Big As All Winter, Small As a Snowflake

10:00 AM
It’s been a light,
excuse-me snow fallen all morning.
The kind you may not notice
if you look out the window
through these sheer white curtains,
because that’s what’s happening
outside, too.
But after a couple of hours
or so, your upstate New York
genetic wiring kicks in
and you part the curtains
to see what you’ll need to
shovel away as soon as
“Excuse me. Don’t get up”
turns into
“It’s been nice, see ya.”

12:00 Noon
It’s still snowing,
and Winter’s great eraser
has softened most of
the jagged debris left
by the plows from the last snow,
like Nature’s own Photoshop app.
Even the stains the dog next door
left to certify my driveway
is really his, have disappeared
behind today’s gentle white curtains.

2:00 PM
It’s time to close the sheers
and let Nature take her course,
or teach it,
because snow is always better
seen and not yet herded
into Man’s gray boundaries.
Of course, that’s only if you can
just watch it from a poet’s perch,
where everything looks smooth
and clean as this paper
before I buried it under
flurries of worries about things
that can feel big as all Winter
and small as a snowflake.

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Your Icon(Porn)ographer

It’s difficult to do what I do,
dressing and posing,
undraping and artistically exposing,
this gilt image I have of you.

Of course this reality doesn’t exist
not in anyplace but my mind.
Even there I know never, ever would I be your kind,
but the heart and art are just too hard to resist.

So I write these icons of you sometimes,
even though they give only me a thrill.
The Madonna’s not some sexual hill
I’ll ever surmount with my limp rhymes.

Scandalous words, I must admit,
but they keep me warm at night,
when prayers and meditation cannot fight
these feelings I should never permit.

And so here I am, naked again it seems,
casting words from my body to yours.
Your Iconographer, fallen to old scurrilous lures,
become the Pornographer of his new dreams.

I know. A really jinky rhyme scheme to go along with a possibly kinky theme. But these days I only go with whatever flow I can get from this bloodless stone in my chest, this husk of a soul with which I’m left, and hope that I won’t hate myself too much when it’s done. And because I don’t feel so lost while I’m writing, no matter if it’s iconography or pornography, I hope it never is.

By the way, my art history teacher from 40-odd years ago taught me that true icons are said to be “written,” not painted of otherwise artistically crafted. So…yeah.

Always Another Bruise

It never really goes away like rain,
though some folks have equated it with clouds.
Some might call it a never-ending pain,
but that’s like comparing throngs to crowds.

Others equate it to that color there,
the primary between purples and greens.
Though it’s tones can reach from the open air
to the deep indigos of brand new jeans.

It’s that tonal range where I’m mostly found,
though sometimes I break through to the bright.
I’ve swum like hell to keep from being drowned
in these deep darks, then get too tired to fight.

I’ve sunk again. Life’s colored like this bruise
from the fight of always having these blues.

Table for One

Photo ©2018 Joseph Hesch

From a distance, you can’t really see it,
there across that expanse of white.
Maybe from a higher angle like a window seat.
And that’s how I found it,
the smudge of fresh bright red
in a small ragged depression on the snow.
Nowhere near it did I see any footprints,
not coyote, fox or bobcat.
But there in that spot lie inked
the final punctuation of the life sentence
of some mouse or vole.
He did not see the end coming,
especially if it came at night.
Though clouds have cast the entire yard
in their shadows for days and days.

Was it a hungry hawk, whose sharp cry
I heard while I shoveled away
my own mark on the snowscape?
Was it an owl, the silent assassin
whose wings leave no track upon the night air.
Does it matter? No. Not even to
the guest of honor who also was the menu item
at this exclusive dining spot,
table for one, no reservation necessary,
just drop in, takeaway available,
where the table linen is so clean you
can eat off it and the busboys wear midnight
and speak a language like brass nails
scraped on a slate blackboard.

The Winter Artist

Photo © Joseph Hesch, 2011

The day opened with so much
of my little world wearing
a white gesso, waiting
for men to paint their marks
upon the pristine scene.
With the huff of their grunts
hanging frozen in the air
if only for a second,
with the chuff of their shovels
opening a wrinkle in the unsullied,
with their blowers snorting smoke
and throwing the fallen pieces
back toward the gray sky,
only to see them descend again
as Nature, with great gravity,
laughs at their puny efforts.
Then along come the plows,
with their dead, unblinking eyes
lighting the way, to gouge the skin of winter,
wide channels of black and brown,
made worse by throwing salt into its wounds.

But out back, no shovel,
nor agent of man’s need
to improve Nature by sullying
its beauty, has left its scar.
It’s too cold even for the deer
to place their punctuation
on the virgin page.
Perhaps tomorrow, the crows will be
the first to write Nature’s script
as they drop in twos upon the snow,
quotation marks for the Winter artist
who prefers to paint in one color,
whistle and hum a tuneless tune,
and speak loud without saying a word.

Like It Always Was

It’s not like it used to be,
so many of us old guys say.
But I overheard a twenty-something
whisper that to her girlfriend
the other day in the checkout line.
And I wondered what a kid would know
about the nebulous “used to be.”
How could she relate to changing
what was on television by getting up
from your seat, walking across the room
and twisting the dial to one of
the only four channels that existed?
In pixel-ridden black and white.
Coming out of a piece of
wooden living room furniture?
How could she understand a time
when the scant coffee shops we had
were pretty much limited to an
artsy neighborhood, a block or two
up from the head shop,
where they sold weed
surreptitiously in the back?
What would they know of atomic
missile crises and street-filling protests
over racial injustice,
environmental destruction and
“Impeach the Bastard?”
Then I blinked out of my reverie,
as the girls, with matching tattoos
on their necks, gathered their cloth
refillable grocery bags and walked,
hand in hand, out of the store.
I thought. “No, it’s not
like it used to be.
But, that’s okay, really,
’cause it is.”

If you have been lucky enough, as I, to have lived through the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, etc., maybe you can relate. If not, trust me, I’ve seen this before. But it did take protest to turn things around. Maybe not all at once. But then, folks from these times are used to instant information, communication and gratification, fast as a 64-bit architecture can spit. Patience, children. Such things take time. Like it used to be.

Taken

Photo copyright K. S. Brooks.

In the evening she told me her name was Kahwihta. And when I asked how many in her basket, with what I figured was a universal kind of gesture, she held up two hands and shook all the fingers, then one hand with the thumb and first finger extended.

Tékeni iawén:re,” she said, which I guess meant a dozen.

“Well, now, that’s enough apples to make a fine pie,” I said. But I was sure flour and cinnamon were in short supply here near Ta-ra-jo-rees, the village of the Turtle Clan. I was camped on the south shore of their River Flowing Around the Mountain. We call it the Mohawk.

I’d been surveying there in the wilderness for three weeks. The geography was perfect for one supporting grazing and farming, which is what Mister Proctor, the land speculator, had sent me to assay.

Sir William Johnson, His Majesty’s agent among these people, had warned me off, lest I incur a deadly suspicion among his charges. I believe he was trying to keep this land for his own devices, since he has become almost one of the natives and keeps a Mohawk woman, who he calls his wife.

And if she looks anything like Kahwihta, I can understand why.

With what pieces of the language I’d learned, I said, “Konnòn:we’s,” which I think meant “I like you.” Since she dropped her head and giggled behind her hand, I surmised I must have said the right thing. So I reckoned I might as well try to be more like Johnson.

Kwah tokén:’en sén:ta’wh?” I said, which I believed meant to have a good sleep. I pointed at her and then to myself and then the soft fur robe on the floor of my tent.

Kahwihta giggled again and laid down, which surprised and encouraged me in a very fine manner. I was hoping the language of love was as universal as the poets say. I laid down next to her and pulled the robe over us. In the light from my campfire through the canvas, her skin glowed like polished bronze. 

Kahwihta turned toward me and repeated, “Kwah tokén:’en sén:ta’wh.” After that, I remember nothing of the night.

Next I know, I am waking, waking with this vicious pain behind my head, lying there in the open beneath the trees. My tent is gone, as well as my gun, powder and lead, surveying instruments, maps, ledgers, drawing tools, everything. Well, not quite everything.

I still had the clothes on my back and my knife. And there on the robe next to me were seven red apples. I surmised Kahwihta must have felt some remorse that probably one of her brothers entered the tent and tried to crush my skull with his warclub. That he failed was scant comfort in light of the bloody, swollen gash on the back of my head. 

I stumbled to my feet and felt a dizziness like I’d not known before. Thereafter I fell to my knees and spewed my previous day’s victuals on the ground next to me. 

I felt it wise to leave behind, in greatest haste, the village of Ta-ra-jo-rees as best I could, lest Kahwihta’s brothers returned to take my clothes and life, too. So I gathered up my robe, tying within it the seven apples of regret left by the comely Kahwihta. I then crawled on my hands and knees, like some beast of the wild, into the dense forest surrounding me.

It took me four days and every apple to reach Fort Hunter to the north by east. 

I should be quite grateful to Kahwihta, for I’m sure it was through her intercession that I am here today to tell my story of that verdant valley and the beautiful Mohawk girl. I blame myself, my arrogance and my poor language skills for all of this: my failed mission, the loss of my gun and the tools of my profession. and my near-death. 

You see, one of the old scouts at Fort Hunter told me what Kahwihta means in the Mohawk tongue. It means She Takes it With Her.

Indeed.

This story started out as a hoped-for 250-words or less piece of flash fiction for the weekly contest at Indies Unlimited website. But then, as usual, creative momentum and a too-long-dormant story-telling muscle went on a spree.  Yeah, it’s rough as a cob, but it’s just shy of 700 words, so it still qualifies as flash. And I feel better for having stuck with it.