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



7 thoughts on “First Prize

  1. Very nicely done, Joe. I have a friend who spent most of his working life in that very area you describe. I’ve heard him describe just what you saw in your nocturnal excursion. Of course, he had a much different perspective…Excellent piece.

  2. Just dropped by looking for the latest Heschian gem; & you never disappoint either, brother. This prose poem, this slice of your adolescence, capped by the adult chasing ghosts in an abandoned killing room was so real, so chilling, so honest, it rang of Salinger, steamed of Steinbeck. Thank you so much for being out here, my excellent cyber friend. Your glowing comment over at my side actually made me blush with pride, and weep with joy. Let’s kick some poetic butt this third year over at dVerse.

  3. Yes, it made me shiver, too. Recently listened to a Great Courses series that discussed “The Jungle.” Your writing in this short piece is brilliant, as always. You continue to teach all of us who read you.

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