December Reminiscences

December Poem, Martins Ferry Poems, Memories

Sometimes I wish I could go back
To my younger years
When magic walked the Earth
And all destiny rested in my dreams

Dreams that went beyond what was
To new untouched places
By me, you, anyone
Places deep inside our then tender hearts

Things weren’t particularly easy
Plenty of struggles with reality
But you felt what love was
Never more than a hug away

Things meant something back then
For their own sake, it seemed
Not because they helped you do anything
Or be anybody

Back then, dreams could overtake you
Grab you up in their big arms
Hug you like a bear
Shake you to life

We laughed and cried
Because they were the right things to do
Joy, as simple as a shiny red apple
Pain, just tiny scratches on a mountain

If you wished hard enough
Any day could be Christmas
Daily experiences outnumbered memories
So many lingering sweet first kisses

Days and nights were playmates
Not irreconcilable opposites or indecipherable dialectics
You said your prayers each night
You woke up happy in the morning

I go back once in a while
More and more as I grow older
And as life and death become equal partners
And goals give way to just being

Declaration Day

free verse, Memories, reflections

On this still spring morning
the silence is broken
by twenty-one stinging shots
and the haunting sound of taps
that drifts and lingers
like a ghost
across the cemetery
behind us

Each note
speaking the names
of so many serving
and dying
in battlefields
and on innocent streets
in wars
not theirs
that killed and maimed
so many

Remember those
who believed
in their hearts
they had done the right thing
for country
with their lives

Click here to hear me read this poem.

Click here to hear the sound of a bugle playing taps. (It’s worth it!)

What We Try to Leave Behind

free verse, Memories, reflections

Fresh out of high school,
I left home–
the place I knew best, and loved most,
with a heavy broken heart.
The break-up with my high school sweetheart
was the obvious reason for taking flight,
but truthfully, I had wanted
to get away from what I was
for a very long time.

I will always remember that warm summer morning when I left.
Just two days after July Fourth,
and just two days before Mom’s birthday.
I remember studying the Greyhound bus ticket,
and thinking of John Denver’s song, Leaving on a Jet Plane.
I felt like crying, but my anger wouldn’t let me.
Somehow the break-up, a summer job in Tucson,
and my deep-seated desire to see the world–
all seemed to fall into place,
and so I got on the bus.

Traveling sixty-eight hours on a bus across America
gives you plenty of time to reflect on your life.
My high school love was not completely forgotten,
but the sight of so many other beautiful young ladies,
like a couple of straight-up vodka martinis,
helped to ease my pain.
I re-read her last two letters,
and kept returning to one thing she had said:
What we had was real, but so are our dreams
to make something of ourselves in life,
and that we should not sacrifice.
Otherwise we are likely
to blame ourselves and each other forever.

While the hurt stun deeply,
I knew I wasn’t willing to give up my dreams.

No mental or emotional conclusions to my questions
during the long hot bus trip, but somehow
I felt like I deserved better in life.
That the life I was given,
but really I had created,
was not good enough
to match the “I am somebody” self-image
that quietly grew inside me
over my first eighteen years.
And yes, the “I am somebody” image
is just a cover for my real self-perception:
“I am nobody.”

I remember looking up the meaning of narcissism
in Mr. Sharpe’s English class, and thinking
I wasn’t narcissistic, because
I was sacrificing my dreams
to be what everyone else wanted me to be.
Upon reflection, that is exactly what I was.
I was consumed by my own will and desires.
I could think of nobody but myself.

I wanted to move on to another life–
in another place, and maybe even in another time.
I thought I could do it; that is shed the life I had,
like a man throws away an old hunting jacket
because of the blood stains
that won’t wash out.
So the Ohio Valley and all it meant to me
became a memory–
left to rust away, like the local factories
that once supported so many men and their families.

For packing so light,
my suitcase seemed so heavy.
Much heavier than I ever realized.
I guess that’s the way life feels,
when it’s filled with blame, anger, and sadness.
And all along,
I thought I had left those parts of myself behind.
Just for a fleeting second,
I felt the tiniest hint of regret.
But that was washed away,
as the bus door opened, emptying us
into a dingy bus terminal just outside St.Louis
for a restroom and snack break.

I never turned back,
but for a long time looked back over my shoulder
at the ghosts that seemed to be following me.
Eventually, I stopped looking back,
and the ghosts disappeared–
into my dreams, awakening me often as shadows,
where the unknown and forgotten
always seemed to linger and dance.

There is a lesson in all this, and that is:
No matter how hard we try,
we can never live happily until
we claim all parts of ourselves.
No matter how hard we try,
we can never forget,
nor go back and change,
what are lives really were, and still are.

I realized all this some time back
while rummaging through some old things
in a trunk in the basement.
I found that old hunting jacket.
I slipped it on.
Surprisingly, it still fit,
but mysteriously, the blood stains were gone.

Click here to hear me read this poem.

(Warning: Sorry, but this is a very big file and it will take 3-5 minutes to download, BUT I think you will enjoy hearing this one.)

Cloverfield

free verse, Memories, reflections

There are many fields of clover,
but just one Cloverfield
that means anything to me.
Cloverfield was a special place for me,
as a boy growing up in Martins Ferry,
along the shores of the Mighty Ohio.

I don’t remember when I first visited Cloverfield,
but I recall passing many peaceful summer afternoons,
lying on my back amidst the sweet clover,
watching clouds pass overhead,
and dreaming of far off places
that someday I would visit,
if only in my words.

I didn’t know back then
that James Wright,
Martins Ferry’s first poet son,
had also discovered this place–
this magical field of clover,
where contented Holsteins fed, and
where poets were born.
Well, at least a few anyway.

I didn’t know back then
that Cloverfield would mean anything to me today.
I didn’t know that all those quiet afternoons passed
watching the clouds and listening to the birds sing
would come to mean anything to me,
but they did.
Oh, how they did.

Perhaps there is a Cloverfield in your life.
A simple place where you feel suddenly alive.
A place that feels like home,
where you’re not afraid to talk to yourself.
A place clouds are allowed to be more than clouds,
and where your voice is yours,
no matter what words you say.
A place where poems, like clover,
grow thick and sweet
without even trying.
A place you don’t mind taking to your grave
because you know
you have found your place.

Dedicated to James Wright, a man I knew only through his words, and Annie, his sweet wife.

Click here to hear me read this poem.

A Grandmother’s Love in Springtime

dreams, free verse, Memories, reflections

Spring will always remind me of my Grandma Secrist.
Maybe it was her fluffy pink and white petunias
that seemed to effortlessly grow
in the green and white flower boxes
that lined her front and side porches.
Or perhaps it was her excitement each spring
that something new, wonderful,
and totally unexpected would happen in our lives,
which it always did.
We counted on Grandma’s intuition,
which budded in the spring,
like the sweet-smelling blossoms
on the knotty apple trees
we climbed in her side yard.
Maybe it was Grandma’s undying love
of all God’s special creatures,
like the stray dogs and cats that seemed to know
they could always find a meal at Grandma’s house.
Just as the Depression era hobos,
hopping trains in Bridgeport,
could count on some food
in exchange for a chore.
Grandma loved to sing, though
her vocal cords never seemed to
harmonize with the songbirds
that cheerfully ate scraps of bread
she left in the morning sunshine
on her side porch, where
we played for hours, and
listened to Grandma’s stories
over and over again.
Many wonderful new things grow
each spring in my life,
but one of the best
is the perennial seed of love
that Grandma planted in me
as a growing young boy.