By Joseph Hesch

He sees others’ smiles and wonders
what it is they feel, what is the power
that makes their faces bend up so.
He puts himself in
those peoples’ places
but the mirror shows his face is
still hanging lank from
the knots on his brows.
Serious men gave him pills,
and would listen while he talked.
Then he’d nod while they hummed
their impressions of
the cant of a sad loon.
All the while, he listened to other calls
as he lay at the dark bottom
of the guilt-gilded hole in his world.
“Why can’t you be happy?” rang
the painful echoes of all
his life’s disappointed voices.
He would’ve told them he had tried,
but they’d never understand.
Maybe understanding was
his real problem after all:
Maybe what would
make him happy was
simply understanding
what their “happy” is.

Down on the Farm

Outside my office, within which
I breed competent lies, appears
a gloriously green wall of flora.
Oaks and maples spread natural curtains
over the unnatural expanse between
my lofty nest and the red-brick
buildings across the way.
The too-short between-seasons
reveal the scars of urban inattention
to what goes on behind old buildings’ backs:
the debris scatter of soggy cardboard boxes,
the emerald-glint broken bottles of cheap wine,
and bushels of cigarette butts.
Also, if you look really hard, really long,
you’ll see bony carcasses of
the now-meatless dreams
of the human livestock who stayed on
these farms far too long.

Back inside, I sense the hums of ceiling fans,
of phony fluorescent suns above me
and the coaxial-rooted box at my feet.
But I want to stand beneath the actual sun
and travel through naturally moving air.
I want to hear the ring of real fountains,
the salty avalanche of crashing surf,
the chiming of God’s waterfalls.
I want to touch and be touched by people
who have more to think, talk and dream about
than their wasted pasts and pipedream futures.
I don’t want to have to address my life
in agri-metaphors anymore because to see
its reality is too depressing, too devoid of joy.
Someday I’m going to leave this behind.
See, I’m tired of this lying altogether.

A couple of weeks ago, when my One Stop Poetry friend Claudia Schönfeld interviewed me, she noted that some of my poetry reveals what she called “frustration” with my day job. I won’t say it’s frustration, but I have gotten tired and introspective as I creep closer to another landmark in my working life. So I thought I’d get something ready to carve on such a landmark. Sorry for its length. That’s not like me. But the emotion and impressions are. Maybe you can relate.

Suburban Nocturne

Forest Window

Forest Window (Photo credit: Jamie Mellor)

Out here, the robins wake me,
going off pre-dawn,
like feathered versions of
the trash collector-bumped car alarms
In the city never could.
Last night, I had to shut
my bedroom window and my drowsy mind
to the screams
of some unknown animal in the jaws
of a nocturnal predator
or maybe in the paws
of furry rapture.
Either way, its plaintive cries set
my teeth on edge and my thoughts
to R-rated dismemberment.
Will I ever become so inured
to the natural sirens of the suburban night
that I was the mechanical howls
of the never-sleeping city?
Some evenings here near the woods
I would trade the all chirps, croaks
and fluffy retorts for the clangs, owooos,
and muzzle reports of my little place
near the home of Ladder Company 23.

Falling for You

Sometimes, after I’ve
bled out a poem, 
I feel like
an autumn leaf,
dried, used up, but
captured in mid-fall
by an Impressionist
with a brush-full
of burnt sienna.
A fuzzily focused product
of squint-eyed genius,
forever falling,
but in eternal stasis
on your page.
Inspired by this piece of iPad art by artist Alison Jardine.  She’s become a devotee of the iPad, just as I have.  Back in 2011, I visited her galleries at AlisonJardine.com, and selected a piece that speaks to my seasonal, tree-based, self-revelatory oeuvre. My thanks to Alison for her permission to use this prompt.

No One Remembers Your Name When It’s Strange

By Joseph Hesch

I have a name that’s all too forgettable,
always mispronounced, misspelled,
and just missed on every level.
My stifled sneeze of a monicker
has been turned on me
by bullying boys, wicked women
and the depressed poet
on the thinking end of this pen.
But it’s mine, shared by damn few others
from sea to sea, forest to desert, and H to h.
Even the nameless can be remembered
in their near invisibility–a picture or symbol
attached to history by what
they accomplished, more than by
a plastic placeholder for letters identifying
the substance behind the soubriquet.
So I don’t worry too much about whether
you remember my name…
Just remember me.

The Lightning

By Joseph Hesch

When the lightning strikes —
that is, the figurative flash
whose true name would, rhyming,
complete the limp line:
“Like a shove from above
she alit like a dove,
my sweetest … ”
You get the picture.
When that electro-chemical brew fires,
even the steel-hardened among us
melt at our cores.
The shade of amnesia
pales even the brightest white
thermite glare to the flickering flame
of a single candle, teasing
the almost-illumination of
our shadowed, now-flown angel.
At that millisecond of
comforting blindness,
we welcome the truth:
lightning indeed strikes
maybe hotter, maybe harder,

in the same heart twice.

Perfect Memories

They shared so short a time together,
neither understood why the memory
of the other lasted so long, so strong.
The shadow outline of a man approaching,
her head down in thought,
always gave her heart a start
and her mind a whirl.
All these years she obsessively searched
to find the courage to share again.
She thought she came close once, but…
not quite,
her vision obstructed
by a soft silken bond and cold steel fear.

For his part, that certain scent of
a woman passing on the street or in
a crowded stairway would bring his head up
like a hound’s hunting for a hoodoo.
And then…the pounding disappointment.
He told himself he would have settled
for an unmarked, unsigned card from her.
She could have rubbed it between
her soft, warm palms and he would recognize
the sender, the memory of her fragrance
still as fresh today
as that of flowers in his hand.

Lately, they learned lessons about themselves
that uncovered their eyes.
He finally recognizes nobody could be
so perfect as she, except, for a time,
his next imperfect iteration of her.
And she, her shadowy, so-so specter of him.
So they just stopped trying.
Resigned, they are, that life will
never be perfect for them.
Passable, patient will have to do,
until the next one.

Poet, Writer, AND Versatile Blogger

A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from novelist and blogger Cathryn Louis, saying she had nominated me for The Versatile Blogger Award. After a few days of puzzling why anyone would do such a thing for a middle-aged, otherwise unknown poet and short story writer, I realized what an honor this was! This award nomination comes from a fellow writer and blogger. And one who said such an embarrassingly nice thing about me on her blog, No Reason Whatsoever, too. Thank you so much, Cathryn, for your continued support and for the opportunity for me to support other blogging friends.

The Versatile Blogger Rules:
1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you. (Done.)
2. Share 7 random facts about yourself. (Uh-oh. Gulp. Done.)
3. Pass the award on to 5 blogging buddies. (A pleasure. Done.)
4. Contact the winners to congratulate them. (Done.)

Seven random facts about me:
1. I coached girls scholastic basketball–-every grade from 3rd to 12th–-for 30 years. For 27 or 28 of them I was a pretty good coach–even installed in the Sports Hall of Fame at the high school where I coached. The last few, as noted in About Me, I drew closer to the realization I needed to devote more of my “free” time to writing.

2. I may be the world’s worst-reading person who defines himself as a decent “writer.” I’ve finished six novels in the past year, and two of them were titled “The Sun Also Rises.”

3. When I was 17, putting together my 1st Semester schedule as a college freshman, the counselor asked, “Joe, what do you want to do with your life?” I was torn between Phys Ed/English teacher or journalist. Counselor stared at me, foot tapping. Flummoxed, and not wishing to bother him any longer, I took the road less-traveled. The rest is infamy.

4. Years ago, I broke my internal thermostat when I suffered heat exhaustion (may even have been mild heat stroke) on a golf course. Ended up peeing sawdust for two days. Now I painfully soldier through the winter in the Northeast and have trouble with the heat in South Carolina. I’m thinking of moving to an air-conditioned greenhouse in Virginia.

5. As a kid, I hated the taste of coffee and beer. Today? Staff of life, baby.

6. I’m the oldest of six kids. There was always a sense of duty, of propriety, involved in that situation. Thus, when I went away to college, I jumped the reservation. Bigtime.

7. As a baby newspaper reporter, I was lucky enough to cover pieces of an Olympics, a Presidential election, and the United States Bicentennial celebration, all in the same year. Baptism of fire.

Nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award:
It was difficult for me to come up with five nominations, since I browse through so many terrific blogs, but here are some where I always linger…
1. One Stop Poetry. It’s not like they need even more kudos after garnering a Shorty Award this year, but One Stop Poetry is probably the reason anyone outside of a small circle of friends and an even smaller circle of editors know that I write passable poetry at all. More than likely, One Stop is why you’re here reading this. The One Stop team is committed to promoting both new and seasoned artists. As well as, shall we say, “seasoned” new artists like me. Be sure to click on the One Stop team member’s individual websites and blogs, too. Hey, that’s nine great sites already! 

2. Heather Grace Stewart. Heather’s one of my closest tweeps and Internet friends. Her website/blog, Where the Butterflies Go, features her award-winning, thoughtful and thought-provoking poems and photographs. She’s constantly updating content with new poems that run from the emotionally touching to flat-out hilarious. Heather also posts essays that address life as a mom/writer/wife/poet/in-line skater/publisher. The site also is a gateway to her wonderful publications, including the latest, The Groovy Granny, a book of her funny poems for children (and the parents and grandparents who love them), illustrated by her daughter, Kayla.

3. Natasha Head. Natasha is a doll, one of the sweetest folks I’ve met in the more-often-than-not unruly wilderness of the Internet. Her recently renamed blog, The Tashtoo Parlour, features a compilation of her inspiring poems, pix, music, and an year-round valentine to her beloved Nova Scotia (hence, the “-our” in “Parlour,” readers from the US). Natasha’s seemingly perpetual positive attitude has kept poet-me above the emotional Mendoza Line more than a few times. I humbly thank her for her constant support.

4. K.M. Weiland. Katie Weiland is one busy writer. She’s the author of two novels Behold the Dawn and A Man Called Outlaw, with (at least) two more in progress. Her blog, Wordplay features tips and essays about the writing life to enlighten and encourage those of us inflicted with the scribbling disease. She says she created Wordplay “to help writers understand the ins and outs of the craft and the psychology behind the inspiration.” Katie’s blog is just the tip of her artistic iceberg. Give her a visit, you’ll find all kinds of content to capture your fancy, either as a reader or a writer.

5. Elizabeth Spann Craig. Yeah, this mystery writer and blogger has copped a couple of these before, but, darn it, you’d be hard-pressed (I am, at least) to find a blog that carries or leads to more solid information for writers than Mystery Writing is Murder. Heck, it’s even one of Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers in 2011. Earlier this week, Elizabeth launched the latest book in her Memphis BBQ Mystery Series, Finger Lickin’ Dead under her Riley Adams nom de plume.

Okay, so now I’m left with one question, as you might be: “Where are the dudes?” Better step it up guys, the ladies are rocking my little corner of the Web.

Squinting into the Spotlight

You readers who really know me, not just as this guy who knits his thoughts and words into poems, understand that I’m stupidly uncomfortable with receiving praise and recognition. It’s a self-effacing and self-destructive streak that I’ve had most of my life. Don’t knock it too much, it allows me to freely bleed all over the page for you every once in a while.
So, when my friend Claudia Schönfeld from One Stop Poetry asked if I would accept being interviewed for one of her group’s Poet Spotlights, my first, second and third questions were, “Why me?” 
Nevertheless, I agreed to answering her questions, telling her it would no doubt be the dimmest Spotlight in One Stop Poetry’s history. The results of that interview are up here on the One Stop site today.
I want to thank Claudia, her colleagues at One Stop, my family and friends who know silly me (some better than I know myself), those of you who just like to read my poetry, and those in-between for helping me explore the world where resides this recognition.  
As my poet friend Natasha Head always likes to say, “I’m on a mission to evolve.” Part of that evolution for me is to learn to accept the grace of others. Your comments on this blog are teaching me that. Accepting the honor of being profiled by people I admire as poets and artists will be my Master Class.
Thanks to all.

Morning Dew

As I drive this prism of roadway,
the blacktop blurs,
bending both light and air,
returning last night’s rain
to the hazy skies.
Already, the blistering sun glows hot,
a golden jewel against a blood-red dawn.
The fields wear their late-Spring coverlet,
a low-napped living emerald,
seasoned with billions of glistening chips
of hot June morning.
I’m reminded at every turn,
except the one I should make,
of leaving her bed, her covers of green,
where I kissed goodbye
the diamond dewdrops that sparkled
above her lips, awakening me
to another steamy sunrise.

I wrote this poem in response to a prompt from my friend Brian Miller, asked for a poem about the sun or heat, or using them as a metaphor. Once again, because my imagination and I can never make a defiinite decision, I did all of the above.  Is it hot in here or is it just me?