Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.


August 2017

one more moment

rain sunset 1 for web

In this time
just after dawn
I can smell the dew
lifted from the grass
by the early morning sun
as the birds call
to one another
and the cool air
moves across my face.

My coffee is never better
and the peace never so serene
and the problems so far away
in this time just after dawn.

Time is limited
and there are
words to write and
songs to sing and
work to do and
people to see so
I have to move
from here
and get about
the business
of getting about.

Even the robins will
fall silent
and the wind
will be still
and the grass
will dry
in the heat
of the day.

And the pavement
will burn
as the trucks
roll past
and the heels
will click
in the heat
of the day.

So one more
in this time
just after dawn.

copyright 2017, joseph e bird

Mom and Pop

mom and pop

They were the definition of simple folk.

My grandfather, Justus Jennings Bird, died shortly after his 100th birthday.

His wife of 70-some years, Bettie Pearl, was 97 when she passed away.

I never knew my grandfather when he worked. By the time I was old enough to remember anything, he was retired and spent his time gardening. In the neighborhood, he was known as the man with the greenhouse. He would sell tomatoes and corn and green beans from his front yard in the shade of the tall oaks with the white-washed trunks. What he didn’t sell, Betty Pearl canned. They had home-grown vegetables all through the winter.

They had pride in their work.  Pop’s rows in the garden had to be straight. Mom’s apple pie crust had to be perfect. It was good, healthy pride, not like the kind in the Bible that makes you bad, to borrow a phrase from an Avett Brothers song.

Of course there was no social media in their day. They would have enjoyed seeing photos of their family, but there would have been no pics of prize-winning tomatoes, no snap-shot of the perfect pumpkin pie. They were appreciative if someone liked what they did, but it wasn’t why they did it. Pop liked to grow things. Mom liked to cook.

Simple folk. Simple ways. A lifetime of contentment.

Photo by Rick Lee.


You can call me Jim.

There are people I have known for years – no, make that decades – who have trouble remembering my name.  ”Hi, Bob,” someone will say.  No, Bob’s my uncle.  Or “Hey, Rob, are you back in town?” Well, you’re thinking of my cousin who lives in Florida. I’m Joe. I’ve been here all along.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called Jim. Yeah, Jim is close to Joe and it’s an understandable mistake for someone I don’t see very often. But time and time again I have to re-introduce myself to the same person who thinks they’ve never met me.

You could take the old Nat King Cole classic, Unforgettable, and change it to So Forgettable, that’s who I am.

I’m a quiet guy in person. I don’t stand out. I used to imagine that my laconic nature would be perceived as brooding and mysterious. But no, just boring.

I’m not very outgoing. I used to watch the way my mother could talk to anyone and have them laughing within minutes. Why couldn’t I be more like her? I’m better than I used to be, but I can’t help but to fall back into my loner tendencies.

I’m not one to shout about my beliefs and political leanings. I think such things are complex and multi-layered and don’t lend themselves to slogans or sound bites. If you want to have a long, serious conversation, I’m in. But of course, ain’t nobody got time for that.

I write stories. You like them? Cool. Not getting it? That’s ok.

I write poems. Dig the rhymes? Groovy. Free verse not you thing? NBD.

I write novels. Well, the truth here is that it seems that I’m the only one who gets something out of them.  That’s ok, too.

We all want to be known and appreciated. We want to know that our lives, our work, our being here, is meaningful in some way.

We cross paths with hundreds, probably thousands of people in our lifetimes. Some we know, some we don’t even catch their names. Some we see face to face, some we only see what they’ve done.

There’s a painting hanging on the wall of the pizzeria in South Hills by an artist whose name will never be known outside of her family. For a moment, it takes me to a different world, one that I wouldn’t know without her painting.

A fiddle player plays a mournful solo, for the moment upstaging the star, only to step back from the spotlight and return the glory to the charismatic singer.

An old man, who stops and looks inside every dumpster and eats at the church kitchens, whose clothes are dirty, nonetheless walks with dignity and greets you with a warm smile and an unashamed hello, and gives hope, that despite our circumstances, we can show love and respect.

So you can call me Jim. Maybe you’ll remember me, maybe you won’t. And maybe something I do will make a difference to someone.








Who are you?

You are who I think you are.
I know you by your words.
I know you by your actions.

You are who you think you are.
You know by your imaginings.
You know by your dreams.

You are who you really are.
And no one knows.
Because you tell no one.

You are who you will be.
Though the day may obscure.
You will look back and know.

Who are you?
Who will you be?

copyright 2017, joseph e bird


Writing Tip: Tinker

I’ve been writing stories and novels for many years and have used various techniques for moving through the process of cranking out 80,000 words. To do something like that, you can’t afford to get stuck very often.  Yet it happens, particularly when you’re in the beginnings of a new scene that hasn’t quite found its rhythm yet.

This morning I sat down to work on my story about Heather and did what I always do. I read a few paragraphs – maybe even a few pages – of what I wrote yesterday, just to get back into the flow of the scene. As I did, I started tinkering with word choices and the phrasing of sentences. Nothing really creative, just basic editing. Then I reached the end of what I had written previously.

I wish I could tell you that new sentences sprang forth and before I knew it, I had knocked out another 1,000 words.


So I went back and tinkered some more.

Here’s the thing. As you tinker, things are happening that you don’t realize. Your writing skills are improving, but more importantly, thoughts are forming in your subconscious. You’re working harder and more effectively than you realize. After two or three sessions of tinkering, the next new sentence will appear. Followed by another. Or a new twist to the story may present itself. And maybe an hour later, you’ve added 500 words.

Tinkering is better than staring at the screen, doing nothing, letting the hopelessness take over. It can be a very produtive exercise.

It works for writing. It works for painting. It works for running. It probably works for whatever you’re dong.

So tinker, my friends. Go forth and tinker.


First Place

Of the top five finishers in the 5K this morning, one had run 8 miles before the race. Another had run 13 miles.

I was doing well to get out of bed and drive to the race just a half mile from my house.

The winners’ times were fast, these young men in their man-buns and the sleek bodies of youth, who are not even bothering with water as they stroll easily along the sidewalk, not even out of breath, because they finished 6 minutes before I did and have already cooled down, as I labor to the finish line, feeling like a runner, but knowing that I’m just another old guy, old being anyone over 25, because anyone over 25 is just a pretender and not even an afterthought to those who run in the fast lane of youth.

So I won my age group.  First place, the little trophy cup says. So what. Who cares.

I care a little. Because I made myself get out of bed. I made myself run those 4 miles on Wednesday when I didn’t really feel like it.  And the speed work on Monday, which is ridiculous and serves no purpose other than to satisfy my ego. And the 7 1/2 miles last Sunday that I don’t have to do.  But there’s something gratifying about being out on the road in the early morning by yourself, and wanting to quit after a couple of miles while you still feel good, but enjoying the morning so much that you just keep pushing until your legs become weak and a little wobbly but you have to push on because you just can’t quit because you have to push on.  Because you have to push on.

And because of all of that, there’s a little cup that says First Place that means nothing to anybody but me.

More miles to go.

shoes 1 for web

Looks like my running days are over.

I first said that probably twenty-five years ago. I was struggling to finish the Charleston Distance Run, a grueling 15-miler. I had run the race several times before and done fairly well for an amateur runner. Not this time. At about the 12 mile mark I was so beat, I questioned why I was putting myself through it. Being as competitive (prideful?) as I am, I didn’t want to run if I couldn’t be constantly improving.

Looks like my running days are over.

I haven’t run the Distance Run since, but I shelved my pride and kept running.

Then about 15 years ago my orthopedist said I had a condition called spondylolisthesis. Bad back. He told me to quit running.

Looks like my running days are over, for real.

I started sleeping in on Saturdays, but I wanted to stay in shape.  I found an old video from the 80s and started doing step aerobics. Then Tae Bo with Billy Blanks.  I did this for maybe three years. But I missed running.

I started out slowly. Not even a mile on my first run. Kept adding a little bit each time. I was soon running about three miles every other day. I wasn’t running like I used to, but I was running. And no back pain.

So of course I kept adding miles. Then hills. Then speed work. I ran a few races and actually won my age division a couple of times, which, really, is nothing to brag about. At my age, just showing up for the race almost assures you of a trophy. And if I can manage to knock out the guy with the walker ahead of me, then I win.

So I kept running. Then came the knee pain. I tried running through it but it only got worse. I laid off for a couple of days. When I tried again, the pain was almost unbearable. I did what you’re supposed to do. Ice and pain relievers. Nothing helped.

Looks like my running days are over.

I went back to step aerobics. After a couple of weeks, I tried the treadmill. The pain was still there.

More aerobics.

After about four weeks, I tried the treadmill again.  No pain for a quarter mile.

More aerobics. Treadmill. Half mile.

Aerobics. Treadmill. One mile.

And then I was out on the road again.

That was a year ago. Yesterday I did about four miles of hills and speed work.

I’m sure some other ailments will pop up. I’ve had hamstring problems. Foot problems. But I take it easy for a few days and then I’m back at it.

Here’s what I’ve learned from running:

The body is very resilient.  Sure, there may be a time when my running days are really over. But it won’t be for lack of trying.

Be patient. Be positive. Be persistent.


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