Family History

IMG_0598

Joey, age one and a half…maybe.

I sometimes sit and wonder about my grandparents, even the grandfather I never met. It’s said that I was my paternal grandfather’s favorite, but I wasn’t the one who said it. But he let me hang around him and do silly little jobs for him. My brothers and cousins didn’t get that treatment. Or those nickels.

I knew my grandmothers, who I can’t recall smiling too much. But that’s how my memory works. Mom’s mom died of cancer in the nursing home, where the only time she cried was that one time I visited. Or so Mom said. Dad’s mom died a few years before she actually went to Jesus. A stroke took that stern old lady and turned her into a limping, one-armed child whose little vocabulary mainly consisted of, and was punctuated by, “Oh-gosh-sakes” and “Oh-dammit.”

Mom’s dad died very young, barely 40, I think. I’ve seen photos of him, though. A dapper guy with round tortoise-shell framed glasses and white snap-brim hat right off a 1930s movie screen. But I know more about his dad and mom than I do him. Memory and history are strange that way.

And that’s about all I can remember about them without straining something. I’ve a deep well of a memory, but when I dip my bucket in its darkness to pull up something of them, the rope’s usually too short. I’m sure they’d have lots they could tell me now, especially since I’ve become a sweet someone’s grandfather.

Sometimes I think it’d be better that we don’t know the whole tales—beginning to end—of those old folks. Just let them remain the semi-smiling, squinting, faded faces in the family albums, the aromas that will surprise me and shake a memory that has no story, no context, the stories a cousin will tell me that I can only nod to and say, “Uh, yeah, sure do!”.

There are parts of my life I wouldn’t want my granddaughter to know. You know, about all my failures. About the mountains of mistakes I’ve built, climbed, fallen from and built some more. About all the disappointments in my own mind. About the guy who spent so much of his life in lonely battle inside his own head or dueling with himself over a keyboard and lost almost every time. I want her to remember the warm and happy grandpa and all his funny stories. Even if so many aren’t “true.” But she won’t care anyway.  That’s what even I could call a victory.

I mean history is written by us winners, right?

The Shoes You Only Wear in This Rain

Muddy-shoes

They’re falling all around me now,
the large and small, old and young,
so many that it feels like
the rains in Spring, their passing,
the sound of water dripping,
falling off the eaves of my heart.
And still I’m here, chronicling
what I don’t think I want to know.
Is there a light you lope after?
Or do you fly like a moth until then?
Does the light, all of it, just go out?
Not a flicker, nor a dimming. Just…
nothing.

These unusual secrets my raindrops
took with them when they fell,
even though I watched and listened
when some of them did.
It wasn’t just a ping on a tin roof
followed by a plop in the muddy puddle
of their mingling with earth.
It was natural, gravity winning out
over angels’ wings, the wings that wrung
these showers from those clouds,
that rat-a-tatted on the corrugated
prayers you huddle beneath,
that collect on your cheeks and spatter
the blessed mud of their ashes
on the shiny shoes you only wear
in this spate of rain.

There have been just too many over too short a time, and I can’t take any more.

The Weight of Our Shadows, Heavy As a Cloud at Midnight

mentoringChangesLives

I often wonder if I ever had
the strength to pry up and
lift your shadow, the one
pressing mine during those
burdensome Summer days
of my Winter, Spring and Fall.
They took up little geography,
our shadows, the sun smiling
from its pinnacle saw to that.
But the daystar so high, so hot,
weighs heavy upon the mind
and on the steps of a man
with nowhere to go
and everything to be.
The nexus of our lightlessness
carried all the heft of a single notion,
but one as heavy, as dense
as that cloud at midnight
cloaking my heart, bowing my back,
smothering any smoldering emotion.
Neither of us could never lift that,
so one of us had to go.

Another long title for a free-written dreamy walk through a shadowless haze to a full-moon illumination.

Sunset Ballet

IMG_0359

The late afternoon shadows
crawl further up the hill,
until they coalesce with the twilight,
waiting to drain every drop of night
back down again come dawn.
The robins cling to these
two-dimensional maples and birches,
picking away at their silhouette designs.
My eyes light in those trees,
appreciating the wind’s swaying song,
watching the framework upon which
Spring will its green curtains drape.
They’ll turn Sun’s Odette to Odile
held aloft by this lean corps de ballet
come some summer afternoon.
But I‘ll dance the part of Sun’s
shadow Sigfried until dim
evening star drops the curtain.

Photo © Joseph Hesch, 2015.

 

Seasons Weren’t the Only Things That Changed

70819c1b6555f6d55361f4e39cc2645c

I recall the days snowless Spring returned to the old neighborhood. We’d bring out our bats and rubber balls and pace off baselines in my grandfather’s vacant lot. First base would be the red and amber back-up light on Julian’s new Buick, the one whose tail fin I crashed with my knee legging out a slow roller to third. It caved in. I was out. Such Springs disappeared once the sproing of ball hit by a wooden bat birthed the plonk of a well-hit drive bouncing high off the Giso’s once-unreachable wall cleared the shattered glass-sparkled field rather than just the bases. Our games became shortened not by rain, but by Miss Mary’s threats of calling the cops for the offense of hitting liners that shook her knickknacks off perfect shelves above plastic-covered furniture. Baseball Spring’s noises disappeared when we discovered the bounce and bump of three-on-three basketball. We shot from April to September at the bulb-less fixture hanging over the abandoned parking attendant’s shack. My dad eventually hung a real hoop, though. I think it was right after we learned Presidents could die, and die of something other than natural causes.

A sunshine Spring day memory free write. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not so old to have played baseball in knickers (and a freaking tie!) like I believe one of the kids up there is. However, we did occasionally roll up the cuffs of our jeans to Major League height….just because.

Talismans

remember-from-we-heart-it

As my days flick off the calendar like autumn leaves after first frost, with them falls more of my memories. Perhaps they actually are the leaves of a lifetime journal, now scattered into capricious winds by the callused hands of a winding-down clock. I’d have forgotten so much by now if not for the magical talismans I wear that provide me with palpable evidence of the acts that mapped my vessel’s journey. See this one on my left wrist. Isn’t she a bitch? That’s when I climbed a chair I’d nudged to the stove and tried pushing myself higher by placing my wrist on the hot burner. I recall this vividly, but perceive no images, just sensations, deep and scorching. It’s kept me from striving too high, lest I get burned once again. The other talisman, I know not which came first, pocks my right forearm with shiny spots. I doubt you can see them unless I get it dirty, as a two-year-old might. Then my arm develops its own X-ray, showing my maybe-earliest injury. It’s my reminder of what it’s like to pull down what you do not know—a reverse lesson of look-before-you-leap. In this case, a bubbling pot of pea soup. These are hard-earned lessons for a toddler to learn. For a man, too. I could show you more, but these I prefer not to recollect, like the scars on this heart. They’re self-inflicted, too, by a man who never took anything away from them. Just more pain.

Here’s a true free-write. A block of a prose poem prompted by my old friend Kellie Elmore, who asks today for us to try recalling our very first memory. The fog of time has stolen those particular truths from me, but these are my reminders of them. Typically, they involve pain.

Between 145 and 56

One more failing, another fall,
again a wet gray splush and masking
of his red-burnished face in the mud,
then drawing himself back up
to his diminutive height, the burn
as real as ever but not so severe
as the first time, the first 1,000 times.
Even a vase falls if someone bats it
off the shelf, and no vase even once
got up again after it met gravity’s
ultimate plane. When you’ve crashed
so many times, what’s one more?

Lately, though, the falls take so long
to consummate, then require
so much effort to climb back,
he just wanted them to end.
It would be so easy. Just lie there
in shards of failure, let them tread upon
them until you’re the forgotten dust
within the empty center of
the welcome mat’s O. Maybe
next time. You think of these things
as once more you pass between
Floors 145 and 56.

Never Asked Why

3-28 FWF

When all crashes down, when the light turns its lunar backside toward you, when someone never wants to see you again, when you fail and fail and fail, and you stand there amid the debris of this portion of your life, or even the whole sloppy enchilada, do you ask Why? I’ve always been the searching under the hood, the diligently dissecting, the scour the gummy memory questioner of How. How did this happen? How can I make it better? How can I clean up this mess of a Mexican meal I’ve come to rest in? Perhaps I miss that most prominent point, not seeking the answer of that fifth W of the reporter’s game, but more likely I don’t wish to see the bad, the mad look upon your face when you sadly tell me I’m a cad. If I can just walk away from this latest crash-and-burn, coldly replay the flaming, falling Hindenburg film of my own disaster minus all the “Oh, the humanity,” I might learn something about me and about you.  I’d learn something perhaps not so new. Just another guilt-gilded answer to the Why question you never heard me ask. One that I never knew How.

Free Write prose poem (I hope) that rolled like a raindrop down my window. Guess I saw this reflected in it.

Just Thought I’d Ask

IMG_0536

Do you wonder?
I mean do you wonder, too?
Do you ponder if you ever
cross the mind of those
you’ve left an emotional scratch on?
Or even a bruise of the heart?
I wonder about some of the girls
whose lives I’ve crossed, maybe
barely macroscopically
like on a lower case T, or even
a full-sail ship-of-the-line
running perpendicular to their
gentle prows with its guns blazing.
That’s not necessarily this
small man’s ego run mad,
thinking it’s so tall and all
only because it stands upon
a hill of memories that occasionally
rises above the fog of time.
I just thought I’d ask, only to see
if I’m alone in my wondering
here on my hill of wonders.
Do you ever?
Even about me?

A swift free-write brought on by Daylight Saving Time hangover and an out-of-the-past Daylight Wasting Time inspiration.

Who Is She?

ee55083bce503e411b78b8cea711f7da

Street Conversations (Woman walking down the street.)
1946 Photo by Stanley Kubrick

Who is she, whose heels click by
and I just have to look up to see?
Who is she, who rustles by
in a fragrant cloud that stops
my tracks with a stroke of heat
not felt in years?

Who is she, whose curve of calf
and confident buh-bump bounce
stirs my heart and blushes my cheeks
with summer sunshine glow?
Who is she, who made me look without trying
and left me wondering who and why and…

I guess she’s someone’s other,
or sister, or mother, someone
I do not know, yet confidently
knows herself. Yeah, that woman.

A ten-minute lunchtime free-write that came to me when I recalled what day it was. Please don’t label me sexist. I’m the father of two daughters, the guy who coached girls basketball for 30 years, whose physician is a woman. I’m a sensitive guy who appreciates just about everything about women. I still can’t claim understand them, but at least I always try.