Sunday, August 7, 2011

Build-A-Poem

Make yourself a list of solid words that you like or that jump out at ya. Doesn't matter what they are: noun, verb, adjective... Do it. Do it quick! Then use the first word on your list in a sentence or partial sentence and that's the first line of your poem. Now do the same for the second word and the third and so on. It's fun. Try it! Like this:

   The LOVE of my life,
         HATEs it when a,
         CAMERA is thrust in her face.
She'll TWIST away and at
         RANDOM find a place where the
         SOUND of
         BRACKISH seawater slapping
         OUTLANDISH sea shells unearths a
         BILLFOLD lost centuries ago;
         REPORTed lost but actually thrown away with the
         JALOPY the
         UNKIND mechanic swore would never run again.

Cool, huh? Don't remember where I read about this, but I found a bunch of my own ditties in an old notebook. Here's another one:

The MASTER calls, beats me, needing
 An OUTLET for his unwarranted anger. Not
 To VINDICATE his crimes, I'm given
       LUXURY from his hands as well.
      MEA CULPA.

Here's another:

The TRANSIT authority fronts
       NUCLEAR activity aided by
The PENSIONs of
       EBONY men playing
       BADMINTON in Styrofoam hats while
       UKULELE music floats among the
       MISFIT bar stools made of hubcaps and broom handles.
       CARAMEL, my friend, don't
       STAIN your new white shirt.

Last one:

    The CANISTER's sharp edge
Causes PAIN that you don't need to be
          SHERLOCK Holmes to know
          ASPIRIN won't take away to
         NEWFOUNDLAND for a holiday.
  My ORIGINAL plan was to open the
        CANOPY and float to the mountainside
        CRAG. But I'm eating
        LOBSTER while creating
        MACHINEs that'll do it all for me instead.
        KODIAK Bill thinks he's lost in a
        VACUUM where heroin
        NEEDLES scream
        PENITENTIARY songs for the
        QUEEN of all things "moly."
        GOLFing west of the
        KITCHEN chairs in
        LAMINATEd pants of
        FUTURE fashion,
       CARROT-haired Sally
       CARPETbags her days away while
       GARBAGE cans crash, causing her head to ache like
 An ARROW through the eye.
   A PENCHANT for love songs and
      MUSTARD gas tears choke the
      GRAPES of wrath out of the
      CARAVAN of earth-needy people.

Thank-you. GOOD night!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ham; No Fred: An Exercise by Frank Balara

[Note: One day in February of 1999, during writing practice, I decided to just run with some dialogue and this was the result.]

"You remember, Fred?"

"Yeah. I remember Fred."

"Wait a minute. You're not Fred?"

"Jesus Christ, Ham. Not this again!"

"All right. ALL RIGHT! So, you're not Fred. But. Do you remember?"

"I wasn't there, Ham. How the hell can I remember?"

"Ah!!! I don't know."

     They'd been sitting around the campfire for a couple hours now. Their beans were long gone, their tin cans cooled, and their gas-pockets rumbled like a fat lady dancing Swing on the second floor.

"Well," Ham started in again after letting go a good, long, loud one, "just who the hell are ya then? If you're not Fred."

"I'm George Emerson Howl-At-The-Fucking-Moon, ya old fart."

"Then what happened to Fred?"

"He's dead."

"Is he?"

"Nah. All this sing-song with Fred. I thought it'd be nice to rhyme a few lines. Just to break the monotony of it."

"You always talk like that?"

"In rhymes?"

"No. Like ya could give a rat's ass."

"Only when I've a rat's ass to give."

"Well. I thought so, too, anyhow."

"Ham, the fire's gettin' low."

"Hmph. I c'n feel it."

"Well, maybe you better get some sleep. I'll wake ya when the train's coming through."

"Like I need ya to tell me that? Ya think I won't feel that fucker all on my own?"

"Hey, I'm just trying to show there's no hard feelings. Ya never know. Tonight you might sleep like the dead."

"Where is that Fred, anyhow?"

"Ham."

"Ah, shit! He was there, God Dammit! Then something happened. I heard scufflin'. Then I heard Fred walkin' so I followed him. Now you're not Fred and Fred's not here and I don't know my ass from Burt Lancaster. WHAT THEE FUCK!?! Dontcha remember anything? If that was you walkin' the whole time then you had to've seen Fred. From what I've heard said, he was a tall, lanky fella with red hair. You see 'im?"

"Nope."

"Ya better not be lyin'. I tell ya that."

"What if I am, old-timer?"

"I - ah - I don't know. You just better not be Fred pullin' a fast one on me."

"Fred ever pull a fast one on ya before?"

"No, come to think of it. He was a nice quiet guy. Helpful."

"Yeah, I guess he'd have to be."

"Listen, you. That ain't funny. Somethin's happened to the poor bastard."

"Hey. I'm just sayin'."

"Yeah, well it ain't funny. You're gonna have to help me find 'im in the morning."

"Hey, I'm on the first train that comes through. You're welcome to come, but I ain't searchin' for dead Fred anyhow."

"I ain't sayin' I can't get by on my own. I can hop a train just as well as anyone with two hands and feet. I just kinda got used to 'im is all. He'd do my running around for me at each stop. He'd go buy the whiskey and rations, fetch the firewood, do the cookin'. Alls I had to do was sit on the curb and beg with my coffee can and hold up my end of a conversation."

"You've got whiskey?"

"Maybe's I do. Maybe's I don't."

"Don't play fucking games with me, Ham."

"Didja or didja not see Fred?"

"Maybe's I did. Maybe's I didn't. Do you have whiskey?"

"Here, ya fucker. I hope ya choke on it."

     George Emerson took the half empty bottle of cheap whiskey. He took a drink big enough to make the bottle three-quarters empty.

"Ya leave any for me?"

"You got good ears, old timer. Yeah, there's some left for you." He tossed the bottle back at ham's feet.

     Ham felt around in the dirt til he found it. He picked it up, unscrewed the cap and made a good long production out of wiping the opening clean with his greasy shirt. Then he tilted the bottle back and finished it off.

"You're a real piece of work. Ya know that?"

"Fuck you." Ham tossed the empty bottle over his head and whipped the cap at George Emerson, missing him by only a few inches.

"Watch it, pal."

"I ain't yer pal."

"I'm losing my patience with you."

"Aw. Darn it ta hell." Ham felt around to his left brushing some stray twigs away before curling up to go to sleep.

     Ham woke up to the sound of a highball whistle and the sound of a westbound freighter pulling out onto the mainline. He could feel the moisture on the back of his worn out, flannel jacket. He could smell urine. He knew George Emerson was on that train. He reached behind to the seat of his trousers where he had a personal flask hidden. He unscrewed the top and took a small sip. He smiled. It was the good stuff. A gift from Fred. The highball whistle blew again and Ham could gauge the distance the train had already travelled.

"Don't worry, Fred. I'll find ya."

Ham closed the flask and replaced it to its hiding spot. He curled up again.

"Somehow," he sighed before falling back to sleep.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ode To A Phantom Flower (1999)

     Another job, another poem. This time I was working for a company that printed checkbooks. My official title was collator. My duties included checking the printed checks for spelling errors and separating the sheets of checks into separate books. It was boring work.
     This was in 1999 and, after my third attempt four years earlier, I had given up any hope of finishing my college degree. Still, I held tightly to the idea, the possibility, the dream of being a published writer. After all, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Steinbeck (writers I had fallen in love with during my Romantic youth) had never finished college. Heck, Hemingway never even started college. I even used Albert Einstein, who had only a third grade education, as an argument that I didn't need a college degree to be intelligent or successful as a writer.
     Yes, I digress, but my point is I still saw myself as a writer; not a collator. To prove that, I spent my off time writing my stories. And, to be a true rebel, I wrote poetry on my breaks at work. I know. I was a mad man. Livin' on the edge. Don't mess with me. I'll take you down, too.
     So, anyway, one night I came in to work and found a single yellow flower standing on the desk of my cubicle. Don't ask what kind of flower. I can just about point out a rose, a daisy and a mum. It wasn't any of those. The yellow flower stood in a Snapple bottle filled with water.
     If you know me at all, you'll understand why I inherently knew that flower wasn't for me. Two other people shared my cubicle. Both were women on the first and second shifts, respectively. I saw them both during shift changes but only knew them enough to say hi as we passed each other at the time clock. The phantom flower had to be for one of them. 
     Nights passed as I watched this flower slowly turn brown and finally die. It made the nights go quicker trying to figure out which woman the flower belonged to and who had given it to them as a gift and for what reason or occasion. Finally, one night well past the flower's expiration date, the following poem poured forth:

Ode To A Phantom Flower
by
Frank Balara

Phantom flower standing in this water, bottled,
You've stirred my mind and left it mottled.
You stand here turning brown and dying.
Your time here is so quickly flying.
And I wonder if you served your purpose well.

Who received you? Who was your sender?
A broken heart? Were you to mend her?
Did you make a heavy heart light?
I hope your intentions were received just right.
Flower, I hope you served your purpose well.

Was it a simple thinking-of-you,
To cheer up someone feeling blue?
Perhaps an admirer from afar,
Boldly sent you inside this jar?
Flower, I hope you served your purpose well.

It's time for me to get back to work,
Before the boss thinks me a jerk,
For pondering a dying flower,
And its possible healing power.
So, Flower, here's the last thing I have to tell:

Flowers do die and beauty is fleeting,
But it is "the thought" that keeps on beating,
In the lovers' minds and in their hearts,
And that's how you'll know you've done your part.
Flower, I'm sure you served your purpose well.


     I have to say, I was proud of that little ditty. So proud that, at the end of my shift, I left the poem leaning against the makeshift vase for the owner of the flower to read. What followed was the first and only time I couldn't wait for my next shift of work to start. I couldn't sleep as I wondered what the flower's owner would think of my poem. Would they like it? Would they respond? Would the poem still be there? Would there be a reply?
     Finally, my next shift began. I raced to my cubicle. The flower was gone. My poem was gone. My heart sank. What would I do to pass the time now? It felt like a lover had cut me loose or someone had run over my dog. But I sucked it up and began to work.
     Then I saw them. The first time I needed to toss out an error-ed sheet of checks. The Snapple bottle and flower thrown in the trash. Laying soggily beneath them was my poem. Talk about a harsh critic. Now, I felt like that lover had struck me across the face before leaving or that the driver who hit my dog had left him in my bed for me to find.
      It took a few days, but I got over it. I went on to write more poems, to steer clear of getting a dog, to quit the check printing company,but I never did find out the real story behind the Phantom Flower.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Big Boy, Sad Dad?

     It wasn't Zachary's first haircut. It was his fourth. In 17 months. (He is blessed to be in a gene pool where the hair runs fast and thick.) But this fourth haircut struck a little fear and a little sadness in me...

     Zachary's hair was not a problem between Jenny and I. Not until, out for dinner one night, the waitress asked us if we were ordering anything for our daughter.
    
     Zachary's hair had already been cut three times at this point. But "Baby's First Haircut" was really just a ritual snipping of a few loose ends and a photo op for Mom and Dad. For his second haircut, Jenny was still reluctant to cut much from Zachary's curly locks. The curls were mostly at the back of his head and, especially after bath time, it combed back into a marvelous D.A. (that's a duck's ass for you young-ins. Go Google pics of "Fonzie", "Young Elvis" and John Travolta in "Grease". That's the word that you heard, that you heard, that you heard...) But I digress. The point is Jenny loved his hair and refused to have it cut short this second time as well.
    
     I didn't see my wanting Zachary to have a short haircut as a stereo-typical male opinion. I honestly thought he looked uncomfortable and used that as my only argument - that and pointing out how much he'd been walking into walls lately. Zachary is my first child, as many of you know, so I may not have the politics of child-raising down pat, but I've been around long enough to know you don't mess with a mom when it comes to her child's appearance. So, I didn't attempt to rock the boat for Zach's second haircut either.
    
     But after that. Well, I began to voice my opinion a little more often:
    
     "Wow," I'd feign surprise. "Look how fast his hair is growing back. It's almost as long as it was before his haircut. Maybe we should go shorter next time?" (Always phrase things as questions to keep a happy relationship happy. Another lesson I learned the hard way.) 
    
     I think the opinion expressed by me in the above paragraph would have been better received had we not been driving home from his actual 2nd haircut. But you live and you learn. It took awhile but, by the time Jenny was willing to go for haircut three, I had talked her into losing the curls. To this day, I don't know how I did that, which leads me to believe she talked herself into it somehow and I still hold no sway in our happy relationship.

     It took awhile but Jenny got used to Zachary without the curls. Still, sometimes, I'd catch her looking at old pictures and sniffling. She finally got over it at the exact same time that the curls grew back. About two weeks after that third haircut. I was beginning to think we didn't need a barber to tame Zachary's hair. We needed Weed-B-Gone.

     It was about four weeks after the third haircut that our waitress made her little faux pas. I realized I needed to go to bat for my son. I needed to put my foot down. Lay down the law. As we left the restaurant and headed to our car, I silently worked up a head of steam. My head filled with all the self-righteous excuses I had for wanting my son to have a short haircut. As we entered the car to head home, I looked over at Jenny and said, "Do you think maybe it's time for a short haircut?"

     Oddly enough, Jenny simply replied, yes. It turns out she was relieved to see the curls could grow back, so she was less reluctant to get him a short haircut. We made an appointment for later that week.

     I'd like to mention here that the lovely woman who cuts our son's hair has always done an amazing job. She has always given us what "we" asked for in terms of hair length. I also don't know how she can so calmly and expertly cut a small child's hair while said child thrashes his head around looking everywhere but straight ahead. If I tried to do what she does I would end up racing into the hills sucking my own thumb before I finished one child. I place these accolades here so, if she reads this, she will not be upset or take it personally when I say that Jenny and I hated Zachary's short, fourth haircut.

     It wasn't a bad haircut. It was just weird. As usual, Jenny and I stood in the parking lot and took our pictures. We posted them on Facebook and headed home, but we didn't really say anything. We just kept sneaking peaks at Zachary in the backseat as if he were a stranger. You need to understand that Zachary's hair hadn't been this short since he was six months old. It was going to take awhile to adjust.

     Jenny recovered much quicker than I did. She seemed content that her little man waddling around the apartment now actually looked like a little man waddling around the apartment. I on the other hand was terrified of this little man waddling around our apartment. I suddenly didn't want anything to do with little men or waddling and I've always hated this damned apartment. I wanted my baby boy back.

     Suddenly I was the one looking at pictures and sniffling. I would sit on the couch and watch him do his damn waddling and I was torn. I had so many conflicting feelings I felt like they were doing their damn waddling in my stomach. I was going to puke.

     Then, one night after Zachary's bath, he did something that simultaneously brought joy and struck fear into my heart. Jenny had to go in to work early that night (she usually works third shift) and whenever I'm left alone to get Zachary to bed he decides to be a night owl. I have to let him play himself to sleep while we watch reruns of Sesame Street and Barney. I was sitting on the couch watching Grover do the "Groverelli"  ("Hands out! Hands out! Shake your little belly! Hands up! Hands up! Move around like jelly! Turn around and spin like Cinderelly! Dooooo the Groverelli!!!") But I digress. Zachary came over to me, climbed up onto the couch and, for the first time ever, he sat next to me instead of climbing on my lap and we watched Grover together.

     That's it you ask? You're son sat next to you on the couch and watched t.v.? That's what struck joy and fear into your heart? Yes, I say. Yes indeed. In that moment I realized Zachary had crossed a threshold. He really wasn't a baby anymore. He really was a little boy now. Not my baby. My son.

     It was a profound moment filled with a pride only another father with a son could possibly understand. Suddenly I saw a teen-aged Zachary sitting next to me at a Phillies' game. It was wonderful for one moment. Then I remembered what everyone has been telling me since I became a dad. Don't wish the time away. Whenever I've said, I can't wait to be able to talk to Zach or I can't wait til he can walk or throw a ball or go fishing or sleep through the night or... Someone who has been down this road before says, you can wait. Wait as long as you can. Cherish every moment - pay attention to them - because they're all going to fly by faster than you can ever imagine.

     I thought I had done that. I tried my best. I was patient. I savored the late night feedings. I savored carrying his little bundle of life around. And I rolled around in each little success - the rolling over, the crawling, the walking, the running, the baby talk, the solid food, everything - until it was permanently embedded in me. Each little memory. Yet, in savoring each little thing, I failed to look up now and then to see the big picture and now I suddenly look up and Zachary is no longer my baby. He's my little boy. And I'm so afraid I might have missed something or that I'm going to forget something or maybe I just wasn't prepared to let go of Zachary, the baby, just yet.

     I know it doesn't seem so bad considering the scope of truly terrifying things that could be wrong. Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. But I've been knocked for a personal loop. The upshot is that I'm going to savor this little boy's life - each and every minute of it - the big moments and the little moments, so that when I do finally sit down next to the teen-aged Zachary at a Phillies' game, maybe I'll be a little more prepared to say goodbye to the little boy, Zachary. But I doubt it. 



Monday, May 16, 2011

Songs I Sing To My Son

Not long after Zach was born I realized I had a bit of musical talent. One night he started crying and we began the guessing game all new parents play trying to find out what was wrong. First we checked his diaper. It was clean, so we tried a bottle. He blanched at that. Didn't have a temperature. We rocked him. We cooed. We tried the usual lullabies. Nothing stopped his crying. Suddenly, he stopped. His face got beat red and he grunted. Then he began to cry louder. Ahhh. The poor kid was having some difficulties...well, filling his diaper.

To calm him down and to help him along I started a little cheer. It has a marching cadence and I've since perfected it down to two versions:

The Poopie Song - Version 1

Push those poopies out of there.
Put them in your underwear.
That's a diaper for you, you see.
You'll wear undies when you turn three.

I know you probably think I'm nuts. But guess what? It helped relax him and he was able to go.

The second version came about because as the months went on I was really beginning to hope he would be in undies much sooner than three:

Version 2

Push those poopies out of there.
Put them in your underwear.
That's a diaper for not me but you.
You'll wear undies when you turn two.

Since then I have enjoyed parodying songs, a la Al Yankovic, for him. Another poopie song I sing him now that he runs around and plays is called, Zachary, and is sung to the tune, Valerie, by Steve Winwood:

Zachary

Zachary!
Call on me!
Zachary!
Call on me!
Zachary!!!
Come on, see me,
Any time you poop or pee.

Now we've begun the process of getting him to brush his teeth by himself. We still do it but he has his own little toothbrush to help out. Or just make a mess with at this point. Anyway, this song is pretty much the original song. I just changed the one word to toothbrush. Let's see if you recognize it:

Toothbrush

Toothbrush, toothbrush,
Silly, silly toothbrush.
Toothbrush, toothbrush,
Brush your teeth. Yum.

I took my toothbrush,
Out to see a movie.
Didn't have to pay,
To get him in.

(Repeat chorus)

Maybe you think that's nuts too, but he belly laughs when I get to the next part:

Silly, silly toothbrushes,
Are never seen drinking cappuccino,
In Italian restaurants
With Oriental women...Yeah.

(Repeat chorus)

So there you have it. Some of the songs I sing to my son. I know I'm silly, but sometimes it helps to be silly, because you can only sing "The Barney Theme" and "The Hot Dog Song" so many times before you really will go nuts.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

FreshFrankieB - The Daddy Rap

I made up this rap for Jenny's son, Thomas. We've all lived together for 5 years, but since we keep procrastinating with the wedding I can't call him my stepson yet. It would be easier than having to explain this every time I mention him. Anyways...

My name is Frankie.
I'm kind of cranky.
Get on my nerves,
I'm gonna give ya a spanky.
You'll cry so hard,
Ya gonna need a hanky.
Word.