Sunday Morning Poem

Instagram Poem #4

Slippers found near a park bench in downtown Syracuse. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Mystery Slippers

Sunday morning:
a pair of white slippers
left near a park bench
in downtown Syracuse.

Questions abound:
Who owns the shoes
and where did the person
sleep last night?

No answers to be found,
so instead cue Johnny Cash’s
big, beautiful voice singing
“Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”

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Lonely Tricycle

Another example of an Instagram poem.

Discarded tricycle. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Lonely Tricycle

A tricycle
left near
a dumpster,
discarded.
Now in need
of little feet
to power
the machine,
spurring movement
on the sidewalk
and evoking
hollers of joy,
while parents
follow close behind.
Or at least
that’s what I see
in my mind.

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Instagram Poems

I am doing a final edit on my next poetry manuscript, entitled Outward Arrangements, as I prepare for self-publishing. It’s a full-length collection of narrative, philosophical and observational poems written in free-verse style.

Several poems in one section of the book originated as the text in Instagram posts. All of them are short, and the images, scenes and words came to me as I walked in my city of Syracuse prior to the pandemic.

During the month of December, I thought it would be fun to share some of the poems and the photographs that inspired them. The first image points to a mystery I encountered while jogging one day.

Baby Stroller on Sidewalk. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Baby Stroller on the Sidewalk

A stroller parked
on the sidewalk.

No parent present.
No wailing heard.

Just a question
Without an answer:
Where did the baby go?

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Poems Out Loud

In the past I posted numerous poems to the site PoemHunter. When I visited the site recently, I noticed the poems had an audio component created by a computer-generated voice, which I found very entertaining. Here are a few examples.

 

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Three Poems

With today being Halloween, I want to share two seasonal poems and one speculative poem.

The first is a narrative poem that attempts to capture the spirit of trick-or-treating in a rural area.

Photo by James Wheeler via Pexels.com

Halloween on Lamphear Road

Blackness shrouds the land
between the houses on a
long stretch of rural road
in Rome, New York.

You and your best friend
are shining flashlights
as you go trick-or-treating
on a Halloween night.
The smells of cow manure,
burning leaves and ripe apples
permeate the air.

You and your friend walk briskly
along the edge of the road,
chattering about sports,
movies and girls—
trying not to express
the terror you both feel as you
navigate the darkness.

You fear a witch, a ghost
or another malevolent force
will emerge from the adjacent fields,
snatch you and fly away.

You tell yourself to calm down
and keep walking—you are safe
and there’s nothing to be afraid of
on this country road.
And all you have to do is make it
to the next house, the next doorbell,
the next fun-size Snickers bar.

Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger via Pexels.com

This next poem has bothered me for several years. It doesn’t sit right with me and I probably shouldn’t post it, but it has a strong autumn theme and it seems appropriate for a weekend in which we turn our clocks back.

Falling Back

Alone on an empty school playground in Toledo, Ohio,
my worn-out sneakers shuffle on concrete,
as I practice left-handed hook shots
on a bent basketball rim with a rusted chain-link net.
The sound of the bouncing ball reverberates off the school’s red brick facade,
as my reflection jumps out at me in the first-floor windows
adorned with orange paper jack-o’-lanterns.

A towering oak tree with thick branches
observes me as I throw up an air ball from three-point land.
It studies my movements while a sharp wind
strips away its cloak of golden-brown leaves.

The cold sticks to my fingertips as I lick them
to get a better grip on the Spalding rubber ball.
And with my nose running and my chest heaving,
I swallow the chill in the air, trapping it deep inside my lungs.

I pick up my dribble … stop … smell … look and listen.
Street lights flicker on,
and across the road a pumpkin is perched on the porch of a white house.
The smell of burning leaves wafts through the suburban neighborhood.
Charcoal-gray clouds dominate the sky,
and on the western horizon, near a row of pine trees,
there’s a feathering of soft pink light.

At the nearby park, soccer goals stand idle,
and on the gravel softball field,
silence reigns on the base paths and outfield grass.
In the schoolyard, monkey bars are free of tiny, groping hands,
and empty swings sway in the stiff autumn breeze—
as the wind calls out for the children to return.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay via Pexels.com

The Chill

Marble statues, pale and worn,
flash me scowls
as I take a long walk
down the aisle eternal,
where a bride in white
stands lovely and radiant.
She beckons me closer,
waving me on, until I
drop into the everlasting abyss.

She shrieks as the earth
swallows me whole.
But this place hath
no fury or fire, only a toll,
paid with collected sins
and a blackened soul.

And this domain is
no less dreadful than a
frigid castle or cardboard box.
It is without torture and torment—
no gnashing of teeth,
just a mundane domicile.

Yet something is amiss.
Ah yes,
despair clings to the walls
since God has been thrown out
by the occupants.
His spirit is absent and ignored
in this dank stone place
lacking light and an exit.

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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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