Way of the World

Robins chase and spar
on the new-mown grass,
whether for sustenance
or sex doesn’t matter.
It’s just the way of their world.
Meanwhile, a hawk glides
on thermal waves
a-way up in cloud-washed skies.
His reason is more evident,
as his eyes scan
the flat green palette below
for any small moving shadow.
As his own shadow crosses over
the robins’ field of honor,
they scatter with mad flapping
and low trajectory
for the maples and pines,
since you can’t eat
nor procreate once you’ve become
vermillion-breasted tartare
in the belly of a red-tail.
Meanwhile, I sit and
watch it all, wondering
when my old instincts will return.
The ones that feed my soul,
express the intimate
of this Me-You relationship,
and helps me soar above
this pale gray palette
where shadows of stories are
all I have left of the Me
who also once took wing.

A stream-of-consciousness run of what I see outside my window and inside myself these days. The Way of the World is hard, no matter if you’re an air-coursing avian or an empty-headed mammal with a crumbling body and crumpled soul. The latter gained a little altitude during this flight of fancy.

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Meanwhile, On July 4, 1776

In Philadelphia, the great men
with their great status and
aspirations debated
if these colonies should declare
themselves independent states
from their strict Mother, Britain.
Some decried the annoying nature
of their colleagues in the heat
of early summer. Their small war
was fought with ideas and rhetoric,
the ordnance of intellectuals.
It’s doubtful, in their deliberations,
they knew that 350 miles north
of their fight for independence,
men who had for the past year fought
against British, Loyalist and Iroquois
lead and steel, struggled, too,
at Fort Crown Point on Lake Champlain.
The good Doctor Bebe, charged
with their care, declared that day,
“Since I have been writing, one more
of our men has made his exit.
Death visits us almost every hour.”
In the next week, while the paper
declaring independence marched north
in triumph, the gentlemen officers
at Crown Point, without debate,
declared it time to abandon their dead
and marched their weary army south.
When these battle-baptized farmers,
shopkeepers and hunters, survivors
of a war not yet designated, met t
he document not yet titled, at their
new fort, not yet named, they renamed
this place on Rattlesnake Hill for why
they fought—Mount Independence.

 

The Uncertain Certainty of Eternity

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I stood before their stone
one afternoon, wondering
what comes next. Is death
the punctuation of life?
An exclamation point or
even an ellipsis. The wind
rose and strummed the trees
in a protracted C-major.
The birds chirped in layers
of tiny percussive iambs,
heartbeats that predate us
and likely will continue
long after we’re gone.

For a moment, I heard
a poet who writes on clouds
the wind carries away like
pages torn from a notebook.
Without a manuscript, Nature speaks
in verse without words,
something few understand
until we’re closer to
our own grand editing,
where all will be revealed
and we’ll spend our
final breath on an “ahhhh.”
And our poem will go on and on
for the uncertain certainty
of eternity…even if I won’t

A quickly dashed off poem of sorts based upon the quote from John Keats at the top of this posting. It’s this week’s prompt (the first in months) from my friend Sharyl Fuller.

Writing On the Beat

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Beat icon Jack Kerouac composed a 30-point list of essentials for writers that he called his “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” It’s all-Kerouac.

My friend Sharyl Fuller asked me to select one or two (Only one or two?? Me? As if!) of these points and comment on how they relate to me and my personal writing. This could be difficult because I’m one of those “sit down and write” guys.

Once I settle into my writing desk cockpit for my flights of fancy, I know I have to write something whether I have a certain inspiration already in mind or not. This hurry-and-write mentality, if not facility, might come from my newspaper reporter beginnings, or maybe from my stolen minutes (and sometimes more) of creativity at my desk at work.

So, which point in Kerouac’s list applies to me? Well, most of them are couched in a very Hip-cum-Zen, cool yet spiritual language and vibe, but two stand out:

#5 Something that you feel will find its own form, and
#17 Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.

As a storyteller and poet, I might be what writers call a “pantser,” writing not from some predetermined start-to-finish or here-to-there. Particularly with poetry, I don’t sit down with a map before me, just a sense of where I am, accompanied by an image, some related and unrelated words, and faith that something tangible will come of this time I’m about to spend with myself and the ghostly Whoever that’s about to tell me Our story. Because they’re all “our story.”

The bricks and mortar of my work, my true and fanciful memories of a life lived in the real and imaginary worlds, music I can no longer hear but do, images I can no longer see, if I ever really saw them in the first place, will scramble up from the dark places, sparkle on the illuminated shelves within me, and report for duty.

It’s my job (the final letter of that word could as easily be a Y) to line up those courses of words representing the tangible and intangible, to construct birds and birdhouses, trees and trepidation, weapons to fight an enemy across No Man’s Land or even across a heart, emotions and images only you can see and understand.

If that process doesn’t snag onto old Jack’s #17, maybe it’s

#25: Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures of it.

And that’s what I do.

I like to say I write my poems and stories, hang them on a tree or door in the public square—digital and between book covers—and then I walk away. They’re not only mine anymore. I’ve given up sole ownership to them the moment you read them.

And maybe that spirit of figuratively losing my creations to the individual reader clicks with one more from that list by my Beat inspiration for this essay.

Kerouac’s #19: Accept loss forever.

Loss awaits me just one letter away on a white sheet of paper. Always has. Always will.

Thank goodness.

This essay was prompted by my friend Sharyl Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines post about Jack Kerouac’s “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” It was an interesting exercise in which I found out I do a lot of what Kerouac suggested. Now back On the Road to more fiction and poetry…I think.

Isn’t It Pretty to Think So?

EH 4449P Ernest Hemingway reading books with his dog Negrita at Finca Vigia in Cuba. Please credit "Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston"

Ernest Hemingway reading books with his dog Negrita at Finca Vigia in Cuba. Photo courtesy of “Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston”

We have only one thing in common really, Papa and I. We both cut our teeth in the word stringing game as young newspaper reporters. I think by that definition,this is where our similarities end. I didn’t go to war,suffer grievous injuries, move to Paris and hobnob with the literati of a Lost Generation, write a seminal novel of the Twentieth Century or live like this is the only day I’m going to get, then make sure it is.

Minor maladies helped me avoid my war, I only suffered a broken heart (chronically), I moved to that other cosmopolitan city starting with P: Plattsburgh, NY, and my ink-stained, scribbly hobnobbing was with characters called Bags, Botsy, and Burly. My brushes with death were a whitecap-skipping airplane flight armed with a camera and an apple farmer threatening me armed with a gun. Oh, and a heart grown too hard that inevitably turned me perhaps too soft.

But Papa’s words in my throat, my heart and a location south of there made me a writing man as much as a man who writes.On this, his birthday, I recognize I’ve never hunted lion in Kenya, never pulled four spouses and God knows how much tail, never drank enough to make a belligerent difference, never forget I’ve outlived him and know I’ll never pen last words of any piece I’ll ever write that are so incongruously sad as, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

I just completed my semi-annual reading of the novel that has informed my life as a writer probably more than any other, “The Sun Also Rises.” And today is the author’s 117th birthday. So I share with you a piece of my relationship, personal and professional, with Ernest Hemingway. If he ever read this clap-trap, I’m sure he’d cut 50% of the words and punch me 100% in the jaw.

Pen Light

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I can’t feel the sunshine on my face,
not like the touch of some muse
that would set fire to my puny pen.
Okay, it’s a wireless keyboard,
but all these poets will go on
about that word…pen…like t’was
handed them from Olympus or Ararat.

For some it is the manifestation
of their gift, whether they have
the one for stringing words
into image and emotion or not.
To many others, it is the word
signifying the act of using said pen
to turn word seeds into rosaries
of verse that fall from their hands
onto the blank space before us.

That sunshine thing?
Not to be too pennish about it,
but that’s the real engine of this art
I stumbled into. There wasn’t enough,
and I tripped upon a haiku, the silly
little thing. Then there came so much
it blinded me in words blooming forth
like the dandelions’ resurrection
I just witnessed and tell you about today.
Flash, and there they were…

Just like this. I hope you can sense
this light without seeing it, too.
I’m staring at a wall and it’s
an illuminating inspiration.

Poem Number 21 of this month’s 30-day marathon of new poems. After this past week’s batch of Stygian composition, all written within a sack of gloom, I decided I’d better cut myself out into the light, whether I can feel it or not. So I did, with this, my little (forgive me) PEN knife.

Heart-Blood

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Autumn on the Hudson, by Jasper Francis Cropsey, 1875

I miss those times we’d walk side by side,
the breeze, your breath, brushing
my face softly as I inhaled you.
I’m afraid I’m misplacing us among
so many of my memories, losing you
to fog-bound years, to our time apart.
To forget those days we touched,
how we turned gray and then white together,
how you always would echo back
to the vision of how you looked
the first time I saw you, would leave
my soul dry as a forever drought.
You’ll never know the many times
I spent watching you as you’d lie there
and I sat transfixed, dreaming,
at your bedside. The train would sound
in the distance and I knew my time
had come. But always I would linger.
You’ve been the route by which feelings
finally came upon me and emotions
floated away, the coursing blood
in my history, the ink in my pen.
Carve your scar deeper into me,
Great North River, heart-blood of empire,
companion, inspiration, muse.
Never let me go.

A poem of my personal and artistic relationship with the Hudson River, one I fear fading into a sad distance with age and geography.