Saturday & Sunday, October 25-26, you can download the Kindle version of my debut poetry collection, Penumbra: The Space Between, free from Amazon.com
Why don’t you grab a copy and give it a look over the weekend. If you’re moved by what you read, I’d appreciate it if you can leave a review or rating on its Amazon page.
Theirs was band made of
a slide guitar and a violin,
a duo whose members each played
with one ear tuned inwardly,
the other absently to their partner.
They’d jam beneath the broadleaf oak,
whose canopy protected them
from the cold and cleansing rain
that often followed them there.
Their compositions were made
of dreamy minor chords,
swooping sad harmonies,
the call and response of
each one’s own weepy blues and
dissonant solos in F and B.
Such duos never last, though.
Once each their storms stopped,
its rainstill fell from the ancient leaves,
echoes no one wished to hear.
Strings drenched in the shadowy
drops of Me never sing so well
as under the sunny skies of Us.
Didn’t matter to them. They always
played with their eyes closed
Rainy day need-to-write desperation washed this weird allegory out of me today.
A newspaperman, that’s what I almost always wanted to be.
But the closest I got to that dream as a 10-year-old was writing stories for my own little family newspaper, using one of those old twist-the-dial-to-the-correct-letter-and-push 1960s toy typewriters.
Precocious little devil that I was, I also wrote stories for my grammar school newspaper, but the nuns’ semi-sincere, though remarkably soft-handed, pats on the head wore thin pretty quickly. Stories about field trips and altar boy assignments weren’t interesting enough for me, even when I applied my own slant to them. Righteous religious redaction always put its raven-stockinged (so hot!), high-topped, black-shod foot down. The United States Constitution and Bill of Rights did not exist in St. Patrick’s School.
When my Scout Troop visited the local newspaper building and all the other kids were gassed about getting the cool hats that the printers folded from newsprint, I was more interested in what most of the other kids thought was the boring part of the tour – the city room.
The other kids oohed over the rumble and whirr as rolls of clean off-white paper entered the big presses at one end and came out covered in strips of gray and pictures and ads for milk and Nash Ramblers at the other end. Upstairs, I aahed at the opera of telephones, typewriters and the cursing men, who glowed like angels under the harsh fluorescent lights in dingy white shirts and narrow dark ties.
Besides the sights and sounds, I was intoxicated by the smell of the city room. Half gin mill, half opium den, the reporters and editors huddled in or scurrying to or from their places beneath a yellow-gray cloud of cigarette and cigar smoke that horizontally bisected the high-ceilinged room at about the seven-foot mark. I remember smelling Old Spice-tinged sweat and corned beef on rye with mustard and … what was that? … oh, and rubber cement.
Though I knew I would never smoke, and I hated wearing my green little clip-on St. Patrick’s uniform tie, and I really hated it when I heard my old man use the cuss words these journalists spewed with what seemed like every other exhalation, I knew that somehow, some way, my future had to be part of what I saw that day.
The local papers were not going to hire 11-year-old cub reporters whose clip file contained stories about nine-year-old cross-dressers, uh, superhero trainees, and that Dennis had scored the 9 o’clock Mass again, which included free donuts, hot cocoa and a too-long-held hand on the knee from Father X in the rectory.
Nevertheless, I wanted to stay close to the newspaper business while I prepared myself for the city room. So, I took a job delivering the afternoon Knickerbocker News. And it was quite a job.
I’ve told many of you about my days dodging robbers and cursing the cops who drove the lovely ladies in the yellow house with the red door from my delivery route and inquisitive libido. By the time I got to high school, I was writing funny bits and essays in class, some that got into the hands of the black-robed enforcers who, instead of going all Francis of Assisi with their cinctures on their own backs, decided to vent their sexual frustration on the author.
My Freshman English teacher directed me to the office of The Blue Banner, our high school newspaper. I became a sort of writer/editor-at-large by the time I was a senior. Sister Mary Carmel threw me out of class twice for bringing “banned” books into her realm – Phillip Roth and Hemingway.
Oh well, on to College. I hit Brockport State like a multi-megaton testosterone bomb. Yep, by the time my westward-rolling wheels passed Sacandaga Lake, which I considered International Waters, I was no longer under the scrutiny of the publishers of the Hesch Family Times. First choice: Phys Ed /English teacher or Journalist?
Once again, I set my course for the newsroom, though I took a circuitous route there through bars, bedrooms, athletic fields, locker rooms, hashish flops, Canadian Border Patrol and Mounted Police holding cells, and a couple of visits to the hospital (once because an article I wrote pissed off the entire Brockport Rugby Club, the tools!).
Both the college and I felt I would be better served – or perhaps not served so much – if I were to take my business elsewhere until I grew up a little. So, home I went. Two years of community college later, I climbed over the Adirondacks and landed in scenic but chilly Plattsburgh, New York, where there are but two seasons, winter and the Fourth of July. Nevertheless, I began writing again, with an eye on some sort of newspaper career.
My Expository Writing professor got me an interview with the man who ran the college News Bureau and I got a job writing news releases for Plattsburgh State. It was supposed to be a work-study job, but they had no more money. Hell, I just wanted to write news and develop my chops. I learned a lot in that office, like the basics of news story structure and what editors were looking for. Like not ending your sentences with prepositions.
Upon graduation, I pelted the Albany news market with résumés and clips of my releases from when they ran in the Plattsburgh newspaper. I dropped the same stuff off at the Plattsburgh paper, too. In August, I got a call from Al Gillon, the managing editor of the Plattsburgh Press-Republican. He had received my materials and wondered if I would be interested in coming up to interview for an open reporter’s position. Let’s see, sell Casio calculators and typewriters for the rest of my miserable life, or attempt to kick-start this demented dream into a small but solid reality.
I drove to Plattsburgh the following week, sporting my au courant polyester sport coat and breastplate-wide tie. Even though I sat in my chair like a six-footer — my butt was so tight, I gained two and a half inches — I felt like that Cub Scout in the Albany newsroom from ten years earlier. I interviewed with Mr. Gillon, the editor and city editor, as well as the publisher.
I think I passed their test when they asked me if I was into “advocacy journalism.” With my track record of being shallower – as Grandpa used to say – “than piss in a platter,” I could barely advocate for myself, let alone some grand ideal or organization. The newspaper’s hierarchy wanted their reporters to be less than vanilla. They wanted boiled potato. Inwardly, I resolved to bring my own salt and pepper.
A week later, I belonged to the P-R. I found an apartment in one day, motored back to Albany, threw my stuff in the Pontiac, said goodbye to my Mom, Dad and the sibs and I was OFF!
Two weeks of writing obits, tomorrow’s weather, editing news releases for P-R style and almost getting killed at a construction site accident they had no one else available to cover, I was handed my first paycheck. I ripped open the envelope and looked down at the check. I didn’t even notice that it said $225 for two weeks of work. I saw only two things: The newspaper’s name at the top, The Press-Republican, and the name of the payee, Joseph A. Hesch. You know, the newspaperman.
My poet friend Mary asked the folks at dVerse to write a poem about the news. I didn’t think I could participate, so I didn’t write one. But then American journalism giant Ben Bradlee died yesterday, and memories of my birth in the news business came rushing back to me. This is a long-winded (and obviously unedited) story about this short reporter’s breaking in the papers.
Mom and Dad gave Billy that dime store guitar
when he was little. He took it from there.
I left home, and when I orbited back,
he’d transformed himself into a big ball of
Toy Caldwell, Richard Betts and Jerry Garcia.
The kid with the plastic-stringed plywood box
now strode onto stages a guitar god.
But when he gave in to his blues…oh my.
Under the lights, with that Strat in his hands,
he finally was who he was meant to be…himself.
He could raise us up, then make us cry,
all with a two-step bend of a G.
Then he’d release it, like he did one night
with his spirit, to sit in with Toy and Jerry.
He’ll never have to give up his seat.
Stevie Ray says he’s got his back.
He’s Wild Bill and they all know
he just belongs.
My friend Anthony Desmond has asked folks to write a poem about music. My relationship with music is deep as the Marianas Trench, but it’s center of gravity always is my late brother Bill.
“Joel, you’ve got to hurry up here and see this,” Andi Simkins called one Late Sunday afternoon from the patio window to her husband down in what Joel called his Subterranean Lair.
“I’ll be up as soon as I finish this part of the Times crossword, hon,” Joel replied from his leather lounger, as the Giants versus the Eagles provided a background soundtrack from his 50-inch flatscreen.
“Lemme see…54 Across…seven-letter word for skyline,” Joel mumbled to himself, with an Eagle’s player’s interception of a late-day sun-blinded Giant receiver’s potential catch sending the Philly crowd into a mega-decibel frenzy in the background.
Andi called one more time, “Joel, please, you’ll miss this if you wait much longer….”
And when he didn’t answer, Andi sighed once again, stood by the patio doors, and recalled all those afternoons Joel would tangle his fingers in her auburn hair and she would beam at him with her gold-flecked blue eyes, as they’d watched the sun sink, a searing communion of light and heat, beyond that southwestern horizon.
A five-sentence fiction based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word HORIZON.
Speeding north on I-87 any
early autumn afternoon,
you could feel the thip thip thip
of the tar strips tickling
your tires and toes,
if you really paid attention.
But you were more concerned
with what you left behind in that mirror
and with that tossing of red light
rosary beads surrounding you.
The trees to your left and right flash
like a natural zoetrope, animating
an unnoticed world as you pass.
You don’t see the geese lighting
with a sun splash on the Mohawk.
You could never imagine the little girl
sitting alone in that shabby house
you just passed hoping her mom
gets home from work by 10:30.
If you looked to your right,
you might have seen those puppies
that escaped their yard, bumbling
and yipping through the brush
heading for the same roadside that
browsing deer on the opposite side
consider crossing to after sundown.
You just missed it because you wondered
if pizza or chicken waited home for you.
Shared with my friends at dVerse Poets Pub.
“For God’s sake, Robert, it’s been ten days since the raid and the men been without any provisions since two days a’fore that, other than the bit of dried corn they carried off from St. Francis before we set it to the torch,” George Campbell said, chewing a piece of fringe from his deerskin leggings.
“Aye, I’m hungry too, Lieutenant, but game is beyond scarce in these parts, we’re carrying prisoners and, with the Frenchies on our trail, I trust our scattered men are maintaining the pace however they can to meet us and the Regulars down at Fort Number 4,” said the rangers’ commander, Major Robert Rogers.
Since the pre-dawn those ten days before, when Rogers and his men had attacked the Abenaki mission village near the south shore of the St. Lawrence River in the French province of Canada , killing more than thirty of its residents, native, French provincial and military forces were hunting the White Mountains for the British colonials.
“Bring me that fat old woman that’s been nattering and wailing for the past five days,” Rogers called across the fire to the men guarding Abenaki prisoners, as he stood and placed his hands on his hips, just above the beaded Mohawk belt in which he kept his tomahawk and fine knife that came all the way from Sheffield in England.
Campbell looked into the eyes of the man the Abenaki called Wabo Madahondo — White Devil — saw that cold glint again, like a spark from a piece of flint, then spit out the gelatinous bit of hide he chewed, and shrugged as desperartion and disgust overwhelmed what back in Albany had once been his conscience.
Tonight is the 255th anniversary of the revenge attack by the group of American colonial fighters we know today as Rogers’ Rangers on the Abenaki village of St. Francis in what is now the Canadian province of Quebec. War on the frontier of what is now the states of New York and Vermont was as bloody and merciless as if it was fought by wolves. And, in truth, the native and provincial warriors protecting their families from one another were the attack dogs Kings George and Louis used to protect their fur trade lands. This story, based on legend, fact and that cloudy “more than likely so” in between is my poor effort to demonstrate one man’s hero is another’s savage villain. It was inspired by Lillie McFerrin’s Five Sentence Fiction prompt HUNGER and my hunger to know the history of where I live.
Some of you may be wondering where the heck I’ve been for the past few months, particularly during September. Well, lots of things kept me away from you as a friend and a writer during that time. One of them was this:
It is with excitement and a smidgen of nerves that I announce publication of my first collection of poetry, Penumbra: The Space Between. The Kindle version of my debut effort is available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.
You can find it on Amazon here:
I have so many of you to thank for encouraging me with my writing, and for poking me like a rented mule to put this out. I wouldn’t be the me you see here without you. And you know what? I’ve got a few more surprises up my sleeve for the next few months.
Maybe it’s the sun’s sharper angle
as it heaves from horizon to horizon
over the shorter hills of October.
Maybe it’s the perfume a year
in middle age wears, earthy, musty,
so full of memory.
Maybe it’s the looking back I do
when I see that western horizon
in its long dark coat, waving me
toward what seems like
an end to this Never-was.
Maybe I don’t blanch as the sky
grows wider, replacing fallen leaves’
with its orange and yellow hue
because behind me lay days
of fool’s gold and this moment
of my life’s autumn shines diamond-bright
in its crystalline air of possibility.
A much-needed free written poem based on my inspirational friend Kellie Elmore’s prompt photo up there.
It always seems foggy
here on the road
we ride to morning.
Today, even Wednesday,
the equinox of the week,
can open only one eye,
letting the other lid fall
as she tries to crawl
back under the covers
Meanwhile, we hear
October tapping her foot
with each fallen leaf.
Impatiently, she waits
to crest that autumn horizon,
even though she knows
it’s all downhill
Photo and poem by Joseph Hesch © 2014