Friday, July 24, 2009


Do you have any keepsakes? You know, a memento, something you hold dear, or something you picked up or was given at a special time. Something you wouldn’t sell or give away, but will pass it along to a special person someday.

Have you ever lost a keepsake? I lost a pocketknife once, and looked for days and then years for it. I whined and cried around so much my wife bought me a new one, but you and I know that just isn’t the same. Then one day I put on a suit I hadn’t worn for years, and there it was. I was like a kid. Just goes to show you how often I wear a suit now that I am out of the corporate world.

Do women have more keepsakes than men? I suspect some do. You wouldn’t think so if you walked into my office. Just inside the door on the left is a shelf full of my treasures. I was a navigator on a ship, and there is a replica sextant there along with my collection of compasses, with one special compass my Uncle gave me when I was a kid.

My Dad’s “spy” camera is there. Never mind that you can’t buy film for it anymore, I cherish it anyway.

Along with the pocket watch my Granddaughter gave me are my shells from the Persian Gulf, and my spear points from Africa, my lighter with the engraving of my ship on it, and a fly I caught a huge bass with many years ago.

Hidden away are my fossil collection and my arrowheads, and in my bedside table is the bible my Great-Grandfather carried with the cigarette papers still marking his place.

Do young people have keepsakes? Maybe it’s something we have to teach them about, like the stories of our past. I hope the poems I write will be a keepsake for my children, and they will want to pass them along.

I guess the reason I got onto this subject is because I talked to my Aunt the other night, and she and her girls are writing a cookbook together. My Aunt is a wonderful cook, and this will be something special. This cookbook will be written from notes on stained paper that have been passed down, and perfected by loving hands. It will be a gift to cherish.

I believe in keepsakes. They are our connection to other times, other places and other people long gone. They help to illustrate the stories that echo over the years and live in our hearts, and are passed from mouth to ear. A keepsake is a poem just waiting to be written.

Where are yours?

The Arrowhead

This shard of pale cream flint
taken from the shallow waters ¾
who dropped this deadly missile,
life or death tool, misplaced or
cast by bow and string
on some far ago day?

Was it stained by blood of beast or man
or forgotten in the frenzy of battle or flight?
Hours of chipping, the craft of a man,
no not savage: a tool maker, a warrior,
holding the pride of his work.

Now he sleeps with other warriors
from this valley, forgotten over the
centuries, but for this moment
he comes near and he and I
together marvel at this perfect gift
he left for me.

Robert W. Kimsey 2005

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Contest Woes

Let’s rest for a minute. I’ve spent the last day or so cleaning my office. I have no idea who came in and messed it up like that, but it’s better now, and I actually found some treasures that have been gone for so long I forgot I had them. Don’t sit there and smirk at me, you know what I’m talking about.

Since I’m dumping on you, I might as well continue. Have you entered any contests lately? The reason I’m asking is that I have spent the last week reading entries in two contests. In the first contest I am judging two categories, and they are poetry only groups. The last is a contest where prose was allowed with the poetry, but there were fewer entries. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to be a judge, and I am honored to be chosen. Now comes the big pause!

When judging I start with the format and contest rules or guidelines. If the contest says 56 characters and not more than 40 lines, why would a person send in a poem that covers two pages? Do you think that they figure that the poem is so well written or that it is such a wonderful and memorable work that the judge will swoon and say, “Let’s just throw the rules away, and give this person first place?” Maybe they don’t know how to use their word processor to find line length, and they think that the spaces between stanzas don’t count.

And what about the ones that have a paragraph written just before the poem telling why it was written, and what a wonderful story I’m about to read? And what about the poem about flowers and the sun rising that’s written in all capital letters, and I get the feeling that Little Red Riding Hood is sitting opposite me yelling at the top of her lungs?

Now you know why I drink decaffeinated coffee.

Deep Breath

Unfortunately at first read these things disqualify many poems and they go on the “NO” stack. There are other things that don’t disqualify an entry, but don’t always have a place in a serious contest, unless the rules specify otherwise.

Having everything centered on the page can be the mark of an amateur, but it can also be an important format for that individual poem, so I always take a look at format to see if it helps or hinders a poem. The poem that is shaped like a bird with the big space where the eye should be deserves no comment.

Some poems I’ve seen only prove to me that the poet was more concerned with getting something in to the contest to beat the deadline, and cared nothing about spelling, punctuation or form. It’s a shame.

Then there are the gems that come to the top of the pile, and I sit and have to turn my head to the wall, in the coffee shop, to hide the emotion I feel when reading a rare and beautiful poem. Those are why I continue to judge contests, and why it is such an honor for me to give that person an award.

If you are part of a writer’s group, encourage the writers to enter contests, and take some time to discuss what submission rules are, and what they mean. Help each other.

After all of that ranting I have no idea what poem to share with you today. Maybe this pantoum will calm us all down. Have a wonderful day, and I’ll see you here again soon.

Sacred Circle

As the medicine wheel turns
my soul walks the spokes.
Mysteries unfold to a seeking heart.
Years passing like shooting stars.

My soul walks the spokes,
while God’s hand turns the wheel.
Years passing like shooting stars
casting brief shadows on the wind.

While God’s hand turns the wheel,
mysteries unfold to a seeking heart,
casting brief shadows on the wind,
as the medicine wheel turns.

Robert W. Kimsey 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bug In The Car

Let’s talk about getting started. It’s never been much of a problem with me over the years. The ideas come from friends, family circumstances, pictures like the one of my Mother and I on the right, and many other places. I’m not telling you anything new here, in fact we have discussed this before. However, reading other writer’s poems is by far my best way of getting started. W. S. Merwin just knocks me out with his amazing, insightful poetry, and here’s a secret. I love women poets.

My collection of books has a majority of women poets, and there is one outstanding reason for that. They are so honest in their writing. They aren’t afraid to put words on paper, and to shed all outward shells, and dig down deep into the true meaning of what they feel.

Sharon Olds, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and others. If you can read those poets and not have images floating around you, well, do something else because this writing life just isn’t your “thing.” And there are many others. I found a wonderful book at a sale called The Oxford Book Of Australian Women’s Verse, edited by Susan Lever. What wonderful poetry! I love to read poetry from different cultures because they bring images to me that I may have never discovered about my own culture.

So, you’ve read, and nothing is happening, and you’re on a trip or just going to work, and there it is, a poem floating around your car like a bug that’s flown in the window. I used to grab a pad of paper from my bag and try to stay on the road while I jotted down crucial words and lines. It’s just like an older version of texting while driving. DON’T DO IT! Now I pull over and jot it down, or better yet I have a small recorder I keep in my bag for just those times. Yes, when stopped at a light people look at you funny, but you can just mouth the words, “I’m a writer,” and they will shake their head and look the other way. Don’t let those bugs of verse get away. You’ll never have them again, and worse yet, they might just fly out and into another poet’s window.

Here’s a new poem. It appeared on a long drive, but I’ve revised it, and read it to my critique group, and now I’ll share it with you. I’m sorry to return to this theme, but I think this is the last poem on the subject. Well, you know how that is.

Funeral Clothes

After 6 hundred and 33 miles, and 2 years
a night time phone call put me on the road.
Her husband’s voice, strained, saying,
your mother has had an attack
and maybe you haven’t heard,
her mind is leaving a little each day.
You might want to come.

So in the growing light of a new day
I packed a duffel, and on the hanging bar
carefully chosen, I hung funeral clothes,
and hummed to myself
as I merged with others headed north.

Two days of mountain roads and city traffic
long minutes before knocking on the door,
then there she was, small, in a printed gown
plastic band still around her black and blue arm,
a little girl’s smile and a hesitant caress.

Hurry she said, settling on the couch
legs pulled under a tattered afghan,
then whispered, see, there’s Roy.
Black and white cowboys on the screen.
A young man she once knew as Leonard.

A moment alone,
and the question burning on my tongue.
Mother, do you know who I am?
And the answer,
I love it when he sings with Dale,
don’t you?

In the growing light of a new day, I stood in the hall
decided not to wake her
afraid of being a stranger in her room.
So I dressed in funeral clothes, and hummed to myself
until I merged with the others, headed south.

© Robert W. Kimsey 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Family Thoughts


I’m glad you could stop by today. I haven’t been on the porch for a while. Seems like the days just go by, and then I get to missing you, and think about what we might talk about when you arrive. Today with the wind in the trees, and the end of the storm that came across Big Frog Mountain last night, I have been thinking about family, and wishing they were here.

I am so lucky to have some special people that have loved me for a long time. I’ll always be the kid to my uncles. They have always protected me, and given me wisdom. Each one has a special gift, and I learned so much as a kid and a young adult. Some are gone now, but they continue to whisper to me with poems. Today I miss them more than usual. I want to share a poem with you about one of those special people. He was a troubled man, yet a genius with building and inventing, when the demons were away.

I know there must be a friend or relative who has made a difference in your life, and who you wish would be here on the porch sharing stories with us for just a few minutes. Maybe it’s time you wrote those feelings down. Here’s my poem. Eastern State is a hospital in Kentucky.

Eastern State

We’d drive down to Eastern State
and he’d come into the lobby,
wearing his own clothes,
ready to go home.
The demons left behind in rubber sheets,
cold water, driven away by electricity.

On the way it’s coffee and pie,
How’s Homer and Russ?
Damn Mama stop messin with my hair.
And silence.

Each time I’d watch him being reborn.
The wonder of wide-open fields,
showing in his eyes and
his hand rubbing the car seat.
Lazarus resurrected.

It was as if we pressed the button
on a stop watch, counting down,
time diminishing with each mile
from the hospital.

Time growing short
before the first drink
of this reincarnation.
At home Mama would insist on pictures
and he’d stand, hands in his pockets,
enduring, embarrassed.

An urgency would build in him.
A child sick of the ordinary,
picking at the old wound
as the time ticked away.

When he went out headed to town,
Mama would sit at the window
knowing he could only stay home for awhile,
praying it would be longer this time.

Longer before the call from the jail.
Longer before the burning of clothing,
the curses and the threats—
before the straight jackets,
apologies and tears.

He built the bomb of ruin slowly.
Ingredients of hops, yeast, distilled corn,
copper tubing, and a fuse of pills
was all he needed.

When the stopwatch hit zero
it all exploded around us,
and the litter of hurt feelings,
charred lives and sobs of pain followed him
on the long ride back in the ambulance.

We’d drive down to Eastern State,
and he’d come into the lobby,
and Mama would hold him
while he wept in her arms,
and begged to come home.

Robert W. Kimsey