. . . for joining me at my third annual poetry reading and art show at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall. I love that building, every inch of it, and the opportunity to bring people in to visit is an honor. What a pleasure, every year, to be able to share the collected thoughts, inspirations and images of my past year. My biggest inspiration for poetry, prose and artwork is the world right around me, and I enjoy the opportunity to share it from the perspective of one who walks and hikes and bikes and carries a camera, art materials and journal everywhere - even around the house - so the inspirations are fresh.
Autumn in the Valley: Pastel, 32" x 28"; 2009
The featured piece in this show, and the third in the "Art of the Watershed" series...Sloping hills blazing with autumn color at a rocky, rippled bend in Chartiers Creek, yet on the horizon deep gray-purple clouds hover; although the day was sunny I remember it being distinctly chilly, with a sharpness to the breeze, especially on the water in a canoe. For two reasons the scene was reminiscent and inspiring: first, that I rounded the bend to see this natural splendor in all its detail, brilliant color, fluttering leaves, rippling water, changing clouds, happening all on its own with no help from me or any other human, and, second, it was an example of that "change of season" with the gray-purple clouds of winter arriving on the horizon. For more about this piece, visit my landscapes page, and visit Art of the Watershed for the full story.
POEMS in order of reading
1. Father’s Day
2. Bridal Wreath
3. Corsages in a Book
Art and Words
4. Memorial Day Parade
The Creative Dilemma
6. The Creative Dilemma
7. Green Sparkle Ball
8. Even the World Must Rest
9. The Mystic Chords of Memory
She is small but quick
and she obviously adores her father,
following him everywhere
and imitating everything he does,
every sound he makes,
and every way he moves,
as he intends her to do.
This is what they do together most afternoons,
he running down the list of things she needs to know,
and methodically showing her how to do one and then the next,
and he is very affectionate with her, touching her face frequently.
She’s a little uncertain at this next task, though,
and hesitates as he coaxes her,
she clutching the branch in her little orange claws,
tilting her head from side to side,
the tiny red-brown crest on the top of her head
moving forward and back as if trying to focus,
and even though he knows he should probably stand his ground,
the bright red cardinal grasps a sunflower seed from the feeder,
hops back to his daughter, cracking the shell to expose the treat inside,
and, each tilting their heads as if to kiss, he gently places it in her open beak.
Soon, she will be gone to him forever.
Blooming in drifts so dense and tall they hide the entire porch
The bridal wreath greets the May bride
Though she first crossed the threshold decades ago when the shrubs were new,
And placed a vase of the blossoms on her first dinner table,
Has since raised her children,
Lost a son in Viet Nam
And a husband to cancer,
Her daughters moved off
And she is a grandmother and a great-grandmother
Through it all the bridal wreath unfailingly welcomed her in the morning every May
In the neighborhood lined with large, neat family homes.
Now the paint is peeling,
Drawn window shades hang in tatters
The bride herself is gone,
Her home the only one remaining on this dusty deserted block
Yet the bridal wreath blooms as fervently as ever this May
Corsages in a Book
I have a book that remained in my mother’s house
After I moved her to the personal care home,
The Pennsylvania Almanac 1945,
In which were nestled
Three corsages pressed flat
Spaced among the thousand pages
Of information about the administration of Pennsylvania
Maps and lists and departments,
Information anyone would need to know
To get things done in Pennsylvania.
But there was no information about the corsages,
The small wrist corsage with the shell-pink ribbon and small pink roses,
Or the white rose with blue ribbons to be pinned on a dress,
Or the creamy white bridal bouquet, two roses, ivory satin ribbon and ivory lace.
When were the dances, the night out, the wedding?
Do I see these in the dim black and white images
Of my mother with her first husband,
Right after the war,
Before they married?
Is this the small bouquet she holds in one of her wedding photos,
To match perfectly the ivory wedding suit she wears?
You preserve the corsage like this because
You want to preserve the memory;
you carefully arrange the materials so they are a flattened form of the original,
And the book pages pull the moisture from the flowers
But these were just dropped in the book, and the pages slapped shut,
No arranging of ribbons and lace, the flowers pressed into each other,
the whole thing nearly unrecognizable
Except that I know about pressing corsages;
These were left behind, ignored, but I know they were not forgotten,
Somewhere in all the stories
Will be the story of the corsages.
Art and WordsMemorial Day Parade
The sun shines at full volume on the brick street,
The American Legion has equipped everyone with a small American flag on a stick;
The children race around waving their flags
While the adults mill around looking for a good place to open folding chairs
Waiting for the parade to start,
Politicians in fancy cars and fat shriners on tiny little cycles,
Floats from the Viet Nam War and the VFW,
Cheerleaders and dancers and a polka band
Police bagpipers and Civil War re-enactors and Marines,
Color guards from organizations we’ve never heard of,
Music and car horns and loudspeakers blending into each other as they pass,
Fire trucks, police cars, ambulances from every community around
And we wave and cheer for each of them,
Glad to know that there is someone who will risk their lives for us.
For some reason I always get choked up when I see
The high school marching band,
So seriously playing some arrangement they’d never otherwise listen to
And have spent months learning to play on their instrument,
Marching together in nearly perfect alignment,
Soon to take their places in a bigger parade.
I paddled the canoe around the bend,
And was faced with the effortless beauty of the panorama,
The trees in all their colors, the sky with changing clouds,
The water moving and reflecting simultaneously,
All perfectly arranged,
I realized that my creations are but raindrops in a puddle,
Wisps of cloud that change and dissipate
My solitary accomplishments borne of great effort
Would never equal this one solitary scene
Or the one I would have seen the day before or the day after
Evolved on its own, no one to frame it and display it and promote it
As it quietly exists through the day.
We humans sometimes get to think everything happens because of us
But these trees and grasses and hills arrange themselves
And create great beauty effortlessly
Simply in the process of their everyday existence.
So I did a painting that can never match the original
So that I may remember my place.
The Creative DilemmaThe Creative Dilemma
Oh, please, painting, go away!
Poem, poem, I want to go to bed!
Short story, I will never finish you, especially with you showing up at this late hour!
I wish I’d never allowed myself to start carrying my camera everywhere.
I stop every step and photograph something new and wonderful,
a leaf, the sky, a group of people, my cats, the sun on the wall;
though my walk is ruined by the intrusion,
my day completely rearranged,
they have become an adventure of possibility.
I relax my mind in falling asleep
but an idea blooms meticulously in my imagination
and I have to get out of bed to put the idea back to bed, like a child
whose babbling will soon turn to screams and keep me awake
if I don’t attend to it.
Paintings, sketches develop before my eyes as I simply look around me,
I can visualize the pastels I’ll use, watch my hands blend the colors,
or it may be the distant remembrance of a moment
that nearly broke my heart in its beauty
carried along over time because my heart wants to see that moment again.
Words flow effortlessly in my head, louder than what I hear from the world around me.
someone talks to me and I struggle to listen above the lyrics,
focus through the beauty and truth being fashioned in my head,
and am grateful for an understanding friend.
I feel besieged by the number of potential creative projects,
bereft at the ones I’ve left undone,
filled with excitement at teetering on the edge of this madness.
Green Sparkle Ball
Loping along, he freezes in mid-stride at the sight of it,
silently flattens himself, tail straight out behind,
ears alert, pupils dilated in amber eyes glowing from black fur,
his whole world centered on his prey,
a little wiggle of the hind end and he creeps forward
one soundless step, then another,
now, completely ready, he springs onto his prey,
a small bright green fuzzy ball with sparkly silver threads poking out all around.
Something about this toy sets off the receptors in Giuseppe’s brain
even though it’s been sitting innocently on the carpet
not moving or making sounds or being in any way provocative,
at the sight of it he’s transformed into the efficient killing machine
which is any feline.
Up into the air goes the green sparkle ball,
he swats, chases, corners it,
a big cat at 18 months, Giuseppe is 13 pounds of dense muscle,
but he picks it up delicately in his teeth and bounds up the stairs two or three at a time,
I hear him galloping around, even hear the bedsprings
as he pursues his prey around the second floor.
I’ve known this cat since he was two days old,
he has never been closer to the outdoors than a screened window,
he has never had to hunt for his dinner
except to find his way to the kitchen.
His mother had no chance to catch some unlucky mouse or chipmunk
and bring it home for an educational demonstration.
Why, then, this activity?
Later, he is sprawled on the bed with his brothers
and I find the green sparkle ball floating in the water bowl;
he does this with his toy, drops it in the bowl when he’s done playing
as if it’s stashed in a place where it can’t escape while he naps
and he can take up where he left off when he awakens.
Cats are not easily fooled.
When you get them a toy that looks like a real mouse
and toss it and push it around then retrieve it yourself,
they watch politely
and when you are done, resume their nap.
This object looks nothing like any prey he might ever chase.
So why is he chasing it?
And why does Cookie play pick-up soccer with a ping-pong ball,
and Kelly leap all around about a scrap of paper,
and the elusive panther caught on motion-sensor camera run after a blowing leaf
and the lion chase his tail?
Surely they see the green sparkle ball for what it is,
or are they so focused on their pretense
that for the concentrated time of play
the toy is convincingly real
and their activity vital?
Do I have a green sparkle ball,
something that relieves me from rational thought
and plunges me wholly into a world
entirely formed of my imagination?
Is that something that humans lost
in the development of rational thought,
our oversized brains finding this process unnecessary,
or is it there beneath our every discovery,
guiding our creative efforts?
When we let our mind play,
our thoughts creating a reality out of the raw materials available,
does that deep focus on the green sparkle ball
pull together seemingly unrelated bits we’ve gathered
and put them in an order we’d never otherwise see?
Did Einstein have a green sparkle ball,
that he let his thoughts pursue
until it led him to his theory?
Starting the first fire, inventing the wheel,
Proving the world is round, finding a vaccination for smallpox,
Composing a symphony, sculpting the iconic figure,
Creating any device that changes the world around it,
Does it start with chasing the green sparkle ball?
PerspectiveEven the World Must Rest
The night’s eternal darkness shifts to a color less black
and time begins again,
cobalt to cerulean spreading across the sky to snuff out the stars
and a glowing edge on the horizon heralds the sun
rising quickly to sparkle on leaves and faces
infusing the dank pre-dawn mist with warm yellow sunbeams
and the world is fully alive again
a miracle equal to life itself.
Since before our existence
consistently every day the sun brings its gift
travels across the sky at the same pace regardless of our issues
bright afternoons of life and work
remembered in the quality of light on that day,
the weather on another,
do you remember that sunny morning, cold and frosty?
no, it was late in the afternoon that happened, during a thunderstorm
the sun now drifting, dropping toward the opposite horizon
its loving light mellowed with the toil of its task
the ancients watch in fear as the aurora of color
heralds the loss of their life-giving god
and soon all is again covered with a nestling blanket
and we may perish if it remains
but even the world, the busy life of this planet
must rest in darkness for part of the day
lest we destroy ourselves with our own productivity,
the sun must disappear
take the burden from its shoulders
loiter just out of sight
until you turn around to see
the change in the shade of black.
Rest, another day will come.
The Mystic Chords of Memory
I begin with an epigraph, the closing paragraph of Lincoln’s first inaugural address:
I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stre[t]ching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
And so do we remember, in this time of change,
Another time of strife and uncertainty
When our nation would be pulled apart
Not by something so esoteric as a failing economy
But by the real threat of war, among ourselves, on our own soil;
Not a metaphorical war, not of words and ideas,
But of guns and blood,
And brothers and fathers and mothers and sisters,
Neighbors and friends, everyone, no one would escape its reach.
And so we fought that war, and though severely wounded, we survived.
Yet a century later we were still fighting this battle in our streets.
We forgot those who had already given the last full measure of devotion1 for this cause.
We were reminded that we must live together as brothers or perish together as fools2,
And that the fierce urgency of Now3 demanded that we make real the promises of democracy4,
Echoing the words of a century before, and even a century before that.
But we took away his dream, too,
And the dreams of others
Until the bloodshed frightened us,
Reminded that a balance cannot exist without compromise,
And an uncompromising nature destroys everything in its path, including itself.
I remember those days of my childhood,
Of the fledgling hope that we could simply live together in understanding,
But I watched people tuck away their hatred to keep for another day
And it only grew distorted,
And a half century later, we still fought the battle in our hearts.
But to my great surprise and joy,
I watched a nation of people,
Touched by the better angels of their nature5,
March to the promised land6,
Happily wait all day, finally cast their vote
For change, for hope, and for love of this great experiment in liberty and freedom,
Ready to begin again the work of remaking America7.
1Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address”, dedication of the battlefield at Gettysburg, November 19, 1863.
2Martin Luther King, Jr., quote.
3Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream”, speech given at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., August 28, 1963.
4Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream”, speech given at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., August 28, 1963.
5Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address”, given in Washington, D.C., March 4, 1861.
6Martin Luther King, Jr., “I See the Promised Land”, speech given in Memphis, TN, April 3, 1968.
7Barack Obama, “Inaugural Address”, given in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2009.