This Way Out

Emerging from the train into the dimness,
I hewed salmon-like to the school
of commuters and day-trippers
crossing the platform and entering
the yellow-tiled tunnel climbing
to the harsh Manhattan sunlight.
As I turned a corner near a flight of stairs,
the crowd slowed, but didn’t stop,
eddying at the small wallside cubby.

A fever dream of a man stood within,
covered in shredded gray –
rags, beard, and life –
as everyone but I erased him
from their narrow realities
and passed him by.
He was huffing into and out of
a harmonica in one hand and
grasping an unloved piece of himself
with the other.
“How can they not care about this?”
I thought. “How can someone fall
like this and not care about himself?”
Rejoining the swirling mass,
I climbed into the whirring city.

Years later, I stood in the dreamless
dark hallway of my life, no visible light
or means of exit in sight,
nor any care to find them.
I had turned into my own sad and
ragged pile of gray,
shouting at the passing callous world
or hiding from its loveless minion.
But you stopped for me, drawn to this pen
and this notebook, upon which I now draw
maps of escape routes from this life
to your light. We haven’t touched yet,
but I have a lot of ink in this well of hope,
lots of pages in my journal of possibilities.

This poem emerged from a memory I recently dredged up of a trip I made to Manhattan more than 25 years ago. There was the train to Grand Central Station, there was a tunnel of yellow tile full of surging humanity, and there was a man in shredded rags “performing” for no one but himself. Such memories sneak up on me now that I’m more mindful of my feelings and impressions and happen to keep a log of this new journey. “This Way Out” is just the latest leg of that journey. If you would like to read more such trips, feel free to sail around the blog. And if you’re looking more poetic flights of fancy and reality, sail on over to dVerse Poets Pub for Open Link Night. My friend Joy “Hedgewitch” Jones is skipper there tonight.

C in Penmanship

By Joseph Hesch

The wrist-rapping nun taught me to hold the pen lightly,

because it makes for less stress in the penman’s wrist
and enables “a floating of ink upon the page.”
I don’t think she ever thought I would one day
dreamily skate ink figures onto a lined rink of white,
assaying loops and salchows during which sometimes
my thoughts float above their intended surface.
She couldn’t have known I’d be telling stories
                                             out of school
about how Sister Agnes bounced Dennis’s head
between her shiny and flaccid white paws,
a penguin with the touch of a polar bear.
Who would think I would ever mention
Father Duffy putting his hand on Kevin’s knee
while feeding him breakfast for serving
the lone and lonely 7:00 o’clock Mass?
How could Brother David have a clue I could pen
a description of him perching on Tommy’s
desk-bound thigh, to teach him the vagaries
of another difficult type of equation.
Nope. I’d never amount to anything unless
I practiced my P’s and Q’s.
And prayed. She said she pray for me.
                                            Good job, sister.

Perfect Angel

By Joseph Hesch

Sally was a girl of exotic beauty
in this gray and barren place.
Her skin as smooth and brown
as a caramel apple, she owned a face
men dreamed to make art about.

She had but three things keeping her
from perfection —
The first was the plain fact that
she was a whore, a prostitute in a world
where she was one of many
who could be declared such,
but she, unfortunately,
was one by definition.

Second, she had that scar at the corner
of her left eye that ran down
and around her cheek, curving back
toward where it began.
The track of a tear she decided
to uncry, perhaps.
It was given to her by the man
who introduced her to this Life
and to that third strike against
her flawlessness.

She used his Mexican and Afghan powders
to quench the other burning pain he gave her,
twining her need for his love
with his need for her to prove it
to him by loving others.
And when it wouldn’t deaden the burning
anymore, she used it to snuff the flame,
her flawless soul finally and
serenely leaving the streets
Perfect angel. Ugly world.

Once again, my fiction writing and poetry share a symbiotic relationship. My poem “Tagged” led to a short story of the same name, published by “Foliate Oak Magazine” last year. In the case of “Perfect Angel,” Sally began “life” as a character in my first big short story, “But Don’t Touch.” But the dear was edited out. Sally stayed on the shelf up in my writer’s attic for a couple of years, eventually appearing as one of the two major characters in my story “Sunrise, Sunset.” I couldn’t get her out of my head even after I got her on that page of prose, so here she is in poetic form with a little more emotion and story. I have linked this poem to dVerse Poets Pub’s Open Link Night, which provides poets and readers an opportunity to get together and share their passions.