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.