Writing On the Beat

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Beat icon Jack Kerouac composed a 30-point list of essentials for writers that he called his “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” It’s all-Kerouac.

My friend Sharyl Fuller asked me to select one or two (Only one or two?? Me? As if!) of these points and comment on how they relate to me and my personal writing. This could be difficult because I’m one of those “sit down and write” guys.

Once I settle into my writing desk cockpit for my flights of fancy, I know I have to write something whether I have a certain inspiration already in mind or not. This hurry-and-write mentality, if not facility, might come from my newspaper reporter beginnings, or maybe from my stolen minutes (and sometimes more) of creativity at my desk at work.

So, which point in Kerouac’s list applies to me? Well, most of them are couched in a very Hip-cum-Zen, cool yet spiritual language and vibe, but two stand out:

#5 Something that you feel will find its own form, and
#17 Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.

As a storyteller and poet, I might be what writers call a “pantser,” writing not from some predetermined start-to-finish or here-to-there. Particularly with poetry, I don’t sit down with a map before me, just a sense of where I am, accompanied by an image, some related and unrelated words, and faith that something tangible will come of this time I’m about to spend with myself and the ghostly Whoever that’s about to tell me Our story. Because they’re all “our story.”

The bricks and mortar of my work, my true and fanciful memories of a life lived in the real and imaginary worlds, music I can no longer hear but do, images I can no longer see, if I ever really saw them in the first place, will scramble up from the dark places, sparkle on the illuminated shelves within me, and report for duty.

It’s my job (the final letter of that word could as easily be a Y) to line up those courses of words representing the tangible and intangible, to construct birds and birdhouses, trees and trepidation, weapons to fight an enemy across No Man’s Land or even across a heart, emotions and images only you can see and understand.

If that process doesn’t snag onto old Jack’s #17, maybe it’s

#25: Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures of it.

And that’s what I do.

I like to say I write my poems and stories, hang them on a tree or door in the public square—digital and between book covers—and then I walk away. They’re not only mine anymore. I’ve given up sole ownership to them the moment you read them.

And maybe that spirit of figuratively losing my creations to the individual reader clicks with one more from that list by my Beat inspiration for this essay.

Kerouac’s #19: Accept loss forever.

Loss awaits me just one letter away on a white sheet of paper. Always has. Always will.

Thank goodness.

This essay was prompted by my friend Sharyl Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines post about Jack Kerouac’s “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” It was an interesting exercise in which I found out I do a lot of what Kerouac suggested. Now back On the Road to more fiction and poetry…I think.

Fixing the Fixer

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They say I was a fixer
who too often broke his share.
I left a trail of shattered
promises, mirrors, expectations,
dreams behind me. I’d ask
your forgiveness and permission
to attempt to repair them.
But they never go back
to their original condition.
And for that, you turn from me,
lash out at me, ignore me,
hate me, maybe even secretly
wish I could fix myself.
But this fixer’s lost so many
of his pieces over these years.
Left behind or misplaced memories,
bonds, friendships, loves,
feelings and sensations
none of which I could rebuild
as they once were. Maybe that’s
why my gimpy body now limps
in vain hope of bringing pieces
of us back together again. I know
it’s not my legs that are broken,
but this heart we shattered together.

The First to Fall

The First to Fall Joseph Hesch © 2016

The First to Fall
Joseph Hesch © 2016

I found the deceased
on my front lawn this morning.
Dropped by a seasonal drive-by,
the flashes and booms just
another night on the mean streets
of southern Saratoga County.
This killer swept by in a whoosh,
a swiftly moving hunter knocking off
the stationary target, instead of
the other way around. Which way’s
more sporting? Not that it matters.
Dead is dead is dead is dead.
That’s how it’ll be in coming months,
when the annual turf war grinds down
its green recruits, and decades-long
veterans of the air unpin
their golden decorations, with
oak leaf clusters.

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Yep, found this fallen airman on my lawn this morning, just like I found Halloween decorations and the first 2016 collector Christmas tree decorations at the Hallmark store last night. Meanwhile, the summer storms continue their west-to-east drive-bys and I’m daily melting like a Creamsicle fallen upon a sizzling sidewalk.

The Feather ~ A Study in Contrasts

Feather, A Study in Contrasts © Joseph A. Hesch 2016

Feather II, A Study in Contrasts
© Joseph A. Hesch  2016

The blacktop was running a fever I
felt through my shoes, infected by
tossed cigarette butts, wads of gum
and mouthfuls of disrespect hawked
into its face. I feel your pain,
I thought, adding my hundred-eighty pounds
of self-effacing injury to those insults.
It was then I spotted a feather of gray
and white left by another head-in-the-clouds
drifter in these hinterland parking lots.
Once it soared to dreamy heights over
ocean waters, the agent of ascension for
some living cross silhouetted against the sky.
Now it lies in this parking lot, lost to
the heavens, ground-bound in its new
home with castoffs and garbage bins,
flitting among SUVs and shopping carts.

Yet still it held a dignity, an inherent
natural symmetry, a razor-sharp edge,
yet with a gossamer touch mitigating
the unyielding black to its back and
gracing with a soft balance its undeserving
surrounding bleakness. I bent to touch
this ethereal gift and its caress cured me
of my fever, the one acquired from my
low flights through this world’s
crassness and decay. Now it’s my source
of soaring visions, a quill expressing
the ink from my pen and my soul.

A rather longish poem (for me), based upon the photograph by this writer, offered as a prompt by my friend Sharyl Fuller and her weekly Writing Outside the Lines Challenge. It’s true. I did find this feather on the ground as I exited the SUV at a Home Depot this weekend. It inspired me then, so I took three photos of it and posted them online. Inspired “Annie,” too. Next, a redrafting of an old story of mine for a prose piece inspired by a feather like this.

Sundays at the Table

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As day pulls back its rooftop bedclothes,
it awakens the maples out my window.
Their gray skins become silver
as knives and forks upon a spring green
damask tablecloth, as if set for Sunday dinner.
I’d trudge to such weekly repasts,
poked around overcooked roast and
wallpaper paste gravy, feasted only my eyes
on the sheen of the slices of briny corned beef,
passed along the bowl of gray flannel cabbage.
Each member of the little family group sat
in his or her prescribed chair around the table.
For decades, never would there be a change
in those arrangements, until eventually the family
dwindled, piece by sloppy piece, like
the dessert pie in its glass baking dish.
The sun’s up for it’s dewy breakfast now
and I have to take my current creaking trudge
to breakfast for two. Instead of eggs and
toast, though, this morning I think I want pie.

Losing Time

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Hand Holding a Scroll by Ruby McQuesten

Time is such a malleable thing, capable of stretching longer than the ten minutes prior to a young boy’s recess bell or shorter than the life pondered by the man three breaths from oblivion.And so it goes with the stretch of she and he, him and her, these two and that pair. Doesn’t matter who. It seems like yesterday we met, but you’d say not long enough since Goodbye. You can mold the passage of those years any way you wish. But I no longer can. Time’s once-springy nature’s grown crusty, dry, fragmenting like crumbs, sifting from my grasp. I wish I could make it stop before all I’ve left is some vacant Now. It’s erased yesterdays but still paints masterpieces of an instant from decades ago. Then they go black. Today, I took that ebon ink and walked it across the remaining scroll of my once-to-now, circling numbers, sketching memories. It isn’t stretchy, but it’s long. I can’t shrink it, but I can roll it tightly, keep it close. It’ll have to do until that final recess bell peals and you can count my breaths while I relive the life I’ve clutched in my fist.

A Thousand Miles Nowhere

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It didn’t begin well, that journey
of a thousand miles, its first step halting,
the heel dragging, the knees knocking.
The first day was its last, best day.
Oh, maybe the sun shone upon it down
the trail, when that fruit tree bloomed
and its blossom staggered everyone,
not just the lost travelers.

That blossom pushed forth a stunning
hybrid of the best of its strings of life,
twisted gyres of things I cannot spell
nor speak. But I know when they
neatly tie a bow so perfect you don’t
wish to open the present it secures
from prying eyes, yet still entices you
to set it free. Perhaps to see it fly.

I worry about the day when this fruit
unties itself from its tree. Will it
have been cultivated with care to
its potential perfection, not ignored
and grown over-ripe, rotting from
the ignorance of some failed husbandman
who knows only what he thinks he knows?
What he doesn’t know is what he’s missing

Whispers on an April Morning Breeze

“What if the world is holding its breath —
waiting for you to take the place that only you can fill?”
David Whyte

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The standoff had not gone on for long, just after the sun began coming up over the meeting house, the far steeples of Boston and the ocean between us and who we wanted to be.

But the Regulars didn’t care if it was day or night. They could kill us with their eyes closed, if their commander, or we, let them.

A few hours before, most all of us were in the Buckman Publick House, drinking ale and rum, some smoking pipes. The rest of us, mostly lads like me, got our first real tastes of adult courage off the drink, the smoke and the rhetoric of our elders that night.

“Gentlemen, let there be no great fear of the regulars should they enter our town,” said Captain Parker, his own red coat hanging from the back of a chair. “We shall stand our ground and show them our resolve to hold onto what is rightly ours as lawful citizens of His Majesty,” he whispered and then coughed.

The Captain has the consumption, I’m told by Mother, his cousin, so all the smoke in the room from the hearth and the men’s pipes harmed his breathing quite sorely. That and his harsh coughs practically choked the great man, making him difficult to hear. So I edged up close to him. That seemed to make me feel braver. He’d fought for the Crown in the late war against the French and knew well the tactics and propensities of the Redcoat soldier. If he didn’t sound like he would die by next harvest, I would have had a run at Gage’s whole bloody army by myself.

At sunrise, Thaddeus Bowman, the last scout the Captain had sent out, come bursting into the tavern.

“They’re here, they’re here,” he said in a voice nearly as choked as Captain Parker’s, though not from the consumption. “They’re right behind me, Sir, and this time they are coming in force. Maybe three, four hundred of ‘em,” I heard him tell the Captain. I grabbed my Papa’s old fowler and headed for the door.

About half of us unknotted ourselves from the doorway and ran out into the front yard of the tavern. Everything had an eerie glow to it, ourselves included, from the combined moon’s and sun’s lights shining upon us. I took this as an omen of what lay ahead for us this day and said to my cousin Amos, “The Lord is with us, cuz. He most surely is. We have right on our side and will not be bullied from our own field by redcoated tavern scum.”

The fact that our whole company had spent the night in a tavern, many tasting its wares, and were blinking in the new day’s smoldering light, suddenly arose upon me and I’m sure my face took on a wholly different glow, the hue of a boiled lobster.

All eighty of us men and boys who had been in the tavern began to form ranks on the village common. It was a damned ragged line compared to the ones of the approaching Regulars. They looked like they had been formed buy some great carpenter’s square. We, while most resolute, took on the form of a snake-rail fence.

Over by the road, I could see my grandfather and sister out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look and wave a greeting, but our sergeant, William Munro, gave me a strike from his musket barrel and whispered hot blasphemy and spit in my red ear. But now Grandfather and Deliverance could see where I stood.

Captain Parker walked down our column and looked like Grandfather when he had to dispatch poor old Benedict, his sorrel, when the gelding’s time had come. This did knock all those mugs of my previous courage from my head past my heart and from there to my feet.

“Men, we shall stand our ground, but not provoke the Regulars. Most of our militias’ powder and supplies at Concord have already been safely hidden away,” Captain Parker said. “We’ve all seen the Regulars on such fishing expeditions before. Once they find nothing, they will march back to Boston and we can get back to our lives until the next time.”

Sergeant Munro stalked up and down our lines out there on the Common, truing us up into a more respectable looking force.

“We’re not here to block their advance to Concord, lads,” he said. “We’re just going to show them we shall not be cowed by their brutish arrogance. And to insure we do that to our best abilities, I want you, boy, to move to the rear of our lines. Or better yet, across the road to your family. You are at heart a coward. You have no character and don’t deserve to stand with these honorable men.”

Mister Munro never did have much truck with me. Not since he caught me talking to his daughter, Abigail, behind the Meeting House without an adult family member within arm’s length. He pushed me backwards with the butt of his musket, but I just lined up behind Prince, the Estabrooks’ towering Negro, where he stood in the back row.

Now that Sergeant Munro had squared us up, I could peer through the gaps between men and see the Redcoats approach, their leader riding a fine black.

The sun had climbed high enough for us to see the Regulars advancing on the road to Concord now. They marched as one, dully, with little life to their strides and less to those faces we could make out. They looked for all the world like they were marching in their sleep, their shoes and gaiters caked with drying mud. The only liveliness to this red mass on the road to Concord were their drumbeats, the clinking metal of their equipment and the glint of dawn light on their buttons and weapons.

I felt a chill beyond the normal cold of an April morning and shivered as I stood with Papa’s fowler in my hands. I’d loaded it yesterday with birdshot and a ball, reckoning, if need be, my aim was poor with the rifle ball, I’d at least get a piece of one of the Regulars like he was a pheasant. Instinctively, I pulled the hammer to half-cock. My knees shook and I knew not if it was a shiver from that chill or from something I didn’t wish to admit. Perhaps Munro was right after all. Maybe I was a coward.

But I held my ground. I would not let Munro or the Redcoats run me off. No more.

Just as the wind shifted into our faces, Captain Parker raised his short sword and his rasp wafted over us, saying something like, ”Stand your ground, men. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” Or so Amos told me later.

I heard another click.

A murmur went through the men ahead of me. Out on the road, the column’s advance guard, rather than taking the left fork to Concord, turned to right and then toward us. I could hear the shouted orders run down their column. I saw the big black horse of their commander turn from the road, leading even more Regulars to the left, close enough for me to throw a rock and hit one. They now formed a solid wall of red before our motley line of farmers and tradesmen.

The officer on the black then rode forward, waving his sword, and called out for us disperse. On the breeze I heard him shout, “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels!”

More orders were yelled down the lines of Regulars. Men within our company began to look at one another, talking all at once. The line looked like it was a row of rye waving in that breeze in our faces.

I could see our Captain Parker say something. I could barely hear his voice, it was now so faint. He lowered his sword and pointed it to the ground. Many in the front line began to back away from the regulars, others stood in alert position as if waiting for someone to say something like an order, show them what to do beside stand as statues.

At the shout of “Poise firelocks,” the Redcoats brought their muskets, bayonets shining in threat at their muzzles, to a position upright in front of them. Most of our men stood stock still.

Next across from us we heard, “Cock firelocks,” and saw the mounted officer shouting at his men and waving his sword, as angry at them as at us. Our line held as Captain Parker shouted in his consumptive whisper.

The breeze died and suddenly the whole world went quiet as the grave. Neither side appeared like it was going to move and no one wanted to stay. Sergeant Munro had left his position at the left end of our first rank. He walked back from the killing ground between the lines and came trotting toward the road with a fearful look as he stared right past me. I, the coward who couldn’t stand like a man to request permission to speak with his daughter. I, the boy who he wished was standing on the other side of the Boston Road.

I took a deep breath and let it out. This impasse between us all would end today.

I touched off my fowler over his head and watched Munro drop to the ground as if he was a baby cowering from a thunderstorm. Or he thought himself dead. Almost instantly there came a roar of a different kind. Red coated men advanced like lions, growling and howling like wild beasts, some firing their muskets. All of them thrusting forward their bayonets.

Some of our men fell like empty grain sacks where they stood, huge holes in their heads and bodies. Others spun like tops, choking on blood and prayers.

We ran for the trees, over rock walls and newly blossoming shrubs. More fell around me. Behind me all I could see was a cloud of sulfurous smoke with glimpses of shadow men, some in pink coats, and shiny metal within. But I could hear the screams of men so unluckily slow as to taste the steel of Sheffield, and not on their tongues.

Ahead lie the road to Concord, along which I last hunted turkey. That day, April 19, 1775, I hunted my fellow man. That night, I wept, my head upon Mother’s lap, and then gathered my things and marched toward Boston.

No one ever again thought me a coward, even though I don’t believe I took another full breath for the next six years. Not at Breed’s, Quebec, Valcour, Saratoga nor any other of the horrible places I never spoke of to Abigail Munro, who became my wife and the mother of our eight children.

They never met their grandfather, but know he was there with their father the day the War for Independence began. That was the day his war ended and I began ours.

First draft of a short story based upon that quote at the top of the page. I wrote it this evening for Annie’s Writing Outside the Lines Challenge.

With My Last Breath

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Life in this world won’t wait.
It doesn’t care if you wish
to stand on the sidewalk
and watch, or step out
among the passing parade.
It’s a river that will not
cease movement and is known
to overflow its curb stone
banks and sweep away those
who stroll unaware of its
Great Flood seeking to drown
us all beneath its breathless
Babel of false gods,
its phony prophets,
its fake kings and
blustering blowhards,
the flotsam floating by
all with fists clenched,
grasping hands
and siren songs.
I ignore them, my deafness
selective and insouciance insolent.
They can all go to hell.
I’m sure to fall in one day,
but it’ll be in my own time,
on my terms and mine alone,
dropping into my own place,
with my final exhalation.
I’ll be warning the world it
had better make some damn room.

A quickly penned poem inspired (admittedly quite obliquely) by the following quote offered by my friend Sharyl Fuller for this week’s Writing Outside the Lines Challenge.

“What if the world is holding its breath — waiting for you to take the place that only you can fill?”  ~ David Whyte

Angel on Her Shoulder

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It’s just a hair, maybe
an inch or so long, not
perfectly straight
nor perfectly curved.
It’s of a shape and color
all too familiar to us.
It looks for all the world
like one of the millions
we swept, dusted and
vacuumed up for 13 years.

She keeps her photo bedside,
like her yearning to see,
to touch her angel dog again
after these three empty years.
This may explain the dream visit
they shared two nights ago,
but not the single golden hair
she found this morning on
the shoulder of the robe
I gave her last Christmas.

Sweetly spooky slice of life, for which I have not nor need any explanation, from the lives lived here.