Sunday, December 18, 2011

Approaching the solstice

As usual, I've let too much time slip by without posting here. But my roommate has had me running errands to do Christmas shopping, getting more boxes and wrapping paper, mailing boxes at our local Postal Center, and dropping gifts off at friends homes. And I got my annual chapbook put together, printed, and mailed off to family and friends. This year's chapbook is thinner, as am I, from the time my brain spent under the influence of anesthetics, paralytics, and other assorted drugs. But, strangely, I think this year's issue is cheerier. Perhaps the renewal of my wonder at the gift of waking up each morning.

Here's an example of one poem that I had a lot of fun writing.

Winter morning walk
My dog and I amble along. 
I watch for cars. She sniffs for 
calling cards left by other dogs. 
Sparrows squabble and squawk
in hedges near my head. 
A downy woodpecker peck pecks 
on an elm where I can see 
that he sports a red scarf.

I hear a tap tap tap 
pattering up behind me, 
and I guide the dog 
into the grass and watch 
an athletic young woman 
run past. Black tights hug 
shapely legs, tight buns, 
narrow hips. Pink and white 
running shoes flash 
left right left right 
pitty pat pitty pat. 
Auburn pony tail, 
through the back 
of a black baseball cap, 
flicks flicks flicks 
from side to side 
keeping time 
to swaying hips. 

And I trip over the damned dog. 

Another poem I have that I'm still working on describes the first two days in my hospital room after six days of being unconscious from anesthetics, paralytics, and other drugs. Kath and I have rip roaring laughs over my hallucinations those two days.

Narcotic shape shifters
I sit in my hospital bed and watch a squadron 
of silver shape shifters fly out of the room and stop 
in the space behind the nurses station. There 
they form precise ranks as they pass in review 
and then hover in flights ready for a combat mission. 
I send my wife and kids out to look at them, but they 
are unable to see them. They look at me as if I'm crazy. 
A long line of larger shape shifters drifts into my room 
near the ceiling and lands on the cream colored 
sound deadening panels and forms baroque patterns 
that look like streets in some futuristic city. 

Later that evening, after the family leaves, 
the night nurse, a wonderfully caring woman 
from India, comes into the room, and I show her 
the detailed patterns on the ceiling and the flight 
of large metallic shapes coming into the room 
to create more intricate patterns. She does not 
see them either, so I have her come close to the bed 
where I can point to the patterns. Again, she doesn't 
see them. But unlike my family, she looks at me 
with knowing concern and tells me that I 
am hallucinating from the anesthesia and drugs 
the doctors have given me over the past week. 

I'm dismayed that the shapes are phantoms 
of my drugged mind. So, I sit back, smile, 
and enjoy the magic air show.

Another I've been working on comes from some of the demons that drift back into my life, unwanted, unbidden, and unsettling. But I find that writing about them helps keep them out there away from me. 

The haircut
The young Asian woman motions me to a chair 
and covers me with a black cloth. As she reaches 
for her tools, I read Anh Lam on her license. 
I ask if she's Vietnamese. "Yes," she answers. 
But her tone allows no further discussion. 
I watch her graceful motions and try to imagine 
how she'd look in an Ao Dai, the traditional 
white silk tunic—ankle length, slit to the hip—
over black silk slacks, a white rice-straw 
conical hat covering her beautiful black hair. 
I remember the graceful women of Kontum, 
and those of Pleiku, and Quang Ngai. 

I think abstractly about Anh's mother. 
She probably wore the Ao Dai for celebrations, 
perhaps even for her wedding to Anh's father. 
Then, I feel a familiar chill in my soul as I 
imagine her mother forty years ago, a child, 
learning her father would never come home. 
He had watched from a bunker in a tree line, 
as my little Bird Dog dove to aim a smoke rocket 
near where he hid. He didn't see the bombs, 
only felt the fire engulf him. I imagine that 
I had killed Anh's grandfather, widowed 
her grandmother, deprived Anh 
of her grandfather's love. 

"How's that?" Anh's cheerful voice breaks 
into my thoughts. She holds up a mirror. 
It reflects a sad man with dark memories. 
"How's that?" A distant voice asks. 

The news this past week that all our troops will finally be out of Iraq was very good, although it also made me sad to think of the young lives wasted in what I consider a very stupid war brought on by arrogant politicians who have no skin in the game. On the morning the New York Times had a lead article about our last troops driving the road from Iraq into Kuwait, I wrote this haiku.

our kids leave Iraq
four thousand five hundred dead
precious squandered lives 

Their homecoming is truly a national Christmas gift. And I wish all of you who read this blog a very Merry Christmas and a healthy, prosperous, and loving 2012. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A wedding and a photo safari

This weekend was a good one for the Elser family as we gained a wife and daughter-in-law. On Sunday, Al and Les got married in Scotland, and Al has very nicely kept up his blog, letting us know mostly what he's been eating. I never could fill him up, even as a kid, but that's another story. I will not post any pictures of the haggis that he had every time he could and posted pictures of every time he could. This is a family blog. But I did steal two pictures of Al and Lesley, one of the couple at the wedding and one of them cutting the wedding cake. 

They are indeed a handsome couple and we wish them a happy and blessed married life together. Kath and I were unable to make the wedding because I'm still not strong enough after my heart attack to make that long a flight. Besides, watching Al eat haggis would surely have caused a setback in my progress.

While Al and Les were getting married, well, probably after they got married because if the time difference, I went with my neighbor, David, who is a professional photographer, to chase an old steam locomotive, Union Pacific 844, from Denver south through Sedalia, Larkspur, and Palmer Lake. Old 844 has been restored and gleams in the Colorado sun on a Sunday morning. 

Here's a picture of the train as it approached Sedalia. It was a glorious morning, cool, but comfortable. We could hear the wail of the steam whistle as the train approached and whistled grade crossings. What a wonderful remembrance of my childhood, hearing the engine whistle as it pulled into the station to drop off my father each evening when he came home from work.

After the train passed, Dave and I got back into his car and drove south to Larkspur, a small town just west of the interstate. We drove on the county roads down there, which added to the fun of the morning. Here's the train as it passed us in Larkspur.

While we waited for the train to go through Larkspur, we could hear it whistling at grade crossings south of Castle Rock. I turned around at one point and noticed an old sled, like the one I had as a kid some 65 years ago sitting on the roof of a shed. I thought that was fun because of the memories it brought back.

And finally Dave and I drove down to Palmer Lake where old 844 made a stop to wait for a northbound coal train to clear the tracks. There must have been 2000 people in Palmer Lake, around the siding where the steam train was sitting. What a wonderful sight it must have been to those who spent the time and money to restore that old engine. Dave and I drove further south, hiked through some woods, up an embankment, and took our final shots of the train as it headed south for the New Mexico and Arizona centennial celebrations. 

And so the Elser family had a very good Sunday, October 30th. I got to relive some childhood memories, spend part of a day with a good friend, and we gained Lesley as a member of our family. Given that Al was wearing a kilt, perhaps I should have written, as a member of our clan. Welcome to the family Les. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Poking around in the garden

It's been a month since my last post, and I thought I should get back to writing about my writing, if that makes any sense. Since my heart attack, I've had a bit of trouble getting back on track with my poetry. My friend Chris lost her husband in July, a year ago, and she's also been struggling with her writing. She's my mentor and suggested that we take on a two-week assignment and then share our results.

The assignment was to go out into the garden or yard every day and find a poem. It was fun for the first week and then we were finished with the easy poems. Or so I thought. But I did find more good material during the second week. At the end of two weeks, we put all our work into a file and exchanged them. Chris's poetry, as always, was very good. Most of mine were fair, and I've worked on them since we traded. I've incorporated Chris's comments to great advantage.

One of my first poems is one of my favorites, about a green ceramic frog in the garden by the fountain.

A green ceramic frog 
A green ceramic frog 
hides in the tall grass 
near the fountain.
He smiles like a happy child,
lying on his stomach in the sun, 
chin propped on an elbow, legs 
kicked up in back and crossed.

Do his bulging eyes look 
for a dragonfly for lunch or 
for a princess to kiss him? 

Another trip into the side yard yielded a view of the holly bushes on which I always scratch hell out of myself when I'm weeding or raking up the winter leaves. Here's what came of that trip.

Prickly curmudgeons
three holly bushes 
share a dark garden corner 
prickly curmudgeons 

We had a heavy rain one night and the yard was still very wet when I went out that morning for my next topic. I found a spider's web I never even would have seen if not for all the rain drops on it. I looked closer and saw the brown spider who had spun the web. I'm sure I'm anthropomorphizing when I attribute his attitude as one of being upset.

Brown spider in a leaf
Diamonds of morning rain glisten 
on a spider's web spun across coils 
of a garden hose next to the house. 
The raindrops highlight the random 
structure of the web, their weight 
dragging down the threads 
so carefully set. 

In a leaf from a nearby ash, dry, curled 
and wedged between the wall and hose, 
hides a brown spider who sits, head-down 
in the leaf, resting because its web 
is too visible and not likely to snare 
anything. The spider stretches his legs, 
lifting his body, ready to run from me. 
Today has not begun as a good day for him. 

The last poem I'll share on this blog is one I wrote based on a dragonfly I saw out in the back yard. I spent a good deal of time, when I should have been writing, watching the many dragonflies that crossed over our backyard during the heat of the summer. They are special creatures that capture my imagination and make me smile when I see them.

The last dragonfly of the summer
This morning, the first full day of fall, 
a dragonfly flits around the back yard. 
The first one in weeks, and perhaps 
the last one this summer. 
Short days and cold nights 
mean less food for them. 

I will miss their zooming flight, 
their gossamer wings, 
their electric blue and green bodies, 
and the pure joy they bring to my heart. 

Well, one more poem, this one for my geology friends up in Wyoming and my grandson down in Denton.

Three small rocks stand apart 
Three small rocks stand apart in the garden 
between the low spruce bushes and the ash,
put there by her grandson, 
gathered on hikes in the mountains, 
symbols of his enduring love for her. 

More next post. Hope you enjoy reading these poems as much as I enjoyed writing and revising them. Thanks, Chris, for your daily haikus, mentoring, and especially your friendship.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I haven't stopped smiling yet!!!!

Monday morning, Kath and I drove down to Centennial Airport at the south end of the Denver Metro, and I fulfilled a life-long dream. Since I was knee high to a grasshopper, as they say where I grew up, I wanted to fly in an open-cockpit biplane and specifically in a Stearman.

The Stearman was designed in the 1930s and was the initial training airplane for both the Army Air Force and the Navy during WW II. Here's a pic of a 1941 model Stearman, PT-17, with a gorgeous woman standing at the wing. Who is that woman you ask. Why, that's Kathy, my guardian angel and partner in life.

Kath gave me this ride in the Stearman as a 30th wedding anniversary present. What a wonderful present. The view isn't nearly as nice, but here's the intrepid aviator standing at the wing waiting to fly off on the dawn patrol to hunt down the Red Baron.

Yes, that's a parachute hanging on my body. We were going to do some acrobatics, and the FAA says if you are going to be doing crazy stuff like that, you at least need to let people know by wearing a parachute. They want to be able to take you to task for breaking an airplane if you crash one. So here's a picture of us in a turn after we flew out to the area southwest of Denver. We were in a bank, getting ready to head into a loop.

And the next picture is when we were pointed straight down in that loop. I figured not many of you have ever seen straight down in an airplane. Probably not many really do want to see that.

I cannot begin to describe how wonderful that hour was for me. Here's a haiku I wrote this morning about the experience.

    open cockpit morning 
     blue sky overhead 
     wind and sun play on my face 
     the essence of flight 

I flew for 20 years in the Air Force, lots of airplanes from single engined jets to large jet refueling airplanes and many smaller ones like Cessna O-1s, but nothing compared to this. Being in an open cockpit, looking through struts and wires, listening to that 450 hp Pratt and Whitney roaring, and with nothing above my head and only the wonderful view of the plains, the mountains, and the beautiful cloud speckled blue sky was truly marvelous for me. 

And after a soft, three-point landing, and taxiing to the parking ramp, it was amazing to see that little blue and yellow biplane parked between a couple of corporate jets. And you know those corporate pilots were eating their hearts out. And I was smiling the mother of all smiles.

The high I had yesterday persists. Kath was so thrilled to see me go up that she stood on the ramp and bawled, as she put it. And I had trouble sleeping last night because my face hurt from smiling so hard and long. She wants me to go back next week and fly again. I'm just afraid the magic wouldn't be there next time. It's the worry of a second date after a wonderful first. We'll see. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The female of the species

Well, I lied when I said my next post would be about flying in a Stearman. I'm here to report on a walk I took this morning out at PCC. But first, a weather report:

     days suddenly cool
     as if summer went away
     and autumn moved in 

It has suddenly cooled from days in the 90s to days in the 70s, and I like that much better. Those 90 degree days were too much. And the humidity was up a bit on some of those days too, so it was uncomfortable. Not Atlanta, 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity, but Denver 93 degrees and 35 percent humidity. We're really wimps here in Denver. 

And almost as a verification of the cooler weather, there were many more raptors, mostly ferruginous and red-tailed hawks in the area this morning. A friend I ran into on the way around said he saw six ferruginous hawks sitting on the ground together. And I saw another three.

I did see, finally, some of the pronghorn does and fawns this morning. At first I saw a doe with two fawns and then a few minutes later 16 does, fawns, and one buck came over the ridge to the east. The mating season is about to start, so soon the bucks will be acting like high school kids at the mall. They lose all caution and all common sense. But it's fun for me because they are much more visible. I wonder if the one with the poor eyesight will challenge me again this year? 

Anyway, I need to check with my readers to see if I'm approaching this rattlesnake thing correctly. You'll remember that a week or so ago, I showed some pictures of a rattler, a big rattler, that was crawling across the trail trying to get away from me. Here he is if you forgot.

If you remember, I said that he had only a couple of buttons on his rattle, which is a bit odd for a snake that big. He probably lost them to a predator he escaped from with his life. 

Well, this morning as I was finishing up my walk, I came across another slightly smaller rattler, again sunning on the road, trying to warm up. 

Now here's a picture of this rattler. I think it's a she, and I'll explain why.

Notice how curvaceous this snake is? No self respecting male rattler would have this many curves. And if you look closely, you can see that it has about six or seven buttons on its tail. 

Now here's my theory. The female has more curves and more buttons. The male has many fewer curves and only has a couple of buttons on his tail. In order to tell the sex of a rattler, you have to look and feel around under its tail. They generally don't take too kindly to that.

Having lived with a female of the species for almost 30 years now, I can vouch for the fact that females can cause males to lose their buttons. I've been looney myself now for several years now.

Here's a poem I wrote several years ago to tell of one of my first encounters with a rattler. I walked up on this one on a very quiet Sunday morning, not expecting it to be there. It got my attention.

Brothers under the skull
The snake 
into a coil 
and rattles.

I freeze, 
heart racing,
breath shallow.

Two primitive, reptilian brains clash 
for a second or two—fight or fly?
Then my rational mind returns,
embarrassed by its frenzied retreat.

I laugh, move off a few steps,
beg the snake's pardon, saying 
I mean no harm.

Not having man's high-order brain, 
the snake stands alert, fierce, 
tasting the threat, ready 
to attack or be attacked. 

Two minutes, danger past, 
the snake uncoils and slides off 
through the tawny grass. 

Its camouflage perfect, 
the snake magically 
leaving no trace 
but the dancing grass.

© 1998, 2009 Art Elser