I wish you bright paint

Hi everyone,

Another day in National Poetry Month, another poem from the files. This one comes from CONNECTING DOTS, POEMS OF MY JOURNEY, my autobiographical collection published by Boyds Mills Press in 2004. It begins with one of my earliest memories, when I was four and got bitten by a dog, and ends with a poem about my parting wish for others.

The collection was an experiment in a couple of ways. At that time it was a bit unorthodox to place a brief description about each poem at the top of the page, and it was against traditional wisdom to write a book for young readers that spanned the life of the poet from age four to sixty-five. My editor for Connecting Dots, WENDY MURRAY, said then, and I think still believes, it’s the best book I’ve ever done. The cover photo is me at age four, the year I memorized the Gettysburg Address and recited it from memory on a stage at Grace Methodist Church, the place where I would marry SANDRA SUE KENNON eighteen years later.

Here's the final poem in the book, "I Wish You Bright Paint."

I’m 65. I sit here at my desk holding this poem -- the last dot in my picture -- and I wonder who will read it. To you, whoever you are, thank you. I wish you well.


WISHING YOU BRIGHT PAINT

Sometimes I feel --
I don’t know --
squeezed out
like a tube of toothpaste toward the end
rolled up tight against the cap
for a few last brushings.

But if I say the tube is paint
used in pictures of my life,
that makes me feel
I’ve accomplished something,
used the squeezes
to make things happen.
I like that better

So as we go on, you and I,
you to your life, me to mine,
I wish you tubes of bright paint
for all the pictures of your life.
Take off their caps,
squeeze them well,
keep painting.

(c) 2004 David L. Harrison
from CONNECTING DOTS, 2004

Last night’s reading

Hi everyone,

Last night I was one of a group of five poets who read from our work to recognize National Poetry Month. We met at Hold Fast Brewery in Springfield. It was a venue where I hadn’t been before. Here’s a shot of former Springfield Mayor ROBERT STEPHENS reading his work in partnership with Ozark Literacy Council to remind people of the importance of reading. There were many more people there than you see in the picture. We were outside so the wind was a small problem, as was the sun in my eyes when I was at the mike earlier, but not as bad as the time I read at a literature conference while standing atop the third-base dugout in the Springfield Cardinals baseball stadium on a gusty day that sent pages flying into the bleachers. Earlier that day I’d listened to BILLY COLLINS read from the same spot so I knew it could be done.

Last night I read from THE DIRT BOOK (And Now We Know), THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS (Cow Pie Jewels), BUGS, POEMS ABOUT CREEPING THINGS (A Tick’s Friends), CONNECTING DOTS (Something Happened Over Summer), and finished with the last poem in CONNECTING DOTS (Wishing You Bright Paint.) It’s a personal favorite of mine. Here it is.

WISHING YOU BRIGHT PAINT


Sometimes I feel --
I don’t know –
squeezed out
like a tube of toothpaste toward the end
rolled up tight against the cap
for a few last brushings.

But if I say the tube is paint
used in pictures of my life,
that makes me feel
I’ve accomplished something,
used the squeezes
to make things happen.
I like that better

So as we go on, you and I,
you to your life, me to mine,
I wish you tubes of bright paint
for all the pictures of your life.
Take off their caps,
squeeze them well,
keep painting.


(c) 2004 David L. Harrison, from Connecting Dots, Poems of My Journey

A Writer’s Prayer

Hi everyone,

Here’s one I did many years ago in a book called CONNECTING DOTS. It was a collection of autobiographical poems. “A Writer’s Prayer” is dedicated to everyone who may have at some point, past or present, felt this way.

I’m 28. Part of becoming a writer is being rejected by editors who don’t want your work. I’m learning that lesson all too well.

A WRITER’S PRAYER

Something happens in the US mail
that makes a story go stale
the same way drinks lose their fizz
after the party.

This effervesced when it was fresh
the day I sent it on its way.
Now it’s back like all the others —
stale, flat, boring.

Boring, that’s me.
Never going to get it right,
never will be good enough,
never going to be a writer.
Who am I kidding?

I mail my newest story off
like a prayer of hope –
This time, please, this time.

(c) 2004 David L. Harrison, all rights reserved

The price of chivalry

Hi everyone,

Big day for me tomorrow. The cyst comes out of my leg. It has been part of me since I was 12 or so. If you’ve been around me when I was wearing shorts, you’ve probably seen it. It’s hard to miss, and lately it seems to be growing a bit and taking on a slight discoloration.

I remember the day on the Pauly farm, just southeast of Springfield. Billy and I were setting out on some adventure or another, maybe headed toward the orchard, when his kid sister Nancy ran to catch up and beg to go along. Billy would have none of it and refused to help her over a barbwire fence in our path. As he scowled his disapproval, I reached down and helped her over the fence, and in the process cut my leg. It bled and eventually healed but some foreign object that remained in the wound, a flake of rust perhaps, remained behind and caused a little bump to remind me of the occasion.

When we were older, Billy and I attended Jarrett Junior High School in Springfield and there we drifted away from the close friendship of our younger days. I wrote a poem about it in CONNECTING DOTS.

Hey

At lunch today I see Billy.
“Hey,” we say.
“How’s it going?”
We don’t stop to say more.
Can’t think of anything.

From third grade on
we were best friends,
sleeping over
at each other’s house.

Rode horses,
teased his sister . . .
I think of the night
we laughed so hard
he fell out of bed.

Now he’s in homeroom 106,
I’m in 107.
And all we can say,
when we meet at lunch is,
“Hey, how’s it going?”

(c) 2004 David L. Harrison, all rights reserved

After high school I never saw Billy again. Not many years after that, in a town in Mississippi, he died alone one night in a car wreck. But I still have a treasure of rich memories and, until tomorrow, the cyst on my leg.

Associating for the fun of it

Hi everyone,

I’ve written about the use of association to discover ideas for stories and poems. You start with a single word and make a list of 6-10 other words and phrases it reminds you of; choose one word from the first list to start a second list and jot down 6-10 words and phrases that one makes you think of; choose one word from that second list to start a third one and list 6-10 words and phrases that word makes you think of. Normally it doesn’t take long to finish three lists and have a total of 18-30 subjects to consider. It’s a quick way to charge your imagination and find something you want to explore further with a poem or story or perhaps a nonfiction piece in mind.

But this exercise also makes an entertaining mental game when you need something to do for a few minutes. Like this: Last night Sandy and I ate lakeside at a table between our two hackberry trees. While we ate and talked, I noticed what first appeared to be a small toad perched among the leaves of the tree closest to us. “I see a toad in that tree,” I told Sandy. “It’s a leaf,” she said.

I immediately thought of Valine Hobbs’s wonderful poem, “One day when we went walking.”
One day when we went walking,
I found a dragon’s tooth,
A dreadful dragon’s tooth.
“A locust thorn,” said Ruth.

I was in the first house we ever owned. It had three levels, was brand new, and an elf peeked out at me from its hiding place in the grain of the the door leading down to the lowest level. It didn’t reveal its presence to everyone. To some it was merely a swirl in the wood. I was in the back yard, putting up the fancy swing/play set we bought the kids. I’m not blessed with natural talent for assembling such things and Robin and Jeff’s help didn’t help. Years later I would record that event in CONNECTING DOTS.

SONG OF THE SWINGSET

The three-headed creature
huddles together in the yard.

In the space between the big head
and the instructions on the grass,
the helper heads bob in and out.

The three-headed creature sings to itself
two simple songs at once.

When are we going to get to swing?
Stop playing with the screwdriver.
When are we going to get to swing?
Where did you drop the washers?
When are we going to get to swing?
Let’s look for Section C.
When are we going to get to swing?
Why don’t you play with Mommy?

In that same back yard on a different day, Robin splashed some gasoline in her eye and screamed with pain and panic. I grabbed her in my arms and raced around the side of the house, through the garage, and to the back door. It was locked. I broke through it and got water into my daughter’s eye in time to soothe the pain and prevent damage. I watched Sandy’s concern and was in a hospital room in Atlanta.

WAITING FOR ROBIN

Eyes wide
She stares at the ceiling.

“You all right?”
Dumb thing to say,
Of course she’s not,
But what can I do?

She grabs my hand
With startling strength,
Hair plastered, face wet.

Should I kiss her?
Bad time.
She looks at me
From somewhere else.

Waiting for Robin
Is all there
In my wife’s eyes

Sandy. I was in high school. I had an awful crush on this girl who stopped me in the hall. Sandy was fifteen and selling raffle tickets for a puppy to raise money for her sorority.

THE WINNER

“Buy a ticket?”
She’s smiling at me.

I smile back,
hoping to say the right thing.
“What do I win?”

“Maybe a puppy.
It’s for a good cause.”

(Stalling for time),
“Promise I’ll win?”

Her eyes tease,
“How could you lose?”

I think to myself,
It’s not the puppy
I’m interested in.
I already feel like a winner.

I’m sitting at a table beside the lake in Springfield. How long was I gone? Seconds, no more. Sandy, mother of our wonderful adult Robin and Jeff, takes a sip of wine, tells me my toad is a leaf. She believes what she believes. I chew my food, wink at the leaf. The leaf winks back.