Cobwebs

“Imagination is funny
It makes a cloudy day sunny
It makes a bee think of honey
Just as I think of you.”

So goes the song popularized by Frank Sinatra. But imagination works the other way too. Pathological imagination often presents as fear and anxiety. This is what inspired “Cobwebs,” which appeared in my first book The Wind and the Shadows.

One of the ironies about imagination gone wrong is that there’s absolutely no reality to the fear. It’s just a cobweb without a spider. Even so, we can get all tangled up in it, paralyzed by our diseased belief that we’re prey. That being so, I hope you don’t read this poem right before bed 😉

Cobwebs

I flip on the basement light.
 
Shadows 
draw dark legs
into crevices,
holes in the walls,
and blind corners,
where imagination whimpers
and squirms against
mangled cobwebs.

Habit

Life is full of routines. Some routines (like work or school) we don’t have much choice about. We attend church every Sunday because knowing God within a community is deeply important to us. Other routines evolve around fun: popcorn on Wednesdays, Family Pizza Movie Night on Fridays, etc.

However routines start, they can become automated, mechanical. Now and then, I step back and think about the many routines in my life. Are they still meaningful? Do they still bring enjoyment? Often the answer is yes but if it isn’t, should I stop or modify a routine? Whatever the answer, reflection is always a valuable exercise.

“Habit” is a poem that explores unexamined routines. It will appear in my next book, Event Horizon, which I hope to self-publish in the next month.

Habit

I don’t know why
I do it anymore.

I follow
the same path,
retracing desire’s steps:
turn here, turn there;
this is the way to go;
that’s a dead end…

This is just what I do now.

I am a rat in a maze

finding cheese.

The Vineyard Published!

In a previous post, I mentioned my poem “The Vineyard” would appear in Heart of Flesh Literary Journal, Issue Seven. Friday, May 6, was the publication date! Please check out this issue. I got a sneak peak and found several excellent poems. I look forward to reading others. Of those I read so far, my favorite was “I Split the Afternoon” by Tiwaladeoluwa Adekunle.

I hope you also take a minute to read my poem, “The Vineyard.” It is a meditation on God’s kingdom; I use imagery from scripture to imagine the kingdom as a vineyard that flourishes and is fruitful because it grows from the death of Jesus.

Heart of Flesh offers its issues free online. If you wish to purchase a print version, you can do that here: https://www.blurb.com/b/11150714-heart-of-flesh-literary-journal-issue-seven. If you still value printed books (as I do), please consider this and help Heart of Flesh continue their valuable contribution to poetry and spirituality.

I am grateful each time one of my poems is published. I pray readers are touched by the Lord and by whatever measure of artistry I’ve been given. My goal in writing poetry, besides creating something aesthetic, is to continue responding as the Lord stirs within.

It’s in the Genes—Kate McKamey

My daughter, Kate, attends high school at Wilson Hill Academy. Recently, her biology class had two projects: 1) do something artistic about genetics; 2) create a related meme. Kate opted to write six haiku about DNA and create a meme about writing poetry.

We have writers on both sides of the family, so Kate comes by her writing skills honestly, as they say. I was most impressed with her haiku. Besides each haiku being about DNA, the last letter of any given line ends in the letters used to represent the four nucleotides that form DNA: A, T, G, C. These four combine to form base pairs: A with T, G with C.

When you look at the three haiku on the left, each line ends with one of these nucleotide letters. On the right, each line begins with the nucleotide letter that would form a base pair with the last letter of the line across from it. So if the first line of a haiku on the left ends in A or T, the first line of the haiku to its right would begin with A or T. Or if a line ends with G or C, the line across begins with G or C.

Kate’s DNA Haiku

Maybe I’m just a proud papa, but my mind was blown! To go with the blown mind, Kate’s meme about poetry made me laugh out loud because it’s so true. Anyone who has had a blush with writing poetry will relate:

Thanks to my readers for bearing with me as my buttons burst burst 😊 Kate, I’m sure, has a long life of writing ahead of her, whether poetry, fiction, or some other way of putting pen to page. However that skill manifests, one thing’s for sure—it’s in the genes 😉

Frames of Dust

Feelings are like precious metals mingled and trapped in rocks. They’re not always valuable in their raw form. They must be processed and refined to become something beautiful.

Writing poems has provided many writers a way to process and refine emotions. My own poems reflect all sorts of states: worship, whimsy, rage, rapture…poems are passion pendulums swinging all over the place.

Grief has provided me with poetic ore many times in my life. Below is a poem I wrote after my grandmother died. It appeared in my first book, The Wind and the Shadows.

My grandmother was an accomplished painter so painting was a theme in more than one of the poems I wrote after she died. I’m thankful to have some of her paintings so that, from time to time, I can pause to remember what a gift she was.

Frames of Dust

An autumn wood,
a billy goat,
a Japanese woman,
a scroungy old cat,
a piece of driftwood on the beach…

Still lives,
portraits,
painted by grandma

now laid on the couch,
now leaning against the piano,
now in piles
with all the other things
we are sorting through,
trying to decide what to keep
and what to discard.

And how do you make such a choice?

How do you mark off borders
for a whole life?
What stays in the field of view,
and what is excluded?
It depends on your perspective.

My interest is in the paintings.
I hoped to have a few, and, surprisingly,
no one wants 
the ones I like.

The next morning,
we pack our treasures into cars
and prepare to leave.

Life goes on.

Before leaving,
I take one more look
to make sure
we left nothing
behind.
My eyes trace 
phantoms of knick-knacks,
depressions in the carpet,
and the walls,
where the dust that accumulated
on the edges of each painting
now frames
empty spaces.

Late Afternoon

Tanka is a Japanese form of poetry I learned about last year. Haiku is a related form that started as part of Tanka. Haiku has a 5 syllable line followed by a seven syllable line, and ends with another 5 syllable line. Tanka begins with the same arrangement but adds two seven syllable lines at the end.

Tanka and Haiku are both sparse, impressionistic forms due to their small size. Tanka is a nice choice when you need just a skosh more room to complete your thought😉

Below is a Tanka I wrote last year, which will appear in my next book, Event Horizon. I am hoping to self-publish Event Horizon in June!

Late Afternoon 

Then you realize—
too late—the day slipped away, 
and you catch the sun
looking back at its zenith
over a hill’s hunched shoulder.

Third Time’s a Charm…

I am grateful to announce that my poem, “The Vineyard,” will appear in Heart of Flesh Literary Journal, issue seven, 5/6/22! This makes three poems published in two different journals.

“The Vineyard” is a free-verse poem made up of four quintains (five-line stanzas). It is more or less a meditation on the kingdom of God using imagery from the old and new testaments. In the poem I look at God’s kingdom as a vineyard that grew from Jesus’s death, and how the vineyard shares Jesus’s character.

“The Vineyard” will also appear in Event Horizon, my second book of poems, which I plan to self-publish in the next few months. Below is a shape poem I wrote called, “The True Vine.” It is based on the fifteenth chapter of John. “The True Vine” appeared in my first book, “The Wind and the Shadows.”

The cover image was sketched by Patrick Murphy, inspiredsketch.blogspot.com

A Delicious Concentrate

Sometimes, I read a poem that is everything I want a poem to be. The poem below, by Philip Larkin, is just such a poem:

An April Sunday brings the snow,
Making the blossom on the plum trees green,
Not white.  An hour or two, and it will go.
Strange that I spend that hour moving between

Cupboard and cupboard, shifting the store
Of jam you made of fruit from these same trees:
Five loads—a hundred pounds or more—
More than enough for all next summer’s teas,

Which now you will not sit and eat.
Behind the glass, under the cellophane,
Remains your final summer—sweet
And meaningless, and not to come again.

There are many things I love about this poem. There is a simplicity and immediacy to the imagery, yet it carries such deep feeling. The events happen as seasons are changing, hinting at the transition in the poet’s life. The snow fades quickly (like our lives); he spends that time rearranging jams made by his wife (presumably) who, like the snow, has passed. “Behind the glass, under the cellophane” evokes his feeling of separation, while describing her final summer as “sweet / And meaningless” brings home the grief underlying the whole poem.

One reason this poem is so effective is because of the way Larkin tells the story. The key to the whole poem—his wife’s death—is held to the end. It seems he’s telling a rather mundane story about moving jam as winter is changing to spring. When he reveals that the jam was made by his late wife, the meaning rushes through all the preceding imagery. It’s like wind hitting a waiting sail. The gust of surprise carries the reader right into Larkin’s emotional current.

Best of all, the poem is short—twelve lines, three stanzas. Rather than exhaust us with a tragic saga, Larkin leaves lots of energy to feel with him. To me, the best poems distill beauty into a delicious concentrate…like the juice you might use to make jam 😉

Clouds upon the Wind

Villanelle is a form of poetry I became interested in last year. It is a highly structured form comprised of 19 lines: five tercets (three line stanzas) followed by a quatrain (a four line stanza). The first line is repeated at the end of the second and fourth tercets. The third line is repeated at the end of the third and fifth tercet. The first and third lines then form the last two lines of the ending quatrain. Confused? Just wait. We haven’t even got to the rhyme scheme yet!

The first and third lines of every tercet rhyme with each other, as do the first, third, and fourth lines of the final quatrain. The second line of every tercet and the quatrain rhyme with each other.

One of the more famous villanelles is “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas. I learned about the form by studying Thomas’s poem.

I have written a couple villanelles and hope to write more. Tight structures like the villanelle require hard work and a different type of creativity than free verse. But I enjoy the challenge. In fact, I might engage more fully with writing when I’m not sure I can succeed. Call me crazy 😉

Below is the first villanelle I wrote, which will appear in my upcoming book, Event Horizon. Hopefully, it helps readers make sense of my explanation of the villanelle as well!

Clouds upon the Wind


The trees’ leaves burst in blazing orange and red
when summer ends; they turn to ashen hues
then drift away in clouds upon the wind.

A fair and rodeo revive our bored 
stiff town and rescue us from feeling blue
as trees’ leaves burst in blazing orange and red.

Each skirted bauble, cowboy, and kiddie rides
the rides, eats, laughs, and kicks up dust with boots,
which drifts away in clouds upon the wind.

Around the town’s a glow we’d soon forget:
a 90,000 acre fire that grew
as trees’ leaves burst in blazing orange and red.

All briefly green and flowering things are fed
to lapping flames while low smoke crawls and broods 
then drifts away in clouds upon the wind.

As carousel and funhouse are interred
in trucks, the setting sun’s a livid jewel;
the trees’ leaves burst in blazing orange and red
then drift away in clouds upon the wind.

Fat Cats

In my family, we’re cat people. We love each cat’s quirky personality, and that they’re often walking contradictions: graceful and dignified one minute, neurotically spazzing out the next; desperately affectionate, then callously indifferent. If I could get one to wear a mood ring, what a light show that would be!

Since cats are in my house and in my thoughts, they often end up in my writing. Below is a poem I recently finished. It was inspired as I put my shoes on to go to work and noticed my cat napping on the bed, oblivious.

Fat Cats


Who hasn’t envied the life of a cat?
To sleep in late and still take naps,
To saunter about, free from all care
With the mien of a rare aristocrat;

To pedicure claws on the leg of a chair,
To suddenly flail at dust in the air,
To yawn and to stretch and indifferently preen,
And then (when pristine) to throw up some hair.