The Best of Kindness Anthology

One of my poems is published in a new anthology titled The Best of Kindness 2020. It’s a collection of poems written about Kindness from the Origami Poems Project’s summer 2020 poetry contest.

Cover art by Lauri Burke.

The poems fall into the following categories: Compassion, Constancy, Gratitude, Adversity, Our Muted Brethren and Perspectives. My poem was a finalist. Here’s the verse:

Class Photo

Seeing every person
As a 12-year-old child
Taking a school photo
Eliminates any animosity
You may have for that person.
When you imagine
The awkward kid squinting
At the camera lens—
You discover yourself
Staring back at you.

My sixth-grade class photo.

 

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Kathleen Kramer: Everything Matters

I’d like to offer a book suggestion that would be a good read anytime but seems ideal for a pandemic—during an unprecedented time in human history when we are all contemplating our existence on this planet.

The book is a collection of poems inspired by a series of photographs captured by the author, Kathleen Kramer. I must state at the outset that I am biased; Kathleen is a friend and we have supported each other over the years through many writing projects.

The author with her husband, Jack.

I also wrote one of the blurbs on the back of the book, which is entitled Everything Matters (Yesteryear Publishing, 2020). But that’s not why I’m recommending this collection. I’m recommending it because of the quality of the writing, its universal message and the transcendent feeling the book delivers to the reader.

Everything Matters by Kathleen Kramer.

To better explain the book, I turn it over to Kathleen, who has agreed to answer some questions about the work. I highlighted some phrases that caught my attention.

Can you give a brief description of the book? What do you hope people will take away from it?

The book, Everything Matters, is a collection of poems and the photographs which inspired them. (So, I guess if I could be bold enough to call my simple photos art, this is a collection of ekphrastic poetry.) I’ve found that if I pay attention, there is often something about an object or a scene I may see that “catches” me. I’m guessing many others have found this, as well. Maybe as we mail a letter and are struck by the pattern of shadows on the steps of the Post Office. Or, at the bookstore, we catch sight of a book we used to read to our children 50 years ago. Or we see a little boy contemplating his first big snowfall. There’s something that has connected on a level deeper than the simply visual. So these photos and these poems were not planned nor conceived together, but arose later, paired, and out of a place within and, perhaps, a place “beyond” myself.

“Small Things” by Kathleen Kramer.

It’s my belief that creativity, whatever form it may take, is a gift from something greater than ourselves. We are enlarged by creating something beautiful, authentic, honest. And I think our hope is that those who read or see or hear our work will be enlarged, too, and feel a personal connection that is important to them.

My observation: I love Kathleen’s statement that “we are enlarged by creating something beautiful, authentic, honest.” It’s the sense that art is a shared connection between the creator and the reader or audience, and both sides are required for a satisfying experience.

Can you describe how your work celebrates or gives heightened meaning to the ordinary moments of existence?

 Almost 30 years ago, when I first began writing seriously—both plays and poetry—it was the “ordinary” life or the “ordinary” event that called to me. There always seemed, to me, to be something bigger that lived in that life or event. For lack of a better way to explain it, I believe there is a holiness at the heart of most ordinary things. Or, quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

Lines by Kathleen Kramer.

So I guess what I wish for is that by calling attention to the seemingly-simple—a moth on the window or a chocolate sprinkle fallen from an ice cream cone—the reader or listener to these poems will be led to see a holiness in their own lives and the lives of those around them.

What was the most challenging part of the process for you—writing the poems, taking the photographs or piecing the words and images together?

 Truthfully, in most cases, the process seemed organic. Something in me responded to something I saw. I didn’t stop to think about it, I just took the photo. Then I waited for whatever “spoke” to me in that image to come to the surface. Sometimes it came within minutes, but usually it was hours, or even days or weeks, or months. Again, it seemed organic in that it happened in its own time, maybe like a baby robin hatching or a peony opening from its tight bud. So to answer your question, neither part—taking the photos or writing the poems—was particularly difficult—except for getting myself out of the way enough for the authentic to come forth.

Not So Long Ago by Kathleen Kramer.

Then, of course, there’s the re-writing, when it’s not always easy to let go of a phrase or a line that takes away from the integrity of the poem, regardless of how much I loved that particular phrase or line.

My observation: Her responses, “I didn’t stop to think about it” and “getting myself out of the way,” inspire me. The goal is simple—just create and don’t worry about the result. Trust the process and have faith that it will yield results.

How can reading poetry help people during a pandemic?

Perhaps the greatest benefits to reading poetry at this very challenging time is that poetry can take us out of ourselves into a larger consciousness while, at the same time, leading us deeper into that part of ourselves that is tender and receptive, hopefully affirming a wholeness that exists, regardless of the conditions around us.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, no matter what genre they are writing?

 I think writers come to write for many reasons. Some have to. By that, I mean that they don’t feel complete unless they write to explore life and to articulate, first for themselves, and then, hopefully, to share what they’ve written as a way to affirm their lives and to connect with the lives of others.

I guess there are some who write in the hope of recognition or fame. This isn’t an easy motive for me to relate to. Mostly because we all know how unlikely it is that many writers will achieve it. But also because to write with “the market” in mind, feels shallow, contrived, and unrewarding to the writer. But that’s me speaking from a place where this motivation never held much importance.

What I’m getting to, I think, is that an aspiring writer needs to be fearless, in a way, and bold in reaching for the heart of what he or she is moved to write. Be authentic. Strive to write what is true for you. At the same time, be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to write bad sentences, bad poems. You can delete them! Or rewrite them! And, as a beloved writing teacher used to say, “Get the censor off your shoulder.” I would add, “trust yourself, trust the process, and trust that something larger than yourself is at work.”

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Coronavirus Poems

In between working at home and watching streaming content, I have been playing around with some poems inspired by the coronavirus pandemic. The poems are nothing more than word nerd exercises, but they help to keep my mind active. Plus, I do believe writers must write—no matter the circumstances.

Fine Wordplay

I may be
FINE,
but I may
also be
FIN´.

Coronavirus Wordplay

Take the word
DEATH
and mix up
the letters.
Insert an R
to make the word
THREAD.
So here we are,
a THREAD
away from
DEATH.

Keep Away COVID-19

Stay clear COVID-19.
Don’t come
around here.
Don’t come
knocking at our door.
Go jump in a puddle
or dive into a dumpster,
but leave us alone,
and let us live
and die on our own.

One More Day

Alive for one more day.
Granted the gift
of one more 24-hour cycle.
One more rotation
from morning to night.
One more chance
to love those in sight.
One more chance
to do it right.

Coronavirus Fear

Look at the word
FEAR.
Now drop the F.
You get two options
for alternate words:
EAR and ARE.
With my EAR,
amid coronavirus panic,
I hear wolves howling,
markets crashing,
Gabriel’s horn echoing
throughout the land
and the hooves of the
Four Horsemen thundering
across the face of the Earth.

But I also hear my son’s laughter,
birds chirping outside my window,
tree branches swaying in the wind,
and my own heart beating.
The sounds remind me I am alive.
For now, just for today, we ARE still here.

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Books Arrive

I’ve been tied up with post-production on a work-in-progress documentary project (more about this at another time), but I wanted to share the joy I received today when I found this literary inventory amid the pile of Amazon packages strewn in the lobby of my apartment building. Dreaming of Lemon Trees: Selected Poems is available from Finishing Line Press.

This full-length collection of poems is a combination of three previously published chapbooks—Outskirts of Intimacy (Flutter Press, 2010; second edition 2017), Vestiges (Alabaster Leaves Publishing/Kelsay Books, 2012) and In Pursuit of Infinity (Finishing Line Press, 2013). The work covers many years of my life and is comprised of narrative, confessional and philosophical poems, written in free-verse style, with a focus on identity, masculinity, family, romance, illness and death.

And I must admit it was fun to rip open the box, pull out a copy and thumb through the pages. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment to see all those poems bound in book form.

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Dreaming of Lemon Trees

Dreaming of Lemon Trees by Francis DiClemente

I am pleased to announce that Dreaming of Lemon Trees, a full-length collection of poems, is slated to be published by Finishing Line Press on Nov. 8. Advance sales are underway and will continue until Sept. 13.

Dreaming of Lemon Trees is a combination of three previously published chapbooks—Outskirts of Intimacy (Flutter Press, 2010; second edition 2017), Vestiges (Alabaster Leaves Publishing/Kelsay Books, 2012) and In Pursuit of Infinity (Finishing Line Press, 2013).

This book is comprised of narrative, confessional and philosophical works, written in free-verse style, with a focus on identity, masculinity, family, romance, illness and death. These poems are accessible to all readers and address issues that people deal with in their daily lives.

Pre-publication sales will determine the press run, so if anyone is interested, you can order the book online. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I appreciate it. Below you’ll find some excerpts from the collection.

Outskirts of Intimacy (2010; second edition 2017)

Stanwix Street

A vanilla ice cream cone
covered with sprinkles of dirt,
a handful tossed by small grimy hands
across a chain-link fence.
A blond child’s whine—
flat, constant and eerily melodic.
The girl then turning away,
screaming upstairs to her mother,
sound asleep in the mid-August heat,
the lime-green curtains fluttering in the
second-story window of the adjacent brick building.
The child just standing there, scraping off the grit
and licking the melting residue
trickling down her forearm.

Post-Op Image, 1984

Sprawled out on my mother’s bed,
I hear chunks of ice falling from the roof,
and a city snowplow rushing past our house.

I tilt my neck to glimpse at the wooden crucifix
perched above my mother’s head,
and feel my putting-green hair and
surgical scar meandering from ear to ear.

I then pester her with a flurry of questions,
diverting her attention from a Danielle Steel book.
She delivers no rebuke, though,
but merely clasps her nut-brown rosary beads,
and brushes them gingerly
against the disfigurement.

St. Peter’s Cemetery

I extend a hand to touch an angel trapped in marble.
Its face is cool and damp, like the earth beneath the slab.
I pose a question to my deceased father,
Knowing the answer will elude me.
For his remains are not buried in this cemetery,
But instead rest on a shelf
In my sister’s suburban Ohio house.

Vestiges (2012)

Streetlight Paradise

Chalk marks on sidewalks,
fireflies stalking the night,
creaky porch steps,
chain-link nets and
the crack of the bat.

Sour-puss lips break a smile,
then sneak a kiss.
It’s cool to hold hands with
the girl of your dreams,
the one who says she’ll
love you forever.

But forever is too far away.
Our time is now—a passing moment
when our parents look the other way.

Summer fun in the springtime
of our lives, sucking it all in
under this streetlight paradise.

Father’s Day Forgotten

Daddy and Christi parted ways at a bus depot
In the early morning hours.
No big scene, just a kiss on the cheek,
Then she turned around and was gone for good—
Hopping aboard the Trailways bus
Headed westbound for Chicago.
And she never looked back.

Daddy went home to his beer bottle and sofa seat,
And he drew the living room curtains
On the rest of the world,
Letting those four eggshell walls
Close in and swallow him up,
Wasting away in three empty rooms and a bath.

And the memories can’t replace his lost daughter and wife.
So he tries not to remember his mistakes
Or how he drove them away.
Instead he recalls Halloween pumpkins
Glowing on the front porch,
Training wheels moving along the uneven sidewalk,
Little hands reaching for bigger ones in the park,
And serving Saltine crackers and milk
To chase away the goblins that haunted
Dreams in the middle of the night.

Now Christi has a life of her own,
And she lets the answering machine catch
Daddy’s Sunday afternoon phone call.
She never picks up and rarely calls back.
So Daddy returns to the green couch
Pockmarked with cigarette burns.
He closes his eyes, opens the door to his memory vault
And watches the pictures play in slow-motion.
He rewinds again and again
Without noticing the film has faded
And the little girl has stepped out of the frame.

Revelation

A courtship of contempt,
filled with swirling fury and churning angst,
not halted by the hands of God.
Zealous rituals express unwavering faith,
and outstretched arms set hearts aflame.

Trees topple under a crescent moon—
a gleaming scythe that carves the frost-burnt night,
invoking stones to crush the gnarled root,
as fragments of identity rupture
into paralyzing self-hate.

In Pursuit of Infinity (2013)

Dreaming of Lemon Trees

I dream of words
I strive to recapture
When I awaken in the morning.
I dream of stories with endings unknown,
Vibrant scenes imagined in my sleep—
A Degas ballerina alone in her dressing room,
A wagon train backlit on the horizon,
A hummingbird dancing on the windowsill,
And a lemon tree in the church courtyard
In mid-afternoon.
Wherever I go in my dreams,
The air is balmy and sunlight abundant.
Trees sway and the scent of evergreen
Finds its way to my nose.
I dream because when this tired body hits the mattress,
It relaxes, then releases and gives up its earthly weight.
My eyes close and I sink to the deep recesses of my mind,
Setting the subconscious free.

The Shed

Independence Day, Late 1970s (Rome, New York)

Whipped-cream clouds smear a powder blue sky,
while Grandpa nurses a carafe of Chianti
and dreams of waltzing down Bourbon Street.
The DeCosty family gathers on the patio,
with Uncle Fee roasting sausage and peppers
and Nana dribbling olive oil over fresh tomatoes,
then adding alternating pinches of basil and parsley.

Inside the backyard bordered by overgrown hedges,
the rambunctious cousins wham Wiffle balls
with a thin banana-colored plastic bat,
evoking the hollers of Grandpa . . .
who watches out for his mint-green aluminum shed,
situated perfectly in left-center field—
serving as our own Green Monster.

And when we get ahold of that little white ball,
it smacks up against the aluminum obstacle,
clashing like two marching band cymbals
in a halftime show.
And with sweat coursing down his neck,
Grandpa barks out his familiar line
under the patio awning:
“Son of a bitch . . . keep that goddamn ball
away from my shed.”
But Nana is always on our side,
and cancels out his power and keeps him in check.
“Fiore, you let those kids play and mind your mouth,”
she says.

Grandpa abandons his no-win cause,
turns up the volume on the Yankee game
and pours himself another glass of red wine.
He watches quietly as the shed stands erect
in the late afternoon sun,
sacrificing its facade for our slew of ground-rule doubles.

The Bridesmaid

The most adorable pregnant bridesmaid ever
Waddles down the church’s center aisle,
Unable to hide her protruding belly.
And with her feet swollen,
Her lower back sore and forehead warm,
She endures the ceremony standing
On the altar beside the joyous couple.
But she nearly passes out while
Posing for pictures in the lakefront park.

Inside the reception hall,
She almost vomits at the sight
Of shrimp cocktail and chicken Florentine.
She orders hot tea and lemon from the top-shelf bar,
And dines on rolls and garden salad.
This single-mom-to-be, though not merry,
Offers a smile when others turn to stare,
And bobs her head to the music
As the guests hit the dance floor.

She nibbles on a sliver of white-frosted wedding cake,
And asks for guidance from her parish priest,
Wise old Father Meyer.
Then the bride overthrows the eager females huddled
Near the dance floor and the bouquet lands
Softly in the expectant mother’s lap.
Her face turns red as everyone looks at her.
So she just grabs the bouquet and throws it back.

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The Poetry of Stones and Stars

As a poet, I often feel the urge when visiting the library to pull some slim poetry collections off the shelf and explore the words inside. I feel obligated to peruse them, since the poetry books never garner as much demand or attention as the novels they share the shelves with.

I recently discovered Stones and Stars (Dedalus Press), written by Paul Murray, an Irish Dominican priest.

Stones and Stars by Paul Murray.

In these spiritual poems—written with precise and accessible language—the author addresses universal themes of humanity and poses questions all of us consider in the course of our lives.

Here are a few short excerpts that stood out for me:

The Awareness

This
is my fear, this
my desire:

The naked, simple awareness
— like a flame —
of all that is not myself

the wound
of the knowledge of being.

The Question

Midnight.
All is silent.

Yet the question
of the void
amazes the stars.

On Living Life to the Full

When your heart is empty
and your hands are empty

you can take into your hands
the gift of the present

you can experience in your heart
the moment in its fullness.

And this you will know,
though perhaps you may not
understand it,

this you will know:

that nothing
of all you have longed for
or have sought to hold fast
can relieve you of your thirst,
your loneliness,

until you learn
to take in your hands
and raise to your lips
this cup of solitude
this chalice of the void

and drain it to the dregs.

Beginning

Now, after a long night
of stillness and longing,
on my brow, in the
tiny furrows of my palm,
thin lines of dew
are forming. And what I
had despaired of so long
is here. The sun,
true to its vow, with
prophecies of light and air
wakes the horizon.
I have come through
after all. I have a new
dawn on my shoulders.

Murray, Paul. Stones and Stars. Dublin, Ireland: Dedalus Press, 2013.

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Poems to Spur Reflection

While searching for some novels at Bird Library recently, I discovered a poetry collection by an author whose work I would like to share. David Ignatow’s Living Is What I Wanted: Last Poems (BOA Editions, Ltd. 1999) drew me in with its short poems, spare language and universal themes of family, advancing age and death.

I was also attracted to the small, black and white author photo to the right of the title; with his white hair, glasses and mustache, I felt an immediate affinity for David Ignatow. He seemed like a great uncle who would serve you lemonade on the porch of his house in the summer while discussing his crop of tomato plants.

The publisher’s note in the back of the book indicated Ignatow wrote most of the poems in the collection in 1996, a year before his death at age 83. He was born in 1914, raised in Brooklyn and passed away at his home in East Hampton, New York, on November 17, 1997. He wrote several poetry collections, served as a poetry editor and professor and earned numerous honors, including two Guggenheim fellowships, the Robert Frost Award and the William Carlos Williams Award.

In Living Is What I Wanted, Ignatow reflects on his life and presents truths accessible to any reader; you don’t need an MFA in creative writing or a Ph.D. in English literature to understand or appreciate these poems. The most prominent subject is death, which seems to hover like the figure in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal; yet Ignatow does not run from death, but rather greets it head on, accepting the inevitable.   

Here are a few selections from the book:

Staying alive

Reason for living.
I don’t have any.

What is your reason for not having a reason?
Is there a difference?

Are you that sour on life?
Can I separate one from the other?

What is your strategy for staying alive?
Isn’t being oneself enough?

Is it worth living without a reason?
Do I have a say in the matter?

Would you prefer not to have been born?
Did I have a mind of my own then?

Would you rather be dead now?
Do I have a choice?

Then you are opposed to suicide?
Isn’t living hard enough?

Then to live is to be brave and on the move.
Are you telling me?

What would you recommend for others?
Can’t they make up their own minds?

Then you should be congratulated.
Have I said something exceptional?

All living is lying

All living is lying:
we are unable to say what this life is.
We speak about it in metaphors
as if it could be other
than what it is, and even of ourselves
we say we are like this or like that.

Patient we wait
so that
once dead
we’ll know perhaps just who we were,
with others thinking back on us.

Where I built my house

Does being born matter
now that I am leaving it behind? Where
is a world I can go to
other than this ground
on which I walk and where I built my house?

Am I complaining of the shortness of life?
I am, and that makes me much like everyone else.
Follow Adam, the leader, into the ground.

Into the circle

To my friends I am in good health
and voluble, but I have moved
into the circle, after many years
in sun and shadow, having walked
as does a sightseer, in no fixed direction.

Into the circle I stand looking back
on that life. I cannot leave
nor seem to want to. As though programmed
I look out in an act of living.

Presence in an empty room

I must accept aches and pains of the body
if I am to accept
my presence in the empty room,
with no motive for being
in an empty room, and so
with no motive for being. If
I can accept aches and pains,
I exist.

Ignatow, David. Living Is What I Wanted: Last Poems (American Poets Continuum). Rochester, New York: BOA Editions, Ltd., 1999.

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Four Poems

Four of my poems were recently published on the website Albany Poets. And for my contribution to National Poetry Month, I have posted the poems here, along with some relevant images.

Centro Bus

Centro Bus

Taking the Bus

The blind man in the blue striped shirt
stands in front of the bus stop,
clutching a red and white
walking stick in his right hand.
He smiles as the bus’s tires roll to a stop
and the door swings open with a whooshing sound.
He climbs inside and takes a seat,
just another passenger in another vehicle
crawling along the congested thoroughfare
on this Wednesday morning commute.

Fall Trees

Fall Trees

Falling Leaf

The golden maple leaf
fell to the ground
in front of my feet,
making a slapping sound.
It greeted me
on this frosty November morning,
reminding me that one day
I too will lie on the ground,
and others will pass by
without stopping
or looking down.

Florida box turtle. Photo by Jonathan Zander (Digon3).

Florida box turtle. Photo by Jonathan Zander (Digon3).

Hard Shell

What goes through the mind of a turtle
When it’s sprawled on its back and can’t roll over?
Does it panic as its legs squirm in the air?
Does it stick out its tongue and try to scream for help?
Does it curse its maker as it writhes on the asphalt,
With the sun scorching its belly?
How long does it wait before giving up and accepting fate?

No. This turtle does not think.
It lacks the capacity to reason.
Instincts fire as it battles to survive:
“Get off your shell. Roll over. On your feet.”
It rocks from side to side as it labors to turn over.
It strains, twists and kicks … but fails.

And no one will intervene—
There’s no Tom Sawyer kid with a hickory stick,
Skipping along and flipping the turtle over.
No semi truck rumbles down the road,
Stirring up a blast of air and setting the turtle upright.

It struggles alone, refusing to quit
As it attempts to conquer physics.
The turtle keeps working
Until the sun desiccates its flesh
And it releases a final breath—
A low croak that goes unheard along the deserted road.
The turtle is gone and no one witnessed the fight.

Woman walking along Genesee Street in Syracuse, New York. I snapped this photo a few years ago while standing on the front porch of my apartment building, while testing out my new Canon DSLR.

Woman walking along Genesee Street in Syracuse, New York. I snapped this photo a few years ago while standing on the front porch of my apartment building, while testing out my new DSLR.

Stooped

An old woman hunched over,
looking down at the sidewalk,
adjusting her knit hat.
She limps forward,
shuffling along,
riddled with pain.
Her face reveals
the hurt she endures.
She receives no aid,
no intercession from human or heaven.
I pass her on the sidewalk,
and I say a quick prayer
that her suffering wanes.
It may not do any good,
but I send the thought aloft
and hope someone is listening.
The woman crosses the street
and fades out of sight.
I then hear an inner voice say,
“You were there,
you could have helped her.”

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