What good are you?

By Joseph Hesch
The judging began at birth.
He was a good baby,
a good boy,
a good student,
a good son,
a good brother,
a good teammate,
a good listener,
a good lover,
a good worker,
a good husband,
a good provider,
a good father,
a good man.
And because he was so good,
he always wanted to be better.
It was never enough, though. 
Ultimately, all that mattered was, 
in so many not-so-good lives, 
he was not much more than 
a good excuse.

My friend, Hedgewitch, AKA Joy Ann Jones, is pouring the Poetics poetry prompts at dVerse Poets Pub today. She’s asking for poems that show some type of repetition. While regular readers might say, “Joe, don’t you always write about growing old or about lonely, longing losers all the time?” Uh, no. I hope not.

Nevertheless, here’s a repetition poem about…uh…a lonely…longing…loser. 

Darn it!

Secret Harvest

By Joseph Hesch

They hide their faces
like pickpockets,
pulling ruby and garnet
from the Macs’ green folds and
from the secret places of Northern Spies.
Black and brown folks, shivering
in a northland that knows mostly white,
from the bosses’ faces,
to its mountaintops, 
to its Aprils.
They work hard, paid maybe enough 
to support their families and a life 
that sends them to places that 
will never be their home.
That’s why they hide their faces,
so they won’t have to go Home.
But Federales with badges and
cameras are always trying to
send them back.
Back to El Salvador,
to Jamaica, 
or to Mexico.
After they climb from the ladders
for the last time this season, and
gently unload their treasures into
great grey boxes that dot the orchard,
all the pickers want is to trade
the red gems for some green to travel
to Louisiana for the rice,
to Florida for the celery, or
to the grocer’s for their kids.

Autumn is, give-or-take, a couple of days away. This time always puts me in mind of my days in the North Country of New York. Apple country. It also reminds me of a story from when I was working as a baby reporter. I was sent to do a simple apple harvest piece at an orchard near Plattsburgh. There were quiet people all over the place, most of whom would never make eye contact with me. After talking to the owner of the place, I stepped away a bit and pulled my camera out to take a few “atmosphere” shots to illustrate the story.

“No photos,” the Boss said. “Put that camera away.”

“But I’m just taking a couple of shots for the story. It’s such a bucolic scene and…”

“No photos, I said.” The Boss sounded pretty stern, but I tried igmoring him and looked through my viewfinder, composing what I thought would be my only shot.

I felt his hand on my shoulder and when I turned, he put his hands on his hips, pulling the front of his jacket open and revealing a revolver attached to his belt.

“No photos, yes sir,” I said. And hauled out of there back to Plattsburgh.

When I got to the office, my boss explained the fellow at the orchard was protecting himself and his workforce, which was comprised of more than a few “illegals.”

Like I said, I always remember this story when the first batch of apples enters the house. You don’t think he really would have shot me, do you?

“Secret Harvest” is my post for today’s dVerse Poets Pub Open Link Night, which I had the priviledge to host last week. Check it out and enjoy some of the fruits of a world-wide array of special poets.

Estimated Time of Arrival

By Joseph Hesch

Today I realized that I’ve burned
so much time here looking
up and down the tracks
in hopes that the train will pull in
with a whoosh and take me
where I always suspected
I was supposed to go.
Maybe too late,
I realized my point of view
here on the platform was
seriously askew.
Searching that direction was always
looking back — toward the Past —
when what I really needed
was to hook up with
an engine full of forward,
the opposite aspect,
headed toward the Future.
But looking up-track was equally fruitless.
Nothing ever comes from that direction.
So now I look straight ahead,
counting on my newly reopened senses
to signal if my Sunshine Limited
finally is coming this way.
There’s always the chance I may have
already missed it, or I could still miss it.
But, at my age, I’m just going to have to
feel for it and then make the leap -–
blindly jumping aboard Life.
Or maybe under it.

My friend Claudia Schoenfeld has posed a poetry prompt at dVerse Poets Pub for the Saturday Poetics feature. She asked us to pen a poem about trains. Here’s my quick draft of a poem about looking up and down the tracks of Life.

Last Blue Sky of Summer

The North Tower after the fall of the South. (Photo: Lyle Owerko)

The North Tower after the fall of the South.
(Photo: Lyle Owerko)

The night of my forty-ninth birthday,
I pulled the covers over a part
of my life I knew was ending.
The next morning would be the first
on the path to my autumn,
when everything about life would change.
I awoke to a morning sky
of such infinite azure beauty,
so clean of cloud and worry
that I made a forever memory of it,
something I could carry
in my gray remaining years.
Mercilessly, my memory sky
was smeared by flame and smoke,
by dust and tears.
And soon I realized the selfish dread
I hid behind sleepy eyes
the night of that September 10
would haunt me for all my days.
Always, I’ll feel a sting in my eyes
when I think of that
last blue sky of summer.

(Photo by Lyle Owerko, New York Magazine.)

Course of Nature, Course of Tears

By Joseph Hesch
I tried not to look at them, the pictures

of History’s erasure by a watery scribe
named Irene. She cleaned our broad board
of homes and lives with a red tide of rain
and bad intent, a substitute teacher
who deleted generations of life and livelihood
with her two-day lesson followed by
no one knows how many years
of weeping review.
Where the Mohawk and Hudson,
more dependable than the class-bell crocus,
signal the coming Spring
with their centuries’-old icy combat
for that one last seat in their riparian game
of musical chairs, I tried not to listen
to the roaring music.
I knew there could be no winner
and I didn’t want to hear the names of friends
who would finally lose their homes to,
of all things, a Summer torrent
of surprise and tears.

It’s those salty drops I’ll remember most,
not the gale-blown rains,
the road-ripping spatter of emboldened creeks,
the drip-drip of time waiting
for it all to end.
For many, it will never end.
For children, the nightmares
will echo like the storm’s thunder,
even after their trailer-schools move
to a new place of drowned dreams.
The debt-relieving, yet never-harvested,
bumper crops will scar memories
of farms that may never push corn
toward a sky from which their demise
was written in water, carved deeply
in new courses. These courses not taught,
but watched, waiting for something
that may never come again,
yet was never expected to come
in the first place.

(Photo at top by Wil Waldron, Albany Times Union. Photo above from The Saratogian.)

I honestly didn’t want to write a poem about Hurricane Irene. But I learned this morning that a couple of old friends lost their home in that Waterford neighborhood above. “Waterford,” what an ironic name, bespeaking a safe crossing of the river depths, for a town that annually (and temporarily) floods so many of its inhabitants from their homes. My friends’ home was lifted from its foundation and is no longer habitable. I really don’t know what to think of this poem, but I’m glad I got it out of my system. Maybe I can look at it as my way of expressing my condolences to those who lost so much in Irene, when I just had to pick up some branches. 

This poem is being linked to dVerse Poets Pub’s Open Link Night. Stop by and check out the wonderful array of poets and their works.