From the Notebook

I just looked in an old notebook of mine. Written right after I got back into writing.  

In July 2007 I wrote:
“The process of writing well–hell writing at all–is hard enough w/o having to make stuff up. That’s why I feel fiction is almost all the way up near the top of that literature mountain. That’s the one I’m trying to climb that has poetry at its unreachable summit.”

Shows you what I know.

Driving the Lines

By Joseph Hesch

It’s probably a good way to be killed,

driving along the highway and
letting the stereo’s music fade the road,
its yellow, yellow, yellow lines,
into something else.
And then the words start to come,
prompted maybe by lyrics and carried
on a melody of tires strumming asphalt
as much as steel strings on a spruce-topped box.
Monologues, conversations,
arias and lamentations
distractingly pass between us,
the speeding world and me,
like the gashes of sky between the pine trees
that rip past the corners of my eyes.
I absent-mindedly compile lines of words,
strung like all those trucks and cars
in their own sentences
ahead and behind me,
blindly rushing somewhere.
It reminds me of how I recklessly
drive hopes that never happened
and memories that never will.
But that makes me smile,
because, yeah, this is a good way to be killed,
but one hell of better way to live.

Life, Or So I Hear

By Joseph Hesch

Since the doc unlocked my ears
from decades of solitary confinement,
I’ve emerged into a world
I forgot existed and
hadn’t fully lived in.
Just over the trees,
I discover the distant rolling
of the highway. It’s my roiling surf,
shushed now and then by the windblown
prickly pines guarding
this museum of natural history.
The 18-wheel waves crash on and on,
and quieting them must be like
pacifying the Atlantic.
Now I hear the crows,
black commas punctuating fields
and their cawing dialogue
with the songbirds’ trills.
A herd of boys hollering a game of soccer
edits those exchanges, deleting
the avian speech and replacing it with
ill-fitting, awkward profanity.
All I’ve missed because of my deafness
overwhelms me now, like I’m one
of those trapped miners
reborn into the harsh brightness of day.
I wonder if all this time I spent
in the muffling shadows
made me invisible to you and the world
because I couldn’t hear it and
couldn’t understand you.

Certain, We Believe the Uncertain

By Joseph Hesch

Feed a cold. Starve a fever.
Drown a depression. Smother a lover.
Wax a memory. Shave a lie.
Gild a lily. Strip a tease.
Seize a day. Let go your feelings.
Catch a cold.
Deja your vu.
We’ve seen it all before
and closed our eyes
to those truths. 
But, beneath our lids, 
we best judge always
the what’s what
and who’s who
with our hearts,
in darkness kept.
Certain, we believe the uncertain
smoke-limned sensation
and not the mirrored lights
of self in others’ lying eyes.


Inspired by Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”

I was sitting there
on the dark end,
away from the windows’
reflections on lives ill-spent,
bookended by open stools,
as well as the day before today
and the night after tomorrow.
Squinting into the icecube
at the bottom of my glass
I see familiar movement behind me,
or maybe it’s there in front of me,
all these faces I recognize.
Or maybe just one face multiplied
in the melting moment suspended in my
too-swiftly dwindling spirit.
Perhaps it’s another illusion,
a mirage in my desert of time.
I really don’t see anything out there
in those near or distant tomorrows
that will make me feel better
about my todays.
That’s probably because
I’ve emptied too many
of my yesterdays.

A Rising Sunset

Japan earthquake and tsunami 2011

Japan earthquake and tsunami 2011 (Photo credit: Kasper Nybo)

In a land named for a growing celestial light,
it was earth itself that heaved upon it
the sudden shaking darkness.
The wasted land awakened a frightened ocean
that ran crying to its mother,
pushing people further out of reach
of their rising sun, never to see its light again.
Always the darkness can become darker,
and though fear shortens arms,
we must never fear to embrace
even the dusk when we may.

I wrote this poem two years ago for my friend, poet Heather Grace Stewart’s Poets for Tsunami Relief one-week blogzine of poetry on her website Where the Butterflies Go. That’s so Heather.

Alone in the Dark

By Joseph Hesch

It’s pitch black where I sleep.
I’m okay with it that way, just me,
my breath and the dreams
we create with open eyes,
even though no one’s there
to say they’re not.

It’s lonely where I sleep.
I don’t really like it that way
but those near-sleep dreams
have comforted me for years
even though they can’t hold me
and I have trouble holding them.

Someday, I hope to find a place
to sleep where someone will
hold me and I can close my eyes
and dream the colors I can’t see here
where it’s pitch black and lonely and
closed eyes snuff what little light’s left in me.

Lip Service

By Joseph Hesch

Did I smile last night?
It was dark and warm and I was
with you,so there’s a good chance I did. 
But I can’t be sure.
See, my lips are numb from too many years
of frowning and using them for little but
mumbling glib insincerity.
Maybe if I could press them to your lips
you could teach them to shape a smile again. 
A beautiful smile like yours.
And, while they’re there, perhaps
you could help me learn how to use them
to make you smile, too.
So tell me, did I smile?
Because, even if I did, I’m pretty sure
we can make a better one.

Hearts and Glowers

By Joseph Hesch
“What the heck is this?”
I heard her shout behind me, shattering
the silent glow of my nascent creative self.
She caught me just as I closed
the right-ventricle point of the heart
I drew with a purple crayon
on the wall in the family room.
“But, Mommy,” four-year old me said,
“don’t you think it’s pretty?”
She didn’t see the need to make the beige wall
not such a bore
I guess because her life had become
beige, too.
After Mom marched me to my room,
I wiped my nose and 
was glad I never completed
this artistic tribute.
She’ll be sorry, I thought.
I never got the chance
to write inside my heart,
in red this time,
It’s an unfortunate truth, I’ve learned from both sides of the story, that overwrought and under-rested parents don’t have the time, patience, or insight to factor their child’s need to make their own mark on life, to begin the growing up by being independently creative. Honest, if this story was true, it was not a case of being a sinner or saint.

It was just me learning to be me.

False Spring

“False Spring”
By Joseph Hesch
The sun is hanging higher, longer
each day, and I am again craving
the warm light of love I feared
lost over the near-death of our winter.
Encouraged by the shining face she
showed me, I ventured into the field,
its winter-woven cover frayed to vapor,
the dry warp of autumn left behind.
Looking into her hazy brilliance,
I shivered in chill despair
and watched her once again run away
from arms that coveted her light and warmth.
Lowering my eyes, I dropped my gaze
to the ground and saw it land, freezing,
on the first thread of vernal weft–
its hope, as mine, stillborn by false spring.