In My Moccasins

Iroquois moccasins

It says this computer is “monitored”
by the air-sucking Big Brother
in this building where,
like shoes at the entance of a Mosque,
souls are left at the door.
The difference though?
Eventually this place steals our soles.

That’s bureaucracy for you,
even when you’re on its inside.
Lifeless eyes walking darkened corridors,
looking at nothing, but seeing everything.
Today, though, I thought I’d leave a sign
my soul was here, this parting footprint
on their sticky tile floors.

Gonna jump the reservation soon
and I’ll need my moccasins
to make this gray-haired getaway,
my new life on the run.



At the picnic after the parade, while vets still in pieces of once-better-fitting uniforms hugged and slapped backs, laughing or whispering recollections, my cousin Brian sat at a table away from everyone drinking two sixes of Miller he’d lined up in columns of two, holding each one up in front of him before he chugged it down.

When I asked him if he was okay, he just shrugged and said, “Billy, this is what I do for the real heroes every Memorial Day…and for a few days before and after.”

“Man, you’ve gotta be kidding, what with all that heavy-metal certification of your courage — pulling your buds from a burning Humvee and fighting off bad guys while you’re burned and wounded from the IED yourself — right there on the front of your jacket,” I said. I pointed to a pile of camo wrapped around a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

Brian said in his scorched-throat rasp, “Bein’ a hero sometimes ain’t more than a roll of the fuckin’ dice, Billy, a guy doin’ what he has to do when shit happens, just bein’ scared enough to run in the wrong or right direction — it don’t really matter at that moment — and bein’ lucky enough to make it out with a beating heart and most of his original parts.”

He popped the top on another Miller, lifted it above his head while murmuring something that sounded like “Ramirez,” took three long pulls on it. Then he said, “Sometimes what folks who were never in combat call a hero turns out to be not much more than a wind-blown empty potato chip bag chasin’ a squirrel up a tree.”

The First Race


They stomp at the gate,
already sweating,
lips pulled back,
keen for the start.
Eyes darting
left and right
at their competition,
they push forward
as the starter
checks his watch,
and then…
they’re off!

Hearts pumping,
jostling for that
prime position…
There! an opening,
and one just in
from New York
darts for daylight,
pounds down the lane,
edging the one
in pink and green
who lost a shoe
at the eighth pole.

Slamming his
beer cooler
on the picnic table,
the victor exults
in winning
the first race
of the meet.
It’s 7:02 AM,
opening day
at Saratoga.

If you’ve never seen the 7:00 AM dash for prime picnic table turf at the Saratoga Race Course (which opens for its 147th meet today just north of my home), you’re missing a primal competition that rivals Saratoga’s Travers Stakes, the famed Summer Derby of American horse racing. And now, the great secret: In six decades on this earth, in this place, I’ve never once attended a day at the races. But I have a vivid imagination.

Satan’s Supper

Corn crop

On the hundred-twentieth day of the drought — I know this because I kept X’ing them off on Mama’s 1892 Sears-Roebuck calendar — I watched big old storm clouds stack up against the distant mountains and heard my Pa say, “Shit, we’re in fer it now.”

“Whatcha mean, Pa…don’t ya think those rain clouds are coming our way?” I said full of a wide-eyed ten-year-old’s belief in miracles.

Pa worked up some juice in his mouth and spit it into the dust that barely held up the dead-dry and stunted corn stalks stretching like pale corduroy toward an east Colorado sunset that turned those hope-filled clouds a right royal purple.

“Son,” Pa said, kneeling down and taking me by the shoulders, “Theys that tell ya ‘Where there’s smoke there’s fire,’ never seen clouds like those, what’ll not bring us rain, but prob’ly Satan’s own hunger.”

I thought better of asking Pa what he meant again, but found out that night when those heaven-sent clouds of mine passed over our place, dropping not rain but lightning on our fields, burning my innocence as black as that quarter of our crop ol’ Satan ate for supper.

This week’s Five Sentence Fiction is based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word: Rain.

To the Poets

Celebration Poets

Some craft their offspring
like little mothers
birthing secret babies
in locked bedrooms,
through pain and tears.
Others have the cause
thrust upon them
in lonely moments
of quiet desperation
too much to hold, yet
too dangerous to speak,
to act upon.

Some push them
camel by camel through
the blinking needle’s eye.
While others shake them off
by the lakeful, tireless retrievers
splattering their bits
of Archimedean and
Homeric displacement.
They give life to words
and toss them
like christened doves
from their windows,
carried on some divine wind,
to souls needy
for such sustenance.

Thank you brave poets.

Upon the third anniversary of the dVerse Poets Pub community and website, we’ve been asked to write an ode to poets or a specific poet. I never learned what an ode is, by strictest definition. But I have a heart and a wavering way with words. On my lunchtime walk, this 100-word drabble came to me. Congratulations and gratitude to my colleagues at dVerse and to all the poets in that community held so dear.

First Prize


First PrizeWhen I became a teen, and tired of sharing beds, berths and fraternity with my four brothers, I moved into the unheated room off the kitchen of our home. In winter, I’d scrunch my body into a fist and tightly cocoon it head to toe within a wool blanket. Then I’d shake my body to generate enough heat to simmer me off on an eight-hour hibernation.

If I scraped a hole in the frost off my window, beneath the winter moon I could peek into the neighbors’ diaries written in laundry on clothes lines that strung from back porches to poles at the other end of shotgun barrel backyards. And across the railroad tracks over into West Albany, shining above it all, you could see the all-night sundown glow from the giant sign above the Tobin Packing Company plant .

On summer nights, when the room and I needed an open window to breathe, we’d hear the trains go through and some clank to a stop outside the slaughterhouse. I even heard the sound of the hogs being squeezed from their airless rail cars along the narrow suspended walkway into the factory. From there they were somehow scrunched into sausage casings, packed side-by-side as First Prize hot dogs, a pitiless and final escape.

Years later, on a blowtorch summer afternoon, I sneaked behind a wall into the abandoned plant. I climbed to the room where the hogs blindly ran in the cruel hope of escaping untenable overcrowding with their brothers. I remember seeing walls shedding their old paint like forgotten ancient frescoes, the concrete basin stained with lost life in the killing room, the necklace of hooks on a chain encircling the room and hearing ghosts and echoes I didn’t wish to hear. Looking eastward out a vacant casement, I tried to see my bedroom window across the haze of distance and time.

And, on that August afternoon, I shivered in the cold.

© 2014, Joseph Hesch. All rights reserved


Missing Pages

“I heard you didn’t recognize your daughter the other day and I was wondering if you could tell me what that feels like, the actual not remembering, not any of that remorse or being pissed off stuff,” Ashley Goetz asked old Ken Parkworth, who grunted and continued to busy himself with a pencil and a marble notebook in his room at the Bitterroot Village Home.

Old Ken closed his notebook with a thump, glanced menacingly at the earnest psychology grad student and said, “Okay, but when I’m done you gotta answer a question for me, too.

“It’s kinda like your mind’s this huge history book, no cover, no illustrations, teeny, tiny print, with most of the pages from the index in the back ripped out that could help you find what you’re looking for…but sometimes those pages are ripped out, too,” the old high school art teacher said.

Ashley blinked twice, clicked the STOP button on her phone’s recorder and said in a hush, “Thanks, Ken, now what can I do for you?”

The old man opened his notebook, flipped its blue-lined pages around toward Ashley, revealing a stunningly accurate pencil portrait of the daughter he’d sent away Saturday in tears, and whispered, “Could you please tell me her name?”

A lunchtime write prompted by Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word, Pages.

Lillie McFerrin Writes