We All Fall Down

A gentle snow has fallen
since mid afternoon and
I have not watched the snowflakes,
not a one. Haven’t focused on one
and followed its path best I can
to join the millions that rest
on this patch of mine-ness.
They hold no attraction, no sparkle,
nor relevance today. And that’s not me.

But then, nothing gets me excited
these days. My mind is blank
as that new-fallen snow,
my spirit just as flat,
and I’m struggling so hard
just to get from sleep to wake
and then back to sleep,
in a lonely listless drift
with this hole in my hull.

I can’t seem to shake it because
I can’t quite understand it, and
I’ve no power to change it if I did,
save for a list of felonies
I’d need to commit. We should all
laugh at that line, but we never
can be sure if what we’re reading
is truth or the artful lie.
I lie pretty well, some say.

Maybe, if I get dressed and go outside,
I can lie again, this time on that
little patch of mine. I can look
straight up into the falling snow,
illuminated by the Christmas lights.
I’ll try watching my one flake drift
in its downward gyre, helpless,
to this frozen tongue, upon which
millions of words lie too,
in hope of an early spring.

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Roosting in the Dark and the Din

The pigeons swoop up,
gliding into the gray,
disappearing as if
swallowed whole
in the sunless underside
of right to left.
As I race beneath them,
their roosts rumble
like summer thunder
without end, with no
burst of lightning
save for the flash.

With that glance
I see birds burst forth
from beneath the dark
underside of that bridge
traversing The Avenue.
Beneath that expanse
of rock and metal rest
soft spots of straw and down,
where fluttering heartbeats
ignore the din of the semis
roaring through their nursery,
hauling sunlight on their backs
like starlings at noon.

Under the Frayed Edge of November

The sky grew darker, as if
someone was closing the box on today,
the clouds so gray and cold
you shiver just looking at them
from the window. But that’s how we live,
here on the cusp of December.
Winter’s not quite a month away,
says the calendar. But those of us
who have shaken off the chill,
as well as old November snows,
look at the sky and think the year’s
only as old as it feels.

Today it felt pretty old.

The howling wind blew the slate
cumulo-strato-numb-makers eastward.
And blue, that icy blue that leaves
a halo around the sun before
giving way to the blackness that
canonizes the moon, surrounded
the shreds of steel-wool clouds,
that inevitably cover the sky
like a ragged comforter that’s
put in the inky blanket chest
until next the box opens on a today
so warm.

Photo © 2014 Joseph Hesch

Beyond My Reach

My life’s temple is collapsing,
the figurative version of it
shattered by forces both
within and without,
the actual one sick and weak
and ready to fail.
Life was so much easier,
when I kept it boarded up
like an old house,
its clapboards stripped,
gray, cracked and whistling
as the cold winds blew through.
Back then, you would walk past
and not notice it except
for the birds occasionally
bursting from the attic.
And now the birds are gone,
scattered like leaves in the wake
of the semi truck that just
ran me over, blowing past,
pulling at my chest,
tearing my eyes, these windows
of my decrepit soul that
she opened when first I held her.
And now is beyond my reach.

Maybe I’ll cry tomorrow. But for now, I’m just empty.

Faces False and True

Iroquois False Face Mask

The lab smelled of dirt and plaster. It reminded Dr. Jacqueline Bird of the houses around the Akwesasne Reservation her father would help renovate on weekends to help pay for her education.

Jacquie smiled at the memory of her dad coming to the door covered in plaster dust save for his hands and eye sockets when she’d arrive with his lunch and a beer. Later, she’d spot the empties tossed in the haul-away dumpster. Their brown glass cast an amber glow onto the broken wall lath within, like browned ribs of the long-dead man arrayed before her on her work table.

“Daydreaming, Dr. Bird?” Jacquie’s boss Dr. Raoul Dumont said as he popped up behind her in the archeology/anthropology department lab in Syracuse. Her reverie disappeared like a puff of white dust from the protective plaster covering she blew off the remains of this soldier. She’d unearthed them herself from the dig site on the western shore of Lake George.

“Not exactly, Dr. Dumont. And I wish you wouldn’t jump up behind me like that while I’m cleaning and examining these remains. This man suffered enough without me further torturing his bones,” Jacquie said as she removed her safety glasses and appeared as the dusty echo of her father.

Dumont moved closer to Jacquie and reached out to move his finger down the page of her notes. As he did so, his hand once again brushed against Jacquie’s. His head floated just behind her right ear.

“So you believe this subject was scalped, Dr. Bird? You yourself have said that even postmortem head wounds can leave behind signs of hemorrhaging in the cranial etching. I do not see any signs of such hemorrhaging here. What proof do you have he experienced such torture? Couldn’t these just as easily be postmortem predation caused by scavenging…,” he paused and breathed “animals?” into Jacquie’s ear.

Jacquie recalled a conversation with her bachelor’s school friend Edie Blaine in the instant the hairs on her neck assumed an upright and locked positions.

Edie, a professor of anthropology at Dumont’s previous university, had warned her of Dumont’s reputation for harassing female students and colleagues alike.

“He gets away with so much because of his connections in the World Archeological Conference and the Society for American Archeology,” Edie told her. “Plus his uncle’s a ranking member of the Senate Education Committee. Connections and direct access to the money tree make him a tough little bastard to cut off for any university. Yours has more shine, so he jumped at the chance for more professional prestige and fresh sweater meat.”

“My report will prove my theory, Dr. Dumont. But let me show you how I believe my subject suffered at the hands of people may have been some of my ancestors,” Jacquie said.

Sliding from her stool, Jacquie looked Dumont in the eyes as she held a pointed probe in one hand and a scalpel in the other.

“I believe the man was a French Marine or Canadian like your forebears, sent down to stir up distrust among the Mohawk and English settlers on the southern end of the lake. I’ve seen wounds like this before and read documentation of their sources,” she said.

“And what, pray tell, was that, Dr. Bird?” Dumont said with an amused grin.

“In the documented case, the raiders kidnapped, raped or killed both white and native girls. My Mohawk ancestors captured one of them. As you know, theirs was a matriarchy of sorts and such crimes were often handled by the women of the clan. In this case,” Jacquie jabbed at Dumont’s crotch with her probe, “repeatedly piercing his pelvis with sewing needles, before removing his genitals. Very effective deterrent, don’t you think?”

Dumont recoiled from the probe poking at his crotch.

“Excuse me?” he said.

“They let him bleed out, hung from a rack like a deer. Before he expired, though, they removed the scalp from his exsanguinated skull, sewing it to his crotch, like a merkin. Hence, more pelvic scratches. Total demasculinization. Like to see the method they used?” Jacquie said, putting down her probe and reaching for Dumont’s toupee with scalpel still in hand.

“No! Thank you, Dr, Bird. I’ll leave you to your work,” Dumont said, looking like he’d seen a ghost. He scurried from the lab with his hands shoved deep in his pockets.

Jacquie returned to her work with a small smile. She saw the reflection of her dust-covered face on her blank computer screen and wiped the plaster from her cheeks.

“Have to call Daddy later to tell him how Granny’s stories of her grannies’ grannies’ grannies cut off another white dick today like they did in the old days,” Jacquie said to herself. Then she blew more dust off the bones of another man who didn’t recognize who he was dealing with.

Wanted to write up a quick flash piece for my friend Dan Mader’s weekly 2 Minutes. Go! flash fiction feature on his site, Unemployed Imagination. Wanted to keep it under 4,000 characters, but some first drafts just take on lives of their own. Not exactly sure where this came from, maybe a subconscious mashup of the current news and my penchant for frontier New York history. It’ll do in a pinch for a writer in the depressed doldrums.

Thankful for Never Writing ‘The End’

This morning, I opened my eyes
in the still-dark and, no surprise,
wondered if it was worth being grateful
since I usually awaken feeling so hateful.
That sounds defeated, and wickedly depressed,
but that’s how I felt this morning, nonetheless.

A mountain of woe I’ve built, like fortune by a miser,
yet to recognize this, not many would be the wiser.
They could be standing next to me, say,
this brooding Jungfrau of Jungian clay
with which I’ve sculpted a life of quiet desperation
that echoes in these sour nothings of dim desolation.

Which is why I switched on the light and arose from bed,
thankful that I could try to get out of my own head
and greet a day before it could rise.
I guess I needed to stare right it in its eyes,
and tell it how tired I was in living these lies
of commission, omission, and plain ugly disposition.

And so I thank my stars, lucky and ill,
that this morning I’m living this life of mine still.
I’m fortunate to have not once written The End
to a life I filled with choices, each my story did bend.
So today I thank you for the ear that you lend
ever open to my tales, my cries of joy or the wails,
your kindness punctuated not with “.” or “!”, but “Amen”-ed

A jump-out-of-bed, spur-of-the-moment thing that abruptly started rhyming. I thank whoever or whatever holds sway over presenting me with choices and abilities for you readers. We are few, but all the better to share this interesting form of intimacy that helps me defeat some of the desperation and desolation I spin around each day. Thanksgiving blessings to us all.

What Was Found Above the Lines Has Been Lost Between Them

Aerial photograph of a Bristol F2B fighter aircraft flying above the clouds.

Above the lines you can see the scars etched
into the beauty’s countenance, crisscrossing
ones old and new, some smeared with spoiled
face powder trying to cover the pocks
and failures of old men’s vanity.
But that’s only if you regard them with some
romantic aesthetic you lose all too quickly
as you are assailed by the scream of
the engine in your lap, its heat of no use
in the freezing air and wind in your face,
redolent of burnt petrol and cast-off castor oil.
You dare not wax so poetic that you stare
at billowing, sun-painted clouds as if
they were masterpieces like great Cathedrals,
or as the marble imaginings filling them,
wrought by some absent God’s immortal tools.
No, above the lines’ beauty and cleanliness
are mere primer for a blank canvas, one yet
to be spattered with the black and red blooms
of Archie shells, the yellow tracings of bullets
as they pierce your wings, fuselage, or someone’s son.
You chance a glimpse of the slanting or spiral
chiaroscuro of a funeral pyre in descent,
in a hurry to bury another boy in the box
within in which he tried to stay above all the mud
And blood below, only to be lost between the lines.

Inspired by a picture and conversation shared with my friend, the novelist Julia Robb. These days, I feel so much like one of those young men of the Lafayette Escadrille or the Royal Flying Corps in late 1916/early 1917. I see little beauty in what I’m doing here anymore and feel my time at this is growing as short as my next climb into the cockpit of this desk.