Friday, May 30, 2014

Writing on the Wall #14


Christina Georgina Rossetti
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

The Cremation of Sam McGee

from "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert Service

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"Tribute to the Mountain"

Aside from influencing my love of poetry, my Granddad Wood was a major influence on my character development. I am who I am in large part to his example and values. In the late 1940’s he moved his family from southern Idaho to Stevens County in Washington State where he bought the largest pile of rocks that he could find for sale. His farm was on the east side of the Columbia River with a large mountain of exposed rock cliffs as a backdrop. To this day I cannot see that mountain without feeling somehow strengthened. The following was written as a tribute to my grandfather.

Tribute to the Mountain
When sore depressed and all alone,
I seek the mountain’s anchored stone;
Where battered, bruised, conflicted, weak,
I find the refuge which I seek.
Amidst the cliffs of sharp-edged truth,
The cradle; safety of my youth,
Beside that shadow blanket’s dome,
The only house I knew as home.
Though it may fall to termite, fire,
It’s granite standards did inspire
A choice which memories refresh,
As worms consume that anchor flesh,
Which molders now in grave alone,
Yet marked me more than mountain stone.

©2000 William L. Steen

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Writing on the Wall #12

Are poets born or made?

Are poets born or made? Nurture or nature? While academics write and rewrite another inconclusive tome on the subject, let me tell you about my grandfather.

Granddad was a farmer poet. Most of his scant work has been lost to time and neglect, but his claim to poetic fame was good natured lampoons he wrote aimed at friends, neighbors, and (if he was feeling really brave) family members. This was, of course, before social media, in a long ago time when community gatherings at the local church or Grange hall required some live entertainment. When the assemblage learned that Lee Wood was about to recite an original work, many would slide down in their seats expectantly—until they learned the identity of the unfortunate target. His performances complete with meter and rhyme always brought the house down and usually resulted in an encore request. The aftermath was often some good natured kidding or occasionally a ‘grudge’ held by the victim for a few weeks until a new target was acquired and all was forgiven.

Granddad also loved to recite poems by other authors. One of his favorite poets was Robert Service. That is probably why I still enjoy “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. I can remember standing in the barnyard watching him sit on an overturned bucket, milking the cows by hand, reciting poems from memory like the following.

They strolled through the moonlight together.
The heavens were blossomed with stars.
They paused for a moment in silence,
As he stooped to lower the bars.
She cast her soft eyes upon him,
But spoke not a loving vow.
For he was a rustic laddie
And she was a jersey cow.
[I know there are other versions, but this is how he recited it to me.]

 So did I learn to write poetry or inherit a magical gene from my grandfather? I guess we’ll just have to wait for the book.
©2014 William L. Steen


Monday, May 26, 2014

Writing on the Wall #11

Memorial Day

Meanwhile, behalf the tardy years
Which kept in trust your storied tombs,
Behold! your sisters bring their tears,
And these memorial blooms.
Henry Timrod

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Storytime Sunday #2: The Parable of Toby "Stupid Beagle"

The Parable of Toby,
“Stupid Beagle”
My daughter decided she needed a dog of her own. You know how this story usually goes. She picks out the dog. You pay for the dog. You pay for spaying or neutering. You pay for vaccinations. You buy the dog food. You pay the vet bills. She pets it once in a while, so it’s officially her dog. When she moves into an apartment, you get to keep HER dog—forever. Such a deal!
In this case I didn’t have to buy the dog. My daughter was working part-time while finishing her bachelor’s degree. Through an online swap-shop sponsored by her employer she found someone who was giving away an, “oh, isn’t he sooo cute”, beagle male. His owners had adopted him from the animal shelter which had acquired this purebred beagle roaming the streets as a stray. (Red flag #1?) They needed to find a new home for the “oh, isn’t he sooo cute” beagle because he kept running away and he dug huge holes in their yard. (Red flag #2 and #3?)  Guess whose house they found as the new home for this “oh, isn’t he sooo cute” beagle? You guessed it.
Just so the record is completely accurate, there was one dissenting vote on adopting the “oh, isn’t he sooo cute” beagle, but it was anonymous, so we will just leave it at that.
We weren’t concerned with Toby, the beagle, running away from our yard. We have a huge fenced yard. We had two other dogs for him to play with. We had a bunch of kids to play with him. Who would want to run away from all that?

Who indeed!
Toby seemed to adapt to our family, animals, and yard with absolutely no problem. We knew this was a perfect place for Toby to find happiness. But the first time a neighborhood cat wandered by, Toby was over our fence like a baying streak of beagle-brown and out of sight so fast, the only reminder he had ever been there was the distant baying of a beagle on-the-scent.
We eventually found an exhausted Toby and returned him to his should-have-been paradise, but it didn’t last. Every time he caught an interesting scent, he was over the fence and gone. After some online research we learned that beagles, as a breed, are completely controlled by that black thing on the end of their muzzles. They simply cannot resist an interesting smell, especially if that smell is connected to something which obviously needs chasing.
We tried many methods of keeping Toby in, but they all failed in the end. When we Toby-proofed one spot, he would just find another place to escape over, under, around, or through. Finally the only practical solution was to keep him on a long cable while he was out in the yard.
Even the cable did not end our problem completely. Beagles are wile escape artists. Anything less than complete vigilance would usually result in a concerned, “Where’s Toby?” followed by a search of the surrounding neighborhood. He would slip between the legs of arriving guests if we were distracted greeting them. Sometimes I would forget about his restrictions and absent-mindedly let him out with the rest of the pack, only to be combing the neighborhood 10 minutes later for the illusive dog. On a couple of occasions we are pretty sure he jumped out ground floor windows left open for some summer ventilation.
We always found him. On a few occasions he returned on his own, but most times it was the ‘posse’ who apprehended the fugitive. Our struggles to find Toby after his frequent escapes prompted my wife to purchase a tag for him which we placed on his collar. It said, “Toby”, followed by her cell number on one side. On the other was engraved the solitary appellation, “Stupid Beagle”. My wife’s cell phone rang more than once thus ending the search for the “Stupid Beagle”.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, animals at our house live well past their expected “sell by” dates. In dog years, Toby must now be over 100. He is too old to climb over the fence, but he will still chase squirrels, cats, or any other varmint which gets too close. (I’m pretty sure he is in no danger of catching them.)

Due to his advanced years and diminished abilities, we no longer keep Toby on the cable. But for much of his life with us, his outside adventures were limited by the length of the cable. No matter how long the cable, it has an end. Toby’s fun stopped at that end. Unlike his canine companions, Toby was never able to fully enjoy the huge fenced yard. He never got to chase the squirrel up the tree. He never chased the neighborhood cats out of our yard. He never got to play with the kids in the back yard, or run his heart out playing fetch. He missed participating in a lot of fun activities, all because he could not resist the call of his of his uncontrolled nose.
Moral: Yielding to our urges often robs us of more than we gain.

©2014 William L. Steen


Thursday, May 22, 2014


Comes a cumulus caravan
Mutely floating by;
Shaggy beasts of mythic shape
Across the bluest sky.
Bearing packs of childhood treasures;
Fantasies forgot;
Motionless, yet still proceeding
Past my earthbound spot.
Stretching back beyond horizons,
Drifting toward the East,
Where picnic children wait to greet
Each fluffy snow white beast.
©1999 William L. Steen

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Writing on the Wall #7

I am a Poetry Snob!

I am a poetry snob! There, I’ve said it. It’s out there. Let’s all just try to get past it.

When I was growing up, all the poetry I was exposed to had meter and rhyme. I enjoyed poems by Robert Service, Robert Frost, and Robert Browning. Those poets not named Robert included Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I also liked poets who had less than three names or weren’t named Robert.

I was inspired by “Intimations of Immortality” and “Gunga Din”. I bravely charged into the Valley of Death with the Light Brigade. I was chilled to the depths of my soul at the untimely death of “Annabel Lee”. I enjoyed the antics of “Little Orphant Annie” and “The Raggedy Man”. All of these had some measure of meter and rhyme.

I wasn’t introduced to free verse until I was a freshman at college. I was not impressed. Oh, I may have been briefly introduced to free verse in high school English class, but that was probably the day I was admiring LuAnn’s new miniskirt which would account for my not remembering. LuAnn was… well, perhaps we should leave LuAnn for another day and get back to the subject at hand.

To me free verse is not poetry. It is enhanced prose. Now don’t get me wrong. Some of it is beautifully written; full of angst, love, unrequited love, anarchy, and rage against “the man”, but by my narrow-minded definition, it is not poetry. I love reading the King James Translation of the Bible. Some of its passages are melodic and poignant, but I don’t consider it poetry—even though some of it actually is. To me poetry needs to have meter and rhyme.

Now to be fair, the writers of free verse probably think that what I write isn’t poetry either, it’s doggerel. They are probably right. My poems are not ‘high brow’ literature of critical significance. I would term my doggerel to be more blue-collar poetry. I write with the intent that common folk can read one of my poems and walk away with a smile, some insight, or a giggle. No statues will be raised to me and unless you are looking for it, there is probably no deeper meaning. What you see is often all you get, but that’s okay with me, if it is also okay with you.

Some of my poems do have layers of meaning, but I find that deep hidden truths are more often the perview of the reader than the writer. I once heard a story (probably apocryphal) of a college class which spent the entire quarter studying the deeper meaning of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. I’m sure they found plenty. I know I could have contributed a few insights if I had been in that class. But the fact is that the publisher, Bennett Cerf, bet Ted Geisel that he could not write a book using only 50 words. Cerf lost and a classic children’s tale was born (one of my personal favorites).

My point is simple. If you are looking for deeper meaning in my poetry, explore away. It may have been intended, or not. If you came here looking for poetry, just be warned. I am a poetry snob! It will have meter and it will rhyme.

©2014 William L. SteenI wandered lonely as a cloud

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Storytime Sunday #1: The Parable of the Screwdriver

The Parable of the Screwdriver

Once upon a time there was a young man who wished to build his own home. He had hired an architect to design his dream house. He had purchased a choice lot with a beautiful view. He had bought top quality building materials. He had subcontracted a company to dig a basement and pour his foundation. The actual framing of his home; the measuring, sawing, and nailing, the young man wished to do himself.

On the first day, the young man arrived at the building site. He laid out his tools, measured and sawed some lumber, and began to nail the boards together into a frame for one of the walls. It was very slow going. It seemed to take forever. The young man had never built a house before, even so, it seemed like he was making very little progress. At the end of the day, he had only nailed one board onto his wall frame.

On the second day things went even slower. The young man sweated, banged his thumb, cut his palm, and bent several nails. At the end of the day he had not even finished nailing his second board. Even though he had no previous construction experience, the young man thought his home was progressing far too slowly.

That night the young man called his father for advice. After describing his many problems, he said, “Dad, would you please come by the construction site and see if you have any ideas which might help me?”

“I’m catching an early flight to Chicago in the morning,” said his father, “but I could stop by for a few minutes on my way to the airport, if it will help.” The young man respected his father’s opinions and was very relieved that his father was willing to give him some advice. Exhausted from his fruitless day, the young man went to bed and immediately fell asleep.

Early the next morning the young man and his father met at the construction site. “Show me how things are going,” encouraged his father. The young man picked up a nail and began to hammer it into a board.

“Stop!” said the father, “I can see your problem already. You are using a screwdriver to hammer the nail. If you want to build this house you will need a better tool for driving nails. I’ve got to get to the airport or I will miss my flight, but a proper tool for driving nails should make things should go much faster.” With that parting advice, the father left.

The young man took his father’s advice seriously. He immediately went to the local hardware store looking for a better tool. He compared steel to titanium. He asked questions about wooden handles, plastic handles, and carbon fiber handles. He spent days traveling to other hardware stores to compare their selection of tools. He spent hours on the internet researching various tool makers. He made phone calls and asked in depth questions of several prestigious tool manufacturers. At last he made a selection and purchased the very best tool he could find. It was very expensive, but the young man felt sure it would be worth all the time, effort, and expense.

The next morning the young man returned to the construction site and started working on his wall frame once again. To his shock, it was just as slow and frustrating as before. Even with his new, expensive nail driver, he made almost no progress. Tired and frustrated, he called his father again. “Dad, I took your advice, but I am still having problems. Would you please come over again?” His father, of course, agreed.

Early the next morning the father and son met at the construction site. “Show me how things are going,” his father encouraged. The young man began to work on his wall frame.

“Stop!” said the father. “Son, you are still trying to drive the nail with a screwdriver.”

“Yes!” said the son, proudly. “And its  the best screwdriver money can buy.”

Moral: A better wrong solution, seldom corrects the problem.

©2014 William L. Steen

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"Muzzlebo Flipstork Bought a Cat"

Muzzlebo Flipstork bought a cat

To chase away the mice,
But the lazy cat just slept all day
Which wasn’t very nice.
He bought a dog to wake the cat
To chase the mice away,
But Muzzle’s dog ignored the cat
And went outside to play.
He bought a goat to butt the dog
And make it wake the cat,
But the goat instead ate up the trash.
Can you imagine that?
He bought a pig to root the goat
And make it butt the dog.
It rooted under Muzzle’s chair;
A most annoying hog.
To make the pig do as it should,
Muzzlebo bought a horse.
I’m sure it’s no surprise to you,
That didn’t work—of course.
He bought a cow, rhinoceros,
An elephant and gnu.
He bought a penguin, chimpanzee,
A sloth and kangaroo.
But nothing that he seemed to buy
Would do what it should do,
And now his home—both house and yard
Were looking like a zoo.
Pets and pets kept adding to
His overcrowded house.
Which I think odd, because you know
He never had a mouse.
                        ©2001 William L. Steen

Monday, May 12, 2014

Muzzlebo Flipstork??

Muzzlebo Flipstork, that’s a funny name! If that is what you think, you would be right. It is a funny name because it was meant to be a funny name.

When I was in the 9th grade, I was attending a three year junior high school (7-9) in Ontario, Oregon. I took an art class that year, not because I was an artist (or even very interested in becoming one), but because I thought it would be an easy class. In that class there was a group of kids who seemed to belong together—mostly because we didn’t belong anywhere else. We were not good looking, popular, smart, athletic, rich, outgoing, tough, or even geeks. We were all kids from that unrecognized grey area which surrounds all the usual cliques in most schools. We were invisible and nondescript most of the time, but in that one art class for 50 minutes every day the “grey” kids dominated.

Although we never socialized with one another outside of art class, while we were in the class we were relaxed and at home with each other. We were no longer invisible. We could be ourselves .

We did a lot of goofy things in that class aside from pictures that looked like post-Picasso nightmares and the ashtrays we made to take home to non-smoking homes. One of our number decided one day that each of us should have a nom de gare; some silly made up name. It was sort of our way of recognizing our unspoken membership in the “Grey Kids Club”. The name given to me was Muzzlebo Flipstork.

My family moved out of state at the end of that year and I have had no contact with any of those kids since that last art class. I can no longer remember any of their names (and sometimes even my own), but I never forgot the name Muzzlebo Flipstork. I have used it as my nom de plumme, written silly poems about a fictional (and not too bright) Muzzlebo Flipstork, and generally kept alive the memory of that long ago time when this “grey” kid belonged for 50 minutes every day.
©2014 William L. Steen