Family History

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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, “Ohgoshsakes” and “Ohdammit.”

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

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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

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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.

The Life & Times of the Late Horatio Othni

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Whenever little Horatio Othni ran in after the rest of his family sat for dinner, his old man not-too-sternly told him, “Horry, you’ll be late for your own funeral, son.” So Mr. Othni gave Horatio his first wristwatch when he graduated from elementary school. Horatio lost it, or so he told the old man.

When he graduated high school, Horry’s father gave him a self-winding Timex. But Horatio ditched that after incessant, obsessive wrist-twisting, to keep the spring at tip-top tautness just as his dad would, gave him tendonitis. He became assured that time gave you tennis elbow, pain with every other tock at the least. He missed a lot of classes because of that.

Anyhow, the sun told Horry when to wake up, when to go out, when to read beneath the yellow-green willow’s waving leaves by the fountain’s caressing rainbow spray. So did the bell in the clock tower, whose songs became his friends. “She’s monotonous, but the old girl plays them well, like a dinner bell” he’d say, closing his notebook and heading to lunch. And so it went. Horatio never needed to see time, to find it, to become yoked to it. “After all,” he would tell his father, his friends and professors, “I’ve got all of you to remind me.” But he lost some of them like old watches, too.

When Horatio left college, he decided to become a writer until he ran out of pencils, and because he could set his own hours, which weren’t really hours, but passages of sun across sky, of words beneath his hand, of food between his lips, of breaths followed by more breaths until he gently offered his last.

When Mr. Othni found Horatio at his boy’s desk, stub of a pencil in hand, paper beneath his smiling face, he read the final exhalation of a timeless life and grinned beneath his paternal tick-tock tears that fell like the seconds, minutes, hours his son never cared to know. It read, “Last pencil. Time to go, I guess.”

Two sun passages later, as the funeral procession began to pull away from the mortuary, Horatio’s father placed his hand upon the lead driver’s shoulder and told him to wait. “How long, sir? We gotta be there before 9:00,” the driver asked, checking his watch. Three blocks away, church bells pealed over the rooftops…ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong, followed by single rings…six, seven, eight, nine…

Horatio’s father squinted up and observed how the morning sun barely trudged upward toward what would never be 12:00 again. He gently massaged the circle of pale skin on his left wrist. “Oh, just a little longer. We had a deal.”

Super-quick (maybe) free-write first draft about that which has ruled too much of my life, and probably yours. How long did this take to write? Just as long as it took.

Sunset Ballet

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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

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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

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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.