Saturday, December 31, 2011

Two More Poems in Three Line Poetry

What a nice way to finish off the year!  I have two poems in Three Line Poetry, issue #8.  This brings my total to seven published in Three Line Poetry.  The poems are:

It is enough to sit
and watch yesterday's rain
drop from the leaves of trees.

Dead roses lie on the table,
still bundled as they came from the store.
For want of water, they withered.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


[Published in The Copperfield Review, Spring 2012]


Phebe Williams, 1856, as she and her husband, David, and a small group of fellow Mormons travel eastward from Utah to Kansas.  They had already crossed the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains the year before, as part of a group of Welsh Mormons migrating to Utah.

David sang in Welsh today—
faced the rising sun and sang;
his voice, so strong and clear,
we stopped our work and listened,
the women by the breakfast fires,
the men hitching up the mules,
even the soldiers escorting us—
all stopped and listened to him sing:
Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch
Lord, lead me through the wilderness—
O, his voice, like a sweet fountain flowing,
clear and strong across the prairie.
David sang in Welsh today—
how good to hear him sing again.

He never sang in Utah—

not with the other men
while working in the quarry.
He would not join the chapel choir,
saying he could not sing
while the Saints were in darkness;
would not sing as long as humble Saints
were forced to give their possessions to the Church;
to work first for the leaders,
and then for themselves.
This was not the Zion we expected—
the communal life he preached in Wales.
He would not sing while the Church
preached polygamy,
or all the temple rites,
or blind obedience to the priesthood.
He would not sing while rule in Zion
was no better than the ironmasters’
grips on the valleys of South Wales.

And when we left Utah
traveling east through the mountains,
he still would not sing—
No sounds that might help
the Destroying Angels find us;
no praises sung to heaven above;
no songs to ease the hiraeth we felt—
the longing for life back in Wales.

David sang in Welsh today,
faced the rising sun and sang.
We stopped our work and listened,
and then a rising chorus,
the men hitching up the mules,
the women tending the fires,
voices rising in harmony—
pilgrims of poor appearance,
singing in this barren land.
We felt our anxious fears subside,
and the spirit of God and hope flowed through us,
like the River Jordan in the desert.

David canodd yn Gymraeg heddiw.
David sang in Welsh today.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Dawn and dusk define
my days at this time of year;
moments of beauty
framing hours indoors in one
meeting after another.

The Nature of Nature Poetry

Okay, it's time to come clean and admit that my recent post, titled "The Poet Attempts to Write a Poem Completely From the Viewpoint of Nature," was a bit of a joke.  The poem was nothing but empty space surrounded by two brackets.  It was also a bit of a philosophical statement.  The whole thing started as many nature poems do:  I had been out for a walk on a beautiful November day.  (My family and I, parents, and sister were at Deep Creek Lake, in western Maryland for the Thanksgiving holiday.)  The air was cool and crisp; there was a slight breeze; the sun was shining; it was quiet.  Perfect morning for an introspective walk and gazing at the landscape.  I returned to the house we were renting, got my coffee, and sat in the sun on the porch determined to write a poem extolling nature, the beautiful day, etc., etc.  Words came to mind:  "the rising sun...;" "the sun rising over the mountains...;" "wind rattles through the trees..."  The more I thought and wrote, the less pleased I was-- this wasn't a nature poem, it was a poem about me describing a scene in nature.  All of the things I experienced on my walk, or sitting on the porch; all of the things I saw, felt, sensed, were really about me and my perceptions of nature-- they weren't nature itself.  Could I write a poem about nature completely from the viewpoint of nature?  What would that look like?  My sister joined me, and I posed the question to her.  I couldn't write that the sun rose, because it doesn't really rise-- it only appears to rise from the standpoint of us humans.  Could I write that the wind blew?  Not really.  Since wind is caused by changes in air pressure and cooler or warmer air moving in to fill a void, nothing is blown.  Wind is a sensation experienced by humans and other animals that can notice the change in pressure.  We couldn't write that a leaf moved because, well, a leaf is incapable of movement on its own.  The best I could do would be to write that the leaf was pushed or was moved by the wind or something else.

My sister and I tried to think of different verbs that could be used in a poem, and quickly reached the conclusion that nearly any verb we would want to use comes with human interpretation, emotion, baggage attached.  Maybe a poem completely from the viewpoint of nature would have to be a series of nouns.  Sun. Wind. Trees.  But, then, these are all human descriptions for things we see.  The sun doesn't know that it's a sun or a star.  "Wind" is our word for the sensation we feel and see when air pressure changes.  Trees are just another type of plant, unaware (we assume) of the way in which they differ from flowers or grass.

We concluded that nature just is.  It is all a human construct, including what we consider to be beautiful about nature.  So, a poem about nature completely from the viewpoint of nature would have to be wordless; a blank page (I included the brackets only because I was unable to create a blank page in the blogger format).  So, the poem became a something of a philosophical statement, more artistic than poetic, and led to another poem which makes the statement a bit more clearly (posted just prior to the blank poem).

Let me know what you think.    

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


[Published in Symmetry Pebbles, issue #4]


A child by the road,
crying in the autumn wind--
great Basho leaves food
and takes away an image
from which he forms a poem.

If he had taken
the child with him, would he have
mastered poetry?
Or, would he be known only
as a man who saved a child?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Three More Poems in the Copperfield Review!

The Copperfield Review has published three more of my poems:  Cypress Boards, Skimino, and There Is No Life For Us Here (formerly John and Harriett, 1837).  That's six poems now in The Copperfield Review.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reading the Skimino Cycle

I've tried to write each of the poems in "The Skimino Cycle" in such a way that each can stand alone and is not dependent on the context of the whole for meaning and value.  But, each is also part of a larger story, particularly those that revolve around the lives of John and Mary Ratcliffe.  I also have not attempted to write in a linear, chronological fashion, with each new poem written and posted following the previous poem in time.  As a result, I jump around in time as my creative juices flow and the words come to mind.  For instance, I recently wrote and posted "John and Mary, 1873."  This poem, which is set just prior to their separation and divorce, came along years after I wrote poems set in the years after their divorce.

So, for those who want to read these poems in a chronological manner, here's the order, from furthest back in time to most contemporary (the year in which the poem is set is in parentheses).  The bulk of the poems-- those set in the 1850s-1882, including "Separated in Death, Even As In Life," focus on John and Mary Ratcliffe.

Cypress Boards (1805)
John and Harriett, 1837 (1837)
This Prairie is Life (1855)
The Mountains Were My Meetinghouse (1855)
On This Cold Southern Field (1862)
John and Mary, 1873 (1873)
The Glass (1876)
They Rode on Borrowed Horses (1876)
John's Lament (post-1876)
The Wheatfield (1876)
She Will Not Thirst Again (1882)
Separated in Death, Even as in Life (no particular time, but post-1882.  I was at the cemetery in 2005.)
Skimino (2001/2002)
Grass (2000s)
Spring Soil (2000s)
The Homestead (2005)
The Homestead, Part 2 (2005)
Moel Siabod (2009)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Another poem in Three Line Poetry

Just had another poem published in Three Line Poetry.  This makes five poems.  Here's the latest:

She turned and kissed me softly.
I could not force my mind
to remain within the dream.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lives Imagined and Re-Imagined

The larger portion of poems in the collection that I've called "The Skimino Cycle" focus on the lives of John G. and Mary Townsend Ratcliffe.  These poems take the core of what I know about them from a variety of historical documents and combine those facts with what I can assume about them based on the milieu in which they lived.  There's also quite a bit of imagining based in these facts and assumptions, as well as bits and pieces of information passed along through the family.  In essence, I've created characters and lives, based on real people who lived at some time in the past-- I suppose what I've created should be called "pseudo-biographies."  I began writing imagining and writing the series of poems based on their pseudo-biographies nearly ten years ago.   And, athough I knew that new facts and details would always come to light, I thought I knew the core details of their lives.  In recent weeks, however, I have come across new information that has changed what I and others thought we knew about their relationship.  These new facts create a dilemma regarding the poems that have been written (and some published) already, raising critical questions.  When imagining lives, and building a story based around historical characters, how closely must the author stick to the facts?  And, when new information is found, is there a need to revise previous work?

I knew all the basic facts about their lives-- dates of birth, death, marriage, births of their children; what towns and counties they lived in over the course of their lives together; John's occupation, when they moved to Kansas and under what circumstances; John's Civil War record; and the general timing of their separation and presumed divorce.  What I didn't know was why they married in West Alexander, PA rather than in Wheeeling or eastern Ohio, where their families lived; specifically why they were living with Mary's uncle, Dr. Thomas Townsend, in Wheeling in 1850; and whether they actually divorced, and the specific reason for their separation and divorce.  I knew that they were both buried in the Ratcliffe family plot in the Gaylord, KS cemetary; that Mary had originally been buried on the farm, but was moved to the cemetary; and that she was buried at the opposite end of the plot from John.  I built a series of poems and imagined their lives and personalities based on these events and what I fact-based assumptions I could form. 

A few months ago, I decided to read every item in John's Civil War pension file (which a neighbor who researches and writes books on the Civil War graciously photographed for me).  Most of the file contains his petitions for increases in his monthly pension, as well as affidavits from doctors, neighbors, and friends supporting his claims.  Those items and their contents were familiar to me.  Several of the affidavits from long-time friends and former neighbors, however, contained shocking revelations about his personal life and events that led directly to his and Mary's separation and divorce.  All noted that he had been intimate with the young woman that he and Mary had hired to help out on the farm, and several noted that John had gotten her "in the family way."  In addition, one person noted that John had had a tendency to "chase after women."  After reading these, I decided I had to obtain documents relating to their divorce, if indeed they were officially divorced.  I wrote to the clerk of the District Court for Marshall County, KS, and received copies of Mary's petition for divorce.  It was true-- in October 1873, John committed adultery with the hired girl.  Mary was divorcing him for that reason, as well as the fact that he had not been present in the home for a year. 

The family story had always been that John had been depressed and moody after the Civil War, and had basically become difficult to live with.  Given the nature and extent of his wounds, and the amount of time between his return from the war in 1863 to their separation and divorce in the early 1870s, that made sense.  In my poems, I had him sinking into depression and essentially driving people away from him.  There was something in one family history record of him having a wife in Jewell County, but this would have been after the divorce, and there was no other corroborating evidence of that-- just a seemingly random note jotted down by a grandson long after the fact.  But, adultery-- that seemed change everything.  Were the family stories of depression correct?  Or, were they just the stories told to the younger sons to protect them from the truth?  My great-grandfather and his brothers got enough basic facts about their father wrong in his obituary and other documents to make it plausible that they had not been told all the truth.  They were all young (15 years and under) at the time of the divorce, and they reached manhood largely without him.  If the stories of depression and anger are false, then the emotional underpinnings of the poems, particularly those exploring Mary's feelings, are false.  And, in that case, must I revise?

On the other hand, perhaps the stories of depression and anger are true, and help to explain the adultery.  In the decade between John's return from war and the separation, three sons were born.  The marriage could not have been terribly bad.  Perhaps there was a slow decline in their relationship, brought on by depression, moodiness, and a change in roles and relationships.  John could not perform manual labor, which meant he could not do the hard work on the farm.  The same individuals who mention his "chasing after women" also not that he spent a lot of time hunting, fishing, and trapping after the war.  This would have kept him away from the farm-- perhaps for days at a time?

So, a deeper, richer imagining of their lives is beginning to form.  Mary, taking on the role of managing and running the farm, and perhaps even doing some of the work that John once did.  Perhaps this helped her realize she could successfully take out her own homestead and farm on her own after the divorce.  John, increasingly despondent about his inability to do the work he once did, immerses himself in hunting, fishing, and trapping-- the things he can still do to bring in money and to support his large family.  They begin drifting apart; Mary tries to keep them together, and to spend more time together on the farm; John reacts to what he sees as nagging by finding solace with the hired girl (or girls), eventually getting caught in the act of adultery-- or admitting to it.  Does this require revision to existing poems?  Perhaps not.  But, it helps chart the direction in which new poems must go, and helps fill in some gaps in knowledge, providing new emotional depths to plumb.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Two More Poems in Three Line Poetry

I just had two more poems accepted by Three Line Poetry, this time for inclusion in Issue 6.  This brings the total up to four (had one in Issue 3 and one in Issue 4).  Not sure if that makes a regular contributor, but it kind of feels that way.  Also makes me wonder about the rigor of the selection process, although they have rejected a couple poems I submitted.  Anyways, I'm not going to worry about that too much-- I'm just having fun.

The poems are included below.  The first was written originally as a three line poem.  The second started as a five line poem; I removed the fourth line and combined the third and fifth.  I think that's also part of what I like about the three line poems-- taking a slightly longer poem and modifying it to work in only three lines. 

Mourning dove, do you notice me
as you alight upon the patio?
I wonder, who is in whose space?

Ten thousand blossoms
have bloomed and fallen again.
Will we ever walk among the cherry trees?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Three poems in the Copperfield Review

Three of my poems from the Skimino Cycle were just published in The Copperfield Review, Summer 2011 issue:  "The Mountains Were My Meetinghouse," "The Glass," and "The Wheat Field."  All three are in the voice of Mary Townsend Ratcliffe, my great-great grandmother.  These are the first of my "Skimino Cycle" poems to be published.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Another poem published in Three Line Poetry

Just had another poem published in Three Line Poetry:

I sit on the pier;
the river flows slowly past.
So much like my life.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Three Line Poetry

The following poem was just published by Three Line Poetry for inclusion in Issue 3:

So long had it been
Since I held a spring blossom--
I had forgotten.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Five poems published in The Beatnik

This year is turning out to be a good year for publication for me!  In addition to having a poem ("Thoughts While Viewing Van Gogh's 'Fishing Boats...'") published in the journal Do Not Look at the Sun, five poems of mine were published in the on-line journal, The Beatnik.  The poems are:  "Claudia Greets Me in the Morning," "Dead Roses," "Rain Falls from a Somber Sky," "Reading Li Po on a Winter Day," and "Age Pares the Fruit of Life."  Both journals are on-line; both provided links to my blog page, which has resulted in more traffic on this site.  Thank you to the journal editors, and to readers for following those links.

The poems in The Beatnik are available here:

I've currently got poems out for review at Little Patuxent Review and You Are Here:  the Journal of Creative Geography, both journals in which I've published previously.  Keeping my fingers crossed for a few more published poems.

January 14, 2012 Update:  the poems out for review at the Little Patuxent Review and You Are Here were not accepted for publication.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


[Published in The Beatnik, March 26, 2011, on-line at]


Claudia greets me in the morning
with coffee and half a smile,
eyes downcast somewhere
between sadness and a different place.
I am there also,
only closer to sadness,
knowing no other place to be.

I stare out the café window,
at all the purposeful people
on their way to purposeful days;
it hurts to look at them
in the morning sun's glare,
so I follow Claudia
as she shuttles between tables and kitchen,
taking orders, pouring coffee,
delivering food,
while the manager shouts her round the restaurant—
"Claudia, pick up!"
"Claudia, new customer!"
"Claudia, clear that table over there!"

Claudia looks my way.
I sense a glance that says
take me away from here,
take me to another place,
and I want the same from her,
but neither of us says a word
as Claudia pours me another cup of coffee.


(various haiku and tanka and a few deviations from strict form)

End of day, and now
the sound of rushing water
as I sat creek-side,
the warm sun and peaceful breeze--
just a cold night memory.

Lavender and teal--
the colors of the dawn sky.
You are still asleep.

Peach and blue today.
You are still asleep, while I
enjoy dawn alone.

I sit on the pier;
the river flows slowly past.
So much like my life.

River laps on shore,
a light breeze cools my body.
I don't want to leave.

Calm water, light breeze;
quiet morning on the pier
writing simple lines
of haiku and tanka
while everyone else sleeps.

Gray fisherman wading along our beach
how awkward you look,
and yet a certain majesty
as you stand motionless

Walking Columbus,
I think I may have taken
a wrong direction.

(written after walking along Columbus Street in San Francisco)

She leaned against me,
then turned slowly in my arms
and kissed me softly.
I could not force my mind
to remain within the dream.

White snow on green grass;
clouds obscure the dawning sun--
a New Year begins.

Clouds part; sun lights way.
I resolve to not resolve.
A New Year begins.

Dead roses lie on the table,
still bundled as they came from the store.
For want of water, they withered.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


[Published on the Dead Beats Literary Blog, October 16, 2012]


Late afternoon sun behind him,
his cab parked at the curb
outside the station;
his rug laid neatly on the sidewalk
between the parking meters,
he stands,eyes closed,
right hand on the left across his chest,
making his intentions known to his heart,
unaware of commuters
walking past, on their way home.
He bows, hands on knees,
and says, Allahu akbar—God is great
then kneels and bows, head to ground.
He rises to his knees, then bows again,
continuing his prayers
as pedestrians pass by.
Prayers over, he rolls his rug,
and returns to his cab,
to wait for a fare.

Peace be upon us
and the mercy of Allah.


[Published in Poetry Quarterly, Spring 2012]


The immigrant in his food truck,
parked at the edge of the lot,
sells reminders of home--
pupusas, tamales, tortillas--
to hungry laborers coming off shifts,
or waiting for work in the morning light;
to men whose families wait back home
for the monthly remittance,
or the fee for the coyotes to bring them North.

His foods remind him
of the land he farmed
and the corn he grew,
like his ancestors,
long before the Spanish,
and before the flood
of cheap corn from America.

His farm is now a memory;
views of his fields replaced by
parking lots, construction sites,
and the faces of men like him,
looking for something to take them back home.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Do Not Look at the Sun

The Spring 2011 issue of Do Not Look at the Sun is now available.  This issue includes my poem "Thoughts While Viewing Van Gogh's 'Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer'." 

Issue #5 is titled "Post Cards from Paris."  From the website:  "Every poem/ fragment/ photo/ painting that was selected for this issue was made into a postcard. It was then copied, printed and posted to people and places around the world. Some addresses were taken from mail-art mailing lists, others from postcard projects such as postcrossing (, some were sent to subscribers of DNLATS, others to those suggested by the contributors themselves. They were also hand delivered to hundreds of random mailboxes throughout Paris and London."

The idea of printing poems on postcards and mailing them to random locations around the world was really appealing to me.  I mean, if you can't make money off poetry, you should at least have fun.  Check out the issue, purchase a copy, and keep innovative journals like this in business.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


[published in You Are Here:  The Journal of Creative Geography, 2006, and again on Social Shutter, November 2012]


The air a mix of diesel and spices
at the concrete and asphalt corners
of Routes 1 and 175.
Commodities flow in and out
of the road-bound harbor,
from container ships in Baltimore,
unloaded in hours by man and crane
(a job that once took days and hundreds),
to trucks laden with seafood and produce
for the restaurants of Washington and Baltimore.

This is the harbor in suburbia,
truck stop and warehouses,
wholesalers and cheap motels,
and the shipping channel moves down the interstate.

Here is where the spices are packed
that once were packed in Baltimore
when its harbor filled with ships
from Asia and the Caribbean;
Central American banana boats;
buy boats filled with oysters and crabs
and produce from the Eastern Shore.

Here is where the sons and grandsons
of longshoremen who worked the boats
spend their days in warehouses
driving forklifts in and out of trailers
for barely a living wage,
or spend their days behind iron bars
and the razor wire fences
of the penitentiary
(another extension of Baltimore).

Here is where the prostitutes
work the lot from truck to truck,
where drivers find a home-cooked meal
     and a quick fuck.
Here are the suburban slums—
trailer parks and cheap motels
where families crowd a single room
rented by the week; and next door
lovers tryst on the half-day rate;
children play amid the diesel fumes,
suburban dreams a world away.

This is Jessup, where we find
the city’s rhythms in modern form;
the flow of goods in and out,
the city’s dirt, sights, and smells,
banished from the old harbor
now washed clean and sanitized,
a playground for suburbanites
who cannot stand the thought of Jessup.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Stats and Data

One of the things I like about Blogger is that it provides stats about activity on this page.  It's great to log in and see that people (or at least someone) has been viewing the page.  The stats tell me how many viewers per day, week, or ever, as well as what country they're in.  It's kinda cool to see that people around the world have been viewing the page.  I can even see which poems are being read (well, I hope they're being read).  What I don't know is if the views are from multiple individuals, or one person viewing multiple times.

I only have one follower of this blog.  Either that person is viewing a lot, or there are many people viewing but not following.  I think the latter is more likely.  Or maybe some automated process is hitting my blog and no one is viewing.  I hope that's not the case.

What the stats can't tell me is what readers think.. assuming there are readers.  So, dear viewers and readers, I would love to receive comments.  Tell me what you like, or don't like.  Tell me what changes should be made. 

I hope to hear from you.  And, thanks for viewing and reading.