I’m trudging toward Bethlehem
in this whisper of morning light,
as the Mohawk grows an icy skin
to keep its secrets until March.
Within a skeletal shrub,
lonely December-drab robin
sings carols. I watch him rise into
the surrendering arms of a maple
and feel flurries on my face
and this warm sense of hope.
My dVerse colleague Sam Peralta has asked that we write a 55-word poem today. Luckily, I happened to see all these images this morning.
Once was a time when twinkling
candle lights in the windows
could warm even this wintered soul
enough to carry it until green
was a living thing again. Tonight
it lies in that long, bloodless moment.
It reflects this pallid season of giving,
these abbreviated journal entries of light
pressed between the covers
of yards and yards of velvet night.
What will it take to poke awake
any remaining embers to a smolder,
breathe ill-remembered fires
to the merest crackle of being?
You brush my hand, lacy, absent-minded,
barely noticed, and an old sensation
swims up to what passes for a heart.
The corner of my mind reflects glimmer,
its own Light in the East. Veins sense
a temperate pulse, gifts of a life.
And you’ve saved me. Again.
© Joseph Hesch 2013
I found it today the New York Times,
the daily cookbook of record.
I found this watery stew of a word
which is defined as a watery stew –
What a superbly gag-worthy ragout
of unpleasantness is this noun!
Not only does it connote a disgusting gruel
of whatever meager groceries a ragtag
gold-fevered Forty-Niner could toss into a pot,
but it tickles the uvula — if not the tastebuds –
with it’s pair of bridge stanchion L’s as we ride
the tongue from the Mmmm on the lips
to the soft palate’s hard-G exit ramp to the vomitorium.
So much to offer the discerning philologist.
Would you care for dessert? Perhaps a slice
A week’s freezing cold didn’t bring me
the numbness I need. Always before,
lack of sensation was my refuge,
even before north winds turned my eyes red
and the single digits froze each fingertip
a deathly white, white as the snow
that slapped my cheeks with raw reality
this morning. Maybe tomorrow.
The snow was our canvas, upon which
we painted winter-wide murals and
our ever-whitening portraits, from those
two feet and a chubby snow angel
to the broad icebreaker paths we’d carve,
leaving wakes of winter, like rustic frames
in our personal galleries of year after year.
I could just stay alone by the window,
watch it fall, pile, blow across the grass,
jealously watch scratchy weeds break the trail
we once blazed in the bedsheet smoothness.
But I can’t. I must move along, muck up
the natural perfection with my pen-nib boots
writing this diary entry for one,
the same painful one as yesterday’s.
No cold, time, or any vacant expanse
of paper white are numbing enough,
still can’t dull the pain of this life’s winter,
eyes red and fingers wrung deathly white.
Maybe tomorrow. Please, maybe tomorrow.
I don’t want to keep writing these poems, but I can’t seem to lift out of this damn dark ink well. Maybe tomorrow.
There we were. Sheila and Kathy, smug in their green uniform jumpers, and I with my little clip-on St. Patrick’s Institute tie, the peak of eleven-year old intelligentsia, pitting our burly, burgeoning cerebra against one another and the English language in a battle over who could correctly align letters into concepts that would register as building blocks of discourse in futures irrevocably altered that afternoon by a knock on the classroom door and a whispered exchange between Sister Mary Someone and Mother Superior The Other.
With a face as starkly white and stiffly starched as her wimple—in the middle of calling off the spelling contest, which I was a lock to win, and a throat-catching, out-of-nowhere, low and left Our Father kick-off of a rosary session, something usually reserved for May—Sister told us. All around the classroom, the kids wrestled with confused tangles of thoughts and rosary beads because this was November, a week until Thanksgiving, another odd weekday stuffed with prayer, and Presidents never were shot.
Then the girls began to cry. Staring dully at his desktop, Dennis Mullin turned his dark face sideways to me in its usual position of conspiratorial whisper. This time he breathed a confused statement of a boy of twelve’s coming to his best conclusion, “There’s gonna be a war.”
And, sure enough, there were wars to follow, some of us even grotesquely baptized in them, but not over this. Not a shoooting one, at least. Just wars of jockeying conspiracies Dennis would never dream in his most imaginative moments. These wars were fought with tawdry syllogisms that would arc over the horizon, blaze for a second and then fall to darkness, fewer and fewer over the next half-century.
The nuns sent us home to weepy moms only a few minutes earlier than usual that Friday, after they received word the President had died. They followed us out of school and I looked back from across Central Avenue and saw their faces, framed in their black veils and habits, shining mostly white in the cold afternoon sun. Most of them clutched tissues to their red noses and eyes as they filed into St. Patrick’s, like it was a Good Friday or something.
And, as would be the case for most of the next fifty years, I wandered around, numb to anything but that calm, cold voice within me poring over the information I’d sucked in. All that night and for the next few days I also listened to Uncle Walter’s sad but consoling voice feed me more news from that wooden box with the window of grainy moving newsprint.
At first I had to wrap my head around the fact a cool young President had been shot and killed by what they said was some sad sack Commie mook with a black eye. And then, on Sunday morning, the only person sitting in front of the TV at the time, I witnessed the very real murder of that mook by a better dressed one who all the cops knew. I even heard one say his name…Jack.
That was all kind of a weird final punctuation for me, really. A period rather than an exclamation mark. Some dark nothing of a Jack killed the even lesser nothing of a guy with three weird first names who they say killed the sparkling Jack with the killer smile and Givenchy-draped wife.
I felt cheated that there would be no fair-is-fair end to the game, like my spelling bee on Friday afternoon. No logical finality where the good guys would eventually win and the bad guys sent to their seats. I know that sounds cold, especially for an eleven-year old, but that weekend the whole world turned very black and white to me, not just what I saw for days and weeks and years thereafter on the TV. Even when we got the color RCA.
I read the next day my Giants lost to the Cardinals by a touchdown in the vacuum of that Sunday. And the newspaper confirmed some new theories I developed over the weekend. First, if I ever was asked to spell it— though I never was— there are two groups of double S’s in a-ss-a-ss-i-n-a-t-i-o-n. And second, the lives of millions of people can drastically change in the time it takes a bullet to fly 265 feet. Or even two.
The newspaper never did run a story about how lives changed for any, or even one, of those sixth-graders in the time it took to open a softly knocked door.
So I do.
A Five Sentence Fiction
“How is he, Sandy,” Ed Barrone asked his wife, “did Eddie go to pieces?”
“He came in from school, went right to his room and closed the door, didn’t want dinner, hasn’t made a sound all evening, so I think not making the football team has just crushed him, Ed,” Sandy said.
“Must be tough on the poor kid when his best friend’s the star quarterback, the guy who convinced him to try out, and now Eddie’s gonna have to face Ben and all his friends as a…as a…well, he must feel like he was blind-sided,” Ed said.
Sandy crossed the room to the base of the stairs and called, “Eddie, Dad’s home,” but once again was met with silence and she turned her plaintive brown eyes to her husband, who squared his shoulders and slowly trudged up to his son’s room.
Ed paused at the door, before knocking because he thought he heard laughing within, and then the sound of Eddie whispering into his video game headset, “That’s 25 games in a row, Mr. Starting QB…I don’t think you’ll ever win a game if you suck this bad at Madden.”
Someday, maybe I’ll write something more directly related to the prompt put up by my friend Lillie McFadden for one of her Five Sentence Fiction challenges. Naaaaaah, probably not. Today’s word: Pieces.
to my write hand,
the one always ready
to lend yourself
in autonomic response
to the task at
I was always happy
to give you
pass you the ball
on what was once
a wicked crossover.
You would work
your two bounces
and a floater
to the hoop.
A solo worthy
to your dominant
know you had Game
between the legs –
for the glory
of his jumpshot.
we both knew
of a barn.
But most of all,
your night job,
to rub her throat
and index finger,
that furry spine
her bony rump
the return trip
lift her head,
Lefty, you were
left her side
And I recall
for a day
and a half
up to my face
Penned this in response to a call for a Pablo Neruda-style ode by my friends at dVerse Poets. Not sure if I was successful, but it made me happy to write it.
The low November sun cast shards of gold,
old and burnished, around the Narcissistic oak,
as the winds pushed that brawny
exhibitionist body into clattering sway,
not its standing ovation of summer-leaf
self-applause. Yesterday, the
Golden leaf closest to me fell.
She was the one toward whom I would reach,
against whom I would rest, I would rub
for mutual security and solace
whether the winds hummed or thrashed.
She was the one who pawed me toward the sun,
as my hand never left her side until
she felt the nudge and fell away.
I’m alone now, waving for the wind
to rip me away from this empty place
at the tip of this twig,
attached to this branch,
shouldered to this oak,
this raggedy bark metaphor for
life as some grand repeating circle
of birth and death. But for us,
the leaves, the joes and mollies,
it is not a circle. It’s not
some spinning wheel. It is
a finite line from root to shoot.
There is birth. There is death.
And whatever happens along the
in-between is nothing more than
a matter of opinion.
On Saturday, November 16, our Mollie got old and sick all at once and we had to let her go. I’m inconsolable. Still hurting a week after my shoulder surgery, but this is the real pain in my life. She was the anchor to my existence. My first thing in the morning, my last thing at night and more often than not my source of inspiration just to be and guide to express myself. Maybe she was the muse I never thought I’d have or need. But she was my best friend and, in the way of a man who only recently made the acquaintance of his feelings, the love of my life.
Recently, American sportswriter Peter King had to put down his beloved golden retriever Bailey. He wrote a column about it from which I managed to pinch this thought through my tears. King wrote: “The easiest way to not feel this grief is to never have a dog. And what an empty life that would be.”
After almost thirteen years living with, being exasperated by, laughing at, caring for and loving (and being loved by) Mollie, I can barely describe how empty my life now feels.
Maybe this poem is a poor start.
Leaves of birch and maple,
limbs of you and I,
protected from autumn rain
beneath this vacant oak.
Such an unlikely mingling,
in damp embrace,
chased here like the leaves
by October wind
and times grown short.
When it ends,
our time pressed together,
like the pages of a journal,
I shall recall the perfume
of leaf upon leaf
and the touch on my cheek
of the chill was
and the warm
might have been.
Next week, I will temporarily lose the use of my left arm, for how long I do not know. And I will get the most rest—hopefully, the least guilt-ridden rest—that I or self-medication have allowed myself in a long time.
All it’ll take is a masked man cutting holes into my shoulder and shoving a periscope and teeny tools in there with which to reconnoiter and clean up any mess fifty years of silly behaviors may have set in motion, broken, or spilled. Oh, and if he finds the torn supraspinatus tendon in there he believes he might, he’ll trim up and sew its ragged edges together, too.
I enter this new situation with not much trepidation. My left shoulder has hurt and hindered my quality of life for so long, the hurt and hindrance have become almost my normal. In fact, they have been so much my normal for the past few years that some days when the shoulder doesn’t hurt much I feel like a fraud for scheduling any surgery. That’s me, Increase Mather Puritan ethic festooned with Sister Mary Irma Irish Catholic guilt and a dash of cowboy “It’s-just-a-scratch-ma’am.” Makes for a wholly American poet and author, don’t you think?
There are a handful of upsides to my mending. First, as I’ve said is the forced rest. Second, is the opportunity to finish my first collection of poems, Penumbra: The Space Between. Third, the historical fiction writer in me will now have an inkling of what it feels like to suffer one of those iconic shoulder wounds any of my future protagonists might have written for him, as well as any morphine/alcohol-induced fog of mind and body we might encounter. (You’re welcome, imaginary frontiersman/soldier/smartass dude.)
I write this to let you lovely readers and friends know where I am if any of you notice my heartfelt imaginings and glib insincerity missing from the Webs and ‘Nets you might set to capture such poetry and stories. I hope it won’t be too long. After all, “It’s just a scratch, ma’am.”