Seeking Shelter from the Storm

“… where storms sleep lightly … ” ~John O’Donohue

I found the bedclothes
knotted around my legs,
as once again I awaken.
This for the fourth time,
that I can remember at least.
When you sleep only four
or five hours a night
your mind can forget what’s real
and what’s imagined.

Notice I didn’t say dreamed,
for dreams don’t come often
in the stormy state that passes
for sleep in my hazy experience.
I’ve awoken with a gasp,
as if I’d been held underwater
to the limits of my breath.
I’ve leapt from my bed
in a flight-or-fight frenzy
no nightmare provoked.

I’ve dropped into slumber
at my desk, in mid-conversation
and at the wheel so many times
it brings me to tears as easily
as anger. But I show you neither.
I just walk through each day
in a waking dream, where reality’s
gummy stuff clinging to my eyes.

I see things in a twilight
at noon, as if through
the torrential curtain that falls
on both the living and dead.
Through green eyes I see your hours
of nocturnal shelter from this storm.
And I’ve looked at the peaceful rest
of the grave and think,
“How wonderful!”

Wrote this right out of bed (again), in response to the prompt of that quote at its beginning. It’s courtesy of my friend Sharyl Fuller from her Writing Outside the Lines site. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that sleep (often the lack thereof) is a common theme of the Hesch oeuvre.

A Message Without Words

The western hemisphere of the Blue Marble.
Image Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory

No birds do I hear
nor squirrels I see running
in the trees out back.
A sign that something’s coming?
Maples dropping leaves
in August is a surprise,
though not unheard of.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes
since I was a small kid
a time or two I would say.
But please tell which wind
would blow the bird songs away.
And shouldn’t squirrels
be stocking their year-end stores
in expectation
of winter’s cold at their doors?
The birds should still sing
if not all day, then morning.
If they don’t, is it
maybe some kind of warning?
Perhaps I see ghosts
or I’m reading ‘tween the lines.
While Fall’s weeks away,
calendars can’t read these signs
that weather’s changing,
even the animals can tell.
They’re telling us
in a language clear as bell
that maybe it’s time
to not just listen, but hear
the warning we’ve missed
that’s told all around this sphere.
They don’t know science,
but instinct sometimes trumps all.
Even animals know
we’ve fucked up our big Blue Ball.

The maples ARE dropping their leaves in August. And yesterday even I noticed the birdsongs had stopped, only the sound of crows remaining. I haven’t seen the squirrels and woodchucks that use my back yard as a combination supermarket and playground for days. I’m sure this is some anomaly, but even this vacuous scribbler can see our weather is changing…and faster than just Earth’s historical shifts. Ergo, I let Nature tell this little rhyming verse in links of five and seven syllable lines — the classic nature poetic form of the haiku.

The Face of Caer Ibormeith

Illustration from The Dream of Aengus, by Ted Nasmith

It’s a world I cannot find
when my eyes, like day’s,
close in the darkness.
I wish to see that face,
hear the stories she can tell,
follow it where its may lead.
But I only lie in silence,
with an eye-blink, lids down
and snapping back open,
seemingly in a slice of a second,
yet six hours passing.
In that speck of time perceived,
she my forebears called Caer Ibormeith
never appears, doesn’t invite me
to her realm, and I awaken
with my mind’s hands empty
of what you take for granted
yet I never grasp…
Dreams.

A Big Cup of Joe

I was sitting in a Starbucks in Albany, just hanging out and sipping my coffee for a change, rather than running out to the car in the early morning summer rainstorm, only to run someplace else, while gulping down all my venti Caffe Verona before I got to wherever that was. But not this day. I decided to sip at today, to savor its flavor, unhurriedly swishing it around my mind to parse its qualities and nuance instead of tipping it down my throat, like I was tossing it down a drain. Rather than tighten my focus to the narrow-gauge tunnel of vision before me and the compact thought of my present obsession, I opted to absorb the entire room before me from the chair by the door. I noticed the longer hair and scruffy beards of the university students that reminded me of myself from four decades before and wondered what next. Patched bell-bottoms? I looked into the faces of the coeds to discern their thoughts and dreams, rather than just peripherally noticing only their legs as I normally would while speeding out the door while focused on the steam and splash emanating from my cup’s white plastic top. They’re so young, I thought, so self-absorbed, so locked on what’s in the front of the line inside themselves while the world whooshes by around them. At a table in the far corner, a quintet of men about my age held a raucous conversation about politics, the Yankees and the weather, punctuated with thunderous laughs. They drew side-eyes and smirks from the students as they looked up from viewing their own worlds through the glowing windows most held in one hand while sucking down some frothy-topped espresso concoction in the other. I typed a note of this dichotomy on the electronic mirror that sat on my lap reflecting my own thoughts. I turned it off, slapped closed its flap and carried the rest of my still more-than-warm coffee out to the car, where I began sucking it into the gut that told me I really didn’t quite belong with either of the tribes with whom that morning I’d shared breathing in the aroma of roasted Arabica, fresh perfume and carpe diem. The rain had stopped and I started the engine, tucked my cup in its center console nest, pulled out of the parking lot, my eyes seeing little more than that framed by the windshield and my mind viewing more than the traffic around me. I took one long final pull on my Caffe Verona and tossed the cup of knowledge on the floor behind me with the others lying there since Monday. Today, I’d slowly consumed more of the world around me than usual and it tasted of sweet memory, bitter realization and the tempering half-and-half of middle age. I figured it would keep me going until 10:00.

Wake Up, It’s Sun Day

The sun rolled back aborning
onto the east side of the house this morning.
It didn’t come with a boom or crash
like when the trucks come to take the trash.
Rather, it came without any rousing sound,
though woke me as if on my window it did pound.
It snuck into my room on little cat feet
with colors of red, yellow and white, but no heat.
It crawled from over the sill to my bed,
pried open my eyes and without words it said,
“Rise and shine like me, we’ve got a whole day ahead.”
And I did, though made a silent curse in my head.
“You wake me so damn early, you know.
I don’t have to run to work anymore to put on that show.”
Sun then replied in its silent voice,
“Well, that’s good for you, but I have no choice.
The world always turns, time never stands still,
And I’m just minding my own business, waiting until
the time comes when my light goes out
and life as you know it will be snuffed without even a shout.
On that day, when days no longer happen,
I’ll recall visiting here, and your morning yappin’.
In that moment I’ll recall how I brought this ball life
in all of its beauty, its glory and strife.
So now, if you don’t mind, I’m heading west,
And I hope that you’ll give today your best.”
Chastened, I thought of how the an eclipse turned midday to night Monday,
and I vowed to never again to waste a day, honoring each as Sun Day.

Photo © Jospeh Hesch 2016

Total Eclipse

How dark it became when
the shadow fell between us,
some celestial body or karma
casting a silhouette that’s yet
to find another path.
That’s how it goes when we
stand still and never try
to find the light once shared.
I wonder if what illuminated us
as we sailed through the void
was really just the twilight margin
between shadow and light
from which only a step—
false or otherwise—would cast us
both where sight of neither of us exists.
I used to ponder who would be
the first to stumble back
to the relative warmth
of that old penumbral frontier.
I don’t anymore.
This eclipse is total and I
dare not look at that space
where a face used to reside,
unless it’s total blindness
I’m really looking for.

A roll-out-of-bed-and-just-write no-subtext ramble. Morning mush. You can go back under the covers to the warm, safe…and dark…now.

Like a Bad Banana With a Greasy Black Peel

I never liked this tie,
but it’s the only one I own
that doesn’t have some stain right over my heart.
That’s what I get for skipping breaks
and eating at my desk or hustling out
without breakfast and gulping
something down while doing 70 mph.
I should remember to take them off
before eating. Or just don’t eat jelly donuts
with powdered sugar, Big Macs or ice cream cones
in business wear.

Well, at least I have one clean tie to wear
to this meeting. I’m sure everybody,
even the governor, owns a Christmas tie
peppered with Grinches. Too bad it’s August, though.
Maybe if I maintain laser-like eye contact,
he won’t notice. That’s me, focusing on the task
in front of me, whether it’s writing a speech
or speeding through rush hour traffic.

Okay, on time and…God damn it!
The cup’s top wasn’t clicked tight.
Look at this stain! Focus, son, focus.
Yessir, good to see you, too.
Yessir, I see you’re heading out for golf.
Yessir, I’ll be brief. Yep, it sure is hot.
Coffee? No thanks, sir. Already had enough.
Make myself more comfortable? Thank you, sir.
I never liked this tie anyway.

My friend Dan Mader liked the first line of my story, The Viewing, and said it could make a great first line for any number of pieces. He should never do that to an obsessive-compulsive and competitive guy like me. So, right out of bed, focused like a laser on the task in front of me, coffee dribbled on my tee shirt, here’s my first try at The Tie. Oh, and the title, of course, comes from the Grinch song from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I thought it fit.

Chuvash

No one in the big emergency clinic understood a word the old man was saying. They just knew he’d wandered in off the street in distress and collapsed before he could get to the reception desk.

A nurse, tech and Physicians Assistant rushed out into reception with a wheelchair and carefully placed the old man in it after checking his head and spine for injury.

“Let’s get him into Treatment 4,” Maggie Hennessy, the PA, said with the firm and confident voice of someone who’d worked at this East Side neighborhood clinic for five years. She’d seen it all, from overdoses to obstetrics, gunshot wounds to ears stuffed with gummy bears.

“Quick get me some vitals. Sir? Sir? Can you hear me? My name’s Maggie and you’re in the East 23rd Street Clinic. Can you tell me your name? How about what your problem is?” she said.

The old man rolled his head side to side and moaned, attempting to form words but all that came out was an unintelligible slurring in an accent no one understood. Hennessy leaned down so she could hear him, but said, “I’ve no idea what he’s saying. Sounds like an eastern European language, maybe?”

Nurse Angela Mezzanote asked, “Do we have anyone on staff who might know what he’s saying. It sounds something like Russian, but I’m not sure.”

“What about Joey Markov in maintenance? Isn’t he Russian or something?” Bret Nelson, the tech, said.

“Page him or fetch him, would you Bret? This guy’s looking pretty bad and I’d love to have a translator to help me make a damn diagnosis,” PA Hennessy said.

Within three minutes, Josip Markov rolled his maintenance cart up to Treatment 4.

“You need cleanup?” he asked Hennessy.

“No, Joey. I need you to help me diagnose what’s wrong with this guy if you can. I don’t even know if I can give him a sedative if I can’t communicate with him. Do you understand anything he’s saying? Is that Russian?”

Markov moved closer to the gurney and looked down on the sick man.

“What do you need to know?” He asked the PA.

“His name would be a good place to start, I guess.”

In Russian, Markov asked the man his name.

“Śeśpĕl Praski,” the old man whispered through clenched teeth. Markov moved closer, eying the old man as if he was the physician instead of a mop jockey.

“Good, now we’re getting somewhere. Translate for me, please, Joey. Mr. Praski, can you tell me what’s wrong?” Hennessy said.

“Śeśpĕl.”

“What?”

“His name’s Mr. Śeśpĕl. He’s Chuvash, not Russian.” Markov said.

“Do you speak Chuvash, Joey?”

“Yep. It’s my native language.”

“Thank goodness. Would you ask him that question in Chuvashian?”

“Chuvash. Sure.” Markov said, and translated the basic questions Hennessy fed him and Śeśpĕl’s replies. He got closer and closer to Śeśpĕl with each question until his mouth was right up to the afflicted man’s ear. He kept speaking to Śeśpĕl and Śeśpĕl would reply, each time with more agitation and pain.

“He says he’s a hemophiliac and believes he’s bleeding in his gut.”

“Get me some bloods on this guy, STAT. He is showing symptoms of bleeding. Man, his spleen is frigging huge,” Hennessy said as she palpated Śeśpĕl’s abdomen. “And he’s got some nasty bruising on his ribs.”

“We’ve got a lead in, Maggie,” Nurse Mezzanote said. “Blood pressure 80 over 40, heart rate 134, respirations are 22. I think he’s gonna crash.”

“Shit. Okay, let’s slow push one milligram IV of TXA and see if we can get his bleeding under control. Call the OR and let them know we’ve got bleeder down here on his way up.”

Śeśpĕl’s eyes frantically looked around the room until Markov once again whispered in his ear. Then he focused intently on the maintenance man, who smiled and said in Chuvash, “Epĕ Josip Markov jatlă. I’m Josip Markov. I know who you are, who your father was, what he did to my family in 1940. How he forced them to leave our home and move to that frozen hell in Karelia, just to be a human shield between his Muscovite masters and the Finns. My grandmother died on that trip. Our women were degraded by our own soldiers. My great uncle killed himself in despair. I know what your father did. Did you like growing up in our home? Oh, I see your time’s up. Tav sire! Good health to you, asshole.”

Śeśpĕl tried to speak, but he couldn’t. The stroke was instantaneous and massive. The clotting agent Hennessy had administered for internal bleeding was the worst thing she could have given someone with Chuvash Polycythemia. The condition made his body produce too many red blood cells, thickening his blood, slowing its flow, which alone could lead to a heart attack or stroke at his age. Markov was counting on the clotting agent to seal the deal.

“Out of the way, Joey,” Hennessy yelled. But it was too late. Śeśpĕl expired before the ER team could do anything to help.

“Okay, guys, let’s call it. Time of death, 14:20. Sorry we couldn’t help your old countryman, Joey,” Hennessy said.

But Dr. Josip Martinovich Markov, who was a physician back in Tsivilsk before his breakdown and immigration to America, was already pushing his maintenance cart toward the service elevator. He recognized the symptoms and the man from his name and the questions he’d asked.

“I’ve done my job today. I’ll let Julio or Brandon clean up the trash,” Markov said to himself with a satisfied grin. He pushed the elevator button marked B. The doors swished closed in front of him and he dropped one more floor closer to hell.

The idea for this first draft has been banging around in my notebook for months. Perhaps it should have stayed there. But I’m a hot streak of production right now and I couldn’t not push out the first draft tonight.

The Occultation

The experts warned of its coming,
but most of us didn’t expect
such darkness until it finally did.
How it cast a Stygian shadow
across the country the likes of which
most of us had never seen.
Well, maybe some old-timers,
but most of them were looking
forward to its arrival anyway.
The golden face we thought we knew
grew darker, as the lunar forces
overcame its careful polish.

Many flocked to be part of the experience,
since such a phenomenon was their goal
left unfulfilled for years.
Others, though, grew more fearful
as the gloomy lunacy spread and shadow
overcame what once provided light
and hope from coast to coast.
Then move or close your eyes,
said some who clamored for this
sea-to-shining-sea anomaly.

But, frightening as they can be,
such triumphs of darkness
over light never last, the forces
of better nature pushing aside
the shadow-maker, bringing our land
back its original sun-bright vision
for those wise enough to turn away
from the eclipse. Of course,
those who gazed so slavishly upon it
had become blind. But they’d lost
their sight to its occultation long
before its shadow fell upon us all.

Rebuilding the Sky

The sky has fallen,
in a triphammer beat
of pieces on the roof,
moving in waves
crossing and recrossing
the blacktop road.
It teaches gravity
to the hands of the leaves,
bending their wrists
and arms toward the earth.
It grays my view,
turning down its contrast
and intensity.
Everything that was up
ten minutes ago is now down,
except my eyes.
I can’t help but scan
the sky, searching
for a hint of sunlight,
even if now all is darkness.
The rain’s abating, and
light begins rebuilding day,
propping up the damaged
sky once more,
upon a rainbow’s
scaffold.