her keys atop an ash wood corner stand, intent
on eating something small before she got undressed
to soak away the strain of unrelenting stress.

When all was done, she found her shoulder bag downstairs,
still hanging from her grandma's dark-stained oaken chair,
half pulled out from the matching dining table where
she hung it when she first got home and freed her hair.

From this she pulled the book she read while on commute,
its pages nearly finished, nearly all suffused
throughout her intellect, her intuition fused
with understanding raised by every page she viewed.

This book was given to her by a long-time friend
who felt its words would calm her thoughts and help to mend
her spirit from a recent tragedy that leapt
from nowhere to assault her days with grief and dread.

She took it to her room and propped herself in bed,
and just inside an hour finished all it said;
she closed the leaves and pondered everything she read
then suddenly she thumped it once against her head.

"For memory," she thought, "that every word may shine
like stars, however far away, throughout all time
to light the plains and valleys of an open mind;"
and then she raised and thumped the text a second time.

"For wisdom, too," she thought, "without which all I've learned
would be of no more use to me than bridges burned
where chasms gape or surly waters leap and churn;”
then one last thump she gave the book to make a third.

"And, yes," she thought at last, “for fortune—certainly—
a cosmic shift within the roiling karmic sea
that alters all potential futures yet to be
toward something better than what waited formerly."

She sighed, a perfect comfort sifting through her chest,
and placed the book atop the nightstand by her bed;
she reached to turn the light off, feeling oddly blessed,
and turned to drift into a nearly dreamless rest.

  This is all developed from a habit I formed some years ago. Whenever I read a book I really enjoyed and felt I gained something from, I do have a tendency to give it a few taps against my skull, just in case osmosis is a real thing.

  Structurally, this poem is written in iambic hexameters from the first line to the last. Whether or not you scan the lines strictly as iambs somewhat depends on your accent, but I took accentual variation into account as I wrote this. For instance, most people I know pronounce "every" as "ev'ry", but there are plenty who clearly enunciate that middle syllable. Though it throws an anapaest into the line for those who do so, it doesn't throw off the overall flow of the poem. When I write a poem to meter, I intend for the lines to be read naturally. It should not be necessary to force the meter. Nowhere in this poem will it be necessary to invert the natural accent of a word or phrase. Where weak accents occur—a quantitatively short syllable despite the accent—it's fine to scan them as weak for a "short" hexameter. I weigh such lines and read them aloud several times before deciding whether or not to keep them. This creates variation in the otherwise overpoweringly iambic lines. I've also used enjambment to throw off the expectation of meter in a few places in order to disrupt the "iambic trots" a little. As you read, you can allow the meter to disconnect briefly through this process as a sort of syncopation. This is intentional, and also used for rhetorical impact.

The end-line scheme all the way through is aaaa, but not rhyme. Instead the focus is on end-line assonance, with variations within the scheme involving rhyme, alliteration, and/or consonance.

Monday, March 31, 2014

an inkling hope: select poems


  I now have a book out, an inkling hope, available in paperback and Kindle format. Drawing from poems written between mid 2001 and mid 2013, this has been a labor of love. From this period, 128 poems have been selected that meet criteria for strong visual presentation, an element of timelessness and one or more of the following: potent metaphor or allegory, intricate yet tastefully evasive abstraction, a concrete storyline—real or imagined. Nearly every form I've worked with during this period is represented, including the sonnet, the villanelle, and the ghazal. However, it will delight some readers to learn that roughly half the content space is occupied by free verse.

  This book contains three appendices. First, the notes, beautifully formatted, where editorial thoughts can be found on every poem. Second, an index of first lines, which is a very useful function that most older books of poetry possess. Last is an index of forms, where information is provided about each poetic form represented along with a list of those poems written to it.

  The foreword is thoughtfully written by Daniel Barth, long time poet, author, essayist, critic, teacher, and friend. Dan has authored a number of books over the years, including Fast Women Beautiful: Zen Beat Baseball Poems and The Day after Hank Williams Birthday: Prose Pieces & Poems. His foreword serves to establish within the reader an open mind for what follows and sets the tone for a walk through a landscape of imagery, perspectives and spirits.

  Those of you who have known me a while will think it's about time.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Flutter


  She placed my hand here and there against her rounding belly, like a stethoscope feeling for sound. Then she exclaimed, "There! There! Do you feel it?" No, not at first. But a few moments later the universe sprang open before my mind and I saw clear to the ends of creation. All at once, everything changed—forever:

Flutter


She took my hand and opened up the palm,
then pressed my fingers flush against creation.
For several moments, all was warm and calm
as summer waters steeped in meditation.
Then all at once a fluttering sensation
lightly tapped and thumped against my skin.
Deep in my chest a sudden palpitation
responded to the motion of my kin
still swimming in the nascent dark within,
still coalescing from the alcheringa
and waiting for existence to begin.
And then it seemed to me what tapped my fingers
was more than life itself—but every hope
that ever strove to ascertain its scope.

  This is my first attempt at a Spenserian sonnet. I've used strictly rhyme for the end-line scheme, which is ababbcbccdcdee—fairly involved and challenging. On the d lines, "alcheringa" and "fingers" rhyme, technically, since rhyme occurs between accented syllables. However, I did want to use more a conventional rhyme here since this is my first Spenserian sonnet, but there aren't many words in English that have disyllabic rhyme with "alcheringa", and this is the word—along with its extended meanings—I really wanted to use here. I plan to write at least ten Spenserian sonnets over time since I find the form to be very interesting, but I imagine that in the end very few of them will rely strictly on rhyme to complete the scheme.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wither


  I think it’s always been in my nature to fill in the blanks when I take notice of an unusual situation or activity. I’ll create all manner of scenarios to explain what I just saw and accept it as reality until more information proves otherwise, information that may never manifest. What inspired this poem is simple; I saw a man around 50 tossing out some nearly dead plants. Then my brain went to work and created a story around it.

Wither


I’m tired of trying to keep these plants alive.
The leaves are few; they haven’t bloomed in years.
I’m weary from watching branches pale and die
that once would greet me with vivacious cheer.
Perhaps somehow they sense that she is gone,
my fragrant rose who swayed such vibrant hues;
perhaps they’ve lost the will for living on
without her touch—a touch that fell like dew.
I’ve tried to care for them as once she did,
to keep them green and rioting in bloom,
but all my work has left them nearly dead—
instead of blossoms, growing mostly gloom.
    I guess it’s time to toss them out—and mourn,
    for she is lost and never will return.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Darkwater


  This is very loosely inspired by Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts. The place created here for reflection and as a metaphor for the "I" behind the "I", the self beneath the self, the deep, dark, fathomless, impenetrable nature of being, is purely of the imagination. Yet, it is also a place I "know" and have sometimes been able to visit.

Darkwater

This poem has been published in my book an inkling hope: select poems, available in Kindle and paperback formats. Out of consideration for those who have purchased a copy, I have removed it from this post and online viewing in general.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Loss


  Two of my wife’s uncles have recently passed away. The first after suffering a series of debilitating strokes, the first of which occurred around five years ago. The second about a year after discovering stage four cancer in his throat and enduring debilitating surgeries. I plan eventually to write memorial poems for each of them.

  As I reflected on what it must have been like for the families of these men, a metaphor formed in mind and I found myself writing this.

Loss

This poem has been published in my book an inkling hope: select poems, available in Kindle and paperback formats. Out of consideration for those who have purchased a copy, I have removed it from this post and online viewing in general.

  This is my 20th sonnet, 10th of the Petrarchan variety. This completes my exploration of the sonnet form for now, unless some inspiration strikes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

the resting place


  Imagery and metaphor do not express ideas and emotion; they evoke ideas and emotion. What's interesting about this is that those who read rarely even realize that these thoughts and feelings have been evoked from—not transmitted to—them through this process. As a poet, I'll sometimes look for imagery and metaphor that evoke from me feelings and ideas similar enough to the original inspiration to consider it worth sharing.

  But, I also recognize that what each reader will experience from my words will be unique to them. So, while the poem may be "mine" from the standpoint of having authored it, the poem is also yours from the vantage point of reading and experiencing all it evokes.

the resting place

This poem has been published in my book an inkling hope: select poems, available in Kindle and paperback formats. Out of consideration for those who have purchased a copy, I have removed it from this post and online viewing in general.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Rarest Gem


  There is a women's Christian group that meets at 7pm on Tuesdays at one of the coffeehouses I hang out at. They usually gather round a large meeting table near the table I tend to favor, so I'll often find myself listening in on their discussions—Not because I'm interested or nosy so much as because I possess the unfortunate inability to tune anything out.

  Six to ten women attend this meeting, bringing a thin blue book with a title something to do with living a wholesome life as a Christian woman. Each week they discuss what they've read and share stories about what's going on in their lives, often giving one another advice on how to deal with this difficulty or that personal trauma. Considering all the personality types involved, it seems like they form a great emotional support group for one another.

  About two weeks ago one of the women was visibly despondent throughout the discussion, so toward the end, after each of them had shared and discussed something from her week, they gently ganged up on her and got her to open up. She broke down into shuddering sobs as she attempted to explain what was going on with her. Turns out she was feeling overwhelmed and depressed by drama and chaos created by some of her close friends. Stuff that perhaps fewer men than women would understand or relate to.

  This poem builds on some thoughts that formed in my head as they urged her to draw a line and demand that her friends respect certain boundaries.

The Rarest Gem


Peace of mind is a rare and precious gem,
  shot through with deep unblemished shades
   of autumn skies that never fade,
each facet polished to a cool aplomb.
It waits within the deepest, darkest clime
  to be unearthed from rock and clay
   and crafted in the light of day
by empathy and wisdom till it gleams.

   So we must choose our friends with utmost care,
for there are those with whom it can’t be trusted,
  who treat this jewel with disdain,
   who scuff it up with gall and shame
until it’s rendered void of all its luster
  and every thought is muddied with despair.

  This is my 19th sonnet, the 9th of the Petrarchan variety.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Of Promise


  This one is for a kid who is remarkably lazy and unmotivated. Some people seem to believe that "promise" means "promised". This is of course not the case. Nothing is promised, even where there exists great promise. One way or the other, an effort is involved in realizing the potential of ones promise. This particular breed of potential manifests when one applies oneself to the task of of its development and refinement over an extended period of time.

Of Promise


Promise waits for no-one
   and refuses to be known
by those who sleep in ruin,
   who refuse to learn and grow.

Promise is the angel
   who will never hear the pleas
of one who hides behind the
   skirts of mere velleity.

Promise stops, however,
   to listen to the soul
that struggles ever forward,
   ever focused on the goal.

Promise sings in shadow
   and will only come to light
for those who work to find her
   where she plays just out of sight.

Promise gives no refuge
   to the one who has no care,
who floats through life dependent,
   weak of will and unaware.

Promise stoops to succor
   him who stands and bears the weight
of tragedy and sorrow,
   striving hard to change his fate.

Promise is potential
   that will only sprout and grow
when fertilized with effort
   and well watered with regard.


Monday, July 15, 2013

The Bridge


  My favorite metaphors are the ones that don't tell you what they are. I know what this metaphor is, but would it really help you to appreciate the poem to know it before hand? Not sure, so I'll wait until after. If you want to know, you can continue reading after the poem. If you don't, then don't read beyond the poem.

The Bridge

This poem has been published in my book an inkling hope: select poems, available in Kindle and paperback formats. Out of consideration for those who have purchased a copy, I have removed it from this post and online viewing in general.

  The bridge is the function of memory, the far shore and the city thereon is the past, the sea is the gap between then and now, and the fog is the effect of time and age on the process of memory. The lanes being closed have to do with the age of the bridge and the fact that traffic from the city travels only in one direction, toward the observer of the past. In my case the past—my childhood in particular—is a dark and dismal place full of anger, confusion, and thinking errors.

  This is my 18th sonnet, the 8th of the Petrarchan variety.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Maybe this


  I'm realizing that writing free verse is an integral part of my writing structured verse. In fact, I'm noticing that when I fail to spend some time exploring free verse, my structured verse suffers miserably and my overall creative flow backs up like a plugged toilet. Not a pleasant sensation.

  I stumbled across some notes in an old composition book tonight and decided to flush them out a bit.

Maybe this


Maybe this is what I must do
  read tangible silence
    let my mind work over
      stories fables histories
        discoveries metered lore

                     climb
                  down
               ladders of
            thought
         line by
      line

until at last she stands on

         something
            soft
               forgiving
                  easy

      and is lulled to rest
   in the roaring quiet of

                           contemplation