Saturday, December 15, 2012

NORTHLAKE

In the interface between the warm water of the lake and the cooler air above, transpiring water molecules cool and condense, forming irregular columns of white mist.


Cool September morning—
nymphs dance above the lake.
Warped, surreal, ethereal spirits,
like smoke from smoldering fires
in the stark post-dawn air.

Neither here nor there,
neither moving nor static,
they hang above the lake
ascending all the time,
but never going up.

Friday, December 14, 2012

WALKING NORTH BEACH

[Published on the Dead Beats Literary Blog, December 12, 2012]


WALKING NORTH BEACH

[San Francisco, 2007]



Walking round North Beach
I realize that I am late—
fifty years too late.

I’ve missed all the right
eras, nothing left for my
kind, no place for us

who hear the diff’rent
drummer; who search for the beat,
the beat that pulses

beneath suburban
streets, unheard, unfelt by most;
who sit in quiet

corners at football
parties, bored, wanting to scream
a sonnet, or speak

only in haiku—
anything but endless blather
of suburban males.

So I walk North Beach
searching for something to fix
my soul, my trapped soul—

trapped by my psyche,
damn responsible psyche—
soul yearning to roam,

to wander and watch
life; writing all life, being
life—living, living, living.

God! I wish I could
yawp from the rooftops! I wish
I knew how to howl.

THE FRUIT YOU OFFER ME

[published on the Dead Beats Literary Blog, December 12, 2012]

THE FRUIT YOU OFFER ME


If we had all eternity,
and could spend all time in Eden;
if we could live our lives in bliss,
and innocent simplicity;
if that could be ours forever—
     I still would eat your ripened fruit;
     and know that it was good.

If we could walk in Eden’s groves,
in presence of almighty God,
who promised all we’d ever need,
kept safe from want through all our years;
if that could be ours forever—
     I still would taste your sweet delights,
     and would not feel ashamed.

If eating from the tree of life
meant that we’d be cast from Eden;
if sipping nectar from your rose
led to exile from God’s presence
and mortal life of pain and toil—
     I still would eat life’s fruit with you,
     and always feel fulfilled.

Walking North Beach with the Dead Beats

Two more poems of mine were posted on the Dead Beats Literary Blog:  "Walking North Beach" and "The Fruit You Offer Me," although I'll have to admit that based on the e-mail the editors sent me, I don't think they intended to post the latter poem.  It wasn't separated out with the title in bold, but rather was presented as if it was an appendage to the "Walking North Beach."  No matter.  Any posting is a good posting. 

I'm glad they selected to post "Walking North Beach" as it seemed so apt for their site.  The poem came to mind as I was, as the title clearly suggests, walking through North Beach in San Francisco.  North Beach was, of course, the hang out of the Beat poets.  Whenever I am in San Francisco (which so far has been all of two times), I go to North Beach to buy a book or two at City Lights Books, to eat dinner, drink coffee (or beer), and simply hang out soaking up the ambience and the history that is there.  The poem is a rumination on being out of place and out of time; of not quite fitting in; of being out of step with peers.  You can read it here:  http://www.deadbeats.eu/post/37797018778/walking-north-beach-by-michael-ratcliffe

"The Fruit You Offer Me" is a poem of a different nature and theme compared to "Walking North Beach."  I wrote it for my wife, Kathy.  It draws upon the story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  At one level, it's a love poem.  At another, is a poem of defiance, in which the speaker is essentially saying he doesn't care that blind obedience to God will result in a life of simplicity and bliss, free from want or toil, he will risk expulsion from paradise in order to exercise free will and live life to its fullest.  You can find the poem at the link above, after you walk through North Beach.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What is "published" and what is the purpose of this blog?

I have been thinking about the nature of personal blogs, such as this one, in relation to the definition of "published."  The topic has crossed my mind numerous times since starting this blog, primarily when I read the submission guidelines to various literary journals and realized that my poems were ineligible for consideration because I had posted them on the internet via this blog.  Some journals define "published" as any posting to the internet.  Others may refine that a bit by considering the poem "published" if there is no intention to make further substantive edits.  Other journals simply state that a poem cannot be published in any other print or on-line journal or in another person's blog.

This issue was on my mind recently as I read the submission guidelines for a local poetry contest to which I would very much like to submit a poem.  I have a poem the subject of which I think would be very appropriate for the contest given that the winning poem is posted on the door of the institution running the contest.  The contest guidelines stipulate that the submitted poem cannot be under consideration elsewhere and it cannot have appeared on the internet.  I already had submitted my poem to a journal for consideration, so it is ineligible for the contest on that basis, but I also had posted it on this blog.  The contest deadline is a couple months away, so I still have time to receive a reply from the journal.  But, in preparation for the possibility that the poem will not be accepted by the journal, I removed it from this blog.  I "unpublished" it, if you will.

A second event focused my attention on this issue.  The editor of a local journal posted a comment on the journal's facebook page reiterating the importance of reading and then adhering to submission guidelines, including not submitting works that had been published elsewhere, including on-line.  The editor did note that posting of a poem to one's personal blog might not be considered published if substantial revisions were subsequently made.  My response, and then responses to a subsequent question that I posed on my facebook page, produced an interesting view of the murkiness of the whole issue.  I won't recount all the comments at this time (they may become the basis of an essay that will appear later).  A few key points were raised:

1.  Journals have the right to set their respective submission and acceptance guidelines.

2.  Journals have an interest in protecting their content and one-time publication rights.  After all, if readers can find the poem on-line on the poet's page, why acquire a copy of the journal? 

3.  The poem is the intellectual property of the poet, who has the right to distribute his or her work for comment and to share with others.

4.  The personal blog can be simply another medium for sharing one's work with others, akin to reading aloud at a poetry event, handing out a paper copy of a poem, or sending a copy by e-mail to someone who has expressed interest.  The difference, I will admit, between these other distribution formats and a personal blog, is that in the other instances people have made a conscious decision to hear the poet read or to ask for a copy.  A personal blog on the internet can also be akin to a book on a shelf in a bookstore, across which someone stumbles.

5.  Intent is key.  What is the purpose of the blog?  To make poems available for comment, even poems that in the poet's mind are in final or near final form?  Is it a marketing tool by which the poet puts his or work out there for a publisher to find and perhaps express interest?  Is it a means of storing poems digitally in a location that is backed up routinely and maintained by others?  In other words, an alternative storage site should poet's harddrive crash, thumbdrives fail or get lost, and paper files get destroyed? 

6.  The entire issue is murky; boundaries between what is considered published and what is merely posted are fuzzy at best.

For now, I have removed from this site all poems that have not been published with the exception of a few that will definitely be revised prior to submission as well as a few that are not intended for publication.  If you saw something here in the past that has since been removed and would like a copy, or if you are interested in reading my unpublished poems, please e-mail me at clogwyngoch@gmail.com or mikeratcliffe@comcast.net.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Hired Girl... yet again

Thanks to my sister, Amy, the copy editor, I think "The Hired Girl" is finally in decent shape.  Amy is my primary sounding board, commenter, and editorial consultant.  She has a great knack for finding better ways to say things (which is why she's such a good copy editor) and has a great ability to make my words even better.  She's been a huge help in getting this poem into shape after the many drafts it's been through.  So, here's the final draft.  If you like it, Amy gets the credit; if you don't, then it's all on me.

THE HIRED GIRL

Melissa Hendricks, Marshall County, Kansas, 1873


This is my day today—
much like yesterday
and the day before that.
Up at dawn to help Miz Mary fix breakfast
while the older boys milk the cows.
Clean the kitchen,
then sweep and straighten up the house.
The younger boys will feed the hogs
before they go to school.
Miz Mary and the older boys finished the plowing.
Gene and John will be planting corn today;
Miz Mary will be in the far field sowing wheat.
I’ll have little Grant with me—
he can help me feed the chickens.
After that, I’ll take lunch out to the fields.

I hope Mr. John returns today.
He went hunting on the prairie.
Been gone a week—longer than usual—
but I don’t dare say too much about that
or Miz Mary will snap at me
like she did the other day
when I said he’d been gone so long.
She said she doesn’t understand
what’s going through his head,
why he can’t help more with the farm.

I’ve missed him much this week.
Talking with Mr. John makes the day go faster.
He tells me what he’s seen on his trips.
We talk about wildflowers and prairie grass,
about how much of the prairie has been plowed up
since he and Miz Mary settled here.
I know all the flowers and trees here in Kansas,
so I ask him about the plants back East.
And the way he talks about the green mountains—
I’d love to see them some day.

He talks of being a glass cutter back in Wheeling,
and said he’s thinking of making glass
here on the farm since he can’t do heavy work anymore
and needs something to do.
I’m going to help him.
Sometimes he reads to me while I work.
He knows I have a hard time reading.
Sometimes I mix up the letters
and the words don’t make any sense.
He said he’s going to teach me to write.

Sometimes Mr. John just sits at the kitchen table
and drinks his coffee while I work.
I feel his dark eyes follow me around the room.
I like that he watches me.
He said I’m pretty—no one’s ever told me that.
He seems different when he’s with me;
he stands a little straighter
and his face is not so hard.

I hope Mr. John returns today.
I could use some company.
If he’s not too sore and tired
we can work together in the garden.
We need to decide what to plant this spring.

Or, maybe we can just be together in the house.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Melissa/The Hired Girl... Again

I am still revising "Melissa/The Hired Girl."  Finding the right voice for Melissa Hendricks has proven to be a very difficult task.  I have struggled with the narrative aspects of the poem-- at times she is telling more than is necessary, or even perhaps realistic.  At times her voice and personality get lost in the process of my telling a story.  At times, I feel like I capture her voice, but make her tell too much.  I have never revised and rewritten a poem, and still been less than satisfied, as I have with this one.  I haven't even settled on a title.

In some ways, the poem seems transitional; that is, it provides a transition between poems that focus on John or Mary or John and Mary.  Melissa seems superfluous.  She is simply there to get us from one stage in John and Mary's lives to another.  Perhaps that was the part she played in their lives.  She was the hired girl, living with them, but not fully part of the family, and thus not fuly part of the story.  But, she is a critical player in their story, even if only the object of John's desire, and through their adultery, the catalyst (but likely not the only cause) leading to John and Mary's divorce.  John did not live with Melissa after the divorce, so perhaps her role in John and Mary's story, and hence in the Skimino Cycle, is ephemeral; transitional.  So, perhaps the poem should not stand on its own, but rather act as a means to move from one poem to another.

I don't know.  This one is hard to wrap my mind around.  But, whatever the role of this poem, here's the latest draft:

THE HIRED GIRL

Melissa Hendricks, Marshall County, Kansas, 1873


This is my day today—
much like yesterday
and the day before that.
Up at dawn to help Miz Mary fix breakfast
while the older boys milk the cows.
Clean the kitchen after we’re done,
then sweep and straighten up the house.
The younger boys will feed the hogs
before they go to school.
Miz Mary and the boys finished the plowing.
Gene will be planting corn today;
Miz Mary and John will be in the far field sowing wheat.
I’ll have little Grant with me—
he can help me feed the chickens.
After that, I’ll fix lunch and take it out to the fields.

I hope Mr. John returns today.
He went out hunting on the prairie
and has been gone a week—longer than usual—
but I don’t dare say too much about that.
When I said something the other day
about him being gone so long,
Miz Mary snapped at me
and said she doesn’t understand
what is going through his head
and why he can’t help more with the farm.

I have missed him so much this week.
Talking with Mr. John always makes the day go faster.
He tells me what he’s seen on his trips.
We talk about the wildflowers and the prairie grass,
and how much of the prairie has been plowed up
since he and Miz Mary settled here.
I know all the flowers and trees here in Kansas,
so I ask him about the plants they have back East.
And the way he talks about the green mountains—
I would love to see them some day.

He talks about being a glass cutter back in Wheeling,
and said he’s thinking of making glass
here on the farm since he needs something to do
and can’t do heavy work anymore.
I am going to help him.
Sometimes he reads to me while I work.
He knows I have a hard time reading.
Sometimes I mix up the letters
and the words don’t make any sense.
He said he’s going to teach me to write.

Sometimes Mr. John just sits at the kitchen table,
drinks his coffee, and watches me while I work.
I feel his dark eyes following me around the room.
I like that he watches me.
He said I’m pretty—no one has ever told me that.
He seems happier when he is with me;
I noticed that he stands a little straighter
whenever he is around me.

I hope Mr. John returns today.
I could use some company.
If he’s not too sore and tired
we can work together in the garden.
We need to decide what to plant this spring.

Or, maybe we can just be together in the house.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Jessup, republished

My poem, "Jessup," has been republished on Social Shutter, a blog devoted to social issues seen mainly through the lens of a camera.  Mine is the first poem published on the site, and one of the few items posted by someone other than the editors.  The poem was originally published in You Are Here:  The Journal of Creative Geography.  You can find it at http://socialshutter.blogspot.com/2012/11/jessup.html.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Poetic Symmetry

Words are flowing in symmetry this week.  The Fall 2012 issue of the Loch Raven Review, containing two of my poems, was released on-line yesterday.  Issue #4 of Symmetry Pebbles, also containing two of my poems, was released today.  Both journals contain poems from my US 1 series (the Loch Raven Review actually contains two from that series).  Both of the poems in Symmetry Pebbles reference a river.

So, what's next?  I've currently got poems out for consideration at AGNI, The Indiana Review, Cordite Review, Ampersand, and the Little Patuxent Review.  Keeping my fingers crossed that publications keep flowing.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Great Weekend for Poetry

This has been a poetry filled weekend.  On Saturday, I attended the Black Silence event at the C Street Gallery in Laurel.  Truth Thomas was the featured guest.  He read from his new book Speak Water.  There were also several of us who participated in the open mic portion of the event.  I read three poems from my US 1 series--  "The Tire Swing," "The Food Truck," and "US 1, Howard County, MD"-- and three poems on a spirituality theme-- "I Killed a Centipede Today," "Outside the Abundant Life Chapel," and "Friday Prayers."  It was a fun afternoon, and a great opportunity to share each others' work.

The Fall 2012 issue of the Loch Raven Review was released on-line today.  I've got two poems in it:  "The Tire Swing" and "Visiting Day."  Check them out.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

THE HIRED GIRL

This is my day today:
help Missus Mary with the breakfast;
clean up the dishes when we are done;
send the younger boys off to school;
go out to the garden
and pick beans and squash for dinner;
feed the chickens.
Missus is working in the fields
with the older boys,
so I will feed the hogs today.
I hate feeding the hogs. 
Prepare lunch, and take it out to the field.
They’re working in the far field today—
maybe I’ll dip my feet in the creek on the way back.

Mr. John has been gone hunting for days.
We expect him back today.
I’ll make some coffee for him.
I made some biscuits—I know he’ll like that.
Missus complains when he’s gone;
says she doesn’t understand
why he likes to be away so long.
But she knows his wounds still cause him pain,
so he can’t do the hard work of the farm.
Mr. John told me he likes the quiet of the prairie,
lying out under the stars at night.
Says he needs to be alone sometimes;
needs to get away from people.
I asked him what he does all day when he’s gone.
He said he checks his traps,
does some hunting or fishing,
but mostly just sits and thinks and listens.
I think he can’t get the war out of his head.
Pa said men were like that when they came back.
Some got better, some started drinking;
some, like Mr. John, just became sad or angry.

Here comes Mr. John now,
leading his mule down the lane.
Looks like he got a deer.
He’s bent to the side more than usual,
and he’s limping—
his hip and back must really be hurting.
I’ll get an extra cushion for his chair
so he can be comfortable
when he sits and talks with me.
I love it when he talks about the stars,
and all the plants on the prairie,
or about the years before the war,
when there was hardly anyone living here,
and there was nothing but a sea of grass.
Oh, how beautiful that must have been.
He was one of the first settlers here,
him and the others from Ohio.
He told me they surveyed their own farms,
laid out lots for the town, built the mill.
I think he wants to go back
to those days before the war.
I can see it in his eyes—
he doesn't seem so sad
when he talks to me.
I think he likes to talk with me,
maybe 'cause I listen,
and of course I don’t tell him
what he should do.
I try to help him feel less sad.
I wish there was a way I could ease his pain.

The Hired Girl

I took a break from work on the next set of poems in my Skimino Cycle series.  These poems were going to focus on the period of time when John Ratcliffe had his affair with Melissa Hendricks, the young woman whom John and Mary had hired to help out on the farm.  The affair is the act that led to Mary's decision to file for divorce.  It probably wasn't the only cause (although that's speculation on my part), but it certainly was the action that was spelled out in the divorce papers. 

I had drafted a poem narrated by Melissa, but initial comments from others was that it seemed a little flat.  Melissa (unnamed in the poem) seemed too one dimensional.  I agreed.  My goal in the poem was to introduce her as a character in the series of poems and to place her in some sort of work-a-day context.  I also wanted to try to place her in the context of John and Mary's relationship, knowing that as the hired girl she would be somewhat of an outsider, albeit well-informed outsider and observer.  And, knowing that she had an affair with John, she is not, or at least would not remain, an impartial observer.  I wanted to establish empathy for John on her part; establish that she cared for him in some way, that there was something that attracted her to him.  But, I wanted to be careful that she did not come across as a seductress, plotting to eventually get John into bed.  I also didn't want to make her come across as having a sort of school girl crush on John.  He was probably a fairly good looking man (his Civil War enlistment papers describe him as having dark eyes, dark hair, dark complexion); friends described his physical build as trim and fit.  They also described him as being a neat and tidy dresser.  But, family lore has it that he was depressed and bitter after the war, in part because of the wounds he suffered.  Depression runs in the family, so this seems plausible.  So, John had qualities that might have been attractive to a young woman of 21 (Melissa's age at the time of the affair), but he had qualities that would have been less attractive.  What was it, then, that attracted the two of them to each other?  And, did the affair grow out of love?  Or, was it simply something that happened as two people who enjoy each other's company and maybe need each other find themselves drawing closer together? 

Back to the poem itself-- I read my initial draft again this morning.  I read the alternate version that I had drafted.  That version, which tried to get more into Melissa's character, made her seem shallow, naive, maybe even a bit dull of mind.  Given John's upbringing and background, I can't see him being attracted to someone who was dull of mind, and I don't want the affair to be based solely on physical attraction, some mid-life crisis where John is simply looking for fling with a voluptuous young woman.  Maybe it was, and there is a comment from one of his neighbors in a statement in John's pension files that he had an eye for the women, but as author and storyteller, I don't want it to be simply about sex.  As I read the initial draft again this morning, I felt a little more comfortable with the words, with the story line.  I made a few changes to improve cadence and flow, and made a few changes that may help improve my characterization of Melissa and her feelings toward John.  But, as I read the poem again, I realized this is not a poem that delves deep into her character and persona, and neither did I want it to be that.  Rather, the poem is a young woman voicing her thoughts on a particular day, in a particular moment without getting introspective or into self-analysis.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Friday Prayers" on Tuesday at Dead Beats

Another poem published.  "Friday Prayers" was posted on Dead Beats earlier today. See http://www.deadbeats.eu/.  It's already been reblogged once.  It'll be interesting to see where it goes from here.



Sunday, September 30, 2012

Quoth the Raven: "Two More!"

I just got word on Saturday that two poems have been accepted for publication in the Loch Raven Review.  This is a Baltimore area journal, published somewhere in the vicinity of Loch Raven Reservoir, which is located north of the city.  How fitting, given that the two poems to be published-- "The Tire Swing" and "Visiting Day"-- were inspired by scenes in the Baltimore area, albeit south of the city.  Both poems are part of my series of poems set in the vicinity U.S. 1 in Howard County.  "The Tire Swing" is set on the site of a former trailer park on Gorman Road in the North Laurel and Savage areas.  The trailer park is long gone, and now so is the tire swing-- the site was finally cleared to make way for luxury townhouses.  The idea for "Visiting Day" came as I bicycled along Brock Bridge Road past the prison.  The usual line of people were there at the gate, waiting to go in to visit family members and friends incarcerated there.  The young girl sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, head in hands, watching me as I rode past caught my attention and stayed with me through my ride.

Both poems should appear on the Loch Raven Review's website within two weeks. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Two More Poems in Three Line Poetry

I've got two poems in Three Line Poetry, Issue 17:  http://threelinepoetry.com/issue.php?id=17&issue=17


Sunburnt and salt-scrubbed;
wonderful days in the sun;
memories left in the sand.


The river flows past, as it does each day.
Listen, though, as waves lap on shore--
each one is unique.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mining the Past; Finding Poems

Last night I was reading historical documents that I have collected in my family history research, searching for new themes for poems in The Skimino Cycle.  I've been stymied in my attempts to capture feelings and events leading up to John and Mary's divorce, and in my attempt to develop the personality of Melanie, the hired girl with whom John had an affair.  So, I thought I'll return to earlier years in the cycle and turn to documents from the 1700s and early 1800s for ideas.  The deed in which John and Harriett Ratcliffe's personal property was itemized had formed the basis for the poem "There is No Life For Us Here," and in fact, the poem contains the itemized list almost verbatim.  Reading various documents, I realized there was a certain rhythm and style to much of the official and legal writing in the past-- with a little editing perhaps they could be literary items.  This also is in keeping with the "Found Poetry" movement-- the idea that poems can be formed from everyday words and language; that there's a certain poetry in everything we say or write. 

So, I'm going to experiment with this idea.  The next few poems posted in The Skimino Cycle will be "found poems," drawn and formed from the actual historical documents that are the record that remains of individual lives.

Addendum:  Posted four poems drawn largely (and in the case of "At the Supper Table of the Lamb" entirely) from the words in historical documents:  "William Ratcliff's Will and Testament," "Dear William," "At the Supper Table of the Lamb," and "I Take Thee, My Friend."

Monday, July 23, 2012

OUTER BANKS SKETCHES

The last full week of July, my wife Kathy, sons Dylan and Harrison, and I traveled to Nags Head, North Carolina for a wonderful vacation at the beach.  We left home on Saturday, July 21.  Our other son, Zach, had to work, but would join us later in the week.  Kathy's parents as well as her sister and family were vacationing with us.  Dylan's girlfriend also would join us later in the week, driving down with Zach.  We all were looking forward to a relaxing time at the beach.

It rained off and on during our drive to the Outer Banks, but it did not slow us down.  The drive south into Southern Maryland, across the Potomac and through Tidewater Virginia to Hampton Roads, went very well.  We were on track for an early arrival in the Outer Banks until we reached a back-up in Currituck County, North Carolina.  We crawled the rest of the way.  Turns out there had been an accident on the Outer Banks side of the bridge across Albemarle Sound.  As frustrating as it had been to sit in traffic for over two hours, we were thankful to arrive in Nags Head safe and sound.  We reached our rental house, unpacked, and were ready to relax.

Traffic slowed its pace
to little more than a crawl.
Frustrations simmered.
An accident was the cause.
Sadness; but glad we were safe.

Salt air and sand dunes;
sea oats waving in the breeze;
waves breaking on shore.
The sun sets over Albemarle—
tensions slide into the sound.

The weather forecasts called for scattered thunderstorms during the first few days of our vacation.  A thunderstorm rolled through in the early morning of our first full day in Nags Head.  Lightning seemed to be all around us; one thunderclap boomed and shook the house.  In the morning, despite the storm, the air was just as humid as the day before.  In this flat landscape, water drains slowly-- there are pools of water everywhere.

First day on island—
thunderstorm, early morning;
rain, water, humid
air. We are surrounded by
water on all sides, but below.

On the morning of our second full day in Nags Head, North Carolina, I walked over to the beach, about an hour after dawn.  I had planned to go bicycling, but discovered that I had broken a spoke during my ride the day before.  Since I could not ride, the only thing left to do was sit on the beach and write poetry.

Surfers ride low waves
on a nearly flat ocean.
Fishermen drop lines
from Nags Head Pier; hope for fish.
Pelicans glide between waves.

Wind blows from soundside;
sun rising higher in sky;
It will be hot soon—
too hot to stay on the beach.
I will retreat to the house.

A broken spoke
kept me from biking today.
Had I gone riding
I would have been caught outside
in this morning's thunderstorm.

The weather cleared by afternoon and we went to the beach.  This would become our usual routine-- rise in the morning and pursue various activities, then go to the beach late morning or early afternoon.  We had a large canopy to shield us from the sun, which made relaxing on the beach so much nicer.

We sit on the beach
under the canopy's shade,
chairs lined up in rows.
We look like an audience
waiting for a show to start.

On Tuesday (third full day here), I bicycled to Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo-- 33 miles south across Oregon Inlet and beyond Pea Island refuge. It was a beautiful ride. The wind was blowing from the west on my way to Salvo; I moved along quickly-- 16 miles per hour on average. The wind shifted slightly on the way back, blowing from the WNW, and I had a stiff headwind for the last 13 miles. The ride over Oregon Inlet was great-- so high up in the air over the water! The causeway and bridge curve slightly, such that I had the wind at my back, helping to push me up and over the bridge as I rode south.

Oregon Inlet
bridge-- I soared over the world
as I biked across.
Sound and ocean; waves and sky--
a beautiful place to ride.

Wednesday, our fourth day at the beach, the wind blew strong out of the northeast.  I rode to Corolla, 32 miles into a headwind, to the northern end of route 12, where the pavement ends at the beach and only four-wheel drive vehicles and people on foot can continue.  I stopped and walked out into the sand, enjoying the cooling breeze and the beautiful morning.  The ride back to Nags Head, wind at my back, was a joy.

North to Corolla,
I struggled against the wind.
I reached pavement's end,
the breeze and waves, my reward.
Wind at my back, I flew home.

In the afternoon, as usual, we went to the beach.  The waves were big and powerful.

Wind from the northeast
piled up whitecaps, heavy surf.
We wore ourselves out
riding the waves, our bodies
like driftwood tossed on the sea.

Thursday morning, I took a break from bicycling and went to the beach to watch the sunrise.  The morning was beautiful, nice breeze from the southwest, low humidity, very comfortable temperature.  It was a perfect time to be on the beach.  I found a nice spot to sit and waited for the sun to rise, kept company by wind, waves, and solitude.

The beach at sun rise:
pelicans glide over waves;
plovers at surf’s edge;
sandcrabs dig out homes again;
seagulls stand guard on the sand.

What odd animals
these sand crabs—they build their homes
where the tide reaches;
each day they clear a new hole.
What a strange, but simple life.

We all went to the beach later that morning.  The waves were perfect for bodysurfing, breaking at just the right point to catch a nice ride into shore.  Zach, Harrison, Grant, and I stayed in the water, riding the waves for over an hour.  It was a wonderful day at the beach-- not too hot, wind just right, and the water was delightful.

Waves rolled in just right,
we surfed for more than an hour;
we studied the swells
and rode the best waves to shore--
moments of great joy.

Dylan spent time in the water with his girlfriend, Laura, who had driven down to Nags Head with Zach on Wednesday afternoon/evening.  As one might expect, they were inseparable.

Ah, how sweet, young love,
like a breeze on a hot day,
refreshes the soul.
For those of us in autumn,
perhaps we can find our spring.

Thursday evening we all dressed in white shirts or blouses and went to the beach to take family photographs.  Despite a few grumbles about the heat and humidity and having to pose, we got lots of good photos.  Then, we went to dinner.  As we walked into the restaurant, the hostess immediately noticed that we were all in white and asked, "Family photos?"  How obvious we were.  We had a wonderful dinner overlooking the sound.  Afterward, we went to a go-kart track for after-dinner fun.  Given the large number of people at the track, we drove in several groups-- Scott and Grace in one race; Grant in the junior race for younger kids.  Kathy and I drove in the same group while the others watched.

Fierce competition--
we speed round the go-kart track,
each vying to win.
Karts touch; we exchange glances;
maneuver for position.

Zach, Dylan, Harrison, and Laura were together in a group of drivers.  We watched a close, competitive race.

Brothers-- one, two, three--
race round the track, edging close,
blocking, cutting off--
then one makes his move, passes,
takes the lead, and two pursue.

No brotherly love--
each tries to pass the other
on the track tonight.
Serious competition,
then afterward, smiles and laughs.

Friday evening, we went out for our last dinner at the beach.  Eating out at the beach always seems so pleasurable.  Perhaps it's because a chance to all gather and relax around the table after a day in the sun and surf, someone else doing the cooking, serving, and cleaning up afterward.  Perhaps it's the opportunity to enjoy local seafood-- something we don't do much at home.  As with the other evenings out, we had a wonderful time, enjoying each other's company. 

Last evening out--
we splurge on appetizers:
hush puppies, crab dip,
calamari, fish nuggets;
then dinners.  We are fulfilled.

Our week at the beach ended on Saturday, July 28.  We left the Outer Banks along with many other beachgoers, all returning to our usual lives.  We got in the line of traffic moving its way off the island and to the mainland, at a not-too-hurried pace.  Hard to say whether the slow pace is due to the volume of traffic or just everyone's reluctance to leave.

Sunburnt and salt-scrubbed,
we reached the end of our week.
Waves caught, castles built,
wonderful days in the sun;
memories left in the sand.

We leave the island,
part of the slow moving stream
away from the beach,
each reluctant to go home,
hoping the tide pulls us back.

Monday, July 9, 2012

U.S. 1 Corridor Poems (update)

In my post of November 6, 2010 (see http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=4675306312689632650#editor/target=post;postID=2489485122221987711) I wrote about my series of poems focused on the U.S. 1 corridor in Howard County and the ideas and scenes that influenced those poems.  Since that time I have added three poems to the series--"The Food Truck," "The Old Man at the Corner," and "U.S. 1, Howard County, Maryland."  In addition to "Jessup," which was published in 2006 in You Are Here:  The Journal of Creative Geography, two of the poems have been published or accepted for publication:   "The Food Truck" in the Spring 2012 issue of Poetry Quarterly, and "Patuxent River Story," in issue #4 of Symmetry Pebbles.

"The Food Truck" focuses on the Hispanic food trucks that can be found along the Route 1 corridor, catering to the many workers in the warehouses, industrial parks, or gathering hoping for day labor opportunities.  It combines the presence of the trucks with thoughts relating to the loss of livelihood by farmers in Mexico, put out of work by the flood of cheap corn from the United States after NAFTA took effect.  I thought it fitting to have a farmer running the food truck.  In Mexico, he grew food and provided for his family.  No longer able to compete, he heads north and provides for his family back home by providing food for workers.

In writing "The Old Man at the Corner" I had in mind the men who can be seen panhandling from time to time at major intersections in the Jessup area; in particular, the man I would see at the intersection of the off-ramp from I-95 and MD Route 175 west.  I have been part of the line-up of people in cars waiting for the light to change and trying to avoid eye contact.  It's easy to dismiss such people as wanting to avoid work, or trying to earn easy money by begging from others, but when I think about it, I can't believe that most people eagerly turn to panhandling.  Both this and "The Food Truck" came out of my thinking about what I would do or how I would feel if I was in a similar situation, if I had no other prospects or hope for feeding my family.

The last poem, "U.S. 1, Howard County, Maryland," is more of an ode to the road and the corridor, comparing it with other parts of the county-- parts that have better "curb appeal" if you will.  U.S. 1 was the original highway through the county, connecting Howard with Baltimore and Washington and other points north and south.  That role as "Main Street of the East Coast" has been usurped by I-95.  U.S. 29 has taken over the role of major local highway, connecting the nicer, more upscale communities within the county, and passing through Columbia, which can be seen as Howard County's "downtown."  U.S. 1, in many ways, has been forgotten... that is, except by those who find it to be an anomalous "eyesore" requiring a makeover to bring it in line and in compliance with the rest of the county.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

John and the Hired Girl

I've been working on a new poem within my Skimino Cycle titled "The Hired Girl."  As the title indicates, the poem focuses on the hired girl that John and Mary Ratcliffe hired to help work on their farm.  According to depositions from friends and neighbors in John's Civil War pension file, John and Mary hired multiple girls to help out, to some of whom John apparently (according to the depositions) took a liking.  That he had an affair with one is definitely known-- Mary names Melissa Hendricks in the divorce papers that she filed in 1873.

I don't know much about Melissa, which is making it difficult to capture her personality and voice in the poem.  She was rather "flat" in the first draft-- commenters who read the first draft said as much, and I have to agree with them.  Here's one little bit of information I know about her:  she was 18 years old in 1870, which means she would have been around 20 or 21 when the adulterous act occurred.  She was listed in the 1880 census as unable to write, but interestingly, she was not listed as illiterate (can one know how to read, but not write?).  She was living with her parents in 1880.  Not much in the way of facts around which to build a personality.

Each of the poems in the Skimino Cycle has required a fair amount of imagining to build the story around the facts.  But, the others involved people (mostly John and Mary) for whom I have enough information from which to create a well-rounded character.  This is not the case with the hired girl.  I am having to create her personality and character almost from scratch, and ultimately based upon how I think she related to John and Mary.  The problem right now is that, as a character, she is mostly a reflection of other people, without any real personality of her own.  I think she turned out that way in the first draft because I was trying to avoid making her come across as either exploited by John or as a seductress.  The result, however, was that she came across as "flat" and without any sort of feelings or thoughtful expression-- in a way, as dull and unintelligient.

The poem is narrated by the hired girl-- we are in her head as she goes about her activities.  The physical setting is the kitchen of the farmhouse, which is where I envision much of her interaction with John occurred.  The kitchen seems like a good setting-- the family hearth; the focus of much daily activity; where John would rest after returning from his trips out onto the prairie for hunting, fishing, and trapping (activities in which he engaged a lot, according to the pension file depositions).  If Mary is out in the fields, managing the daily activity of the farm, the kitchen would be a good location for John and Melissa to spend time.  Friendship and then intimacy could develop there, but also because it's a family space, Mary would have opportunity to interrupt and observe the relationship between them.  And, because ultimately the kitchen is Mary's kitchen, there is a violation of space even if there is not yet a violation of trust.

So, where to go with Melissa's character?  The difference in ages between her and John would suggest that she might see him as a "father figure" type, someone older and wiser from whom she can learn.  Someone who is more mature and perhaps understanding than the younger men of the community.  Perhaps she has a learning disability (which is why she can't write) or some other disability that makes her less attractive to younger men, but which John, with his war wounds (physical and perhaps mental), can empathize and see past.  They find solace in each other; they spend time together; they share a mutual understanding of each other's condition; and this leads ultimately to physical intimacy.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Two Poems in Poetry Quarterly

The Spring 2012 issue of Poetry Quarterly has been posted on-line, and two of my poems are in it:  "Outside the Abundant Life Chapel" and "The Food Truck." 

The Abundant Life Chapel is located in Charleston, West Virginia.  I was in Charleston in 2010 for a conference.  I was giving a workshop on a Sunday afternoon, and since I had no conference-related activities in the morning, I decided to attend meeting for worship at the Charleston Friends Meeting.  I arrived at the meetinghouse early, so decided to walk around a bit until others arrived to open the meetinghouse.  As I walked past the Abundant Life Chapel, the sound of gospel music flowed through the walls and the closed doors.  The bass was thumping a lively beat and it sounded like the congregation was rocking.  The impression stuck with me through the day; by that evening, I was writing out the words of the poem.

"The Food Truck" was inspired by the Hispanic food trucks that have appeared along the Route 1 corridor in Howard County, Maryland, where I live.  No doubt, they are elsewhere.  They can be found in industrial park parking lots, on the side of the road, and any location where Latinos may gather to eat, socialize, wait for work. I wanted to write something about them, but I was having trouble identifying the specific theme.  The reality of farmers in Mexico and Central America being forced out of farming by the flood of cheap American corn seemed the perfect backdrop for the poem, and the food truck operator became a farmer who had left his farm for better economic prospects in America.

The Spring 2012 issue of Poetry Quarterly is available at http://poetryquarterly.com/?page_id=7

Enjoy!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Paper Plane Poems

The editors of the journal Do Not Look At The Sun have a knack for coming up with quirky and interesting themes for their issues.  The theme for the Spring 2012 issue is "Paper Plane Poems."  Dylan, Kathy, and I helped with distribution by flying paper plane poems at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore.  It was a great day for it-- slight breeze, lots of people milling about prior to the Orioles-Phillies baseball game.  Lots of baseball fans, but how many also enjoy poetry?  Not sure, but one Phillies fan helped fold and fly a poem.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Two More Poems in The Copperfield Review

The Copperfield Review is turning out to be a great place for me.  I've got two poems in the latest issue, Spring 2012:  "David Sang in Welsh Today" and "Separated in Death, Even as in Life."  Just about all of the historical poems in my Skimino Cycle have been published there. 

Check out the poems as well as the Copperfield Review's new look at http://copperfieldreview.com/?p=527

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A bit of a break from poetry

I knew this was going to happen.  It's happened before.  I've been teaching this semester-- population geography at University of Maryland, Baltimore County-- and just like in the past, I'm busy enough preparing lectures, reading essays, and grading tests, in addition to my full-time work as well as family, that I don't have time to write poetry.  Or, don't make time to write poetry.  But, just so you don't think the inkwell has gone dry, I'll share links to what I have been writing. 

Last Monday, the Census Bureau announced the list of urbanized areas and urban clusters for the 2010 Census, as well as urban and rural population and land area information.  I wrote the news release

A blog post describing how we define urban areas was posted today on the Census Bureau's Random Samplings blog.

I'll have an entry about the Census Bureau's activities at the 2012 Association of American Geographers conference posted in the Census Bureau's Research Matters blog.  That entry was actually written in mid-February, but due to delays in releasing the Research@Census web site led to a backlog of blog posts.  Mine should appear in the next few weeks (I hope)-- suitably edited into past tense by the blog editors.

It's not poetry, but it'll do.

Enjoy!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Up by Four More in the First Quarter

Well, the first quarter of 2012 has gone well!  In addition to the three poems published in The Copperfield Review, I just got word that I'll have two poems in issue # 4 of Symmetry Pebbles-- "Walking Along the River Fuji, the Poet Basho Finds a Child Abandoned by Its Parents" and "Patuxent River Story."  Although the word "river" in each poem's title suggests some symmetry, the two are quite different.  "Walking Along the River Fuji," consists of two tankas, with the whole poem inspired by a passage in Basho's "Records of a Weather-exposed Skeleton" in which Basho and his traveling companion come along a small child abandoned by its parents.  I've read Basho's book a couple times, but what struck me this last time was the matter-of-factness with which Basho leaves the child behind rather than taking it with him.  "Patuxent River Story" is from my U.S. Route 1 series, and is about the prostitutes that are pushed from one county to another in the Laurel, MD area.

I've also got two poems that will appear in an upcoming issue of Poetry Quarterly-- "The Food Truck," which also is part of my U.S. Route 1 series, and "Outside the Abundant Life Chapel," which draws upon a brief moment when I stopped outside the Abundant Life Chapel in Charleston, WV while walking to the Charleston Friends' (Quakers') Meeting.  Given how clearly I could hear the thumping bass while standing on the sidewalk, I can only imagine the amplitude of spirit that must have been present in the chapel.

You can find these poems here on my blog.  I'll post the links when the journals are published.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Three more poems at The Copperfield Review

I seem to have found a home in The Copperfield Review.  Three more of my Skimino Cycle poems have been published in the Winter 2012 issue:  "They Rode on Borrowed Horses," "John's Lament," and "She Will Not Thirst Again."  These poems fit temporally with the three poems published in the Summer 2011 issue as all focus on John and Mary Ratcliffe.  The three poems published in the Fall 2011 issue represented a step back in time, as they were set in the 1700s and early 1800s.

Many, many thanks to the editors at The Copperfield Review.  If you want read my poems there, see http://www.copperfieldreview.com/poetry/Ratcliffe%202012.htm

Saturday, January 14, 2012

WINTER WALK IN WOODS

[Published in Three Line Poetry]


WINTER WALK IN WOODS


Winter walk in woods--
cold wind rattling through beech leaves
brings warmth to my mind.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Look Back At 2011

I can't believe how good a year 2011 was in terms of publishing.  I had 18 poems published!  The year started off with Do Not Look At The Sun accepting "Thoughts While Viewing Van Gogh's Fishing Boats..." for publication in its spring issue.  That was quickly followed by acceptance of five poems for inclusion on The Beatnik's blog.  Three Line Poetry published seven poems, distributed across issues 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8, with the sixth and seventh poems being accepted and included in issue 8 just days before the year ended.  And, I was especially pleased to finally publish poems from my Skimino Cycle.  The Copperfield Review published six poems from this group-- three in the Summer issue and three in Autumn issue.

What does 2012 have in store?  Too early to say, but I do have poems out for consideration by the Baltimore Review, The Copperfield Review, and Poetry Quarterly.