Cul-de-Sac

Moving to the cul-de-sac,
this city boy already keow there’s
only one way in. Just turn right for
a quarter-mile or so, past kissing-cousin duplexes
cuddling in their allegedly chaste suburban way.
Where the road rises you come upon the ring
of homes where I live, realize your mistake
and drive ’round the grassy circle at its heart
back into the world.

I’ve imagined driving faster and
faster in a fescue-centered orbit
as houses flash by in their glassy-eyed
oh-so-attentive-to-everyone-else’s-lawn way.
It feels like I’m their grade-schooler alone
on the merry go round or another neighbor’s
teen making my first solo in the family SUV.

I wonder if that’s how you reach
escape velocity out of here.
I mean besides driving out that road
you came in on. I guess there are those
idle reveries over a lawn tractor’s front end,
perhaps some multi-cocktail-lubed daydreams
or maybe that long-ago nightmare
come fatally true,

Each could be one of the few ways I can
think of bidding au revoir to where
all kinds of dreams, from American to unmet,
can stop, and drop roll or maybe just
keep on circling in place, going nowhere, really.
But I guess that’s what cul-de-sac means.
It’s just a fancy dead end en francais.

Poem number 30, the last of this year’s Poem-A-Day NaPoWriMo. The call was for a “dead end” poem. Well, I’m dead to this project at the end for another year, even though I tend to write something new every day. Tomorrow, I try my hand at a story each day in May. So hang in there, dear reader. This could get ugly.

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One Second = Two Lifetimes

I never wanted to make the decision. Who would? But being who I am in the order of things, it fell to me to decide when to let her go.

“Well, what do you wish us to do?” the doctor asked, with a benevolent demeanor, but a double-parked, motor-running, it’s 4:58 on Friday vibe coming off him. I could feel his inner toes tapping.

You don’t really think about making this decision, deciding life or death for someone you love. But you know what you have to do in the second, maybe half-second they ask you. You just tend to think about the other things as a diversion.

What’ll the family say? How can I face myself day after day after the deed is done? Can I live with being the instrument of another being losing her life?

You look up at the professionals and their eyebrows have that inverted V droop of a practiced medical professional.

“There’s no coming back from this,” the doctor said, meaning her condition, just lying there. But there’d be no coming back on my end, either. “It’s painless, she won’t feel a thing. It’s what she would want.”

You feel like your boiling as you stand still for that second or less, three heartbeats replacing the one that normally fills that space. Allegro.

“Okay, let’s do it,” I say as my eyes get all mushy and moist and my throat locks in the words and out the air.

The doctor does what he does, practiced, assured, always ready. And then, we wait. It really doesn’t take long, but a lot of life flashes before your eyes when you’re the one deciding. The guest of honor just closes her eyes, takes a few deep breaths and…. She’s gone.

In that second, though, everything changed for me. Emotions began living closer to the surface, and I noticed and reveled in more of life humming and growing and ebbing all around me. All from one second of indecision to decision.

It gave me a harder shell, too, though. I was graced with the same decision for my Dad not even a year later. Outwardly cool, I’m sure the weepers around me thought me an unfeeling bastard.

The doctor gave his spiel about no coming back, it’s for the best, he has a no-resuscitate order, all that stuff. The same inverted V they teach in Veterinary school they must in Med school, too.

Then came the money shot question, the big one, the life or death one.

“Well, what do you wish us to do?”

In a second of fire and freeze, the man in whom a dog’s death changed everything, nodded and said “Okay, let’s do it.”

And then I stood taller, set my jaw, began to breathe again, as the others began to sob. They could never have made this decision, wouldn’t want to. Who would? But, like I said, in less than a second, maybe even half a second, it changed everything. Dammit, everything changed.

I’d cry later.

Here’s a warmup story for Story-A-Day May (God help me!) based on a prompt from my friend Kellie Elmore and her re-energized Free Write Friday. The prompt was to write this story: “It was less than a second, maybe half a second, but it changed everything.”
Twenty minutes of free write later, I came up with this. Not sure it’s a story. Sure as hell ain’t a poem. But it has a character or two, a dilemma with stakes and a change in the character’s world/life in the end. It’s a practice, folks.

Yes, No, Neither, N/A

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Somewhere the rules were written
that we’re free to believe our lives
are all part of some Grand One’s
equally Grand Plan, one concocted
behind a door in the firmament
that reads: Gown and Glove Before Entering.
Others wrote that it’s all on us,
warts, mud, blood and all.
But isn’t it also possible we might be
students in a metaphysical low-security
prison school, our lives contained in stacks
of test papers surrounding our dorm rooms.

We spend our days filling in a circle
— Yes, No, Neither, n/a —
with our No. 2 free will.
From time to time, like on
a fire drill schedule, The Dean
opens the window and blows in
a breeze, scattering our papers in
a haphazard blizzard.
With a sigh, we pick them up and
just as haphazardly restack the unanswered
ones, grab ol’ No. 2 and decide
Yes, No, Neither, N/A
until the next blast of planned
supreme serendipity blows up our
little lives all over again.

Penultimate poem (Number 29) in Poem-A-Day April 2016. A haphazard write quickly rendered because…I’m whipped by time and poetically creative exsanguination.

Important Recording

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The Mike Schneider Polka Band

Never knew the compulsion, the why-the-hell,
Dad turned on that radio station each Sunday
while he prepared dinner and fiddled with
a balky carburetor there at the kitchen table.
No, it wasn’t his old-timey Country-Western music
he played when there still was a Western to it.
This music polka’d around the house on tuba oompahs,
accordion wheezes, clarinet giggles and trumpet yodels.
It became as much a part of his and my Sundays as
missing Mass and enjoying the perfume of the cloves
and ginger on the ham or in the sauerbraten.

I eventually asked, “Why d’you listen to this every Sunday?”
And dad would barely look up from his glass of beer
and auto part, and say, “It’s important. Just wait.”
Somewhere in the middle of the next bouncy tune,
the middle-aged DJ (which stood for Deutsche Jockey, I guess)
would pod the music down and say in a middling German accent,
“Dis is an im-pawt-ed re-kawd-ing,” and the music would swell
until the next tune, which sounded a lot like the previous five.
My Old Man would look at me with those sapphire lasers and dead-pan,
“See? An im-pawt-ent recording.” Then he’d grin and interject
through the rest of the program, “Hey, you want to keep it down?
This is an important recording.” Dad was a teaser, not one
for jokes, but when he had one, it never got old to him.

Or, apparently, to me.

Poem(ish) #28 of this year’s Poem-A-Day April marathon. This one is in response to a prompt calling for an “Important (Something)”-titled poem. Probably should have left it in block form, but here’s the true story of two guys named Joe Hesch simmering in their genetic memories and an “Important {Father/Son}(Something).”

Unprepared for Take Off

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For weeks we’ve waited, peeking through the lacy front door curtain as a pair of house finches set to keeping their own house in our covered entryway. One day there was nothing but lazy disinterest in the swale of the too-late-removed Easter wreath. The next, I found a mesh of twigs, sprigs and finch spit. And inside I spied an egg, light sky blue with reddish dots at one end. Eventually, five potential finches grew in the goo within their thinly armored launchpads. Mama finch would sit dutifully upon her someday quints, bursting for the skeleton red maple out front only when the tread of threat approached the doorway. Her mate would stand astride the gutter along the roofline, staring red-headed avian wrath upon any who might crash their birthday party. But today, they’re gone, taken off, their nest deserted, save for that first egg. At the bottom of the little crèche I found some feathers and scraps of shell. I doubt they just up and took off. I never saw the feathered parents feeding any gape-beaked peepers, never saw them fletch in drab brown glory to arrow off into a world where crows and kestrels, house cats and hawks could end in a flash a life barely begun or even long-lived. Did I miss their birth and fighter jet scramble into those cruel pale blue skies or did something cruel from those skies scramble those lovely ovate spheroids for breakfast one morning while I pondered my flown-the-nest babies’ last time eating breakfast with me. I’ll wait one more day to take down the wreath. Now it’s a memorial to hope and potential enmeshed with a mystery. A sky blue Sunday kind of mystery, like a certain resurrection. With blood red dots.

Looooong prose poem for Day 27 of NaPoWriMo 2016. Today’s Poem-A-Day prompt was for a “take off” poem. I eschewed one about a stripper I spent a night talking with in my reporter days after what I observed this afternoon outside our front door. Maybe I will do the stripper story…someday. After all, I’m thinking of doing the Story-A-Day May thing next month…because I’m a crazy writer who thrives on self-flagellation of the writing kind. A veritable Francis of Assisi, Brother Ass, to my own written words.

For Love of the Game

I was late to the game,
seventh inning at least,
a set-up guy for the set-up guy
for those who closed the deal,
who had all the pitches
and a feel for it all.
I was obsessed with the quest,
the how-to, watching from
the bullpen or giving up
the home run to the lover boys.
The girls really do love
the long ball. But that’s the game,
their rules, my inadequacies,
a Single-A rag-arm who wouldn’t
know what to do if he ever
made it to The Show, shaking
off all her signs and inevitably
being sent back down where
my love of the game of love
got lost among all my other losses
over those lonely nights
between Helena and the Bigs.

Sorry I’m late for Poem #26 of Poem-A-Day April. Destroyed my phone and painted away the rest of the day. Was prompted for a love or anti-love poem. Not sure I have either here, just a metaphor for a guy with a 58-foot high school curveball and a BP fastball when it came to the game of love.

Poli & Sci: An Exercise in Futility

In my life, for every push up
I counted, there always appeared
a more than equal,
and quite opposite, push down.
One that choked me face-down
into the dust to dust. Despite
this Sisyphian way-of-the-world,
I never envied those guys
who always managed to “fail up.”

I hoped the physics, meta- or vanilla,
would catch up to them before they
crested their gift-wrapped Olympus.
I finally realized fighting
their anti-gravitational serendipity,
waiting for that margin call on
their karma banks, I’d end up waiting
until my next push up was face-up
and six feet under.

As far as I know, shoving two meters
of cemetery up up and away’s
a feat never quite scientifically proven.
But to disprove the anecdotal
during these days of political science,
where never the twain shall meet,
would prove an exercise so futile
even Houdini’d throw up his
steel-cuffed hands and admit defeat.
Forget any recount.

A poor pass at Poem #25’s prompt for a piece concerning exercise. I gave up on understanding or respecting politics (both Capital and lower case P) a long time ago. Working in journalism and government will do that to you. Working in a slaughterhouse has more truth, humanity and cleanliness. Toss religion into the volatile mix (as seems to be part of the recipe these days) and you have an inedible sausage force-fed and over-served you for breakfast, lunch and TV dinner. Relax, I just ground down my bully pulpit tree stump and will now return to my quiet window seat.