Declaration of Twilight

By Joseph Hesch

Many have lived long
but chosen not to live much.
Others have lived such a short time,
but filled it to overflowing
with the richest marrow of existence.
Me? I have lived not so long
nor so short, but forgotten most
of what I’ve done in my frugal, yet
misspent time. Apparently, its treasure
went unsaved in the broken vault
of my memory.
Now, as the shadows of my days
grow longer, I crave the need to live,
to experience a fuller life
(whatever that means) in whatever
currency I can spend among the living.
Age has assured it won’t be
everything it once might have been,
but if I can, it will be all–
all I can be, all I can love,
and maybe all you can remember.


By Joseph Hesch 

When some old combat soldiers
tell me over beers how they got to be
what people called heroes,
they seem embarrassed,
saying they only did what their buddies
would do-–even the dead ones.
Then they put on sad faces, 

like pinning on their medals.

One whispered his sorrow that
the real heroes died and he didn’t.
Moving closer, he rasped that courage
might really be what the guys had who,
when the shit went down, 
turned in the wrong or right direction
(it didn’t matter, he said)
and were lucky enough to make it out.

For whatever reason, I thought of

the old soldier the other day–his claim
that what people who weren’t there
think is courage might just be so much wind.
Right there in front of me, 

a swirling, breeze-blown potato chip bag
chased two squirrels
up a tree.

Mistakes Were Made

By Joseph Hesch

I hear the lying hairdos in the suits
with tiny flags on their lapels say it
without a blink or twitch all the time:
“Mistakes were made.”
I tell you, brothers and sisters,
these grammar grifters are sinning
right in your face because that statement
is a lie, a dodge, a bit of verbal
legerdemain and subterfuge,
It’s also passive voice, darn it.
The mistake is an act,
or the result of an act.
It needs an actor (though actors are,
by definition, hoaxers, too,
come to think of it).
“Mistakes were made,” is
the “Check is in the mail,”
the “Dog ate my homework,”
the “Of course I love you, baby,”
of socio-political discourse.
And it’s a sin. A sin against
all that is good and all that is
direct and correct. Most of all,
though, it’s a sin against
the Holy Trinity:
God, Strunk and White.

The Flash

By Joseph Hesch
It always seems to start with a flash,
something soft and sudden that,
nevertheless, catches your attention
with a gentle pull at the corner of your eye.
If you’re lucky, the two of you
are drawn to one another like
shipwreck survivors on a night sea,
fearful, yet hopeful that the light each sees
can be a friend in all this lonely dark.
Once together, you’ll share each other’s
reflected light.  Maybe a flame springs forth
between you as each brings heat,
as well as illumination, to the other.
If you’re not careful, you could start a fire,
which is never a bad thing if you can
keep it under control, you know,
like in a hearth instead of in a dry forest.
Such blazes take constant attention,
and without care even the most roaring
can wane, maybe damping down
into glowing embers. Some even end up
gasping to expire as shallow black ash.
Then the only light you’ll share comes not
from the welcoming flash of youthful ardor,
nor the flame or warm glow of together.
In the empty darkness of two who are none,
it’s the cold angry spark of flint on steel.

I’ve posted this poem in response to a request by poet Brian Miller at the wonderful One Stop Poetry community site.  Brian and his wife are celebrating their 15th anniversary and it’s finally Spring and that’s when young (and old) men’s hearts turn to thoughts of Love. Brian asked us for a love poem or an un-love poem. I think I split the difference, with maybe (forgive me) a lesson in there, too.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Living life alone, even in a crowd,
a family, a love affair,
is not so different as the life
of a hermit. I can be as solitary
in those circumstances
as any Essene on the lam
in the mountains of the Holy Land.
But instead of hiding and meditating
in a shrub-shrouded cave,
I stare at you from behind this
amusement park persona, a charade
of light, noise and motion,
keeping your world entertained, at bay,
by abruptly changing direction
and emotional altitude.

Sometimes I send you away from the show
the worse for the climb, like a heretic-hunter
worn from the search for my spiritual fore-bear.
My head, this cave of seclusion,
is where I ineveitably pull back
when I can’t push away,
crouching in its darkest cutting crevices,
cold, relying on its dim light
for illumination enough to contemplate
why I would want or need
to stay hungry and naked like this.
Even more, I wonder why you keep trying
to pry me out of here when
you don’t really want me anyway.

Blues for Billy

Billy was a true Blues man,
the happiest  purveyor of the downtrodden
black man’s art I ever knew.
He riffed licks by the cotton-picking bagful,
bending strings to pitch-perfect extremes
and bending hearts as if caressed
like the body of that Strat
he hugged to his own.
Growling or shouting,
crooning or oozing a low moan,
his bloodshot angel eyes
glowed beatific no matter where he turned
personal hells into harmonic heavens.
The empties, brown and green,
stacked on the Marshall at his back
stood deep like the fans, white and black
who came for the show and left for the better.
They called him Wild Bill and
the wild truly lived in him,
poking and pulling his gentle soul
over the boundaries of too much and too late
into a darkness soon too awful and too awfully soon.
That night my little brother died,
we all floated down tear tracks
to that place I’m told the Blues was born,
a delta of sadness, memory and 12-bar deliverence.
I wrote this poem on the occasion of what would have been my brother Bill’s 56th birthday. He was a brilliant self-taught musician, regarded as one of the best Blues guitarists in our neck of the musical woods. The experts tell me he would be regarded as such outside of upstate New York and western New England, too. He died suddenly and our world is sadder and darker now. This one’s for you, Bill. Hope I hit some of the right notes. I’m not used to solos.

Together Alone

By Joseph Hesch

I remember the final scene
of the great western, The Searchers,
when John Wayne, as brave and vile
Ethan, is framed outside the doorway
of the Jorgensens’ home,
where what’s left of his family had
left him standing in the
dust-blown daylight.
He stands a solitary monolith
in the mid ground of a shot
of Monument Valley.
And then the door slams shut,
abruptly turning the screen black,
leaving us to wonder
about the future of a solitary man.
But what about the people left in the dark?
Don’t they each have their own
disappointments, failures
and fears yet to carry?
When the winds of time come to pull
the roof off their dark hiding space and
the sun shines down on each of them
and upon each of us, as well,
do you think we’ll realize
that we are like Ethan
and his family?
Alone together?
Together, yet alone?


By Joseph Hesch
The delusion left
as swiftly, as completely
as it came.
Of course, it faked its way past others, too.
But how can I expect to become something more
than I’ve always been? 
Filling your world’s space as just
another one of those guys,
the faceless names and nameless faces on the street
you don’t hear and don’t see
every day
as you’re so involved,
checking your reflection
in each pane of glass
you pass. 
There, you did it again.
You’re always looking at who you are,
or think you are. 
I’m looking for who I might be.
We’re both wrong.


When I tuck in for the night.

I can’t fall into sleep
without my ankles crossed,
feet clenched like field birds:
hidden tense, twitching
under a grass blanket;
ready to burst forth to
anywhere but here.
At the other end of
my twisted rope of spine,
there sits a mind
just as knotted,
just as tense and twitchy,
waiting for something to trigger
its flight into an unknown place:
a hoped-for dream.
That escape never comes.
It’s always the same snarled darkness
until the alarm kicks us loose–
flushes us from cover like
a spaniel raising a covey of quail–
into another day of blind flight,
toward another night of

Down at Dawn

By Joseph Hesch

I saw the green-capped marine
by the dusty roadside,
a disheveled pile of khaki
drab on the ground by his side.
He frantically shifted his gaze
down, up,
down, left,
down, right,
In-place he paced, amid
frenzied fight-or-flight indecision.
They never saw their attacker coming,
nor even where he went
in the dawn’s dark shadows.
He cannot (can he?)
leave behind the crumpled mass
that was his partner, his comrade.
I’d heard that mallards are like this,
but I, myself, never saw it before.