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Poetry?! "I hate poetry!" Perhaps you think this yourself. Many people do. "It's complicated. It doesn't make sense to me." You hear that a lot. But poems have changed, and, with words grouped in stanzas, you'll see this is one.
After more than 35 years of writing, I have collected most of my poems and essays and compiled them in a book called "Day Stew", which I have published using CreateSpace (www.createspace.com). As you can imagine, I am very excited to finally have my work available for others to read in a real book, and not just a series of web pages. My Bowfin Pond pages contained many of my pieces, but only came up to works written in 2009. That is probably less than half my output.
So, what kinds of writing can you expect in this book? Poetry, but not hard-to-decipher stuff. My poems are often written in free verse, which means there is often no structure or rhyming, just thoughts and descriptions strung together to try to convey an image, an idea, or a story using a lot fewer words than you would expect in prose writing. I like to think of my poetry as a verbal equivalent to impressionist painting — you can tell what everything is, but you don't get every detail. Often you, as the reader, are asked to bring your own notions of the missing details, so you share in the creative process.
I like to write in normal phrases, the way most of us would tell a story, and use words that are not thought of as poetic usage, although I like to think I describe things with a poet's vision and sensitivity.
To give an idea of the variety of pieces, here are a few of the subjects you will find in "Day Stew": an unforgettable gorilla encounter; a writer who imagines new lives for strangers; an introduction to Fred, one of my muses; how humanity uses music; the joys and heartbreaks of dogs in your life; a guy who makes labels (me); watching sunrises in your own yard, and around the world in exotic locales; rediscovering how to make one of the favorite dishes your Mom used to make (recipe included); being at the ballpark; realizing that singers never leave us; the emotional cost of piloting drones; how a guy decides when it's OK to hug; a dream Darwin might have had; and an achingly tender late night dialog.
If you want to read some examples, I have picked five pieces (below) to give you a feel for my writing style, including one humorous prose piece. See if you like them. If you do, you can click on the picture of the book (above) and see inside and order a copy of my book and get to read them all in the comfort of your favorite reading spot. My book is available from the store at www.createspace.com and at Amazon.com.
You can get a free PDF version of the entire contents - download your free PDF copy of "Day Stew" as a ZIP. Of course, I hope you will want to buy the actual bound book, but even if you don't, it would help me if you write a review for the book at Amazon.com, Shelfari, or Goodreads.
This day is a stew
from dark to dark.
To be slowly savored
as it is created.
A rich concoction,
blending the exotic
yet never the same.
The shame would be
not to notice.
We learn them from birth
From pictures of animals,
And shapes on wood blocks.
"Here is letter A."
"Baloney starts with a B."
"C is for Camel."
In every culture,
As long as there is writing,
We absorb symbols.
They become the keys
That take us beyond our reach,
Where only minds go.
The dead speak to us;
Our emotions are aroused;
We expose our souls.
These notions we know;
But what craftsmen make the shapes
Whose forms become words?
They hide in plain sight,
Not seen for themselves.
Then, for some of us,
Each glyph becomes an artwork
In a masterpiece.
Now it is so hard
To hold close a printed page
And see just the words.
Each typeface has marks
That become the signature
Of its given name.
And commonplace Times Roman,
But don't stop there, please.
Thousands more await
To bring us their double gifts
Of Art and Meaning.
Free Range Chicken Wrangler
I gotta say I’m sure glad some Yahoo in the Northeast, or the West Coast, I don’t know which, and it don’t matter anyway, started sayin’ that a free roamin’ chicken would be a better, healthier chicken. Somethin’ about bein’ in a better environment and bein’ happier – can you imagine anyone worryin’ about whether the chickens they're gonna eat was happy first?
Well, once folks who raised chickens heard this and figured out they could charge a lot more for chickens that was allowed to run around outside, why they was trippin’ over themselves tearin’ down hen houses, and coops, and all them Soviet-style sheds that covered miles of Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, just to name the three biggest chicken raisin’ states. Of course most of them realized you couldn’t just turn all them cluckers loose, or they’d become the biggest feast every fox, coyote, weasel, ferret and farm dog ever saw. Most of those chicken farmers thought a big area enclosed like an aviary would be enough freedom so they could say “cage-free” and double or triple the prices those chicken-lovers would pay. After all, how would all them city folk, who never saw live chickens, except on TV or pettin’ zoos, ever know what those chickens’ lives was really like? Hell, they only wanted themselves to feel better about the 3-to-4-month life of most chickens they gobbled down.
My boss Irv, well, he wouldn’t play that game. No sir! He wanted to call his chickens “free range chickens”, and by God that meant they was gonna be runnin’ free on the range, like those deer and antelope in that song. (‘Course barbed wire put an end to that, I can tell you, but it has a nice ring to it, don’t it?) Well anyway, Irv went and started the first true free range chicken ranch in the U.S. and he’d be the first to tell you that he made some mistakes.
He lost his first herd in a couple a days thinking border collies could boss ‘em around like sheep. What those dogs didn’t eat, every other varmint in three counties made short work of, so he needed a better plan to keep those dumb birds from scatterin’ like white leaves across the countryside and into the waiting jaws of all the local predators. (I have to say I’m surprised there was so many of them meat eaters still out there. Makes you wonder what they was livin’ on, don’t it?)
Next he tried usin’ neutered roosters that he trained to keep the chicken herds bunched up. They even seemed nasty enough to keep the smaller predators away, but the fool things didn’t get what bein’ neutered was supposed to be all about, and the roosters started fightin’ each other, until soon the herds scattered and fattened them carnivores again.
Naturally there was a lot of talk in town about Irv and his chicken herdin’ problems. Most of the other chicken farmers just snickered about Irv and his notions of “truth in advertisin’”, but I admired his attitude and looked him up to offer my services.
“Irv”, I said, “you need somethin’ big, smart, and tough enough to keep them predators away, but with no interest in those chickens as food. You need guard geese, and I’m your man. I’ve raised geese for years and trained ’em to follow my commands, and I tell you Irv, they can do the job.”
Well, Irv was pretty excited, and wanted to give my geese a trial run, so I brought a couple of my best pairs. Compared to chickens geese are geniuses, and they’re at least as loyal as dogs. Mine are imprinted to me from the time they hatch, and they follow me anywhere, if I call ‘em. You’d be surprised what you can get a goose to do when it thinks you’re its Ma. Usually I had mine guard my machine shop, and keep slugs out of my vegetable garden, but they’re also my friends and I have names for each one of them. However, there’s limits, and so they don’t get to be in the house. The “goose box experiment” didn’t work out real well, so outside they stay. I think they like it better anyway.
So, gettin’ back to Irv, I brought over Margaret and Benny, and Sylvia and Lazlo – both life-mated pairs – and introduced them to Irv’s test chicken herd. My geese tilted their heads left and then right, eyin’ them chickens, tryin’ to figure ‘em out. Then I pulled my tape player out and played gosling sounds for them. Like a switch was thrown those four geese rounded those chicks into a fairly dense group and kept them that way. If I said, “Come, come, come,” they just herded all of them my way and pecked the daylights out of any chicken with other ideas (as if they could’a had any).
Once those geese got the idea that them chickens was some sort of ugly goslings they just took up protective custody, so to speak, and those chickens would never be out of their sight. At least one goose was always on guard, and they could make a helluva racket if anything bigger’n a mouse got anywhere near their new charges. I don’t think there’s a chicken-eatin’ critter around that would want to take on four angry, hissin’ geese with wings raised and beaks at the ready.
Old Irv was mighty impressed with my geese and we’ve been sort of partners for a few years now. It’s worked out pretty good for both of us. I have my geese watchin’ about eight large herds now, and I make the rounds every couple of days to let them know I’m still nearby, and I’m proud of ‘em. They like knowin’ that.
There’s only two things about this arrangement I’m not crazy about. One is the chicken stuff I get all over my shoes every time I visit one of the herds; the other is that I feel like a traitor whenever I have to tell my geese to bring in the “babies” for the final roundup. That part never gets easy.
You have given a great gift to me.
I must show respect for you
by learning who you were.
I met your daughter this morning.
Now she shows me pictures of you,
weeping as she tells what each one shows.
Clearly, she loves you, and misses you already.
I begin to share her grief.
Tonight I will tell the others about you,
so that they will know the life
of the woman whose body they will study.
As I show slides of your story
your family is crying.
Soon I find that I am too.
You are no longer just a form beneath a sheet.
You were a sister, a wife, a mother.
Once you were a nurse;
Now you will become my teacher,
As I learn from your body how to help others.
When you have taught us what you could
I will restore your body to wholeness,
as our ancestors would wish.
Then I will bind you up in gauze
and go with you to the place of fire
where I will read my poem to you.
Your daughter will take it with your ashes.
Thank you, my silent teacher.
—Based on an article about a Taiwanese medical school
whose policy of showing reverence for the
donors has overcome the Chinese reluctance to
donate their bodies to medicine.—
Compassion for a Dead Cat
I have been driving
past your dwindling corpse
for at least a month.
Your life ended
under uncaring wheels
carrying other lives
home to sleep,
Theirs for the night;
I hope it was quick,
but I know your pain
was only part of the
Who missed you for days?
Put up signs
hoping for your return?
Whose days became lonelier
without you there?
Your last need to prowl
has turned you
that crows and insects
if given the time.
In some way
you will continue,
as life does.
Date of this page version: 9 July 2013