jimowenswrites

Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

I Remember how she Whistled

I remember how she whistled

And how she baked a pie,

Never used the cup,

Just measured by the eye;

 

And how she took me fishing,

Digging worms for the can,

I remember how she loved me

And her chicken in the pan;

 

I remember how she smelled,

Or think sometimes I do,

Lavender and lilac,

Like flowers blooming new;

 

And all the shirts she sewed me

Hand-stitched roses on the back,

I remember that she loved me

And that she gave me snacks;

 

I remember how he spoke,

And how he loved his boys,

Always had a story,

That his tools were my toys;

 

I remember how he held me

When upon the rocks I fell,

That he read his Bible

And the tales he’d tell;

 

I remember that his hair

Was fine and rather red.

I wish I could remember

The things I’m sure he said;

 

I remember that he loved her,

That Chester was his name,

And that he had a mule,

Dad says he couldn’t tame;

 

I remember how she laughed

And loved to tell a joke

Never met a stranger,

The drawl with which she spoke;

 

I remember the Christmas tree

A monstrous silver thing

And that gladly she gave me,

Grand-daddy’s wedding ring;

 

Always met me at the door

Whenever I came by,

Always did my laundry,

And the noise when it dried;

 

I remember how she woke

And rose within the dark,

How she always seemed

To have a special spark.

 

I remember his kind of swagger

And how he donned a hat,

I remember that he told me

Where the whiskey bottle sat;

 

He loved to give a gift,

To all the ones he loved,

And I kind of think he bought me

My first baseball glove.

 

I remember how he parted

A crowd of angry men,

Sometimes I really wish,

I could see him once again;

 

I remember how he drove

With all the windows down,

The air conditioner blowing

As we rode around.

 

I remember all these things

Of my parents-grand

Through the hour-glass

These bits of passing sand.

 

They labored in the field

And in the blackest mines,

Cared for all their children

Endured the toughest times;

 

I’m certain there were moments

When they lost their way,

But I’m grateful for them all

Who lead me here today.

Keep to the Center

Keep to the center

where the channel is deep

and relentless waters

flow to the open sea;

 

Keep to the center,

eyes ever watchful

for the treacherous  snags

lurking in her depths

 

Keep to the center,

away from her perilous shores,

far from the rocks of delusion

and the stranded debris

washed down from storms

gone by.

 

Keep to the center,

bow pointed downstream,

forward, toward the open waters

of awakening;

 

Keep to the center,

With open eyes unclouded

by fears floating past,

away from the calving clay

and spilling sands and

where murky waters boil;

 

Keep to the center,

when the sun above

and glaring waters below

conspire to blind and

when the fog lays heavy

and the banks disappear;

 

Keep to the center,

when the confluence boils

and the ill-wind blows

when currents push and pull

and the hull moans and creaks

in dismay;

 

Keep to the center,

where the channel is deep.

Silly Boy

I want to write a poem

That rhymes so perfectly.

It’s really very difficult,

I hope that you can see.

 

Nash, Poe, and Dickson

Seemed to do it all so well.

I wonder if they ever thought

This just isn’t going well?

 

Angelou and Dylan,

The words of Kipling too,

Move me in their work,

All saying something true,

 

Wadsworth was a master,

As was surely Frost,

Did they ever think,

That they were simply lost?

 

I’d like to write a poem

That changes this big world.

Maybe just a little bit,

While in this ball I’m curled.

 

I guess I’ll have to settle

For scribing just for him,

Words that might just change

A writer they call Jim.

 

Won’t be the Laureate,

Or win a Nobel Prize

Though I’m pretty famous

In my mother’s eyes.

 

There’s so very much to say

That’s buried in my heart.

Yes, I’m surely trying,

And this is where I start.

 

With apologies to Tolkien

And to Thoreau, of course

I know that I should stop

And show some real remorse.

 

But like the addict hooked,

I just can’t seem to quit,

Tossing out these words,

Even when they do not fit.

 

So I’ll carry on

Hoping that some day

There’ll be something meaningful

In what I have to say.

 

Some of what I write

Lays my soul so bare

Some is just for fun

I wonder if you care?

 

Which have I written here?

You may wonder still,

We have that in common,

I might just need my pills.

 

It really doesn’t matter

For these word I must,

Put them on the paper

The universe I’ll trust.

 

Now I’m having a bit of trouble

Ending this silly tale.

But now I have to stop

And go check my email.

 

So bid you now I do

A day that’s filled with joy,

I know you’re glad its over

Sorry, I’m just a silly boy.

Here I Stand

Here I stand,

waiting,

waiting for the winds of inspiration

to dance across my face,

to cool my brow

and dry these tears.

 

Here I stand,

listening,

my ears straining against the deafening roar of silence,

hoping to hear the echoes of what was,

Apollo’s sweet melody,

vibrating within my belly.

 

Here I stand,

watching,

staring into the glare,

a vigilant watchman,

alert,

peering into the mirage

wiping my eyes of the grit

and dust

and sweat,

ever peering into the horizon.

 

Here I stand,

waiting,

waiting for that someday

when voice and vision,

wander from the parched desert of dismay,

when the the fire becomes but gray ash,

scattered by the breeze,

to sit once more,

upon the verdant grasses,

beside the still waters of oasis.

 

 

Here I stand.

Waiting.

 

Headshots: A True Story

Jim sat on the stool trying to keep his shoulders back, his chin down, and manage a smile that didn’t look contrived.  Then he remembered he needed to suck in his gut. Gaah! This was like trying to rub your head and pat your stomach at the same time, he thought.  He would never have made a living as a male model.  The photographer kept telling him to look natural.  But there was nothing natural about sitting there under the impossibly bright lights.

“Now, open your eyes wide”

Just take the damn picture. 

All he wanted was a few headshots for his website and some business cards.  The photographer, a friend he trusted, was really good at this.  He had seen her work before and hoped she could salvage something out of his alternately wooden, lurching and clownish attempts to look professional, trustworthy, and likeable.  Jim had given up on hot and sexy a long time ago.  But after thirty minutes of her instructions, he had begun to hope she could edit away some of his crow’s feet and that the vein in his temple wasn’t bulging so much that he looked like he was having an aneurysm.

I know I’m having one.  I just hope it doesn’t look that way. 

“Breathe, Jim.”

Breathe?  I’m having a stroke here.  You want me to breathe?

“We’re almost done.  Let me just change the lens.”

“Do you have one that will make me look like George Clooney?”

She smiled at him and let out a quick chuckle.

“Hard work being a super-model, isn’t it?”

“Just don’t ask me to look pouty.  My range of emotions is limited.  I can probably manage surly without much trouble.”

“You’re doing great.  We are gonna have some good choices to work with,” she said, snapping the new lens in place.

After fifteen more awkward minutes, she said, “Okay.  All done.”

They walked into her office where she popped a memory card into her Apple desktop.  A few taps of the keyboard and Jim’s face suddenly stared back at him.  Suppressing a gasp, he managed to mutter only a muted, “Ewww.”

After sorting through several dozen digital images, they settled on three for final editing.  They weren’t that bad, Jim thought.  But he had seen every flaw; that spot on his cheek where the dermatologist had sliced away the lesion; the not so subtle droop below just under his chin, and the lines in his forehead.  They were all there, his imperfections staring at him.

“Are my ears uneven?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean is one lower on the side of my head than it is on the other?”

If the photographer hadn’t been a good friend, he might have just dropped the whole project right there.  But he needed the photos and in her presence, he felt some comfort.

“You’re silly.  You’re gonna like the final product, I promise.”

“You have some of those filtering things don’t you?  Like those Snapchat thingies.”

“Sure.  Would you rather have a ring of flowers on your head or some purple sunglasses,” she kidded.

“Very funny.”

Jim told her goodbye, gave her a hug and headed back to his car.  Calling down to him from the stairway, she said, “I’ll have something for you to look at in a couple of days.”

Before he pulled out of the parking lot, Jim took out his phone.  He scanned Instagram and Facebook for a minute.  Flipping through photos of himself and his friends, he thought about how he looked in most of them.  Not bad.  But not great, either.  He was smiling in most of them.  But not with that kind of “running for office” kind of perfection he was afraid would show up in his headshots.  He looked kind of sweaty and tired, he thought, in a lot of them.

He had never learned how to use Photoshop.  He had fooled around with a couple of Instagram filters, but that had never been with photos of himself.  Maybe he should learn.  Everyone else looks so good in their pictures, when they used those things.

A few days later, when his friend texted to tell him she would be sending him a link to a Dropbox account where he could look at the proofs of his headshots, Jim was a little nervous.  He opened the files and began to scan through them.

Whoa.  She’s a genius!  It actually kind of looks like the way I feel. 

The scar was gone.  The crow’s feet were still there, but weren’t as obvious.  And the lines on his forehead, they were a faint memory.

Jim thought about the scar that had been erased by the magic of technology. The cut that had produced it had been painful and his first acknowledgement of mortality.  Almost ten years later I’m still here.  The crow’s feet were probably the result of years of squinting into the horizon during his countless hours of travel across the country.  Lot of good memories there.  And the lines on his forehead, no doubt, were the product of hours of worry over children he so desperately wanted to love and protect.  They turned out pretty good.  He was grateful.

When Jim finally posted the photos on his website and Facebook page, he was glad they had turned out so well.  But he had thought a lot about filters.  He remembered one of his favorite poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask. People have been filtering what they let others see of them for generations.  Their clothes.  Their houses.  Their demeanors.  They were all a kind of a filter.  Masks of a sort.

It would be easy to blame technology and social media for people presenting their lives and image as perfect. But it was nothing new; just a different way of fitting in to whatever group they want to fit into.  Living for “likes” and “followers” wasn’t healthy, he knew.  Still, Jim was grateful for the kindness people had shown him when he uploaded his new headshots.

All those imperfections on his face, they were the markers of a life.  Fear.  Joy.  Victory.  Defeat.  Nobody escapes life without difficulties.  Jim was glad for his friend’s skill with the camera.  She actually had managed to get him to look natural.  To be natural.  Those photos showed a part of who he was too.  But he knew he would also keep posting the unfiltered shots where he looked sweaty and tired.  All of them showed a part of who he was, even if he didn’t look like George Clooney.

Popcorn Thoughts

These popcorn thoughts,

dancing on the sizzling skillet of his mind,

scattered kernels of corn, golden,

they crackle and pop, bursting into ideas, becoming words,

untold tales stopping by,

perhaps billowing into mounds of something worthwhile,

something that brings laughter,

something that teaches,

insight perhaps,

salted and buttered,

seasoned with a  bit of wisdom,

exploding from joy and sorrow,

gain and loss,

victory and even defeat.

Some confound and confuse;

some tease and amuse.

All scattered about;

some whisper, some shout.

Can there be some reason

for the thoughts that he seasons,

For these popcorn thoughts?

Pink Cadillac

Let there be laughter, when the day comes.  And food.  Lots of delicious food. The kind that’s bad for you.  Fried chicken. French fries. Gravy. Some biscuits with butter, too. And ice cream.  There has to be ice cream.  Moose Tracks, please.

Of course, music is a must.  The classic stuff.  Kansas, Journey, and The Eagles.  Maybe even some Springsteen.  Pink Cadillac.  I love that song.  Crushed velvet seats.  Ridin’ in the back.  Crusin’ down the street.

If there’s rain, don’t worry about it.  We’ll dance in the rain. If it’s cold, we’ll wear our favorite wool sweaters.  If it’s the wet-southern-sticky kind of hot, then cotton.  Definitely, cotton. It won’t be formal.  Who wants to go to a formal party?  No.  This will be a strictly casual affair—happy thing.

Sure, I hope you’ll miss me.  Saying good-bye is difficult when you’re the one being left behind. If there’s pain, let it come.  Don’t fight it.  Just sit with it. But not too long.  Because, there’s way too much life yet to live. I mean, I know there are times when life is difficult and there were times when I disappointed you, times when I hurt you. But I hope those careless, impatient, weary times, (sometimes I was just hungry) you can forgive.  I hope you can bask in the memories of our joys, our laughter, our shared victories and maybe even our struggles.

I honestly don’t really know if I’ll see you again. I hope so.  But there are mysteries in this world, things that are uncertain.   Like if something really fell from the sky and they actually did recover alien bodies and they’re covering it all up.  I’ve learned to live with mysteries, mostly.  Maybe even learn to revel in them.  But, like I said, I hope so—that I will see you again. But if I don’t, then just know this life was enough. It was perfect—beautiful—even in its mysteries and imperfections.  Remember that.

I hope it’s a long time from now.  But if for some sudden unexpected reason, it’s not, I wanted you to know.

When the day comes.

I Swam There To Your Side

You swam out from the shore

into the churning tide,

called out for my help.

I swam there to your side.

 

There in the white-capped surf

I offered you my hand.

And with a steady stroke, I

pulled you back on to the sand.

 

Once more into the waters,

you went into the deep.

My fears, they were no worry.

Your heart I couldn’t keep.

 

You called for me again,

my pleading you ignored.

Chest heaving though it was,

I swam to you once more.

 

The waters swept me out,

fighting swirling seas.

Dismay upon my face,

I wanted you to please.

 

Skies grew dark all ‘round,

and full of much alarm.

I called to you and said,

“I’ll keep you safe from harm.”

 

I pulled you from the fury,

My heart pounding with fatigue,

I stood there right beside you,

then fell upon my knees.

 

From the roiling waters,

where you always went,

You didn’t seem to notice

that all my strength was spent.

 

In one last rescue,

you clung upon my back.

I brought you back to shore,

but I could not go back.

 

Swam with all my might,

I wanted you to save,

while gasping for my breath,

from the ocean’s grave.

 

So now I walk alone,

along this peaceful shore.

Grateful for the journey,

though I could not do more.

 

You swam out from the shore

into the churning tide,

called out for my help.

I hope you know I tried.

 

 

I Met a Man

I met a man,

who said hello.

Who was this man,

I did not know?

 

We stood a moment,

There at the turn.

This man who smiled,

I could not spurn.

 

Stranger was he,

from who knows where.

He looked at me,

through summer’s glare.

 

A brief moment,

amongst the trees,

The sun so bright,

the leaves so green.

 

We parted ways,

after a bit.

I wonder if

some verse he’s writ.

 

And as I stepped,

I thought a while,

slowly trod,

an upward mile.

 

Along the street,

would we talk,

or carry on,

and simply walk?

 

I must admit,

I’d likely hurry,

by him fast,

with little worry.

 

But in the wood,

where the robins sing,

For one brief time,

I found something.

 

No, not a friend,

yet no less true.

From different places,

yes, we both knew.

 

But shared a path,

on the same trail.

It seems all of us,

on one ship sail.

The Smell of Adventure

It’s an alluring scent.  Confident, but not pretentious.  Strong, but in an understated way.  With vague notes of wood and spice and musk.

Somewhere along my journey, I’ve read or heard that our sense of smell is the most powerful of the five.  I’m not sure if that’s a fact or not, but in my experience, there’s something about certain smells that rescue long-forgotten memories from the recesses of my noisy brain.

The sweet smell of freshly cut grass returns me to the summers of my thirteenth year when I pushed a lawn mower across countless yards in my neighborhood.

When I walk onto a basketball court, inhaling the cocktail crafted from the mixture of sweat, rubber, and ambition, I’m swept back to the George C. Marshall High School gymnasium where I spent so many hours with friends and teammates.

As I write these words, I can’t remember how many years it’s been since I smelled Maxwell House coffee brewing in a stove-top percolator, but the mere thought of it returns me to my grandmother’s kitchen in rural Alabama.

This morning, I got up and went through my morning rituals.  I showered.  I shaved.  I sloshed on my chosen fragrance for the day.  Bug spray.  Deep Woods Off, to be exact.  Not my traditional aftershave, I’ll admit.  But I knew that Chanel de Bleu and Aramis would only serve as an invitation for the flies and mosquitoes I would encounter in the wilderness of North Alabama today.  And since I’m not wild about the idea of contracting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Zika, or simply being today’s special on the bug buffet, I shrouded myself in a fog of DEET.

Normally, when I finish a day of hiking, I’ll head straight for the shower.  But not tonight.  There was something I needed to get on the page.  You see, today I set out on my journey without a destination in mind.  I just threw the backpack in the 4Runner, started the engine and pulled into the street.  As I drove, I had multiple options to head toward familiar paths. But not today.  Today, I just kept driving.

In less than two hours, I found myself staring down at the Little River Canyon Falls, near Fort Payne, Alabama.  The roar of thousands of gallons of water pouring over the rocks is magical to me.  Since we’ve had heavy rains the last few weeks, the falls were majestic.  And the forest was thick and green in the canyon.  After finishing my adventures there, I drove another thirty minutes to DeSoto Falls and found myself rewarded once more for taking this unplanned journey.  DeSoto was cauldron of white, throwing mist high into the air, blanketing me in her refreshing spray.

You might find yourself wondering what all this talk of smells and unplanned journeys and waterfalls has to do with you.  There were a few lessons in my adventure today I thought I might share.  The first is that sometimes an unplanned journey can reward you with something remarkable.  It hadn’t occurred to me how much rain we’ve had lately and what that would mean for these falls I was seeing, strangely, for the first time.  Normally, if I had planned a trip looking for waterfalls, I would have headed to Tennessee or North Carolina today—which is where I will likely be tomorrow, if the road takes me there.   The second lesson is that while Deep Woods Off was never part of my childhood forays into the woods, it will forever be the smell that reminds me to get out of my routine–to have an adventure–and sometimes just go where the road takes me—looking for waterfalls.

I suppose there’s one final lesson I should share.  I hope you’re still paying attention, because this is important.  Always, and I mean always, keep your mouth closed when you’re basting your body in bug spray. That stuff smells bad.  But it tastes even worse.