A Face Out of Focus

Out of Focus Green Backgrounds-9, by Victorgrigas, via Wikimedia

It’s funny how often when I sit down
to chronicle my mind’s journey,
the one that took a handful of decades
to make yet can be read cover to cover
in the instant I step off on my imaginary
left foot, only a handful of images
spring to view. I can only hold that
five fingers’ worth of life within this cloudy
scene of greensward and foggier memory.

More often than not, there’s this face
I once knew hiding just off the margins,
or in that park’s oak tree shadows
of ever more feeble remembrance.
I’d describe it to you, but its edges
have become fuzzy with the years
and its colors indistinct, like that face
in the mirror when I’d shave with lights off
and dawn not yet over the window sill.

The other day, I placed my imaginary thumb
over that blur of memory, and the remaining
images lost the sharpness of their being,
smudged as if rain, or even tears, fell upon
a fresh watercolor. I pulled back,
and everything became sharp again.
Strange that when we try losing sight
of one piece of our story, so much
of the rest of it loses its focus, too.

Sorry for the run of longer poems lately. After completing a book’s worth (actually two) of 100-word poems for One Hundred Beats a Minute, I guess my muse needed to stretch her legs. I’ll tighten things up again soon, I hope. Or maybe a poem’s length is like Abraham Lincoln how described his legs when asked how long they were: “Long enough to reach the ground.” 

Seeing the Sad Songs


Sunset over the Red Rocks area of Arizona, by Harvey Stearns

We really listen to the sad songs.
The happy tunes blur in a whirr
of beats and snappy melodies
past our ears. But the lonely,
wistful ones capture us with words,
aurally beheld concepts
that could actually appear as
something tangible, touchable,
or maybe once that way,
within our minds and hearts.
The non-touchable hearts, that is.

I wish I could write sad songs,
framing my words like little houses
on 3/4 waltz time, punctuating the lines
with rhyme, putting up walls called verses,
painting them a memorable color
in the chorus. Not black or gray, though.
My sad songs would glow in
noon-bright yellows, Big Sky blues
and maybe earthy adobe reds.

They wouldn’t be country songs, though.
Just sad and maybe hopeful words
carried by the winds of music,
songs you saw with your heart,
enjoyed in their gentle passing,
and stayed with you even after
that purple and gold fadeout,
like a sunset cover of Arizona Highways.

Living the Dream

It’s 7:00 AM and I’ve been awake since 4:55. If the birds were up then, I never heard them through the black that oozed beneath the gray window blinds. Sleep and I are having issues again. She turned her back to me the past couple of weeks and finally booted me from the sack this morning. If you can call the lingering darkness of five to five morning.

I pull the cord down to open the blinds and see the flocked canvas of grass out back. Or what passes for grass among the yellowed weeds, spiny moss and tawny pine needles, composed in the half-glow of dawn’s pastel palette. A squirrel flies his autumn-fluffed tail in a chain of low-gravity leaps, scouring the scene for acorns the oak has dropped in exchange for holding onto its baseball mitt leaves for another month.

And I realize the scene framed by my bedroom window will be soon enough wiped away, baptized by the too-soon-for-comfort whitewash of winter, smooth and cool as those sheets must be by now.

I close the blinds for one more try, offering sleep this squirrel-gray bouquet of words in the twilight dark of early morning, my flag of surrender and supplication for just one hour in her embrace, perhaps to dream of floating through pastel pastorals, amid falling leaves, the wind whipping from north to west, gentle on my cheek. Gentle.

Two minutes later, I’m out back, living the dream.

One More Time

A Lag BaOmer bonfire, by Yoninah, via Wikipedia

The bounce from bed to floor
and from there to the door
doesn’t happen much anymore.
I tend to linger beneath the covers
to gather myself from the ashes.
I feel the weight of days upon me,
my yesterdays and their nights before
and their dawns and sunsets before them.
I sense them clinging to me,
like smoke from a wood fire,
pinching my eyes closed,
binding itself to my skin with a burn
like an embarrassment,
rasping in my throat in
an old man’s morning cough.

I suppose I could accept the asphyxia
offered by this crush of years,
these smoky memories, just lying still,
waiting for the inevitable next darkness.
But I just can’t. I still
agelessly throw off those bed-clothes,
flap away that smoke,
lay another piece of the tree of me
upon the pyre I’ll set off tonight
when darkness comes. That’s how
I light the way to tomorrow,
anyway, when I slowly climb from bed
and I clear away the smoke
and take a deep breath of today
one more time.

Another Day ~ A Work In Progress


I used to post these non-poetry WIPs on the Stories Page of the blog, but I’ve decided to share parts of them here now. Stories like Another Day, which I’ll send out to the world someday, I guess. I’d appreciate hearing what you think of these samples.

I checked my teeth and tie in the bathroom mirror, something I always do before a speaking gig.  Just making sure nothing stained or hung on them.

Taking a step backward from the row of white sinks in this hotel conference area men’s room, I scoped the front of my pants. I wanted to be sure there was no stain or something hanging out of there after using the john.  After all, I am a professional.

Giving my zipper one last security tug, I stare intently, confidently, at the guy on the other side of the glass — the guy who the crowd in the ballroom across the hall came to hear. I give a wink big enough for the back row to see and say, “It’s Showtime, baby.”

Reflected in the mirror, I see the fellow walking out of the stall directly behind me stop dead, blink, and return to the comforting warmth and safety of the chamber he just left.  I turned just in time to hear him slide of the lock and see him lift his feet from view of anyone outside the stall door.

“Whoooo,” I yell.  That howl psyched me up every time, whether I turned it loose before one of these speaking engagements or sprinting out of the stadium tunnel when I played for the Gamecocks at the University of South Carolina.

I push open the men’s room door and step out into the maroon-carpeted second floor hallway of the St. John’s Inn here in Myrtle Beach.  I can hear my audience-to-be’s hum of conversation and clinking of tableware behind the large double door across the hall.

Hmmm, that’s an awful lot of noise for 50 people.  But they always were a talkative bunch.

This afternoon, I once again would be addressing the Low Country chapter of Goose & Gander: The Society for the Preservation of First Wives and First Husbands.  Actually four out of every five of the attendees will be first wives, a sad, Book of Lamentations-quoting, and often bitter lot of church ladies from up and down the Grand Strand. But when they got a few cocktails in them, they more often than not turned into a prowling, pawing mob of howler monkeys in heat.

“Larry, how are yoooooo-eww?” I’d heard that greeting sing-sung to me by maybe ten different women in the bar the last two times I addressed this group.  One of them, Audrey Whiteapple from nearby Florence found how I was — better than her ex, Claude.  Or so she claimed as she wept to me in the uncomfortably long, but fair’s-fair post-coital quid pro quo cuddle.

Claude told her she was less than he had expected after eight years of marriage.

“That’s eight years of mopping up his muddy floors after him coming in drunk from hunting – he said–and eight years of scouring the skid marks out of his saggy-ass boxers and ten years of doing every vile, terrible thing he asked me to do, too, Larry,” Audrey said.  Yeah, vile, terrible things like what she next suggested we do.  The following morning, those vile, terrible things required me to steal a set of sheets from a housekeeping cart and surreptitiously swap them for the percale Jackson Pollack she left behind.

I limped and my lips were numb for a week after that.

I wonder if Audrey’s here this afternoon.

I’m not in this business for any real money.  That was what the NFL was supposed to be for.  So I guess I don’t feel too badly about the perks of the speechifying business.  Being Larry Jenkins–one-time Second Team All-Southeast Conference quarterback–and ONLY being Larry Jenkins, has left me with few career options.  Especially after I wrecked my throwing shoulder my first training camp with the Browns.  But I knew the truth.  Five-foot-eleven free agent quarterbacks who can’t throw the deep out pattern, even before they blow out their labrums, aren’t going to make it in the NFL.  Even in Cleveland.  The injury gave me cover back here in the Carolinas.

I wasn’t too good at math—I had tutors and a couple of exam-taking stand-ins back in college—but even I could add two and two and come up with an answer to my post-athletic career.  I decided to trade on my erstwhile fame and program-cover looks for a living.

I learned to use words like “erstwhile” from the Dale Carnegie course my agent made me take while I was rehabbing my shoulder.  He knew a loser when he saw one, too.

So here I am, twelve years after throwing my last ruptured duck incompletion in a meaningless scrimmage in someplace called Berea, Ohio.  I have become a Toyota/Kia sales associate for my Uncle Lamar and a mid-rung, well lower mid-rung, motivational speaker for myself.

So if I can catch a little affection from some woman who used to hang my face inside her locker and inside her teenaged dreams, well, maybe we both are getting what we need out of life.  At least for that moment….

My Second Poetry Collection, “One Hundred Beats A Minute,” available on Amazon


Some of you may be wondering (or not) where the heck I’ve been for the past few months. Well, once again, lots (and lots) of Hesch-type life kept me away from you as a friend and a writer during that time. What I hope is the best of those things separating us was my working away on a new collection

So it’s with some excitement and a considerable jangle of nerves that I announce the publication of my second collection of poetry, One Hundred Beats A Minute: Sixty 100-Word Poems.

You can find it in paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon here:

In my first collection, Penumbra: The Space Between, I expressed my impressions on life and nature from the view of a man emerging from years of darkness into a brighter personal and artistic existence, standing astride middle age. Neither young nor old, still peering at things from the edge of shadow and light, the penumbra.

In this collection, I hope to convey impressions and imaginings of life, love, art, nature and what I see outside or inside the swirly-glassed windows of my soul. All sixty poems, the number of seconds in a minute, bound within the frame of one hundred words.

No wiggle room, exactly one hundred, or my obsessive mind gets all edgy. When I succeed, where obsession met compulsion and life met art, I squirmed in my seat, my knees and heels tended to flutter up and down from the floor and my heart beat like I’d just run a sprint of a hundred meters.

I hope the poems in One Hundred Beats A Minute give your heart and mind a rush here and there, too. Maybe even one that taps against your life’s window at, oh, say a hundred beats per minute.

Running Between the Leaves


It is that moment of the year
I see and feel the maples
beginning to scab over,
their leaves crisping
dark red as dried blood.
Now’s the time all of me
would always come most alive,
despite my testosterone
running free as coursing
tree sap each the spring.
But that was a blind running,
where this autumn harvest
of another year’s life tastes
of steel and blood. It’s in this
head-up trot and gallop,
I dodge those leaves,
momentarily suspended in air,
as they breathe their last,
musky exhalation before the
return to earth and become
whip-crackling slaves to the wind.
They run faster than I can now,
when autumn gasps and pants
in this race to winter, and I walk
my gray-haired petty pace
from day to day until this
glorious moment of remembered
life cannot light this
too brief candle anymore.