Be’Mused

By Joseph Hesch

I sat twirling the pencil in my fingers.
I had carefully sharpened it four times now. 
The faint green notebook page on the desk
could have been a paint swatch
for redecorating someone else’s bathroom
for all the good it did me just sitting there.
Occasionally, I would rub my eyes,
hoping for a red-tinged glint of a vision. 
Or I would scuff my feet
on the carpet under the desk,
briskly comb my fingers
through my hair, and reach out
to touch the lamp,
perhaps expecting some static-charged
electrical spark inside my head
would nudge the pencil across the page
in something resembling chains
of subjects and predicates. Iambs or trochees.
Nothing.
And then, I think for no reason,
since I wasn’t anywhere near that memory,
I thought of you. 
That’s when something bubbled up
from beneath the rock of my heart,
through my hand, onto that page,
and I was happy, for a blessed little while. 
Are you Beatrice or Old Will’s
“muse of fire, that would ascend
the brightest heaven of invention?” 
No, you are the other,
the one that launched
my thousand thousand dreams.

Still Standing

The smell of raw wood

struggles to fight its way over

the oily exhaust of the chain saws.

It is a contest these resinous exhalations

lose as surely as the maple and pine

eventually bow to the keening teeth of steel.

For years I was hushed

by the gnawing growl of the city,

my heartwood ripped by neck-tied woodsmen

wielding telephones, email and arrogant lies.

When I eventually fall

to their maleficent ministrations,

I won’t scream and crash

with the powerful gasp of the plummeting timber.

I will no doubt go down with

the push of an OFF button,

a click of a pen,

and post-straightline silence.

Until then, unlike the wind-strummed forest,

I won’t stand and whisper.

I will scream and crash and

thrash about on pages cut

from those who fell before me.

Les Danseuses

By Joseph Hesch

The dancers I’ve known
hardly ever showed much joy,
except while they moved to the music.
It seemed to soften the diamond hardness
of their bodies and faces,
like they were appearing on Degas’ stage,
all shadows and smeared pastel smiles.
But, when the music stopped,
and you saw them on the street
away from their cosmetic camouflage,
their armor of knits and tulle,
and their funneled electric suns,
you understood who they really were—
heroically tiny, ambivalently starving,
radiantly tired, and gloriously pained girls,
in conflicted relationships
with their art.


I wrote this, one of my favorite poems, in response to a picture prompt from With Painted Words Magazine. The painting used as the prompt is the one above, by Maggie Barra, a fantasy artist and illustrator from Lake Oswego, Oregon. When I saw it in its tiny size, I didn’t see forest faeries. It reminded me more of the dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet and the Twyla Tharp troupe I met when I worked at Skidmore College. I let my memory and my imagination take it from there. I submitted the poem and it ran in the magazine’s December, 2009 issue.

Dreamer

March 15, 2011

He checks the mail every day,
hoping to find that message,
something unsolicited, not in
reply to his soft, first serve of
inviting words. He so hates
that image of himself, begging
behind a mask of rhetoric.

When it never comes,
he crafts another alms cup from
zeroes and ones to send
to those he wished would care.
Those, or just one, he hopes
would feel as he does, braving
a different kind of spidery
consummation from across the web.

He’s hoping on a dream he knows
will never come near true.
But dreams have kept him company
forever, it seems,
in that darkness before sleep,
when he sees a face, and feels a touch,
and breathes a taste of imagined joy.

Even with the immediacy of light, modern communication still boils down to two people expressing themselves to one another. Yes, it still takes two, no matter how hard a compulsive and obsessive “one” wishes and frets. Just as in the wax-sealed words on paper days, sometimes the message is in what you don’t see or hear.