Writing On the Beat

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Beat icon Jack Kerouac composed a 30-point list of essentials for writers that he called his “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” It’s all-Kerouac.

My friend Sharyl Fuller asked me to select one or two (Only one or two?? Me? As if!) of these points and comment on how they relate to me and my personal writing. This could be difficult because I’m one of those “sit down and write” guys.

Once I settle into my writing desk cockpit for my flights of fancy, I know I have to write something whether I have a certain inspiration already in mind or not. This hurry-and-write mentality, if not facility, might come from my newspaper reporter beginnings, or maybe from my stolen minutes (and sometimes more) of creativity at my desk at work.

So, which point in Kerouac’s list applies to me? Well, most of them are couched in a very Hip-cum-Zen, cool yet spiritual language and vibe, but two stand out:

#5 Something that you feel will find its own form, and
#17 Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.

As a storyteller and poet, I might be what writers call a “pantser,” writing not from some predetermined start-to-finish or here-to-there. Particularly with poetry, I don’t sit down with a map before me, just a sense of where I am, accompanied by an image, some related and unrelated words, and faith that something tangible will come of this time I’m about to spend with myself and the ghostly Whoever that’s about to tell me Our story. Because they’re all “our story.”

The bricks and mortar of my work, my true and fanciful memories of a life lived in the real and imaginary worlds, music I can no longer hear but do, images I can no longer see, if I ever really saw them in the first place, will scramble up from the dark places, sparkle on the illuminated shelves within me, and report for duty.

It’s my job (the final letter of that word could as easily be a Y) to line up those courses of words representing the tangible and intangible, to construct birds and birdhouses, trees and trepidation, weapons to fight an enemy across No Man’s Land or even across a heart, emotions and images only you can see and understand.

If that process doesn’t snag onto old Jack’s #17, maybe it’s

#25: Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures of it.

And that’s what I do.

I like to say I write my poems and stories, hang them on a tree or door in the public square—digital and between book covers—and then I walk away. They’re not only mine anymore. I’ve given up sole ownership to them the moment you read them.

And maybe that spirit of figuratively losing my creations to the individual reader clicks with one more from that list by my Beat inspiration for this essay.

Kerouac’s #19: Accept loss forever.

Loss awaits me just one letter away on a white sheet of paper. Always has. Always will.

Thank goodness.

This essay was prompted by my friend Sharyl Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines post about Jack Kerouac’s “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” It was an interesting exercise in which I found out I do a lot of what Kerouac suggested. Now back On the Road to more fiction and poetry…I think.

Fixing the Fixer

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They say I was a fixer
who too often broke his share.
I left a trail of shattered
promises, mirrors, expectations,
dreams behind me. I’d ask
your forgiveness and permission
to attempt to repair them.
But they never go back
to their original condition.
And for that, you turn from me,
lash out at me, ignore me,
hate me, maybe even secretly
wish I could fix myself.
But this fixer’s lost so many
of his pieces over these years.
Left behind or misplaced memories,
bonds, friendships, loves,
feelings and sensations
none of which I could rebuild
as they once were. Maybe that’s
why my gimpy body now limps
in vain hope of bringing pieces
of us back together again. I know
it’s not my legs that are broken,
but this heart we shattered together.

The First to Fall

The First to Fall Joseph Hesch © 2016

The First to Fall
Joseph Hesch © 2016

I found the deceased
on my front lawn this morning.
Dropped by a seasonal drive-by,
the flashes and booms just
another night on the mean streets
of southern Saratoga County.
This killer swept by in a whoosh,
a swiftly moving hunter knocking off
the stationary target, instead of
the other way around. Which way’s
more sporting? Not that it matters.
Dead is dead is dead is dead.
That’s how it’ll be in coming months,
when the annual turf war grinds down
its green recruits, and decades-long
veterans of the air unpin
their golden decorations, with
oak leaf clusters.

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Yep, found this fallen airman on my lawn this morning, just like I found Halloween decorations and the first 2016 collector Christmas tree decorations at the Hallmark store last night. Meanwhile, the summer storms continue their west-to-east drive-bys and I’m daily melting like a Creamsicle fallen upon a sizzling sidewalk.

Taking Flight from Nogales

Feather I, A Study in Contrasts © Joseph A. Hesch 2016

Feather I, A Study in Contrasts
© Joseph A. Hesch 2016

“A What. It’s a Whats-it. Hell, I’m not a hundred-percent certain what nature of critter it is,” Wade Blanton said, as he wiped sweat from inside the band of his salt-ringed, sun-yellow sombrero.

My compadre Shug Coffey whistled and clucked as he knelt and stuck his finger within the diamonds of the chicken-wire enclosure behind Blanton’s cantina outside Nogales. No one was quite sure if this Nogales was in Arizona Territory or Estado de Sonora, Mexico, but it didn’t make a whole much of a difference back in those days.

Shug, still poking into the enclosure, captivated by Blanton’s prize, whispered, “I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it, even in pitchers.”

“Careful there, pardner,” Blanton said. “I’m not sure or not if it bites. And when I sto…I mean procured it from the late Padre Robledo, may he rest in peace, I was kinda in too much of a hurry to IN-quire.”

Shug jerked back his finger, letting his breath out in a low whistle again as he stared inside the fence at the swan-winged creature chained to the hard-packed Sonoran Dessert sand.

For Most of the time we stood and gaped at the wondrous thing, it’d had its head tucked beneath the natural shade of its white wings. For a second or two, though, it peered out at us and looked so serene and resigned to its situation, I about cried. I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I turned and gave Blanton the eye.

“So you say the good Padre died? Wonder how he’d come by such a treasure. I thought those Brown Robes took some sort of vows of mortification and poverty. Poor bastard couldn’t even touch his wick, let alone get it wet. Know that’d kill me. And he couldn’t own much but what he could throw on his back. What was he doin’ with this grand and valuable beast?” I said.

“He never did say. But I’m sure his Papist heart was grateful to the good Lord Jesus n’ me for my takin’ it off his hands and greasing his way to a swift and doubtless non-stop ride to his glorious eternal reward. Let’s just say I was an agent for good, rescuin’ him from any future of fleshy temptation and gold-janglin’ sin,” Blanton said.

He was sweating like four whores in church while he spoke and his eyes was looking everywhere but at me as he preached his message of aid for his brother man’s spiritual and physical salvation.

“Yeah, Gabe,” Shug turned and said to me. “I heard them old Francisos whip on themselves in their private moments and string barb-wire round their leg so’s to fight off the dark temptress of desire and depredation.”

“Ahem. Gentlemen, we white folk out here are gonna melt like church candles in this sun if y’all don’t shit or get off the pot on our deal,” Blanton said. His once roaming eyes now bore down on Shug. My compañero believed his future and that of his saloon-gambling hall-whore house hinged on bringing this amazing critter back to El Paso.

He walked to his horse, fished in the saddle bags and returned with a pair of leather sacks in his hands. He knelt down one more time and I thought for a second he was going to ask Blanton to open the critter’s mouth so’s he could check its teeth, for Shug was known as a shrewd judge of beasts. Just not beasts of the air.

One more time, the Whats-it poked out its head. Only this time it gave its wings a good shake, loosing one of its feathers, which landed outside the little wire corral. I picked it up and pocketed it, maybe for luck.

“Well, Coffey? I got other anxious buyers coming by tonight. I don’t feel like waiting. What do you say?” Blanton said. I couldn’t tell from his dry words coming from his dry mouth if he was bluffing or not.

Shug sighed, pushing in all his chips,you might say, and mumbled, “All right, all right, I’ll take it.”

“Splendid. I’ll have my men wrap him up for you once their siestas are over,” Blanton said, opening the sacks and silently counting his profit as he returned to the shade of his cantina. I reckoned his fast-money, world-be-damned business practices might grease his way somewhere, someday, too, like maybe the Territorial Prison in Yuma. That is, as I said, if we were in Arizona. If we were in Sonora, his bullyin’ gringo ways would slide him into the ground, I hope near the good Padre Robledo.

“You drive the devil’s own bargain, Blanton” Shug said, “and I pray all this trouble was worth it. Though I still say three thousand pesos seems an awful steep price…even for a angel.”

This is the short story based on my photo used this week for Annie’s Writing Outside the Lines Challenge prompt. I’m illustrating this story by using my original photo from which I made Sharyl Fuller’s close-up prompt version. This is a revised, broadened version (a second draft, which I almost never do) of an old Five-Sentence Fiction piece I wrote years ago. 

The Feather ~ A Study in Contrasts

Feather, A Study in Contrasts © Joseph A. Hesch 2016

Feather II, A Study in Contrasts
© Joseph A. Hesch  2016

The blacktop was running a fever I
felt through my shoes, infected by
tossed cigarette butts, wads of gum
and mouthfuls of disrespect hawked
into its face. I feel your pain,
I thought, adding my hundred-eighty pounds
of self-effacing injury to those insults.
It was then I spotted a feather of gray
and white left by another head-in-the-clouds
drifter in these hinterland parking lots.
Once it soared to dreamy heights over
ocean waters, the agent of ascension for
some living cross silhouetted against the sky.
Now it lies in this parking lot, lost to
the heavens, ground-bound in its new
home with castoffs and garbage bins,
flitting among SUVs and shopping carts.

Yet still it held a dignity, an inherent
natural symmetry, a razor-sharp edge,
yet with a gossamer touch mitigating
the unyielding black to its back and
gracing with a soft balance its undeserving
surrounding bleakness. I bent to touch
this ethereal gift and its caress cured me
of my fever, the one acquired from my
low flights through this world’s
crassness and decay. Now it’s my source
of soaring visions, a quill expressing
the ink from my pen and my soul.

A rather longish poem (for me), based upon the photograph by this writer, offered as a prompt by my friend Sharyl Fuller and her weekly Writing Outside the Lines Challenge. It’s true. I did find this feather on the ground as I exited the SUV at a Home Depot this weekend. It inspired me then, so I took three photos of it and posted them online. Inspired “Annie,” too. Next, a redrafting of an old story of mine for a prose piece inspired by a feather like this.

Sundays at the Table

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As day pulls back its rooftop bedclothes,
it awakens the maples out my window.
Their gray skins become silver
as knives and forks upon a spring green
damask tablecloth, as if set for Sunday dinner.
I’d trudge to such weekly repasts,
poked around overcooked roast and
wallpaper paste gravy, feasted only my eyes
on the sheen of the slices of briny corned beef,
passed along the bowl of gray flannel cabbage.
Each member of the little family group sat
in his or her prescribed chair around the table.
For decades, never would there be a change
in those arrangements, until eventually the family
dwindled, piece by sloppy piece, like
the dessert pie in its glass baking dish.
The sun’s up for it’s dewy breakfast now
and I have to take my current creaking trudge
to breakfast for two. Instead of eggs and
toast, though, this morning I think I want pie.

Losing Time

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Hand Holding a Scroll by Ruby McQuesten

Time is such a malleable thing, capable of stretching longer than the ten minutes prior to a young boy’s recess bell or shorter than the life pondered by the man three breaths from oblivion.And so it goes with the stretch of she and he, him and her, these two and that pair. Doesn’t matter who. It seems like yesterday we met, but you’d say not long enough since Goodbye. You can mold the passage of those years any way you wish. But I no longer can. Time’s once-springy nature’s grown crusty, dry, fragmenting like crumbs, sifting from my grasp. I wish I could make it stop before all I’ve left is some vacant Now. It’s erased yesterdays but still paints masterpieces of an instant from decades ago. Then they go black. Today, I took that ebon ink and walked it across the remaining scroll of my once-to-now, circling numbers, sketching memories. It isn’t stretchy, but it’s long. I can’t shrink it, but I can roll it tightly, keep it close. It’ll have to do until that final recess bell peals and you can count my breaths while I relive the life I’ve clutched in my fist.